Ways you can be a sustainable backpacker

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I went backpacking in Vietnam this month. It was short-lived, though, because of the coronavirus. Nonetheless, now that my trip’s over (for now), it gave me an idea or two about sustainable travel as a backpacker. This is not an extensive list, and by no means am I an expert traveler, but here’s what I have in mind and what I want to share with you.

Pack light

More than just a way to make your trip more convenient, packing light has benefits also in terms of the fuel efficiency of transportation. For instance, the reason why airlines limit the capacity of your check-in baggage to usually seven kilograms is because they’re trying to fill in the maximum quota or weight for all the things being transported by the plane — which includes people and baggage. Less weight would, in turn, help the airplane achieve better fuel efficiency. So whenever you travel, pack light as much as you can!

Avoid water bottles at all costs

When traveling, one of the essentials is drinking water to stay hydrated. While not all countries provide water refilling stations, it’s best to lessen or at best avoid buying water bottles. In Vietnam, for instance, it’s only seldom that you’ll come across water refilling stations. In that case, don’t buy too many water bottles. Or if you can, wait until you find a water refilling station. Some hostels and homestays provide them for free.

Turn off the air conditioner

This should go without saying, but if no one else is in your hostel room or you’re the last to leave, it’s always best to turn off the air conditioner. It will save electricity as well as the bills of the hostel!

Don’t buy unnecessary things

This probably works for me, but not for everyone else. Let’s face it, everyone wants to buy a certain something, like a souvenir, whenever they travel. But apart from saving your wallet and lessening the weight of your bag, not buying too many things can also be helpful in the long run in terms of waste management. More often than not, the things we buy would probably just end up in a landfill. In that case, I believe the best souvenirs you can get from a place are the photos and memories you make.

Walk, walk, walk

If the place you’re going to is just near, then walk! My personal rule of thumb is that if I can go towards that certain place for less than an hour, then I can just walk it. There’s plenty of things to see along the way, anyway. Walking, apart from being good to our health, also helps us lessen our contribution to carbon emissions brought by riding public transportation. So when you get the chance, walk a lot when traveling.

Avoid straws

We’re probably aware of this by now. Do away with the straws! Although sometimes we tend to forget and once the server brings us our drinks, there’s already a straw placed inside our glass. In that case, I’d honestly just continue using it. It’s already a lost case. So the best thing to do next time is to bring your own bamboo or metal straw and inform the server that you’ll be using that instead. That, or just don’t use straws. Seriously — you can drink straight from the glass, anyway.

Make sure you’re joining a ‘sustainable’ tour

I’m against any tour that involves elephants. In Thailand, for instance, they have elephant sanctuaries. They seem innocent and harmless at first, but the reality is that these elephants are formerly part of circus acts, where they’re usually whipped or ‘forced’ to entertain people. If you want to help the elephants, it would be best to avoid any elephant-related tour as much as possible. By doing so, you’re reducing the demand for such tours or forms of entertainment, thereby helping eliminate its demand in the future.

But of course, this barely touches the surface of ‘sustainable’ tours. If you’re going to find a ‘sustainable’ tour, make sure it has none or at least minimized environmental impact as much as possible.

These are what I have in mind. As I go on to more backpacking adventures, I’m sure to find more tips!


Let’s take the conversation forward. Find out how we can collaborate for a sustainable future: https://berdeboy.blog/collaborate/

Partnering for marine conservation

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Nowadays it’s difficult to paint a bright picture of the planet in the face of climate change, but we can at least try.

That’s what we did during the second part of our Sustainable Tourism Panel Discussion Series in MakeSense Philippines, this time tackling beaches!

I’ve been a volunteer in MakeSense for over a year now. The first event that our team organized was Sustainable Tourism: Tribes, and we can proudly claim that event as a success as well. We were able to gather over 30+ people and exchange ideas during that event.

This time, we invited different people with initiatives related to sustainable tourism and the beach. Our panel members come from different sectors, from the academe down to the industry. One of our main goals for the event was to find synergies among these different people coming from different backgrounds. Despite their differences, they’re each working for the same thing, which is the conservation of our beaches and waters. 

I know this sounds like a very academic and ideal thing to do. But it’s something that we can strive towards. 

Personally, my career right now revolves around the academe. In the academe, you’re taught and trained to think of the ideal and what the world should strive towards. At the same time, I can honestly admit that what we lack is an accurate grasp of the realities on the ground. Several of my colleagues can attest to this. However, despite being a weakness, these are the exact leverage points that the academe can work with together with the industry. If the academe has insights or models for a better future, industries are at the pedestal to execute these. This is where the synergies among different sectors come in. 

But how exactly will these synergies work?

In Sustainable Tourism: Beaches, we gained insights as to how this can be possible. One of our speakers, a coral reel scientist, talks about how there are only less than 100 marine scientists in the Philippines working to protect our coral reefs. With more than 7,000 islands in the country, clearly this number is not enough to monitor the coral reefs. According to him, only 2% of organizations working on corals employ marine scientists. 

This is a possible entry point for cross-sector partnerships. This is where collaboration comes in, because not one sector alone can save our coral reefs. 

And this just so happens to be another one of the main goals of the Sustainable Tourism Panel Discussion Series. If we can identify synergies and collaborations among different sectors, we will have better chances of saving Mother Earth. In this case — protecting and conserving our marine biodiversity. 


Let’s take the conversation forward. Find out how we can collaborate for a sustainable future: https://berdeboy.blog/collaborate/

Being a minimalist in the Philippines

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Image by ptra from Pixabay


Recently, I’m slowly learning that the way I think consists of the typical traits of a minimalist.

I don’t like fancy clothes and prefer to keep my wardrobe as ‘minimal’ as possible. I’ve always been the guy in our family who keeps saying to donate our things, so that our house can ‘breathe’ a little easier with more space. I prefer spending on things that I really need (but of course, I have some occassional guilty pleasures also like food — no one is perfect!). I also find the concept of ‘essentialism’ very pleasing; I find solitude just by hearing the word.

Ultimately, what minimalism means is that you only get what you need given your current resources. What that ‘need’ is would depend on your individual preferences. It’s not the same case for everyone.

Coming from a developing country like the Philippines, minimalism sounds like a very foreign concept. People from developing countries tend to be hoarders of material possessions — take for example our families. This is why being a minimalist in the Philippines can be challenging.

But if you’re like me who identifies as a minimalist, there are many ways we can achieve a minimalist lifestyle despite our social circles. Here are some of the ways you can do this.

Understand what things you really need based on your personal context

In Filipino society, we’re constantly driven or encouraged by our peers to own, own, and own things, because they represent a status symbol or your purchasing power. But we also have to remember if these things actually add any value to our lives.

The question to ask is: What value do the things I buy add to my life? Do they merely satisfy my consumerist desires, or do they address something valuable in my life?

Make sure you are buying into sustainable products or services

The world is burning — literally. As a minimalist, it breaks my heart for it to have reached this point. People consume a lot, capitalists keep on developing without thinking of the environment — what you get is a world order working under the notion of ‘infinite growth’ but ‘finite resources’.

Which is why the minimalist movement can help in this battle. As minimalists, you learn to get only what you really need. And what better way to do that but by supporting sustainable products and services.

Now — I am aware that some sustainable products and services are expensive as hell. Avoid those. There are many other ways to become ‘sustainable’ apart from being a ‘green consumer’. Ultimately, it is a lifestyle, not just a “consumer lifestyle”.

Declutter, declutter, declutter

We tend to own too much things. We think that they would fill the emotional voids in us. At one point they actually do, but later we realize that we get too fixated and dependent on material possessions to satiate our emotional well-being.

Try decluttering your things and see if it would have any changes to your mindset. I understand how difficult this can be, but as a minimalist we need to understand what we really need and what works best for us.

The things that would remain may end up to be still a lot of things, but what matters with minimalism is that you only keep the things that really matter to you. And this can be a few things that can be counted by your fingers, or even several things. It is a case-to-case scenario.

Remember — ‘clutter’ is something that doesn’t add value to your life.

There’s nothing cognitively dissonant with being ambitious and a minimalist

Being a minimalist doesn’t mean you should forego of your dreams in life. Again, minimalism is about organizing your life and getting only what’s really important to your context.

The key concept is consuming with intent. Don’t just buy into things simply because it adds status, power, or prestige. In the minimalist world, having what you need and having inner peace are what matters.

… and that’s my list. I am constantly learning about this concept, and would want to know your experiences also! Hit me up through ianbrmia@gmail.com.


Let’s take the conversation forward. Find out how we can collaborate for a sustainable future: https://berdeboy.blog/collaborate/

On sustainable tourism and tribal communities: What makes it truly sustainable?

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What makes sustainable tourism, ‘sustainable’?

My team and I at MakeSense Philippines hosted a panel discussion yesterday, March 11, 2019 to talk about exactly that. We had speakers from the local sustainable tourism sector talk about their initiatives, best practices, and things to improve on for the sector. For this discussion, we focused on tours held in tribal communities.

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It’s important to note that sustainability is nowhere near the realm of “simple”. When you talk about a sustainable kind of tourism, it becomes even more complex because now we’re talking about three sides of the equation: social, environmental, and economic impacts of tourism activities. In the case of sustainable tourism initiatives such as those highlighted in our panel discussion, there’s a lot of things to consider. However, there are nonetheless a few important things that need to be highlighted.

Impact assessment of sustainable tourism initiatives. It’s hard to measure impact. It’s still a young practice in itself. We can go very technical and quantitative about it, and we can also become qualitative. But one thing’s for sure, sustainable tourism activities would need to have a comprehensive set of impact metrics to measure their actual sustainability. From carbon footprint, plastic waste, higher income of the target community, number of trees planted, demographics of the community — you name it. There’s a lot to measure, and these kinds of initiatives would actually need to spend a lot to be able to track all these different kinds of impact.

But why measure impact in the first place?

For one, it lets the project or initiative know more if what they’re doing actually created changes in their communities. Since our panel discussion talked about sustainable tourism in tribal communities, they would need to know the social, environmental, and economic impacts that their initiative created for their target tribal communities.

One of the most commonly cited experiences in the initiatives when talking about social impact in tribal communities is how one interacts with the community. This brings us to…

Traveling etiquette in tribal communities. One important thing to note when visiting tribal communities is that you’re mainly there to visit. Realistically speaking, you’re not obligated to give donations or cash to these communities, because not only are these dole outs or unsustainable, they somehow create an ‘imbalance’ in the community.

What does it mean that it creates an ‘imbalance’? For one, it gives the tribal communities the impression that they can just rely on cash and donations from tourists all the time. When that happens, it’s going to become a cycle until the tribal communities would just become dependent on tourists for alms. While the hearts of the tourists are at the right place, that is honestly not the right time to give cash or donations. We would rather immerse ourselves in their culture, understand where they’re coming from, hear out their stories, and come home with fresh ideas on how we can contribute to this initiative. If you want to further get involved, you can simply join a relevant organization, volunteer your time, and create initiatives that will actually last long-term for these communities. The bottom line is to not rely on dole outs to help these communities — we’d rather help them through more sustainable ways.

Designing travel experiences that cater to both travelers and the targeted community. What’s unique about the projects and initiatives in our panel discussion is they have different designs and business models. One enterprise is focused on environmental preservation, a second on poverty alleviation, and the others on cultural immersion. One thing in common, however, is that they are all ultimately trying to design experiences that matter, experiences that promote social impact.

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Another thing to note is that when designing sustainable tourism initiatives, it’s important to keep all your stakeholders in mind. For instance, in the case of one of the initiatives in the panel discussion, their focus is on providing a booking platform for impact-driven tours managed by local tour guides. It aims to give travelers local experiences.

In this sense, it goes beyond the traditional notion of travel wherein you go to a place to take Instagram-worthy shots or visit the most famous landmarks. You can say these are the types of tours that involve off the beaten tracks. But in this case, they are off the beaten tracks that promote social impact, and I think that’s beautiful.

Making sustainable tourism initiatives truly sustainable. This is not easy. The whole discussion around sustainability is not easy. What more if you’re going to actually make a sustainable tourism initiative a truly sustainable one?

I’ve been to a number of similar events and one of the running and typical questions when the open forum comes is on the aspect of the initiative’s sustainability. Let me be the one to address the elephant in the room that there can never be a “perfect sustainability”. All we can do is make the most of what we have.

To give a better perspective on this, one of the speakers in our panel mentioned positive and negative externalities. He explains that there can never be a perfect kind of sustainability because there are always externalities on both ends. This means that what we should be looking at instead is the net impact of sustainability once you’ve accounted for all the positive and negative externalities. It’s simple as saying, “There may have been negative things that happened, but when the overall result is positive, then we can consider that a success”.

At the end of the day, sustainability merits a ton of discussion and systemic thinking. I’m even confident to admit that what I talked about here merely scratches the surface of sustainability in tourism. There needs to be more discussion on this area. Lastly, if we’re going to be solving the challenges of our time, we’re going to need to think beyond and into the complex systems that make up these challenges.


Let’s take the conversation forward. Find out how we can collaborate for a sustainable future: https://berdeboy.blog/collaborate/