Sustainable Travel: Srilanka

Sustainable tourism is increasingly becoming more fashionable, more widespread and adopted across travellers worldwide. With recent environmental hazards creating a detrimental impact on society, it is now becoming evident that we as humans pose a grave threat to our natural surroundings as well as the harmful impact environmental degradation has on us.

IMG1: Fruits as travel snacks vs snacks in sachets IMG2: Segregated Bins at Bengaluru Airport IMG3: Water filling stations in SL

Taking your first steps towards sustainable travel is not that difficult. It just requires focus, mindfulness and a whole lot of love. With this writeup and my recent travel experiences, I hope to urge you to take those steps towards mindful travelling that you probably have been holding back.

Destination: Srilanka. Time frame: for about a month. Number of Cities Visited: 5. Decision: to travel as sustainably and responsibly as possible.

Avoiding paper cups at the airport

Although I have been in the space of environment & sustainability for quite some time now, this was my first ever attempt to see through a trip completely eco-friendly.

Preparedness: Packing is one of the most crucial parts of this process — I ensured that my toiletries included soaps, detergents, shampoos, a menstrual cup and other essentials. All the soaps were refilled into reusable plastic bottles which can be then be used again for another trip. I avoided sachets of any kind. I understand it is extremely convenient to carry small sachets of soaps, shampoos, etc, but if you carry a sufficiently spacious toiletry kit, small plastic bottles turn out to be easier to carry around. Since I was lugging a large backpack around and not a suitcase, I also carried cloth bags and a smaller, lighter backpack (the Quechua one) with me. The smaller backpack was for all the internal travelling I was going to do and the cloth bags were for all the shopping I had planned out. My backpack also contained a large, good quality plastic laundry bag (which I intend to reuse for further travels) for soiled and wet clothes, a steel cup (which was stowed away in one of the side pockets of my large backpack), a spork (which was kept in my fanny pack that I carried around everywhere), some newspapers and newspaper bags to store fruit peels/waste till I could find a proper way to dispose it. I made neat squares of newspapers and kept them in all carry bags (my fanny pack, the larger and smaller backpack) This was primarily a replacement for tissue rolls and paper towels. I carried a steel flask — to refill hot or cold water wherever I go, a handkerchief was permanently tied to my fanny pack to avoid paper handtowels

IMG1: Buying fruits a day prior to travelling between cities IMG2: Collecting fruit peels IMG3: Segregated Bins at Ella Station IMG4: Segregated Bins at the hostel

Enroute: Another way I ensured that my travel was as responsible as possible was by taking public transport wherever possible. I travelled from Kosagama (a village near Colombo) to Kandy via Avisawella all by bus. I then took the famous Kandy to Ella train, I hailed a bus from Ella to Galle and ended the trip with a nice coastal train ride back to Colombo. Within the cities, I tried to walk wherever possible. Staying in Hostels is one of the best ways to find like-minded travellers. We used tuk-tuks or vans wherever there was a large group of travellers wanting to explore a particular place that was not walking distance.

Challenges & Victories: I stayed at Hangover Hostel in Ella, and while the hostel was beautiful, they only offered plastic bottled water. On further probing, I found out that tea and coffee were served by heating tap water in an electric kettle. I decided to ditch the bottle and refill my flask with hot water from the kettle. This meant that I got to drink a lot of hot water, versus room temperature or cold water, but this was a trade I was willing to make. Every time I had to refill water, I used the hot water from the kettle. Another way to refill your water is at restaurants where you eat lunch or dinner. At restaurants, each time I ordered a beverage or indulged in the luxury of some cold coconut water, I made it explicitly clear not to add straws (paper or plastic) with the beverage.

Steel or No straws at all

Since my primary mode of transport was via public buses and trains, I would stock up on various kinds of local fruits the previous day. These rides were long, usually ranging from 4 -6 hours each. All the fruit peels were collected in a newspaper and some of the drier peels — like orange peels — were directly put inside my cloth bag. It was a challenge to find the right place to dispose this of. But I kept my eyes open for bins and trash cans and luckily I found segregated waste bins at the Ella Railway station, at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, and at Hangover Hostel in Ella.

Some Failures: As a responsible citizen, it is important to know where your garbage lands up. Is it ultimately mixed in the landfill? Is the wet waste composted? Despite my efforts of segregating waste as much as possible and disposing of it mindfully, I am still unsure about where the garbage is ultimately disposed in Srilanka.

In places like Galle, I ended up hiring a scooter for the day, which was not the most environmentally sensitive option.

I understand that my travel has not been entirely sustainable and there is still a long way to go. Being cognizant of this fact and taking these first steps towards awareness of your surroundings and the environment is a leap for the future of this planet and ecosystem.

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