"When we learn how to become resilient, we learn how to embrace the beautifully broad spectrum of the human experience."
-- Jaeda Dewalt
As I write this, almost a year ago today, COVID locked down the world. On March 15, 2020, Peace Corps had to evacuate 7,000 volunteers from their posts in more than 60 countries!
Now with a new administration rolling out vaccines and reviving our economy with the American Rescue Plan, international borders are reopening and travel gearing up. Over the course of this challenging and tragic past year, have we learned anything from the less polluted skies, the quieted tourist meccas, and the unique site of fish and swans swimming in the Venice Canal?
This spring issue suggests ways in which the gap year industry can operate and lead in a more responsible, ethical, and sustainable way, without causing harm to the environment, cultures, or animals. In Louise Southerden’s article “Why Travel Will Bounce Back From COVID-19”, she states,“The larger challenge is to make sure that what comes back is a better model for the planet, host communities, and ultimately visitors themselves.” Many programs already operate under a conscientious, green code of responsible, ethical travel; so for many, this will only reaffirm your commitment. For others, I have compiled a list below (that is by no means finite nor complete) of concrete tips and resources to become more conscientious in both planning upcoming gap experiences, as well as in actually traveling whether it be domestically and internationally.
Use a reusable water bottle and avoid buying new plastic bottles and using plastic straws. Use a steripen or water filter to ensure clean, safe water
Purchase recycled clothing and equipment
Use eco-friendly biodegradable toiletries such as shampoo bars, bamboo toothbrush, reusable muslin face cloth, non-toxic toothpaste, reef safe sunscreen
Work with and support local projects, social enterprises, and homestay partners on the ground
Support the local economy by buying hand-made goods from resident artisans. When possible, shop and support fair trade. Bargain graciously and be generous
Stay at places that are environmentally minded (plastic-free and conservation-minded)
Reduce your footprint with low impact travel-walk, bicycle, boat, bus, train, local transportation (boda boda, tuk tuk)
Immerse yourself in the culture by staying longer, by learning the language (at least the greetings), and by getting to know the locals
Be respectful of local customs and religion. Be sensitive to dress/protocol in places of worship
Explore different perspectives and engage actively to understand them
Take photos sensitively and only with locals’ permission
When traveling, use social media mindfully for good as a means to inspire, inform, and raise awareness around problems and issues that need attention
Avoid promoting animal cruelty by participation in captive-wildlife tourism-i.e. riding elephants, swimming with the dolphins (taken from their mothers as babies), visiting caged animals
If participating in community service, vet and choose locally-operated, sustainable volunteer projects and work for a longer period of time
Avoid volunteering at orphanages (exploiting vulnerable children who are often not orphans at all)
Vet animal sanctuaries carefully prior to volunteering
Reduce the number of flights you take and fly direct to avoid layovers ( take-offs and landings use more fuel than flying at altitude)
Check out Alternative Airlines, an airline booking company, to learn about the most eco-friendly airlines (using carbon fiber seats, reducing plastic and in-flight magazines, and serving vegan and vegetarian meals, carbon offsets, sustainable fuel) FYI-Virgin Air, Qantas and KLM, Norwegian Air are considered the most efficient and eco-friendly.
Pack light (airlines save fuel if luggage weighs less)
Purchase carbon offsets, but know what the offset is, as different carbon offset schemes fund different projects from reforestation to renewable energy (and it’s hard to know how effective many of them are)
Taylor the Gap, LLC is a fully Accredited Counselor of the Gap Year Association. Marion has demonstrated excellence in the field of gap year consulting/counseling, having passed all required standards for ethical, responsible, and risk management in gap year education.