Is it Possible to Live a Sustainable Life on the Road?

Leave only footprints in the sand, not devastation to the land...

I’ve been on the travel trail almost consistently, since 2009, with only small gaps of attempted settlement. I’ve visited more than 40 countries, on 5 continents and I’ve taken 1000’s of flights, buses, trains, and ferries… Now that’s a pretty big carbon footprint, don’t you think?!

There's no shortage of Facebook articles, Instagram pleas and world news coverage documenting what a terrible effect humanity is having on the planet. So naturally, I'm tuning in and considering what my lifestyle choices are doing to this earth. A younger me would have been flippant about the whole situation and just roamed around with my head up my arse in search of pleasure and worldly stimulation. But, my older and more connected self, says it's time to change these selfish ways.

I decided to change the way I travel about 2 years ago, mainly due to an irrational fear of packing and crippling travel anxiety. Even with all the practice I've had had never seemed to subside. My solution full-time Van-life! Since April 2018 I've been living life on the road in my self converted van 'Van-essa' and it’s been a revolutionary experience for me. No more packing bags, everything is right there. No more missing planes. No more waiting for late trains. And no more nights spent sleeping crammed into a seat that doesn’t recline, next to a dribbling stranger on a “VIP” coach.

This huge change in lifestyle has got me thinking about my impact on this beautiful world I enjoy exploring so much. I’ve been hearing all these buzz words being thrown around like, ‘reduce your footprint,’ ‘Green Travel’, ‘Eco-Tourism’ and ‘Sustainable Travel’ but what does it all mean? Surely there’s no way I’ve missed out on a way to actually make my foot smaller? (Size 42 on a woman, not so hot!) And these scientists are not referring to ‘Green Travel’ in terms of those guys visiting California or Amsterdam, right?

Part of the confusion surrounding sustainable travel is the plethora of names being used for it within the industry. Ecotourism, as it is most commonly referred to, is a movement that began to take shape back in the 1980s. However with United Nations declaring 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, and more recently Europe passing a law to ban some of the most common single-use plastics as of 2020. We are creating a greater interest within the travel community and the travel industry to take a more environmentally friendly approach, protect the natural and cultural heritage of a destination, and support local communities.

But what does this actually mean?

The word “ecotour” was first recorded in 1973, followed by “ecotourism” in 1982 in The Oxford English Dictionary. They define the word as, “Tourism to areas of ecological interest (typically exotic and often threatened natural environments), especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife; spec. Access to an endangered environment controlled so as to have the least possible adverse effect.” What we're asking of ecotourism is to protect the destination environment whilst generating income to be reinvested back into the local community.

To be truly considered eco-friendly, ecotourism must make a positive impact on both the ecological environment and economy of a given destination.

How do we become more Eco-travellers?

1. Pack Light – Whether you are taking flights, trains, buses or driving around in a van like me, weight means higher fuel consumption. This is still something I have not fully managed to master. My van is filled to the brim with non-compulsory items, I'm no minimalist, I enjoy my home comforts and I'm still packing for all potential weather conditions, but what I am doing not buying or collecting anything more and only replacing when things break or truly leave the van!

2. Stop Poisoning the Soil – Change your products like Shampoo/conditioners, soap

and dish detergent to ones with more eco-friendly ingredients. I choose not to have a chemical toilet in the van, instead, I have a bucket with a kiddies training toilet seat, which I empty and rinse with 'Method - Rhubarb' plant-based cleaning solution (smells great) and I also use 'Ecover' washing up liquid so I don’t have to worry about where I dispose of my grey waste. Unfortunately, there's been a recent uprising about these companies being bought by S.L Johnson, who have been exposed for animal testing. However, I still enjoy the personal ethos of brands and these companies offer a refilling service, are plant-based and smell amazing. Another thing to consider for the soil is to dispose of any food waste correctly, even if decomposable, it may not be helpful to the ground you’re throwing it on... so next time you toss your banana skin or apple core out the window of the van, have a little consideration.

3. Save Water - Shower less, people often joke about us “dirty hippies” but there’s a lot to be said for washing your hair and clothes less. My clothes are lasting longer and my hair is in better condition since shower dodging. Having a hot water wash in my sink is more practical on the road and uses much less water compared to a daily shower. I may be leaning towards the hippy style of living but shaving is still a priority in my life, if you're shaving whilst in the shower consider lathering up and turning the shower off whilst you shave. Your soap stays forthy on the skin making it easier to shave and you're saving a bunch of water. Lastly seems like a simple thing but not everyone is doing it... turn off the tap whilst brushing your teeth! I don't have running water in the van any more so I pour a cup of water and rinse my brush in it before, my mouth with it when I'm done and my brush after brushing, old school and simple water saving.

4. Reduce your Plastics - As I stated in my rant above single-use plastics are for losers! The global market is waking up to this pandemic thankfully pretty quickly but it's still a massive problem. The simple changes I am trying to make whilst living in the van are, I now shop locally (where possible) at markets for my veggies so they are not all packaged in plastic. I take my own bags and place the veggies straight in them. If you eat meat go to the local butcher and take your own reusable containers, they can weigh it for price and place straight in. where it's not possible, I avoid the veg and products packaged and tailor my food choices around what doesn't. Unfortunately, some of my favorite stable products such as hummus and peanut butter come in plastic containers and it breaks my heart to keep creating plastic waste with the huge amounts of these I eat, so I've decided to make my own and reuse my own containers. They are simple and easy to make in the van with my mini food processor and it feels awesome to know exactly what's going into them.

5. Be a Traveller, Not a Tourist – Do your research online before arriving at a place, download maps and information to your phone or other devices if possible to avoid needing to collect paper duplicates… if you do use the paper maps return them after or pass them on. Stick to marked trails and don’t feed the local wildlife, your food may not be part of their normal diet and changing it can bring more harm than good. Take part and educate yourself by immersing in local traditions, music, and foods. Doing so will help integrate tourism in these areas, whilst financially benefiting these communities directly. When on the road I am always trying to get the local scoop on where to eat and hidden gems, it makes for a more exciting experience. I love stopping to eat in 'hole in the wall' restaurant or food trucks and these places are often way less expensive than their touristic counterparts!

I feel blessed to be living life on the road in my van these days, It's certainly reduced the number of flights, buses, and trains I was taking and allows me to put a lot of the things I’ve mentioned into place in my everyday life. I get to explore local communities and try to make a more positive impact on the places I stop.

Vanlife has certainly changed my world but has it reduced my footprint..? It's a good start!

There is so much info out there and so many things we can do to reverse the damage we've been doing. it's our responsibility to make the changes and save our Earth! I’ll be doing more research and reporting back to you on my journey to living a more responsible Vanlife, small changes that make big differences and many other topics related to becoming more conscious of your impact on this glorious planet we live on…

Until then, try and live and travel responsibly peeps.

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