The struggles of attempting to be ethical while travelling

Attempting to live an ethical lifestyle comes with a variety of challenges when you’re trying to do it in your home, let alone when you’re travelling. I’ve spent seven months this year travelling, visiting 5 different countries in total.

Travelling doesn’t always entail flying to another country, but for those of us who live in the UK this is often the case. This is the first major issue, flying is pretty terrible for the environment. I have talked about what I have done to try and mitigate the effects of the flying I’ve done this year, and whether it was actually effective.

The whole purpose of my travel was that I was studying abroad for a semester in Australia. Unfortunately, there really is no alternative method of travel. This is something I feel we have to acknowledge when we berate flying. I am on board with those who campaign to reduce flying. But at the same time, there often isn’t an alternative.

There are things we can do. If you’re going on holiday for example, consider travelling around your home country. For those of you who live in the UK like me, we have great rail links to European countries. Annoyingly, rail fares are often far more expensive than flying, making it much less appealing. When it comes to flying, I think its about weighing up your options, could you go somewhere where you don’t need to fly? Could you use an alternative method of transport?

Acknowledging the damage flying alone does to the environment, there’s also one big issue when you get on the plane. Plastic waste. If you’re flying long haul you’ll often get a blanket, eye mask, headphones and a few other little bits. All wrapped in plastic. Not to mention many of these things are often abandoned and then not reused.

When you get your meal, the cutlery is wrapped in plastic, sometimes it’s even made out of plastic. The water is in plastic, you get a snack wrapped in plastic, the food comes in single use plastic containers.

Often times we can be in control of our plastic usage, we can prepare ahead of time in order to avoid plastic coated foods, for example. When flying, you don’t really have a choice. Sure, you can turn down the meal, but then it will likely go to waste, so you might as well have eaten it.

One thing I do recommend is bringing your reusable water bottle and filling it in the airport, that way you can avoid using five million tiny plastic cups of water when you’re on board.

On the positive side, most airlines do provide vegan meals. So, if that’s part of your lifestyle then you won’t have any struggles there. Also, you get your meal before everyone else! Remember that if you want a vegan meal you need to order it with your airline ahead of time.

Safe to say, its very hard to maintain an ethical lifestyle when flying. Unfortunately the struggles often don’t stop when you’re on the ground at your destination.

You’re probably unfamiliar with the area, and so you don’t know where you can get all your favourite eco-friendly items. When I first got to Australia I was totally overwhelmed with the fact I had just moved to a new country that I was living in for five months and where I knew absolutely no one. Being ethical was the last thing on my mind, for the first week I lived off pretty much just white bread and orange juice, not good for the environment nor my health. (Australian orange juice is really good though and I miss it a lot).

Also, whether you’re staying for a while or a short amount of time the point of travelling is to enjoy the experience and have fun. Being ethical and sustainable shouldn’t be top of your list. You have to prioritise yourself sometimes.

There are a few countries around the world where it isn’t safe to drink the tap water, this wasn’t a problem I had this year, but it is one I’ve had in the past. For your own health, it’s important to use bottled water even though it’s not great for the environment. My family got ill from using tap water just to brush their teeth in Mauritius a few years back – so you really do have to be careful. Your wellbeing comes first.

Not to mention, if you’re travelling for a while and staying in hotels without any kitchen facilities you might not get the chance to wash out your water bottle or any of your other reusables. This was a problem I encountered in Japan, where my metal bottle had gotten so grubby I had no choice but to buy plastic bottles. I know that sometimes it can be tempting to deal with a little dehydration because we hate to use plastic, but that really is not a good idea, again, health first.

Talking of Japan. This is something I am going to write a whole post about. It is without a doubt the place I struggled the most with in terms of being eco-friendly and vegan, stay tuned for that.

Different places have different infrastructures and different lifestyles that come as a result of that. When I was in Southern California I was shocked at how reliant you have to be on travelling by car. The public transport system is lacking, to say the least. You can’t get too down on yourself for having to be reliant on unsustainable methods of transport if that’s not usually how you get around. Sometimes there really isn’t another option.

Okay so I don’t want to be all negative. There are some benefits that you’ll find when going abroad. For example, bullet trains in Japan mean that citizens and travellers have an alternative to flying that can get them across the country in a fast, comfortable and eco-friendly way.

In Australia, all of the foods have a label on saying what percentage of the food is grown locally in Australia, and I found that most of the foods had a surprisingly high percentage!

I think it’s just important to remember that it’s okay to mess up on your ethical lifestyle when you’re travelling. I definitely had a higher impact than I would’ve liked when I was away, but I don’t regret going. The decision to study in Australia and travel afterwards is one of the best I have ever made, and I have grown immensely as a person.

I also came home with a renewed vigour for living ethically. Sometimes you need a little travel to inspire you to do the things you love when you’re back home. Definitely try your best to keep up your lifestyle when you’re abroad, but don’t stress too much about it. Ultimately we spend only a very small amount of our lives travelling, and I truly think its an important thing to help us develop and become better people.

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