How Can We Become More Responsible Travellers When We Go Off-Grid?
So many of the world’s most beautiful destinations are facing ecological decline because of the climate crisis and overtourism, but being a more conscious traveller can help slow this process down a little. Skipping tourist hotspots and going off-grid can actually have a positive impact on local communities and contribute to conservation efforts.
But what does off-grid actually mean? Leaving the luxuries at home, and by luxuries we mean electrical power, phone signal, gas and water supply. Travelling off-grid is an amazing way to get out of your comfort zone and explore a part of the world that is typically unseen. It allows you to go offline and immerse yourself in nature. Exactly because of that, though, it’s important to be extra diligent and always take a responsible approach.
It can be tricky to understand how to implement this when you’re travelling in the wilderness. To make this subject matter a little easier to navigate, we spoke to BBC Earth explorer and eco-conservation expert Dan O’Neill. His tips below outline the various ways we can all be more responsible when exploring some of the most remote corners of the globe.
It’s not always possible to follow everything listed below to a T, as Dan explains, “it rains so true that we need a lot of people doing things imperfectly”. Small commitments can go a long way.
Engage with the local community & support eco tourism
Always support local-owned businesses and initiatives; book your trip through a local tour company or volunteer with local conservation sites. As Dan mentions, “local people are custodians of their environment”, working with them helps keep the community employed and in turn, more money is directed towards environmental conservation.
By working with locals, learning from them, and being guided by them through their native environments you also gain a much more personal and cultural understanding of the location. Many local areas also run conservation initiatives to get involved in. Ecotourism is another great way to gain lots of valuable knowledge while ensuring both the local community and environment benefit.
When Dan went off-grid in Guyana, he worked with friend and eco-conservationist Ashley Holland who operates a remote touring company, Guyana Truly Wild. The company specialises in creating tailored expeditions in the heart of the island’s wilderness for anyone “who loves wildlife, wild places, and adventure”. The team at Guyana Truly Wild is made up of indigenous Guyanese peoples who have in-depth knowledge of Guyana’s unique landscape. We recommend researching the remote travel companies that interest you and align with your values.
Leave no trace
When you are off-grid, follow the principles of “leave no trace”. This essentially means, do not disturb the environment and surrounding area when passing through – leave it exactly as you found it.
Don’t create new paths, stick to the ones that are already present to avoid disturbing fragile ecosystems. By walking in single file, you can avoid trampling on wildflowers and established animal habitats. Also, avoid feeding any animals you come across as it can teach them unhealthy habits which could – in the long term – harm their chances of survival in the wild.
Dispose of all waste and trash in proper bins once you have left the area, this includes organic waste like apple cores and peels. Though it’s easy to assume waste like fruit would decompose when off-grid, they may not necessarily be endemic to the area. Dan tells us, “even if you think it’s biodegradable, it might not be the right thing for that environment”, waste can disturb the delicate ecosystem, especially when it’s not native to the area.
Don’t take chemicals
Avoid taking any harmful chemicals which could have lasting effects on the environment.
“If you’re going off-grid I think the biggest one is not to take in chemicals that help you but don’t help where it’s going. Don’t take in non-biodegradable soap, it’s super easy to find biodegradable soap that you can use in a river and it won’t damage the ecosystem. Try to find alternatives to things like Deet and mosquito repellent.”
“There’s loads of herbal remedies that really work like eating garlic tablets. Don’t take Deets, try to remember chemicals can have such a lasting effect on an environment after you’ve left, even if it may not make much of a difference when you go, if people keep doing it, eventually it will.”
If you smoke, don’t leave the ends on the ground.
Be aware of fire
If you use fire or an open flame, make sure you put it out fully – this also goes for cigarette butts as it could potentially cause a devastating forest fire. Before creating a fire of any kind, first check whether fires are permitted in the environment.
Pack light (and smart)
When going off-grid it’s important to pack light as you will be carrying it around with you for long periods of time. Packing light also means less waste. Bring reusable items like cutlery, water bottles, straws etc.
Follow the ways of your local guide
Always follow the ways of the local guide when you’re off-grid, if you have one that is. Dan tells us, “(When in Guyana) We just lived very much a subsistence lifestyle of the Amerindian guides and the people we were with. So they will go out and hunt for fish, we’d have fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Listen carefully to what your guide has to say and keep note of any do’s and don’ts.