Becky was about 10 years old when she read two books that had a lot of influence on her. The first was a non-fiction book about the destruction of the rainforest. The second was a novel that made her fall in love with the Amazon, "Journey to the River Sea" by Eva Ibbotson. Combined, these books made her distressed about the ongoing rainforest destruction. A decade later, she went on an eco-friendly travel adventure on her bicycle. In just eight months, she explored 19 countries!
Love of Travel
“I love seeing beautiful places: lakes, rivers, mountains, seas,” Becky says, “I love meeting new people and experiencing their culture. Travel has made me much more relaxed. Now I can find the time to watch the sunset and admire the stars.”
During the eight months that she cycled, she got to see England, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey. Becky especially enjoyed the freedom of traveling in Western Europe.
“It was glorious to be able to pass between countries freely. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure which country I was in, because I was cycling along an unmarked border. I wish borders could be so irrelevant world-wide.”
When Becky set off on her trip, she only had plans for being in Austria three months later. After that, she was open to the idea of continuing, or of deciding that that was enough and ending her travels. Cycling around was so awesome for Becky that after reaching her originally planned destination in Austria, she continued. The start of her route was meticulously planned, but as her trip went on she became more and more relaxed, finding her way as she went.
“My route and my journey were often influenced by the things I found and the people I met: an enchanting forest that I had to pause for and hike through; cyclists whom I found friendly; Serbians who let us camp on their football field; an empty beach which I camped on; travelers who told me about a work-away place where I ended up staying for a week. These spontaneous inputs were among the particularly awesome things I experienced while traveling by bike.”
Learning from Travel
Her bike trip taught her a lot about the world as well as herself. One thing that she learned was that there are so many wonderful places in the world that it’s not necessary to see every single one.
“When you go to a new area, you can Google that area and find multitudes of lists of ‘Top ten places to go’, ‘Top fifteen things to do’, ‘Top eight things to eat’, etc,” Becky explains. “It can even make traveling feel stressful, because you feel like you must complete these lists – if you don’t, then you’ve missed out, and your life will be less enriched because of it.”
She also realized that even though she might not be particularly interested in seeing the popular “top” places to visit, she sometimes feels like she must go visit if she is in the vicinity. However, she has learned to take the time to enjoy properly the places that she does go to see and to be excited by what she discovers.
“What I do wish I could have done differently is to have traveled more slowly. For example, I would have liked to spend several days or even a few weeks at WWOOF farms along the way, immersing myself for longer in the cultures I glimpsed.”
The Difficulties of Eco Travel
“It is hard to travel without flying,” Becky says, “The obvious difficulty is that you can’t travel so far so fast. Another difficulty I had when first giving up flying was that I was in a relationship with a partner who understood my reasoning but was unwilling to make such sacrifices.”
Becky also describes the difficulty of traveling to faraway places when many places are dangerous. When she looks at a map to trace out her dream routes with her finger, she sometimes discovers that her route would take her through a warzone.
“But is that really such a problem?” Becky muses, “With a plane, we can literally glide obliviously above the miseries of millions of people. Restricting myself to overland travel, I’ve learned about wars in countries that my friends haven’t even heard of. For more people to become more globally aware seems to me like a good thing.”
Tips for Greener Travel
“Avoid flying and avoid driving. Instead try to walk, cycle, or take the train. Rather than making lots of small, frequent trips, consider making one longer trip. That way you don’t have to shuttle yourself back and forth so much.”
Becky suggests thinking about what you want out of your trip before booking anything. For example, if you want a beach holiday away from England, consider taking a train to the South of France instead of flying to Turkey. She also points out that most of our travel is done for commuting and everyday life, not just leisure. This is another opportunity to take greener and more sustainable methods of transportation.
Making a Difference
Through her individual choices, Becky has influenced many friends and caused them to change their behavior. Individual changes will gradually cause those around you to change as well. However, political change is essential. There are a few businesses with enormous carbon footprints. And there are individuals who will never make the decision themselves to live an environmentally-friendly life.
“I feel like I have and have not made a difference,” Becky says. “I’m just one person, and the impact of any one individual is generally very small. To make a greater difference, we must fight for political change that will end the use of fossil fuels, prevent companies from putting profit over people, and make green options the more favorable options for individuals.”
Although she doesn’t plan on going back to flying, Becky sees herself taking lots of trains for future travel. However, she prefers cycling.
“I have found that cycling takes me to the best places, and has allowed me to discover the most wonderful areas. Planes, trains, and buses typically take you from one big busy city to another big busy city. Personally I’m much more interested in exploring wilder areas.”
In addition to taking her to wilder places, Becky has found cycling to be a more exhilarating way to travel. If you cycle up a mountain, you will properly appreciate the view from the top. She has also experienced locals being more excited to see her.
“Unlike someone walking off a plane and blowing carbon dioxide in their faces, the locals appreciate that a cyclist has really made an effort to get to where they are. And a cyclist’s arrival didn’t require clearing an airport-sized forest.”
Becky has also discovered that choosing a place to stay can make an impact. Her travels have made her much more aware of many beautiful places, especially beaches, that have been transformed from untouched, nature-filled areas to concrete blocks of hotels.
“In contrast, if you sleep in your tent, then your impact is cleared as soon as you pack up and leave.”
Traveling greener isn’t the only change Becky has made to decrease her carbon footprint on the planet. When she still lived in a house, she switched her electricity supplier to a renewable source. Back when she was still earning a salary, she donated part of it to charities such as Cool Earth. Becky also made sure to switch banks and avoid putting money in the pockets of banks that invest in fossil fuels. Her favorite green bank is Triodos. She suggests using Ethical Consumer to find the most ethical banks, food brands, and stores.
“As well as being an ethical consumer, I try to consume less. Every time when I might purchase something, I first consider: Do I actually need this? If yes, can I make it myself? If it’s a tool, perhaps I can borrow it from a friend. Or perhaps I can buy it secondhand. Buying something new is my last resort.”
To further minimize her footprint, Becky follows a unique diet. A vegetarian diet is a very effective way to minimize the environmental footprint of your diet, and a vegan diet is even better. A vegetarian or vegan diet may still have some issues; for example, there are many foods, such as avocados, that are sometimes illegally grown in rainforests that cause harm to the rainforest. However, reducing or eliminating farmed meat is a great start.
“I try to follow a diet that has a minimal negative impact on the environment. When you buy meat, you are increasing the demand for that meat, and so the supply is accordingly increased, causing a higher number of livestock being raised. If you instead catch a wild animal, whose existence, eating, and reproduction are not controlled by humans and is unrelated to whether you eat that animal or not, then you are not causing an environmental problem.”
Although she is generally vegan, Becky is open to eating wild animals. For example, the animals which farmers kill anyway because they eat their crops. But be careful if you also start eating wild animals. Grouse is referred to as “wild”, but in Scotland large areas are burnt to prevent forests growing, thus providing space for the grouse and making them easy to hunt. Deer may also be referred to as “wild”, even when they’re kept on the lawn of a wealthy person’s house.
“Once a friend saw a hare get hit by a car. Since he saw it before it got hit, we knew that it had been healthy. We took it, skinned, gutted, cooked, and ate it.” Becky says she would eat any roadkill animals, since she’s not contributing to demand. The problem is knowing whether the animal was healthy before it died.
Becky also eats insects! Although vegan sources of protein are generally more environmentally friendly, insects are generally much healthier and greener than farmed meat. She has also stayed with a friend who dumpster dives. Eating foods that were discarded by others is another way to avoid contributing to the demand and production of farmed meat and other foods. Plus, grocery stores discard a lot of perfectly edible food due to laws that aren’t eco-friendly.
“As I got further and further east in my travels, I was more and more frequently fed by strangers. On the one hand this was a wonderful experience, with so much unexpected friendliness. On the other hand it did mean I occasionally ate farmed meat, which was upsetting.”
Tips for Solo Female Travelers
“Sadly, safety is a difficult problem which is probably more acute for solo female travelers,” Becky says. “I met another solo female cyclist who had had many more problems on the road than I had had. At first glance, the predominant difference between us was that she had beautiful long curly hair, whereas my hair was so short that it was entirely covered by my helmet.”
Due to this experience, Becky advises solo female travelers to disguise their visual female attributes: cut your hair short, or bundle it up and cover it in a hat; wear a baggy t-shirt; don’t wear dresses or lots of pink.
“A big safety concern when you’re traveling on the road on a low budget is where to sleep at night. There are some good websites you can use for finding wonderful hosts, but be aware that even people with good reviews may harass someone one day. In smaller villages, I was advised to ask people if I could put my tent up in their garden, first making sure that there is at least one woman and ideally some children amongst the household.”
Becky also points out that none of her tips actually guarantee your safety. Do lots of research according to what kind of traveling you will be doing.
Shaving Her Head
“I hadn’t had a significant hair cut in several years, and setting off on my trip seemed like an appropriate time. I hadn’t had the experience of being bald since being a baby. It would be inefficient to cut my hair, then grow it out a bit just to cut it again! I’m a fan of efficiency. So I decided to shave my head directly, and then from there grow it until it was at a length I liked.”
Becky discovered that her colleague, Steff, also wanted to shave his head. They were due to have a work barbeque less than a week before she was scheduled to set off on her cycling trip. They decided to transform the barbeque into a “barber-queue” and shave each other’s heads then.
“So the “barber-queue” arrived, and Steff and I prepared to shave each other’s heads. First we cut my hair and sent it to a charity called the Little Princess Trust, who make wigs for children with cancer. When I had shaved half of Steff’s head, a colleague called out: ‘Steff, how much do we have to pay to a charity of your choice for you to stay like that for a week?’. Steff eventually settled on £1,000 per week, and a JustGiving page was sent out to the company. Steff ended up keeping his head half shaved for about three weeks.”
More about Becky
“After graduating from university I started working as a software engineer. Actually I enjoyed my job a lot, but sometimes I would be sitting at my desk, looking out of the window, and longing to be outside,” Becky said.
Her dream to travel started many years before she actually set off on her trip. Initially it was only a vague idea; Becky didn’t even know how she would travel – by train, by bike, hiking . . . About one year before her trip started, things started becoming more real. She started talking to friends and making actual plans.
“My intention to leave was delayed multiple times: for work reasons, for Christmas, for a friend’s wedding. If you also wish to make a trip like this, I’d advise you that you will probably never be completely ‘ready’. At some point you need to push yourself out the door and just get going!”
Although Becky has always loved nature and being outside, her parents have sometimes been overly protective. When she was a teenager and expressed her desire to travel to her parents, her mum suggested she camp in the garden: “Wouldn’t that be a good adventure?” While her cycling trip may have been dangerous, she considered the risks and decided to take them.
Mainstream travel is fun, but it is not good for the environment. Plus, everyone is always traveling to the same place. Not only is traveling by plane bad for the environment, but tourism can have devastating effects on certain cultures and places. That is why Becky decided to explore the world without destroying it. Her travels, although seemingly inconvenient, showed her a completely different world that she would have otherwise been oblivious to. Becky proves that travel can be affordable, environmentally friendly and fulfilling beyond expectation.
Photos: From the personal archive of Becky
Did you find Becky’s story useful and inspiring? Check out more articles on Alternative Tourism and Travel tips from ‘wanderlusters’ around the world:
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