How Hiking Can Help The Planet

What the hell was I thinking?

That's what I asked myself every day for the thirty two day's I spent trekking 922kms in June last year. Thankfully, the satisfying crunch of gravel underfoot, the waft of pine lingering on the wind and the bitter taste of espresso residue on my lips were enough to help power on.

It takes a certain turning point in one's life to commit to an 922km trek traipse in a foreign country – but I'm here to tell you it's not only possible, it's actually enjoyable and can even support our planet.

The Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage trail dating back to the 9th century has you traversing over mountains one minute, pounding pavement the next and trawling through dense forest all before siesta. Traditionally starting in France, the camino as it's loosely referred to follows a neat (and well trodden) path from east to west along the north of Spain. It's normal for pilgrims to carry their own belongings, sleep in bunk beds, walk an average of 25km a day and still be smiling at the end of the day knowing tomorrow will be exactly the same.

I knew before beginning the trek that it would be tough; a mental and physical challenge and that with a little luck I would make it all the way to Santiago de Compostela (where Apostle St James' remains are interned.) What I didn't expect was the effect it would have on my conscience. Here I am walking in nature daily, with my home on my back and enough food to last me until evening and all I can think about is how little possessions I use and realistically need in everyday life. It was utterly peaceful.

Starting out with 922km to go felt impossible, but after a week and then another and another I was oblivious to the fact that the destination was drawing closer and then before I realised it, the day had come to arrive at Santiago de Compostela and I felt a tremendous amount of sadness that the adventure was suddenly all over.

It wasn't until after walking the camino I was introduced to the idea of slow tourism and the effects it plays on our environment and our experiences. You've heard of the slow food movement surely, now it's time to embrace the slow tourism movement. The idea is where individuals attempt to travel a little differently and a lot more slowly.

Upon returning back to Australia I started researching slow tourism and sure enough tips and tour operators promoting the benefits of the slow tourism movement were truly ubiquitous, the need for us to act more slowly is more vital than ever. And I truly believe, the popularity of The Camino shows that long distance walks like this are a protagonist in the movement.

It should be stated that slow tourism doesn't necessarily mean that you have to walk from A to B to feel the benefits but instead infers that the old idea of flitting from one must see attraction to another is no longer viewed as viable or relaxing as it once was (was it ever?). More often than not cramming everything a place has to offer into a seven day window has you coming home feeling like you need a holiday, post holiday.

On a deeper level the slow tourism movement aims to reinvigorate lost values. While our routines are currently geared towards an accelerated pace of life, the slow travel approach aims to reconnect us to a calm and anxiety free lifestyle through immersing ourselves in natural beauties, relating to different cultures and more importantly different people.

I was shocked to learn that the aviation industry, if it were treated as a country would be the seventh biggest emitter of carbon. This should be made aware to anyone who opts for indirect flight routes, or itineraries with frequent air travel for pleasure.

But it doesn't need to be all doom and gloom, below were my findings after walking 922kms through Spain and learning how to incorporate slow tourism into my next vaycay:

  • Take a short as possible arrival route to reduce carbon footprint. Arrival by bus or train could be a lot cheaper.
  • Locally explore the region by bike or on foot, the fresh air will literally take your breath away.
  • Opt for holiday destinations with good public transport, car-sharing options and when choosing your accommodation; pay attention to energy saving measures and eco-labels.
  • Eat locally, do your research and seek out ethically sustainable eateries like this one for example in Bilbao: Gustu.
  • Reduce plastic usage by bringing your favourites from home like: a keep cup, re-usable straw, water bottle, Apiwraps (for cheese, or avocado...or cheese ;), even try out a moon cup if your period interrupts your travel plans or check out Tsuno, a totally rad company giving 50% of profits to many worldly (womanly) campaigns.
  • Bring your own toiletries by de-cantering into smaller, reusable bottles or even your own towel to reduce in water wastage.

Most importantly enjoy responsibly and if you ever find yourself walking 922kms across Spain, Buen Camino!

Guest blog written by Lexi Connors. Lexi is your ultimate wanderlust enthusiast with an incurable case of curiosity and a deep passion for action on climate change. Whether it's surfing in Mexico, hiking the Himalayas, motorcycling around India, trekking the Kokoda trail, skiing in New Zealand, Volcano boarding in Nicaragua, snorkelling in Costa Rica or just kicking back here in Sydney she's always intrigued and always learning. You can read more of her work on her travel blog here!

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