Unless you are planning to walk from country to country and doggy-swim across oceans, it is simply impossible to not leave a carbon footprint – or some kind of yucky smudge – behind while travelling.
But don’t let it hang over your head like a dark gloomy cloud because the size of that footprint, and the impact your travels can have on the environment as well as the economy, communities and cultures, is completely up to you.
If this is all new to you and you are not in that sustainable lifestyle space of buying second-hand clothing, staying in rather expensive eco-lodges, using compost toilets and abandoning all modes of transportation, don’t fear and don’t feel guilty but rather pat yourself on the back for being eco-aware.
By simply adjusting your everyday habits and making tiny changes that may seem insignificant at first, you can make a difference; not only to the environment but also to the minds of others. By declining a straw, using your own travel mug, saying no to certain activities and sharing with your fellow travellers why you are doing it, you can make a ripple-effect of a difference.
Be energy-conscious (switch off what you are not using), water-conscious, people-conscious and food-conscious.
For a list of some of the eco-friendly accommodation and things to do in South Africa, visit Fairtrade.travel/SouthAfrica.
Fair Trade Tourism is the leading organisation representing responsible tourism in Africa as they grow awareness about responsible tourism to travellers, assist tourism businesses to operate more sustainably and facilitate the Fair Trade Tourism certification and membership programmes.
The six principals of Fair Trade Tourism are fair share, fair say, respect, reliability, transparency and sustainability.
SEE: #StopSucking: SA restaurants say 'No to straws!'
There are numerous hotels dedicated to promoting sustainable living and tourism and some make use of sustainable water, they recycle, plant veggie gardens, contribute to wildlife funds and use solar power.
Eco doesn’t necessarily translate to expensive in South Africa.
Hotel Verde in Cape Town is Africa’s greenest hotel (starting from R1 500)
SEE: Hotel Verde, where you can earn currency for saving energy
Mdumbi Backpackers (starting from R90) on the Wild Coast integrates accommodation with the community’s needs
Terra Khaya (starting from R95) in Hogsback gives guests a free night’s stay for bringing and planting an indigenous tree or for arriving by public transport or to receive a free meal you need to pull out an alien plant.
There are numerous booking sites dedicated to helping you find the greenest bed possible such as ecobnb.com (Europe) and greenpearls.com.
If you can’t find an eco-friendly hotel that suits your budget you can still make an impact by just changing the way you use your room in terms of electricity, water, amenities and the frequency of changing your towels/bedding.
By choosing homestays you are also directly supporting a local family and playing a role in sustainable tourism.
SEE: SA's newest eco-label to see expansion of Green Coast
Support local restaurants, markets and street stalls instead of running off to the nearest fast food or international restaurant chain. Before you leave for your trip, familiarise yourself with food products that might be on the endangered list. In South Africa SASSI provides an extensive list of green fish (okay to eat), orange fish (think twice) and red fish (avoid).
SEE: Sassi Red List Alert: Rock Lobster season opens, huge fines still applicable
Use local transport or carpool where possible to minimise your carbon footprint, and if your destination allows it, explore on foot (walking tours are a great way to experience a place). If self-driving, plan your trips to eliminate unnecessary kilometers.
SEE: Cape Town to be first city in Africa to use electric buses
Reduce your use of plastic and bring (and use) your own toiletries. Instead of buying new travel-size bottles every time, why don’t you just refill the same bottles at home?
Did you know that 500 000 half-used bars of soap are sent to landfills daily? And then there is also the half-used plastic bottles (or tubes) of shampoo, body wash and lotion.
- Activities and buying local products
A typical day of exploring while travelling involves places to go, things to do and people to meet. Be a responsible traveller when you choose your activities.
Engage with local culture in a respectful manner; ask before taking photos, dress appropriately, respect religious rituals and traditions. Choose activities that do no harm to the environment; no abusive animal activities (for example elephant riding, tiger selfies, cub petting or dolphin swimming).
SEE: The Rise of Naked Tourism: It reveals more than just bare bottoms
Support local tour operators, engage with those who plough back into their communities, those who employ locally and focus on education. Support local stores, arts and crafts and don’t purchase anything made from ivory, turtle shell or other harmful animal products. If you are visiting a country where haggling is the norm, keep in mind that you can afford to travel, don’t be petty over R10. Settle and pay.
It is time that our need for a better planet becomes bigger than our need for that perfect photo, item or activity.
Water is our most valuable resource and it is pretty simple: Don't waste it.
SEE: PICS: Cape Water Crisis collection points as Level 6b water restrictions announced
Plastic pollution is bigger than ever and it will continue to take over and occur in natural places such as our oceans where marine animals consume it unless we drastically cut down on plastic. Instead of buying new plastic products while travelling, use a reusable water bottle, coffee cup and shopping bag. Stay clear of food-on-the-go (or rather, its containers and utensils), packaged food and decline straws.
WATCH: Kenyans want to sail recycled flip-flops boat to SA
Dispose your trash in allocated trash cans and keep an eye out for recycling bins. If you see a piece of plastic in the street or on the beach, be nice to planet earth and pick it up. If you are going for a hike or picnic somewhere in nature leave nothing but footprints, take your trash and food leftovers home with you. Leftover food can cause health problems for wild animals and birds and it robs the animal of its natural survival skills and habituates them to humans.
In case you are wondering if it is okay to feed a monkey, bird or antelope in a national park or reserve in South Africa, the answer is a big fat, NO.
There are but a few simple things you can do to be friendlier to our planet; there is no change too small because in the end, all the small changes can and will have a big impact.
What to read next on Traveller24:
- WATCH: Turtles on Christmas Island battle against pollution
- PICS: Cape Water Crisis collection points as Level 6b water restrictions announced
- Get your cute dose for the day with this newly discovered dwarf lemur