Guide to Sustainable Living and a Zero Waste Lifestyle: Part 4 – Eco Friendly Travel Guide

Personal Copyright Image of Arushi Sana

गिरयस्ते पर्वता हिमवन्तोऽरण्यं ते पृथिवि स्योनमस्तु । बभ्रुं कृष्णां रोहिणीं विश्वरूपां ध्रुवां भूमिं पृथिवीमिन्द्रगुप्ताम् । अजीतेऽहतो अक्षतोऽध्यष्ठां पृथिवीमहम् ॥११॥

Girayas-Te Parvataa Himavanto-[A]rannyam Te Prthivi Syonam-Astu |
Babhrum Krssnnaam Rohinniim Vishvaruupaam Dhruvaam Bhuumim Prthiviim-Indra-Guptaam |
Ajiite-[A]hato Akssato-[A]dhyasstthaam Prthiviim-Aham ||11||

Meaning: 11.1: Salutations to Mother Earth, O Mother Earth, may your Hills and snow-clad Mountains spread its coolness within us, may your Forests spread its delight within us,
11.2: You present a universal form with your many colours – Brown of mountains, Blue of rivers, Red of flowers; But behind all these enchanting appearances O Mother Earth, you are like Dhruva – Firm and Immovable; You are protected by Lord Indra,
11.3: On Your firm foundation which is unconquered, unslayed and unbroken, I stand firm and whole, O Mother.

This is the eleventh shloka (verse) from an ancient Indian Hindu scripture of wisdom and knowledge called Bhoomi Sukta from the Atharva veda. Bhoomi means Earth and Sukta means Hymn. The Vedas were scriptures written by Hindu sages, that contained detailed information on Mathematics, Science, Astronomy, Health and Life Sciences. In 1500 BCE, Hindu Sages predicted the degradation of the Environment and instilled a value for Planet Earth in people, by reciting hymns and shlokas on it. They predicted climate change, as they realised how every utility of (wo)mankind is based on the five elements of Nature – water, fire, wind, space (sky) and earth (soil) and how humans would have to continually exert pressure on Nature to sustain. These Shlokas were written in the scientific language of Sanskrit that were unfortunately lost to countless invasions on the Indian subcontinent in it’s history, and were only partially preserved through chanting and memory. Today, life seems to have come to a full circle as we go back in time to revisit the intellect bestowed upon us by learned (wo)men of the past – only to be blown away by the infinite solutions our ancestors have to offer for all our modern-day conundrums. Hindu Sages captured the essence of environment preservation thousands of years ago whilst speaking about how Mother Earth provides human beings with food to eat, medicines to preserve and solutions for protection. No wonder, most of the rituals in Hinduism even today have a deeper meaning rooted in the idea of worshipping nature, expressing our gratitude to the planet that bore us and paying our respects to it for all that we have extracted.

For those of you dear readers who do not know, I started an Eco Project through which I aim to try my hand at sustainable living, promoting a lifestyle which generates negligible waste, and recycling harmful items that would harm the Earth. I decided to undertake the project for 18 weeks and chronicle my entire journey through weekly articles here. At the end of it all, you would have access to my ultimate guide to sustainable living, broken down in the simplest parts, keeping in mind the busy lives we all lead.

You will find the beginning of my Eco Project chronicles of the first few weeks, including the changes I made, with some inspiration from the historic Vedas in:

A few weeks have passed since I began my Eco Project and as promised, I’m back with the 4th part of my eighteen-weeks diary which will include a helpful Guide on Eco-Friendly travel guide and etiquettes.

Eco Friendly Travel Guide/Etiquettes

I am from India, and today my country is celebrating National Tourism Day – I felt it would be an apt day to write on sustainable travelling practices. My family and I have always loved travelling, stumbling upon touristy places as well as bare ones untouched by most of civilisation. Ever since I was a baby, my parents took me for every holiday (at least that’s what they told me) and refused to leave me out of their exploratory adventures. They say I had the lust for wandering since the time I wore diapers because I never complained or cried while travelling and always had a smile on my face the moment we sat in a car or train. Thereafter, I have always left my comfort zone behind, during every vacation and sought nothing but the pleasures of a curious nomad. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money to spend on sparkling hotels but as a compliant family we always managed to save up for the best and cheapest adventures all around the world, in every season of the Earth. It’s been 24 years on this blue-green celestial sphere we call home, and I have been to 27 out of 36 states & union territories in India and 9 other countries. It’s not a lot but it’s what I’m blessed to have experienced so far that has not only added to my thrills but also to my intellectual growth.

The only regret I have today when I look at photo albums is that I wasn’t aware of environmental impacts and the concept of carbon footprint. Everywhere I walked (or rather drove and flew) I left behind emissions and waste – lots of waste. Whether it was in developed countries with efficient waste disposal systems like America or developing countries like my own, India, who’s beauty is unparalleled yet degrading due to littering by irresponsible citizens – waste was everywhere, waste that could have been avoided.

Travelling is food for the soul they say,
But Mother Earth cries as upon her we prey
Swim my seven seas,
But without contaminating me please, she wails
Wander on every kind of soil that Terra holds,
But hurry before Catastrophe enfolds
For the rate at which humans generate waste,
The trees shalt fall before they can be embraced
May there be green in the food on your plate,
It’s turning black and it might be too late
So start travelling zero-waste and ditch the plastic trash bag,
Before “Sustainable” remains just an Instagram hashtag

Fortunately, I’m an aware Earthling today who understands that there are simple things human beings can do to slow down climate change if not reverse it. After all, being on top of the food chain comes with it’s share of responsibilities, doesn’t it?

Personal Copyright Image of Arushi Sana

Pack Light

I’m someone who hates carrying too much luggage while travelling, I don’t mind repeating my outfits but I definitely mind carrying huge suitcases on what’s supposed to be a holiday of rejuvenation and adventure. But, I only recently discovered that travelling light is not only a convenient thing to do but is also an eco-step. The weight of luggage you carry on a flight contributes to the total weight of the plane and to the total amount of fuel it will consume/burn which is directly proportional to the amount of Carbon emission caused by that plane. Think twice if you really need to shop before you go to the beach and if your swimsuit from last year will work just fine. Also, carry cloth bags instead of polythene ones for your shoes. Honestly, it’s pretty easy to not pack that extra black dress or your new pair of formal trousers from the men’s section of Van Heusen when you’re going for a Jungle Safari. After all, who are we dressing up for, the raccoons? Rafiki, I love you but I’m sure cargo pants and shorts will do enough justice to our ‘wanderlust-hashtagged’ posts on Instagram.

Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion is the concept of designing, manufacturing, distributing and using clothing in environmentally friendly ways. It captures the carbon emissions of the entire Fashion industry as a whole, from production to disposal and aims to tackle it. Regular fast fashion brands manufacture clothes from inorganic textile materials that immensely harm the Earth during both manufacturing and disposing. When you’re travelling, opt for airy breathy clothes that are made from sustainable and organic materials like cotton, khadi, Papaya silk, silk, Piñatex, wool, linen or lyocell. Sustainable fabrics are made from natural and earth-friendly materials. Wearing them while travelling is not only comfortable, but it also promotes the cause, creates awareness among other travellers and holistically creates a demand for green clothing. India has perhaps the richest textile culture and history in the world and whenever we travel, my mother buys a Saree or Dupatta from every state which is famous for handloom. Handloom is a sustainable, ancient Hindu form of textile where exquisite art is handwoven onto a single piece of organic fabric using natural dyes by hundreds of weavers for months without any harmful equipment, and then sold as a proud reminder of not only the country’s heritage but also the skilful hands it is home to.

Handloom Saree woven into papaya silk using natural dyes, native to Panchmarhi, Madhya Pradesh, India. The art designs showcase the tribal life. Personal Copyright Image of Arushi Sana

Hotels

While researching on how the hotel industry negatively impacts the Environment, given how much waste is disposed from every room by unaware occupants, I came across the concept of Eco-friendly staycations and hotels. These hotels are organic in the sense that every waste disposed by the occupants is either biodegradable or compostable. The toiletries provided by the hotels are one hundred percent organic and wrapped in paper or other forms of eco-friendly packaging. Even the bed linens are made of cotton or other eco-friendly textiles and are washed using non-chemical detergent powders. Using organic products for both wellness and cleanliness allows natural substances to be disposed off instead of chemical ones which doesn’t harm the soil when this waste meets it. The water used in every washroom is recycled for the rooms itself or for watering the plants around the hotel. There is not a single plastic bottle in sight, or cutlery. Everything is either in reusable forms such as steel and glass or good old eco-friendly bamboo. Now, options like these are very few and the zero waste hotel culture has started only recently but the idea is to begin with searching online for an eco hotel wherever you’re travelling and opting to stay in it instead of your usual B&B or luxury resorts. Moreover, even if you can’t find a sustainable staycation, you can always stay in regular hotels and still generate little to no waste personally. We’re all responsible for the waste we dispose and it’s not the hotel’s responsibility alone to recycle every room’s mess.

Personal Copyright Image of Arushi Sana

Cutlery

The highest usage of single use plastics was found to be in the production of straws. More than 500 Million straws are used in the United States of America every single day, which makes the annual utility rise up to an alarming 180 Billion Straws. An astonishing number of 100,000 marine animals are killed every year due to choking on plastic straws alone. Sadly, the solution is as simple as purchasing a permanent and reusable metal straw or bamboo straw – and yet, the world still sells harmful plastic ones. Vietnam found a beautiful solution and produced edible plant straws that are excellent for your oral health too, you can read about it in another article of mine. The next time you travel, carry your metal/bamboo straw with you, it takes only one second of your conscious effort to save thousands of exquisite marine creatures from choking. If you forget to carry your straw on some trips, just order a beverage that comes in a glass, one that doesn’t require disposal and one that doesn’t require a straw for consumption. The moment you see plastic or non-biodegradable cutlery, steer clear from it. Plastic spoons and forks that travellers usually carry are one of the biggest contributors to single-use and micro plastics that cannot be recycled and land up in landfills. Carry your own stainless steel/reusable cutlery or at least biodegradable bamboo ones. This might seem cumbersome initially but it’ll honestly take very little space in your luggage/bag and you’ll probably just have to replace an extra pair of pyjamas to accommodate it.

Metal Straw at an organic cafe where the chairs were made of scrap wood Personal Copyright Image of Arushi Sana

Handkerchief/Biodegradable tissues

Tissues are one of the worst uses of paper. There are very few brands that manufacture them from recycling paper waste in an attempt to save time and money. When you look at a tissue from afar, it’s a little tough to identify if it has been made from recycled paper, if it is compostable or if it is biodegradable. Also, the disposal of these tissues is not in your control when you use them while travelling. Switch to tissue brands that are compostable or one hundred percent biodegradable. When I was a child, my late maternal grandmother gave me hand-stitched handkerchiefs, seven of them in different colours with the days of the week stitched onto it – one for every day of the week. My paternal grandmother too kept restocking my collection whenever I caught the flu and my handkerchiefs were in the laundry. I used them throughout my school days but once I went to college, I replaced them with tissues as I thought they were more convenient. They are actually – just picking up a tissue and tossing it in the bin when you’re done sneezing is quite handy. However, as I write this article surrounded by recycled home decor that my mother made from scrap wood and metal, I can only wistfully think of the forests that were cut down to make those tissues for me – all because I couldn’t carry a handkerchief to class in college. Thinking of the majestic creatures living in the very forests that I would perhaps traverse through during a trekking weekend, who lost their homes due to (wo)mankind’s need for saving time, I switched to a handkerchief and am back to basics again. Always carry one while travelling – it’s reusable and easily dries up after a quick wash. I wish naniji was still around, she would’ve made the prettiest handkerchiefs for me with beautiful artistic Indian patterns embroidered on them. Then again, that’s how life teaches us the value of things only after we have lost them.

Handkerchief Personal Copyright Image of Arushi Sana

Littering

The easiest thing we can all do while travelling is to not litter. The name itself suggests disposing off waste, and throwing our empty Cheetos packets on roads of tar, on the green hills of Hawaii or the white Himalayas, in the olive vineyards of France, on the fertile soil of the emerald Amazon or into the Teal seas of Africa is absolutely unacceptable. The harmful waste we throw all around us is consumed by the wild who end up choking on it. Think about it, you throw a plastic straw into the ocean or on the ground. This discarded waste is cancerous to the society both culturally and hygienically. Now imagine billions of people around the world chilling on a weekend without realising where their waste has landed up – into the soil, the same soil that is used for growing vegetables and producing food for us. What’s worse is, marine littering pollutes the marine habitat, enters the bodies of fish living in it which in turn is occasionally captured to feed your belly at a restaurant famous for seafood. This is why, the way you travel is as good as your commitment to the environment. Even if the lives of choked marine and terrestrial animals do not hold any importance for the ignorant souls among us, hygiene definitely does and littering contributes to poor hygiene of a place which is the leading cause for widespread disease in human settlements. During my extensive journeys in Northeast India, I was immensely impressed by the region’s commitment to organic living and cleanliness, and watching the warm Northeast Indians selflessly cleaning up the litter left around by ignorant tourists was a wholesome reminder.

Toiletries

I used to have a plastic pouch for carrying my toiletries while travelling and I always bought new travel-sized chemical-based products from the store that came in shiny bottles. But now, I consciously carry my own organic, plant-based and homemade products which I pack into old reusable bottles. I’ve just stopped throwing away bottles altogether – I keep finding ways to reuse them, either they find a place in my travel kit or they store my homemade shower gels at home. I have also stopped buying chemical based products. While travelling, I make sure to carry my own bamboo toothbrush, a tiny box of tea tree and mint toothpaste, a plant-based cleanser, rosewater as a toner, aloe vera gel as a moisturiser, sulphate-free sunscreen, a wooden comb, a tiny organic soap and organic deodorant. I carry all this so that I don’t have to use the plastic packaged products at the hotel, and so that my personal waste amounts to zero. Ideally all of this should be carried in cloth pouches but I haven’t bought one yet and am on the lookout for one. I also avoid tissues at the hotel as much as I can and stick to the essentials like toilet paper (TMI?).

Organic products Personal Copyright Image of Arushi Sana

Vocal for Local

Shopping

I love buying souvenirs and artefacts while travelling, especially from places of rich culture and history. What I love even more, is chatting with street vendors abroad who have always smiled and given me a discount every time I told them I was from India, or every time I promised street vendors in India that I would post their pictures on my social media. The best thing about buying clothes (preferably sustainable textiles), jewellery and sparkly souvenirs from local vendors on bustling streets is that they pack everything in old newspapers. This truly allows Terra to breathe and eliminates polythene packets. My parents travelled to Europe a few years ago where they bought a copy of Starry Nights by Vincent Van Gogh from a street artist and even he packed the large sized painting in just a newspaper for them, with a polite discount of course. I stay away from malls as much as possible whenever I travel, and no offence to travellers who can’t live without a trip to the swankiest mall in town but to me, they just lack that spark which can only be found in cobbled streets lined with makeshift stores on either side, vendors screaming their throats out trying to flatter you with a hanging pair of shoes and a throng of global tourists all around you in different shades of skin, distinct features of the face, wearing outfits that scream the word banjaara.

(Banjaara is the word for Nomad in Hindi language)

The Van Gogh Copy has been in my bedroom since 8 years, the wooden stump is a new addition, carved from leftover wood Personal Copyright Image of Arushi Sana

Why carry eatables from Home

Shopping local isn’t the only benefit to the economy of a place, that one needs to be vocal about. Food is another major area of revenue for vendors all around the world. We used to carry our snacks from home for every trip because like I said earlier, we didn’t have a lot of money to spend. Fortunately, today we can afford to buy food from restaurants and street vendors in new cities and towns, be it snacks or a wholesome meal. This is always a good thing to do because it removes the need to dispose off plastic packets that you probably bought from home. It also gives poor vendors a chance to feed their own families. I remember using ziplock packets or polythene when I was much younger, to carry homemade snacks that my grandmother fondly made for us and we rarely got the empty packets back home for reuse – most of them were disposed off in the bins of the cities we travelled to, and this was an extremely harmful thing to do. I understand that affordability is an issue for many, and in that case, one can always carry edibles from home in either harmless or reusable packaging such as paper/cloth. Also, please do read my article on eco friendly restaurant etiquettes which covers a guide on how to preserve the environment when you’re eating out.

Feeding animals/fish

The one thing I have never done is feed stray animals and fish on a vacation. We are not wildlife experts and we really don’t know what that cookie or Dorito is going to do to that Dolphin/Macaque’s stomach. I see travellers feeding animals the most bizarre things and all it does is pollute the bodies of wildlife. Ask the locals if it’s okay to feed the fauna around, if you really wish for a gastronomic bonhomie with the cute creatures around you, stick to plain fruits and veggies instead of cooked items.

Vocal Awareness

Word of mouth, as they call it, is perhaps the most powerful “marketing” tool in accelerating the growth of a new business. Sustainable Living is also a kind of business, where your diligent efforts in implementing zero waste practices is the investment, zero waste practices is the product and the profit is much more than green coloured currency notes – it’s a Green Earth for our descendants to lead a healthy life in. Essentially, as a person, you’re trying to sell zero waste practices to a target audience of other people around you by showing them the practices you’ve adopted yourself in order to attain a profitable commodity for everyone to enjoy – a habitable Mother Earth. And what better way to market this “business” than word of mouth? When you’re travelling, talk to other travellers around you about the climate crisis, especially to those who you feel aren’t aware of the implications of their actions in the world. If you see your friends using plastic straws on the trip, littering on the beautiful snowcapped mountains and in the sapphire oceans, using non-biodegradable tissues or doing anything else that might impact the Ecology adversely, talk to them about global warming politely and encourage them to adopt zero waste practices.

Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Image Copyright – personal image of Arushi Sana, NYKDaily

Communicated Awareness

We love posting our photographs on social media, and who doesn’t find momentary pleasure in scrolling through sunlit beaches or moonlit skyscrapers on our phones? As stories of climate change warriors and wildlife explorers go viral on social media platforms everyday, travellers often miss talking about sustainable practices they adopted while travelling. While travel-bloggers and photographers build a digital paradise for consumers, the power of social media seems to be quite unharnessed when it comes to sharing eco travelogues. Be it photographs, lengthy captions or just a mere mention in carefully curated travel guides – they all help in guiding fellow nomads on how they can travel without harming our precious geoid.

Compensate

I love travelling and someday when my business starts to make millions, I plan to travel to every country possible with my cutie in tow, but I am also aware of the harmful effects of airplanes on the environment. While researching on it, I came across a concept called Carbon offset. One way frequent fliers can reduce their carbon footprint is through carbon offsetting their flights. Flights offer voluntary schemes where people can pay to compensate for the emissions that their airplanes produced. This money goes for tree plantation drives, environmental NGO’s, cleanliness drives, recycling plants and even laboratory research. This is not a very widely practiced concept and not every airline offers this service of atonement but we can always independently donate to local NGOs or plant a few trees in the neighbourhood – every small step we take compensates for all that we have done.

I hope you found this eco-travel guide helpful and I hope you try some of it the next time you travel with a COVID-19 mask on. I’m a climate optimist and I still feel we can slow down climate change, contrary to the gloomy future analysts foresee. Having a social purpose of educating my dear readers about sustainable practices whilst giving my own example has been a roller coaster ride. I’ve had to learn on the job, apply my research to my own life and then share it with conscious millennials all around the world who I hope have now found the perfect wholesome guide to leading a zero waste life. I have miles to go, in terms of the amount of information I am yet to share with the readers but then again, in some way or the other don’t we all?

Whenever I try to take steps on the ladder of social initiatives that benefit the entire community as a whole, I find this quote from the Rigveda written by Hindu Sages very encouraging:

“Uttishthata jāgrata prāpya varān nibhodata”

“Wake up and rise up! Be in the company of the wise and realise the knowledge.”

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