Backpacking is not as bad for the environment as you might think. Studies recently showed that backpackers are even quite sustainable, without being aware of it. This statement got me thinking, because fact is that I am a backpacker as well. The headline got stuck in my head for days. Though when I tried to look up the article via Google I couldn’t find it anymore. Therefore I decided to give it some more thought and came up with my own reasons/theory why backpacking is a more sustainable way to travel.
As a backpacker, you often share tuk tuks and other vehicles, live out of your backpack and directly support the local economy. Besides, you can’t afford a luxurious lifestyle. These are all kinds of sustainable practices. By adopting a low-consumption lifestyle, you reduce the effect of tourism on the destination. Furthermore, you probably live more sustainable than you would at home.
Boosting the local economy
Sadly, the local community of a destination does not benefit from big resorts or fancy restaurants. Though, instead of staying in a fancy resort or expansive hotel, backpackers choose to go local. Sleeping at small accommodations such as a hostel is not only cheap but it also brings value to the trip. This is where they meet companions to drink beers and share travel stories with during sunset. Backpackers are in the search of real experience, and will therefore often choose local food over Western food. Besides it being cheap and delicious, they get the chance to talk to the local owner of the restaurant.
Using local transport
The train and bus is a beloved way of transport among backpackers. It is cheap, not super uncomfortable and brings you (often at night) from A to B. Taking the bus or a train is a very good alternative for a (domestic) flight, as it reduces the CO2 emissions with 75%. Once at the destination, backpackers like to share tuk tuks or taxi’s. The fee will be split and sometimes friendships are born during the drive. Some destinations are known for their bike-friendly traffic. Think about Hoi An in Vietnam or Ubud in Bali – travellers like to get on a bike to explore the area.
Luxury is out of the picture
Living out of a 60 liter backpack brings along some disadvantages. The amount of possessions is limited. You don’t want to carry a lot of kilo’s either as you’ll have to do quite a lot of walking. It also has to fit in the bag without taking too much space. This adds up to, well, basically NO luxury – just essentials. But hey: stuff doesn’t make you happy. Soon enough you’ll learn that actually you don’t need so much and that life with less stuff isn’t so bad. Contradicting over-consumption, backpackers live from the ultimate minimum. And as over-consumption is the root to many unsustainable practices and issues, reducing consumption is sustainable.
Traveling is never a 100% sustainable practice
Of course, when we look at the backpacking culture in general, we cannot claim that it is a sustainable practice. Like tourism in general, backpacking is still unhealthy to the earth. But I wonder whether or not people live more sustainable when backpacking than at home. At home you’re only traveling to work or your university, and backpackers sometimes travel for tens of thousands of kilometers – a lot of CO2 emissions. But I personally think that the change in consumption of an average backpacker is a large carbon offset. Besides, at a local level, unlike other forms of tourism, it creates many opportunities for the sustainable practices and it boosts the local economy of the destination significantly.