Redefining “Deluxe”: Getting Away From It All With Minimal Ecological Impact

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“You don’t have to be rich to travel well.” Eugene Fodor

Long-distance travel has become something many of us take for granted. “Vacation” has come to be synonymous in many people’s minds with “all-inclusive luxury resort in some warm country with nice beaches.” Unfortunately this type of travel has costs beyond the package deal. In transitioning to a holistic minimalist lifestyle you’re probably also re-examining the impact you have in the world around you and wondering how you can still get away from it all without buying into unsustainable models. Here are a few suggestions…

19.1 What Does “Getting Away From It All” Mean to You?

Have you ever really thought about what the minimal version of “getting away from it all” would be for you? If you weren’t following the normal patterns of “how to go on holiday,” what would your criteria be? Maybe all you really need is to be in a new space, surrounded by nature with no internet or cell phone connection. Maybe you just want to be in an environment where you’ll meet new people and not have to talk about your work. Or maybe you just want to hang out in a hammock and read a good novel for three days. If your baseline desire is something that can be met without travelling abroad, why not simply check out some geographically close airbnb, cottage rentals, camping or even house-sitting options that would meet your needs? There’s almost definitely a relatively local solution that suits your budget.

19.2 Luxury Is What You Don’t Have Everyday

“Remember that happiness is a way of travel – not a destination.” Roy M. Goodman

If you apply the same thinking to the idea of luxury, when you break it down, luxury is simply something we don’t have access to in our regular everyday lives. With that in mind, redefining “deluxe” travel is a lot easier. If you’re a parent for example, getting 3 days to yourself with no one calling your name every five minutes and without having to clean of cook for anyone can be a huge luxury. If you have a high-pressure job, luxury may mean taking five days away from email and all forms of instant messaging. Or perhaps you live in a city because of work but constantly crave silence and immersion in nature. All of these needs are incredibly luxurious experiences when you carve out space for yourself to get them! Before you plan your next trip, think about what would be the ultimate minimalist (i.e. simple!) luxury you could provide yourself and make that the goal of your holiday. Just focusing on the above two points should allow you to downscale the amount of long-distance travel you do in any given year!

19.3 Explore Closer To Home & Create Local Connections

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” Herman Melville

Let’s face it. No matter how much effort various airlines put into being “greener,” travelling by air is not particularly good for the planet, especially when it involves long distances. If you’re a frequent flyer you might not be willing to give up air travel 100%, but it’s worth thinking about the ways in which you can drastically reduce your use of this relatively recent luxury.

First off, you may not have considered the amazing places you can easily get to by land! No matter what country you live in there are likely some pretty magical places you’ve never explored. For those of us in North America, we have the advantage of having huge countries with incredibly diverse landscapes and access to oceans on both sides without having to deal with the hassle of borders. Before booking your next week-off in Cuba, take a look at a map of what you can reach in the equivalent amount of land travel (ideally train, bus or other public transport, especially if you’re travelling solo, but by car if you’ve got a gaggle of progeny…). This not only benefits the environment and will likely cost you way less, it also has the advantage of allowing you to actually get to know your country. Connection to place is a fundamental piece of human well-being that is too often overlooked in our day and age.

Another thing in the equation is the added potential for developing and maintaining relationships with people who live in the same country as you. When you travel to resorts, or even just travel across oceans, you either create no new bonds (by being in a tourist-oriented environment cut off from the local people and their reality) or ones that will be difficult to keep up if your long term goal is to diminish unsustainable travel. Long-distance friendships are great, but ones closer to home are much more practical and sustainable in the long term. Using your travel time to visit friends and family in your country of origin can be both fun and cost-effective as food and housing are often the main costs of travel abroad. If you don’t have anyone you feel like visiting, then exploring closer to home can be a great way of developing new connections with people who you will want to go hang out with in future! Humans are social creatures and the more and more research backs up the fact that our happiness in life is decided by the quality of our social connections.[1]

19.4 Travel By Land Even When Abroad

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Neale Donald Walsch

So you absolutely want to go explore X country far away. Once you bite the bullet and buy that plane ticket, how do you reduce your impact while travelling? Number one, plan on travelling by land once you get there, don’t just arrive in one place and then fly hither and yon. You’ll be missing out on a tonne of sightseeing and adventures! While travelling by land may take a bit more planning, it’s the way to go if you really want to get to know a place and its people and have a bit less of a negative environmental impact. And don’t just travel by land! Travel by public transportation whenever possible! Renting a private vehicle or taking taxis everywhere is better than flying, but figuring out the local bus and train systems is the ideal. You’ll need to take the time to get reliable information on how things work in the country you’re visiting, but assuming you’re travelling in a country that’s relatively safe for tourists, there’s no reason not to hop on a bus with the locals!

19.5 Pick Sustainable Destinations

This doesn’t just mean go stay in an eco-resort. It also means choose your travel destinations based on a country’s commitment to environmental sustainability. A little research will provide with a list of countries doing their all to minimize their ecological footprint. Reading up on a country’s policies before choosing to travel there will allow you to be a much more effective minimalist traveler once abroad then showing up and then realizing it’s impossible to travel there without participating in the wasting of a huge amount of resources (e.g. a trip to Dubai or Las Vegas…). Costa Rica, Norway and Iceland are some of the better-known eco-friendly tourist destinations but there are a lot of other ones out there!

Of course staying in eco-friendly accomodations is also great! There are more and more places offering these types of options to attract conscious travellers. You can find environmentally friendly housing on everything from Airbnb to simply google-searching eco-hostels of hotels. There’s also the surefire solution of simply packing up a tent and going camping! This is inevitably the most low-impact type of travel you could go for, especially if you choose a relatively local destination that you can reach by land.

19.6 Consider Carbon Offsetting

When you do choose to travel by plane, consider carbon-offsetting. If you’re not familiar with that term, it basically means contributing to something that will help balance out the carbon emissions created by your travelling. The Collins Dictionary defines it as “a compensatory measure made by an individual or company for carbon emissions, usually through sponsoring activities or projects which increase carbon dioxide absorption, such as tree planting.” [2] Many carbon-offsetting organizations will also contribute to renewable energy such as wind turbines and biomass energy. It’s worth looking into the different options available and also checking where each organization directs your money, as some forms of “green” energy are contested, such as hydroelectric dams which actually produce CO2 as a result of decomposition of plants drowned by flooding areas for the dams, among other issues.[3]

19.7 Make Your Home “Green” When You Go…

One super easy thing to do to reduce the impact of your travelling is to make sure your place of residence is fully “shut down” when you leave, for whatever duration. Unplug any appliances you won’t be using, such as TV’s,wifi routers, lamps, kitchen appliances, etc. (make sure you empty your fridge and freezer before you do!). Turn heating and cooling down to the absolute minimum possible. If you’re leaving in winter for a longer period you may even consider draining the water pipes so you don’t have to worry about freezing issues while you’re gone. Otherwise, keep a low level of heating going in whatever area your water pipes come in from outside or where pipes are thinnest or made of metal, as these are the most likely freeze points.

19.8 Things To Pack For Less Waste While Away

There a couple things you’ll want to get before you leave if you really want to be an eco-friendly tourist. One is a reusable water bottle. Depending on where you’re travelling that may be enough, but you will likely want to get a reusable water bottle with a filter built into it so that you can drink water wherever you go without having to worry about reacting to local microbes. There are several reliable companies making great filter bottles out there, including the well-known home filter company Britta, among others.

Secondly, you ideally want to try and pack clothing you’ll feel comfortable wearing without needing to do loads of washing regularly! This will be both logistically simpler, since not everywhere you go will have easy access to washing and drying machines, but will cut down on water and energy consumption. Don’t let this be a reason to pack twice as much clothing, mind you. Packing light is also part of minimalist travelling, for obvious reasons. You may need to rethink your wardrobe, but once you have couple quick-dry, breathable pieces you should be good to go. All this really requires is doing a proper check up of local weather trends for the time you’ll be wherever it is you’re going! Then just pack accordingly.

If you’re bringing a day-bag for your trip, consider bringing something that can also serve as your “reusable bag” for any shopping, be it groceries or gifts, that you do while travelling so as to avoid being given plastic bags that you then have to dispose of. Even if the country you’re visiting technically “recycles,” they likely don’t accept all types of plastic and planning ahead will insure you don’t need to run around seeking out recycling bins or interrogating the locals as to why you can’t recycle your plastic bottles and bags.

19.9 Buy Local

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” James Michener

If you’re eating out while travelling, or even when shopping for groceries, try and buy local goods as much as possible. This isn’t just about supporting the local economy and artisans, though that’s also a good reason to do so. By choosing a local beer or wine, for example, over the international brand you may know well, you’re not contributing to the huge emissions costs of international transportation.

Obviously you want to be well-informed and cautious about certain things depending where you’re travelling as food quality varies a lot from country to country and even between places within one city or town. Make sure you’re eating food that’s safe for your consumption, but go for locally sourced stuff whenever you can!

Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” Buddha

  1. Create your own definition of “getting away from it all,” and “luxury”! There’s no need to follow mainstream ideas that make long-distance travel an essential element of either of these things.
  2. Come up with a list of local destinations and people you’d like to visit. Prioritize these places instead of flying across the globe whenever you want to get away.
  3. If travelling abroad, choose land travel once there.
  4. Pick sustainable destinations. Stay in eco-friendly accomodations and choose where you travel based on the country’s environmental policies.
  5. Carbon offset your big trips.
  6. Put your home of energy save mode before leaving. Shutdown all your appliances and heating-cooling systems when you go away!
  7. Pack wisely. Don’t get stuck buying plastic water bottles and bags when you’re abroad!
  8. Buy local once you’re there.
  1. What Matters More? Size or Quality of Your Social Network,” Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today
  2. Definition of “carbon offset, ”collinsdictionary.com
  3. The hydropower paradox: is this energy as clean as it seems?” Matt Weiser, The Guardian Weekly, 2016, theguardian.com

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