I always imagine myself travelling somewhere-away from homes-whether it be in the midst of dark forests enveloped with canopies, having an alpine adventure atop a Swiss mountain or just sitting on the beach, watching a red sunset leave its brilliant hue on the sky. However, the plans have always been in my head and I have hardly ventured out to live these dreams. Travel has seemed always like a luxury to me-an unnecessary expense that requires massive planning. So when I first spoke to Charlie, I found her story a little difficult to believe.
At 24, Charlie Marchant is the author of a travel blog CharlieonTravel.com. She grew up in the UK and studied at Exeter University where she met her boyfriend and travel partner, Luke. Charlie recounts her tale, “After a couple of months together, we moved to Taiwan together and taught English for a year. We lived in a very small mountain town and learned a lot about what it was like to live in a completely different culture and not speak the local language. It was a challenging experience, but it was an amazing one. We learned a lot about ourselves, about our ability to cope in new and unknown situations, and ultimately about our passion for travelling long-term.”
It was in Taiwan itself that she started her first travel blog, to document her experiences as an expatriate. “We hosted Couchsurfers often and enjoyed welcoming people into our home and showing them local life. When Luke and I finished our teaching contract, we decided to find a career that meant we could keep travelling. We became writers, and we work in digital marketing for our day job. Then I started my travel blog, Charlie on Travel, to spread the word about sustainable travel.”
When I asked Charlie about when and how she embraced this concept of sustainable travel, she said there was no particular day or event that made her do it. She described her childhood as growing up in a household where she learnt never to even leave scraps of food on her plate. “While travelling, I’ve seen things which made me feel uncomfortable, such as riding elephants and mistreating animals; partying, drinking to excess and disturbing local communities; buying fast food from international chains instead of eat locally sourced food; and so on. I didn’t want to travel like this.”
She wanted her travels to be a way for her to learn about local cultures, support local communities, eat locally sourced food, and contribute to preserving the environment and protecting wildlife. That’s the main reason why she says she has a sustainable travel ethos.
Charlie’s first big trip after deciding to fully undertake a sustainable travel ethos, as she narrates, was to Costa Rica. This was also the first country where she and Luke house sat. They lived in a small barrio (neighbourhood) in the mountains around San Jose, where they looked after 10 dogs and a cat. They bought all their food from local farmers at the weekly farmers’ market, and got our eggs from the neighbour next door who had chickens. They walked everywhere, or took the bus for longer journeys.
Charlie explained the idea of sustainable travel further, “To me, sustainable travel is about travelling in a way which is as low impact as possible. It’s about valuing the environment and doing what we can to protect it, which means conserving our natural resources, being wary of pollution, and protecting wildlife and local habitats. It’s also about being socially responsible, behaving respectfully, supporting local communities, contributing to the local economy, eating locally sourced, vegetarian and regional foods, and preserving culture and traditions.
You can definitely travel sustainably on a budget. For example, we very rarely take flights and prefer to stay in one continent for an extended period of time, travelling between countries by bus or train instead. This is a really important way for us to minimise our carbon footprint (something which many travellers are at odds with) and it also saves us a lot of money.”
She further talked about finding eco-friendly travel accommodation. “We house sit, rent apartments or stay in family-run guest houses in local neighbourhoods when we travel, which means that we are able to integrate with the local community and live more “like a local.” House sitting saves a lot of money on accommodation, as does renting an apartment for a longer period of time. For shorter stays, we always choose to use Airbnb or stay in a local guest house so that we are supporting locals.”
So is the travel scene really experiencing a change? Are we entering an age where people like me by embracing sustainable travel can actually live the dreams of an alpine adventure? Charlie rounded off by sharing her views on this shifting scene, “The sharing economy is already hugely reshaping the way that we travel. Couchsurfing has meant that travellers can meet up and stay with locals, and Airbnb has allowed for the same thing while also providing an income for local people. Car sharing sites mean we can catch lifts and lessen our carbon footprint by avoiding the need for flights or separate car journeys. EatWith and other similar websites mean travellers can eat regional, home cooked food with local families.”
Charlie however also talked about things often going wrong. For example, she believes that activities that are having a negative impact on the environment, wildlife and people need to stop. Most recently, she was horrified to read about the hoards of tourists who disrupted the natural cycle of sea turtles laying their eggs on the beach at the arribada in Costa Rica. “We need more people writing and raising awareness about responsible travel and how it can be done sustainably to avoid awful situations like this.”
She added that moving towards a more sustainable style of travel will benefit countries more than just economically. “The slow travel movement, an off-shoot of the slow food movement, that advocates travelling slowly and living in a local way is just taking off and I think this is really excellent.”
To know more, visit her blog here.