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When on a responsible holiday, do as the locals do



When visiting a country you are exactly that: a visitor, not a local – correct? But putting yourself in the mindset of a local person not only results in a more authentic, thrilling and enlightening experience for you, but allows for a more sustainable tourist economy for the destination.

One of the easiest ways to travel like a local is to travel with a local. Meeting up with inhabitants of your destination and exploring the sights and surroundings with them provides a lens on a place that you may not have been privy to otherwise. Companies such as Tours By LocalsGlobal Greeter or Unseen Tours, where homeless people are the guides, act as facilitators between visitors and local guides, pairing up those who will be most suited and letting them explore together.

You will get a unique perspective on a city (even hearing how the voices of my Vietnamese guides dipped when discussing communism was fascinating), visit places off the beaten track, and drink in local bars. None of which your guide book can enable. It’s all about getting a feel for a place, the people, the politics, the culture, food and the way of life.

Culture is not part of the past, but living and evolving. Often we think of a country’s culture as that of historic importance, and whilst a past is hugely influential on the present, the present is pretty important, too.

Picking up local magazines and listings guides enables you to step away from this and engage in the activities that your contemporaries in 2013 are doing, not those from the days of yore. The latest art exhibitions, music movements and even cinema screenings can be hugely revelatory about a country and its people.

Put yourself in the local mindset and share in activities and experiences as locals do. Ticking off the guidebook must-sees can be draining, so don’t – explore what interests you in the different surroundings you find yourself in.

One of my first experiences of the idea of travelling local was back in 2008 in Romania. Chatting to an American man on a public bus, he laughed at us visiting a palace. “Are you not?” I asked. “I saw everything the first time I came. This time I want to feel it.

Another way to see more is literally by travelling. Get that public bus, take a bike, and walk. Save yourself money and see the sights. The coins you do spend will go on local infrastructure rather than tour companies, both enhancing public and tourist facilities.

Ensuring that your money benefits the right people is one of the most important ways to ensure a sustainable travel economy and local business development. This increases the opportunities to retain local values and practices within business models rather than being mass produced.

Let’s not forget why many of us travel, and one of the best things about it: food. Trying new dishes and sampling never tasted before cuisines is a delight, and can be done more authentically, and not to mention more cheaply, in local restaurants.

New foods eaten whilst watching the world go by is a travel highlight. I would never have discovered rice paste and shrimp parcels in banyan leaves in Vietnam, timpana in Malta, or black bean sushi in São Paulo without stepping off the tourist track.

Pick somewhere a few streets away from the tourist sites. Listen to the chatter from within – do you understand it? If not, it is likely to be local, and usually by default, pretty good. In some places it is best to ensure that you can see the food being cooked, and cleanly, but more often than not you will be safe from tummy trouble.

There is an economic benefit to you, too. Tourist mark-ups on menus can be avoided; you don’t visit the tourist shows or tat; and by staying with locals you can really save money.

The acclaimed couchsurfing lets you really get into a local way of living, and even if you are not keen on staying on a sofa, they organise numerous events and meet-ups to get involved in. If you prefer a home to yourself try Airbnb, a rental service for local homes or even home swapping.

With intimate and in-depth knowledge of a destination, and the passion to reveal its depth to you, a local guide is the best window to any place. “A tour guide should be more than just a guide”, said mine in Ho Chi Minh City recently. “They should be your friend.”

Charm and personality go a long way to making a trip, and are more readily available in a person than mass produced guidebook. A charming holiday – what could be better than that?

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at

Further reading:

Responsible tourism means helping communities to thrive

Sustainable tourism: people power and destination stewardship

Humans, nature and responsible tourism: chronicles of an Italian holiday

A responsible tourist considers local communities

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2013

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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