How to travel with a small footprint
Traveling and a sustainable lifestyle, at first it sounds as if this doesn't really go together. Or maybe when you go on a bike tour and sleep in a tent... well, most people don't associate it with traveling to other continents at first.
It doesn't matter so much where you travel, but how you behave. If you leave rubbish everywhere on your bike tour, pollute water and waste resources, you are still not traveling sustainably. Here are a few tips on how you can have a sustainable lifestyle on a trip to South America:
Many of our projects are in remote areas. This means that the mail rarely comes and even less often, if at all, the garbage truck. Therefore, the best way to tackle the garbage problem is not to produce or bring garbage in the first place. In concrete terms, as you pack your bags, think about what might turn into rubbish during the trip and leave it at home. For example, shampoo bottles, deodorant sprays, toothpaste tubes, etc. No one needs them, and certainly none of our nature conservation projects. So pack shampoo bars, conditioner bars, deodorant bars, toothpaste tablets and soap bars. Incidentally, that was standard until the 1980s, only then did liquid soap become widespread, just ask your parents or grandparents. The advantage: The blocks are simply used up and leave no waste except for a small piece of wrapping paper. It is even best to make sure that your soap bar is wrapped in paper and not plastic.
Also pay attention to what you buy locally and what is left of it: Does it have to be the chocolate bar in the plastic packaging, or would a banana do? Does it have to be the shrink-wrapped peanuts or corn snacks from the supermarket, or can the loose ones from the corner shop, packed in paper bags, also work? Or, does it have to be the Coca Cola in the plastic bottle, or does it also work with water that you fill in your reusable stainless steel drinking bottle? There are many little things that add up to make a huge difference.
Especially if you work in a national park or visit one in your free time, you will often come across signs warning tourists not to leave anything behind. There are no trash cans beyond the entrance in many South American national parks because you are expected to take all your trash with you. So, you should always have a garbage bag with you on excursions, because banana peels or apple casings shouldn’t be left there either. Organic residue can also affect sensitive ecosystems and animals! The best thing to do, think about the day before which provisions produce the less waste.
Incidentally, you can already avoid rubbish during your journey to your destination country. For example, by only eating in airport restaurants that serve “real” dishes instead of plastic plates and cutlery.
When it came to the garbage, we already talked about shampoo bottles. With everything to do with water and hygiene, you also must keep in mind that many of our projects are in or near very sensitive ecosystems that must not be allowed to get out of balance. In addition, in many countries the wastewater treatment system is not as well developed as in your home country. So, it is important to keep the water as clean as possible. Please make sure that you only bring detergent, soap, shampoo, and conditioner that are biodegradable and use them sparingly.
The same applies to cosmetics and sunscreen. Sunscreen should not only be eco-friendly but also reef-friendly, meaning it shouldn't contain toxic substances that damage our oceans and coral reefs. You don't really need makeup on our volunteer projects, but if you feel more comfortable with it, please make sure that it's completely biodegradable. Another important issue is saving water. Many projects or language school locations are in areas where water shortages are a serious issue. There everyone - locals, visitors, volunteers or language students - have to save water. Take a quick shower, wash clothes only when necessary and when you have enough together to fill the laundry; and don't leave the tap running is the motto. Water is life, please don’t waste it!
You are what you eat...
You can also protect the environment when eating in the projects. Of course, not everyone has to become vegetarian, although it would help. In most projects, meat is also on the menu in reduced quantities. But with very simple measures you can help ensure that your lifestyle at your destination is sustainable: If you don't want to eat at the project but want to go out, let the project know in good time. We want to avoid leftovers that are thrown away (no food waste!). If you feel like snacking, pay attention to the packaging, as described above. Like the locals, try to live off what's available. Some projects are self-sufficient, which is of course the most sustainable way of life. You'll be amazed how quickly you get used to it and later find everything else to be a luxury - which it basically is.
Less is more…
…that also applies to souvenir shopping. Especially in areas that live off tourism, the choice - and thus the potential for temptation - is often huge. Thousands of colorful little souvenirs smile at you and you think of family and all your friends, for whom you would like to take one. And then of course to yourself, because when will you come to such an exotic place again... Our tip: Take a close look. What souvenirs come from local artisans? What's mass-produced from God-knows-where with just the name of the place printed on it? If you want to be sustainable, then it is better to buy fewer souvenirs, but unique ones, made from local materials, by local "Artesanos". It may be a bit more expensive, but: first, your money stays in the region, with someone who really needs and deserves it. Second, you don't encourage "little stuff" to be shipped halfway around the world with a great deal of CO2.
...it would be ideal if you could offset the CO2 emissions of your flight.
And hey, who says that you should only pay attention to a sustainable lifestyle in remote places in South America? If you're not already doing it (in which case this post wasn't for you), it would be wonderful if you continued to save water, reduce waste, use biodegradable products, and avoid wasting food at home. We and the environment thank you! 😊
If you have any questions, we're here to help, and if you have any other suggestions, we'd love to hear them from you. Just contact us!