Be a responsible traveler

Recently having gotten married, Kerry and I decided to take part in the great tradition of the honeymoon. After throwing around every destination idea from Tibet to Borneo, we settled on the relatively close but very epic country of Peru. You may wonder, how can someone manage to travel so much and still maintain that they’re attempting to live sustainably? Of course traveling inherently uses energy and other resources and there’s no way around that at the moment. However you can minimize your use of non-renewable resources and at the same time maximize the positive effects you have during your trip. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and here I share just a few of my favorite tips.

  1. Get a good guide book (borrowed from the library or get a used one). This is crucial. The best guides to look for are Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and Moon Travel because they stress responsible travel. We got a used copy of the Peru Lonely Planet long in advance and relied heavily on it (until I accidently left it behind at an ATM on the morning of the first day of the trip). We eventually tracked down a reasonably priced copy of the Rough Guide to Peru and held on to it for the rest of the trip.
  2. Use public transportation. The more passengers around you, the better. Our primary method of getting from place to place in Peru was bus rides… very, very long bus rides. Most countries have efficient bus systems, but they can be tricky to figure out. Each country has its own rules. This is where a good guide book can help you out. Other options include trains, bicycling, and hitchhiking depending on where you are.
  3. For lodging, seek out alternatives to large commercial hotels and resorts. Other options include camping, couch surfing (see previous post), (haven’t tried this one yet but it seems cool), youth hostels, or small, simple, family-owned hotels. We spent most nights at the later. Once again, a good guide book will help.
  4. Pack nothing (or few things). There are very few things that you really need. We both carried a single small backpack each containing a couple sets of quick-dry clothes, tooth brush, sun block, snacks, and water. My pack weighed less than 4 kg. I’ve always wanted to go on a trip to a foreign country carrying nothing at all, but haven’t managed to pull that one off yet.
  5. Choose your destinations carefully. Focus on sites that preserve natural, cultural, or historical resources. Unfortunately the money you pay to see some of these things often does not go directly to preservation efforts or sustainable economic development, it just makes somebody rich. But it still creates incentive for people to protect these places. Some of the sites on our itinerary included the ruins of Machu Picchu, the Inka Museum, Hauscaran National Park, and the Amazon River.

These simple steps vastly reduced the negative impact that our trip had on Peru and the world and I’m proud to say we stuck to them as closely as we could. There are hundreds of other things you can do. But in general you just need to think about the consequences that your actions have on the local environment and people. Consequently, traveling more sustainably almost always costs less money and is more interesting and memorable than not doing so. Give it a try.

For more tips, check out:

One final note: do not drink any water in South America without treating it.

Some random pictures from the honeymoon.


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