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How to travel ethically (sort of)

I’ve been planning my summer travels, which will take me to Verona, Nice, Toulouse and Barcelona.
I’ll be the first to admit it: my Paris trip wasn’t particularly eco-friendly. I knew that I only had time for four days and that my budget was limited, so I booked a flight. It’s crazy to think that just 15 to 20 years ago, this was not a sentence anyone would have said – flights just weren’t the cheap option. While I think it’s great that you don’t have to be loaded anymore to see the world, I don’t think this means that we should just always use the cheap option simply because it is the cheapest. Flying (and – less so – driving a car) seriously harms the environment, there’s just no way around that fact. Of course, some people have to fly: If someone works a stressful job that requires them to jump from city to city, they have to travel a great distance that’s just not manageable by any other means or have a disability that restricts their options, of course they’ll have to fly. But I personally really don’t. So, this summer, I’m going on my third Interrail (link here) journey that is going to end in Toulouse, where I will be spending the following semester.

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And that brings me to the first thing I do: take the train instead of flying. In addition to the environmental aspects it’s always an adventure to take a night train.

The second thing I (don’t) do is that I don’t go shopping abroad. I don’t do that at home either, but I also don’t use being in a different country as an excuse to do it somewhere else. Other countries being cheaper than the one you’re from doesn’t mean that the catastrophic environmental and humanitarian effects of fast fashion just magically disappear. I believe we should only buy what we truly need and then use it for as long as we can. If you do really want to take something material home, why not get one item (preferably one that you needed anyways) at a small shop that produces locally and provides good quality that will last you a long time? That is if that trip has to be remembered materially at all. We tie our emotions to objects so much that we forget what amazing experiences we actually had.

 

 

On a similar note, stay at places owned by locals. That could be a hostel, a hotel or even an Airbnb, the important thing is that you’re actually supporting the local economy instead of mulit-national corporations who pay their employees minimum wage (which, in many countries, doesn’t even pay for food and housing) and widen the gap between rich and poor even further (and yes, those places exist on Airbnb now, too). The smaller, locally-owned places usually also provide a closer look at how people actually live. Isn’t that way more interesting than a fenced-in four-star mega-resort?

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And lastly, eating a local, largely plant-based diet will help a lot. Sure, there’s still places where you can get fresh fish that was caught by fisher(wo)men in a small boat using fishing rods and nothing else, but that is becoming more and more of an exception. Our oceans are severely overfished, and animal agriculture is cruel to the planet, the workers and the animals. Being in a new place doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to work against that.

I’m trying to get better at ethical travel and cut out practices like flying to Paris for a couple of days for the heck of it. In my experience, ethical travel isn’t just good for who and what surrounds us, but it also provides me with a deeper delve into local culture, more unforgettable stories and the knowledge that even if I couldn’t get everything right, at least I tried.

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