Ways you can be a sustainable backpacker


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!

Hi! I’m Ian. In this blog, I share my personal stories and hopes for the world. Let’s take the conversation forward! Email me at ianbrmia@gmail.com for collaborations.

Trekking through lava and sand: A sustainable tourism initiative in Taal


Last February 2, I booked a tour in a sustainable tourism initiative in San Nicholas, Batangas. It was organized by the local community with the help of makesense Philippines and Primer Group of Companies. It is currently on its pilot stage which will conclude on February 9. The idea is to create a sustainable social enterprise in Taal focused on increasing the livelihood of the locals, educating the tourists about Taal, and promoting environmental conservation in the area.

It’s ironic that the first thing our group sees going to Taal are plastics scattered near the lake. That’s one problem we initially saw along the way. Perhaps a feature of the tour can be something where the guests pick up trash near the lake?

We rode the boat going to the trekking and tourist area.

…and passed by some lush greenery before docking.

I like taking photos of landscapes with my phone. Here’s just one of the picturesque views in Taal during that time.

Here we have our tourist guide explain to us what we’ll be expecting throughout the trek. Fun fact: it’s the community’s first time to tour guests. As I mentioned, this is a sustainable tourism initiative that’s currently in its pilot phase. Me being there during their first successful activity made me feel like I belong in their impactful initiative.

The tourists are attentively listening to the tour guide. We’re ready!

Off we go! The first part of the trek involved walking through volcanic ash. It was rather difficult because our feet would sink through the thick ash–it was indeed an exercise.

Here’s a beautiful view of Taal lake while standing on top of volcanic ash.

My fellow tourists, taking a quick break. That inclined slope is no joke.

We’re almost at the crater of Taal volcano, but before that, time for another quick break with the locals.

…and here we are!

The tour guides said there’s an area in the crater that’s hot enough to cook an egg within seconds. “I could live here”, I said to myself. Unfortunately, they closed off this area due to hazardous reasons, such as a boat toppling over.

After the trek to the crater, we went back to the tourist reception area. What we have waiting for us is… *drum roll*

BOODLE FIGHT! We had tilapia, egg, bananas, and vegetables elegantly laid out on banana leaves.

The boodle fight was amazing. After that, we got more in store for us as we’re still going to view the fish cages and “walk through lava”. Exciting activities ahead!

Going to the fish cages involved a very cool breeze and sweet sailing across the lake. In the photo above, we’re docking beside the fish cages to check out the fishes being grown by the fishermen.

In these fish cages, the fishermen grow bangus and tilapia. There’s also a cat roaming around for whatever reason–maybe it’s waiting for the fishes to grow and then eat them? Leave some for the humans, floofer.

My fellow tourists checking out the fish cages.

This is what they call the “lava walk”, because, quite literally, you’re walking on top of lava. The dark rocks you see on the side are the lava, which was caused by a volcanic eruption decades ago.

After the lava walk, we all went back to the reception area to conduct a feedback session. This is to ensure that the sustainable social enterprise that the local community wants to establish will know points for improvements in time for future tours.

We were able to come up with several strengths and points for improvements in the initiative, which include but are not limited to the following:

  • It would be more proactive if the tour guides also shared local histories and facts about Taal. The idea is to engage the tourists and make them really feel that this is a sustainable tourism initiative. Hence, the tour guides would learn more about communication.
  • Considering this is the first time of the tour guides, they actually did a good job.
  • Other minor technical issues such as broken concrete railings in the trekking path can be easily addressed with the help of the local government.
  • Some safety concerns such as the lack of life vests while riding the boats are also raised. This is also a minor technical issue that can be easily addressed.

I’m pretty sure there will be more challenges for the local community along the way. I believe, however, that they can get through it. Besides, there is strength in numbers. This sustainability initiative reinforced my belief that with the participation of various stakeholders–in this case non-profit organizations, local communities, and corporations–we can make social impact scalable and possible.

After the pilot phase of this tour, the initial idea is that everything will be turned over to the Primer Group of Companies and the local community. Under that setup, Primer will act as the booking platform, whereas the local community will handle all the logistical concerns. Amid all of that, I believe their main challenge would be to consistently send across the sustainability message to all their tourists. With the help of different stakeholders, I believe they will succeed and ultimately make this a sustainable social enterprise.

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