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Is Backpacking BAD for the environment? Some Savvy suggestions to reduce your carbon footprint!

 Inspired by Earth Day and the recent Extinction Rebellion protests around the globe, Savvy Travels have decided to weigh in on this increasingly pressing matter, and offer suggestions as to what we believe is the best way to protect our delicate planet and fragile ecosystems. Please note, this is a hugely complicated topic with many different sub-sets and is impossible to cover everything!

Firstly, what is Earth Day & Extinction Rebellion?
Earth day is celebrated every year on April 22 and is used to demonstrate support for environmental protection.
Extinction Rebellion is a political campaign that protests against how governments and corporations are doing too little to prevent total climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, and has recently (April 2019) been featured in the news after ‘occupying’ four prominent sites in central London: Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square, over a 2-week period. They even had a pink boat situated in the middle of Oxford Circus.
Extinction Rebellion Protest on Waterloo Bridge fighting for greater environmental protection
Is backpacking bad for the environment?
The issue is that flying is very bad for the environment, and so if you are travelling, it is largely unavoidable to catch a series of flights. In fact, the actress Emma Thompson has been ridiculed in the media for flying from LA to London to join the Extinction Rebellion activists, a 5,456 mile trip, because flying is such a large contributor to climate change. It is estimated her flight emitted a huge 1.43 tonnes of carbon dioxide (source: Flight Carbon Calculator).
Plane flying in the sky
So at face value, Backpacking is most certainly bad for the environment and contributing to the damage to the planet.
However, here at Savvy Travels, we controversially argue that Backpacking can be a force for GOOD in the battle against climate change. Hear us out…
Our Founder, Cam Kav, was a lot like other Backpackers before they embarked on their travels; mildly aware of the damaging effects of climate change, but completely ignorant to the sheer size and urgency needed to treat the crisis.
However, when you travel, you see the beauty of what the natural world has to offer a lot more than when you are stuck in your daily routine back home. It is therefore incredibly shocking, and deeply saddening, when you are travelling and you see these once beautiful areas completely ruined by pollution. The longer you travel, the more apparent it becomes that this is not a ‘one-off’ and is instead occurring throughout the world - and is only getting worse.
A particular moment that has really influenced Cam Kav’s outlook on the subject was when working as a Divemaster on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia. Diving on the same reef every day for 3 continuous months, he witnessed first hand the death of countless corals, and the subsequent underwater, concrete graveyard that emerged. The rising sea temperatures caused by climate change makes the water inhabitable for corals and causes them to initially bleach (turn bright white) before then dying. This process, from bleaching to dying, takes a mere 6 weeks and has seen a staggering half of the GBR die since 2016. Seeing such beautiful coral reefs change so drastically, and so quickly, has had a lasting impact on him.
Man scuba diving over bleached coral caused by climate change on the Great Barrier Reef
However, seeing and witnessing these disastrous effects of climate change while backpacking, really spurs you into taking action as you are now so much more aware of the fragility of the situation. If you want your friends, future children etc. to see and experience the same beautiful things you witnessed while travelling, then drastic and sustained action needs to be taken. Therefore, although the flight is bad for the environment, Savvy Travels believe that this realisation to the climate change disaster and the (hopefully) subsequent changes to a Backpackers’ way of life, can far outweigh the initial impact of the flight.
For instance, and to a lot of people’s annoyance, Cam Kav is now a vegetarian for half of the week and questions every plastic bag that anyone ever buys!
Some savvy suggestions for how to be more environmentally friendly before, during and after your backpacking trip:
  • Plastic Bags – Wherever you are in the world, simply never buy a plastic bag. Bring a bag before you go shopping, or if you forget, just carry the items. Did you know a single plastic bag will take over a thousand years to decompose and tends to end up in the ocean? It also looks a lot like a jellyfish, which just so happens to be turtles’ favourite snack although a lot less nutritious (in fact, fatal…). 4Ocean are a good charity to support that are dedicated to removing plastic out of our oceans. They are funded by people buying bracelets which are made out of plastic taken from the sea – a great birthday present for a friend!
Plastic Bag in the Ocean looking a lot like a jellyfish
  • Get a water bottle - Similar to plastic bags, plastic bottles are a nightmare for the environment. We highly recommend buying a water bottle and taking it with you on your travels, and if you do have to buy a plastic water bottle for whatever reason, try and at least re-use the bottle as much as possible before throwing it away.
  • Eat less meat – The meat industry is the biggest contributor to the environmental disaster. For people who love the taste of meat (which there are a lot of us out there), it is very difficult to give this up. However, adopting Meatless Monday is a great and easy approach, and although it may not feel like having much of an effect, if everyone in the world adopted this it would go a long way in solving the environmental crisis. Beef and Lamb are significantly worse for the environment as they are very inefficient to farm, but even reducing the amount of chicken eaten would have a significant effect. According to Environmental Defense, if every American substituted chicken for vegetarian food for just one meal a week, the carbon dioxide savings would be equivalent to taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads. Something to think about next time you have your lunch…
  • Go the Whole Hog – The ironic ‘hog’ is veganism. Vegans were once laughed at for supposedly being self-righteous and patronising, but has now become increasingly popular and has a huge environmental impact. Just 1 month of veganism results in: 30 animals not eaten, 620 pounds saved of Carbon Dioxide, 913 square feet of forest saved, 1,370 pounds of grain saved and 33,481 gallons saved. Source (Vegan Calculator). Perhaps worth swapping Dryanuary for Veganuary?
  • Directly Offset your Flights Carbon Footprint – After your flight, you can calculate how much Carbon Dioxide you have emitted, and then pay to offset it immediately by supporting environmental charities. Click the following link to do this:
  • Spread the Word - When you are back from your travels, of course tell everyone how amazing it was, but also highlight the effect of climate change, and that everyone needs to do their part to help recover the damage we have already done.
  • Note this list above is not exhaustive, and there are many other ways to try and help protect the environment. We welcome any other savvy suggestions in the comments.

As the pressure is on all of us to individually reduce our carbon footprint, doing some of the above and changing our habits can go a long way to making a difference.  Don’t let the worry of travel and carbon emissions stop you from exploring the world, even in your own country.  It is only by seeing how incredible our planet is and experiencing first-hand the heart break of pollution and plastic in our oceans that you’ll realise just how precious and fragile this incredible place we call home is.

 So go, explore, witness the wonders of the world – but do it the best way you can to look after our planet.  After all, without it we’re dust.

So, is Savvy Travels doing anything to help the environment?
The Savvy Travel Pack uses as many items that are environmentally friendly as possible. For instance, the Toilet Paper Wipes and uniquely the Waterproof Poncho are biodegradable. In addition, the majority of the items are multi-use and so don’t need to be thrown away/replaced and instead can be infinitely recycled. More information on the other items within the pack can be seen here.
Toilet Paper Wipes included in the Savvy Travel PackBiodegradable Waterproof Poncho included in the Savvy Travel Pack
However, the bits we are working on
Currently, the Insect Repellent Wipes and the Emergency Foil Blanket are not biodegradable and is definitely something we would like to change in the near future at Savvy Travels. If anyone happens to know a supplier of these, then please do get in touch (long shot I do realise!).
Savvy Travels also plans to partner with a conservation charity, which is currently being explored and will be announced in due course.
In summary
Savvy Travels encourages you to travel and see the world, as we are so confident that you will fall in love with how great the natural world is, that you will want to protect it for future generations. The Savvy Travel Pack, which items are environmentally friendly, acts as the Backpacker's Ultimate Right Hand Man for these eye-opening, lifetime experiences, exploring the fragility of the world.
Further Reading & Inspiring Information
There are many great documentaries which demonstrate the damaging effect we are having on the planet. A personal favourite of Savvy Travels though is “Chasing Coral”, which depicts the bleaching effect that is happening on the GBR that Cam Kav spoke about earlier in this article. It is a brilliant and entertaining watch, which can be found on Netflix.

1 comment

  • Interesting article, although I think it worth mentioning that there are alternatives to flying, I myself have sailed across the Atlantic and hitch hiked across America. More needs to be said about big government and big businesses, small is beautiful, but good article


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