The Eco Traveller Paradox

I’m so excited to have begun my Masters in Sustainability at Anglia Ruskin University. Not only is it a great course but the set up enables me to stick to my commitments in Indonesia and the French Alps. That’s right, it’s distance learning so I’m currently writing this in the Sumatran jungle. I was meant to be heading on a trek into the Leuser Ecosystem but was struck down with a bug last night and instead am trying to rest and recover. It’s also a good chance to catch up on Uni work, and put down a few thoughts about my latests travel.


My time in Sumatra has been intense - from the traditional Muslim province of Banda Aceh, the local villages in Nias where time stands still, to staying on a desert Island in the Mentawaiis, completely cut off from the world - I have been immersed in an a society that is worlds away from my own. It’s such a privilege to be able to glimpse into these other cultures and spaces, so foreign to my own. Such an utter privilege to be able to travel freely here.

The tragic Lion air plane crash happened just days ago; my heart goes out to all affected. Being able to travel safely is priority and sure puts tiny delays or annoyances into perspective.

I try to access gratitude and acknowledge my privilege and freedom to be able to do this on a daily basis, but underlying everything is an unwavering sense of guilt. I absolutely love travelling, but as a sustainability student, and someone who cares about finite resources on this planet - it’s pretty hypocritical.

These conflicting feelings are energising me to dig deep into the modules and tasks I’m undertaking, and try to apply methods of systems thinking to my life. It’s forcing me to commit to this learning journey and consider changing my habits and lifestyle if I am to live with integrity and by my values.

Whilst I can commit to surfing, yoga and learning; can I actually commit to something I do not necessarily want to do? Committing to jobs, relationships or places has never been my forte. I’m not sure I can commit to giving up travelling. It’s so integral to my happiness.


Staying on an Island in the Mentawaiis I am given the opportunity to sample life in a bubble, the guilt subsides as present moment awareness takes over and curiosity, creativity and joy become my resting states.

Wandering through the jungle barefoot, devouring fresh fruits and veggies, observing the reef teeming with life and getting dialled in to new surf breaks become my activities, my mind becomes clear and my heart becomes soft.

I would not be able to have that experience, without a number of flights, boats and cars powered by fossil fuels. But in doing so I add to the problem, contribute to climate change through my carbon footprint and become just another ignorant consumer.

We’re surrounded by art on this island. Everything is hand made and thoughtfully crafted. It is like a paradise that needs no outside influence, all the abundance, materials and inspiration is provided by nature right here. Is it possible to take the notion of art and apply it to our lives, to the world we are creating every day? I know that by combining the knowledge I’m gathering at Uni and teaming it alongside my passion for creativity, that innovation will flourish. I’m hoping that I can understand the complexity of our planet whilst resolving to live a simpler life. My time on the island has changed me. My needs are much more simple than they used to be. I’m attempting to live a life filled with enchantment and wonder. Nature and community provide this, but why does it have to take burning carbon to get me here!?


On an individual basis, there’s no denying that the impact of a flight is greater than that of several car journeys. However, through careful consideration you can still fly occasionally while maintaining a sustainable overall lifestyle!

A plane uses most fuel during takeoff and landing. You don’t need to be an aeronautical engineer to understand that it’s much easier for a plane to glide than to ascend from 0 to 35,000 feet. Therefore, CO2 per passenger per mile will be far greater on short-haul flights. Overall, it’s far worse to fly from London to Glasgow and back eight times than it is to fly London to Vancouver and back once. If you can, skip a shorter connecting flight for a bus, and for domestic journeys, use alternative means.


Of course, along with enchantment and awe, I’ve encountered plenty of marine plastics, even on pristine, empty beaches. So as I continue my travels, collecting trash and saying no to single use, I’m hoping my eco footprint will balance out my carbon one. I’ll be pondering these paradoxes whilst I head to the Maldives for interning at the Waste to Wealth programme at a super, duper fancy pants high end resort.

Whilst my next essay explores economic solutions to combat these issues, I’m glad I’m still a lowly student, as I’m increasingly worried that I most definitely do not have the answers. If you do, please leave them in the comments below!