Donnerstag, 22. März 2012

Travelling on a low budget –how sustainable can a backpacker live?

2012 stands under the sign of sustainability. The United Nations (UN) designated this year under the device “Sustainable energy for all” and fosters projects that help  human (in rural or urban areas) to have access to modern energy services and aim to enhance energy efficiency plus  the share of renewables to  the global energy mix ( However, sustainability is not just about energy matters. It is the measure of the behavior how to deal with human, natural and economic resources – your quality of life!
As I travelled through Australia and New Zealand recently I asked myself, how sustainable can you design your travel and being a backpacker, can this go together with a low budget? But first, how would you determine “a sustainable living”? Three terms tip the scales: 

Fairness – how well are resources distributed?
(income, energy supplies, education, ethnical difficulties)
Efficiency – how efficient are we using our resources?
(atmosphere/greenhouse gases, energy consumption, work and skills/labour)
Preserving resources – what will be left behind?
(environment, education, economy, culture, biodiversity)

If you arrive at your foreign destination with your cheap Asian flight company and are finally dropped by the airport shuttle at the most noisiest place in downtown you feel it right away. Budget travel means privations. Most of the young party crowd just left home at their first time, freshly graduated and no idea about life at all. But there are also a lot young people that try to escape unemployment and ethnic disadvantages. They unite as work and travelers – backpackers-and feed one own industry in Australia supporting agriculture, construction and hospitality work. Some have money in their pockets, earned or from rich parents, some have not. Compared to circumstances in their dream country, e.g. Australia, European backpackers resources are nevertheless fair, mostly graduated or educated with start capital in their pockets. The way I recognized the contrasting social standing and chances of Aboriginal people has been rather shocking: a lot have been ragged and alcoholised, poor and under-educated, rather seldom I viewed “integrated” natives.  Thus education and income are not necessarily fair distributed for ethnic minorities.

Champagne Pool - geothermal field close to Rotorua/NZ
In terms of public education and ecology Australia and also New Zealand step ahead: most state museums and art galleries are for free! Also an advantage for travelers to save some money. You can be very efficient if you watch out a bit. You can for example reduce your CO2-emissions in many ways. If you travel in your own bought car you can share travel costs and fuel and take people on a lift. Or travel in public transport. In Perth you can even use the inner city bus system for free! In some Australian cities you can hire bikes for free – or walk, as the distances are not far anyway. If you need to fly just because the distances are indeed huge you can neutralize your carbon footprint and support forest projects – sometimes directly via your chosen airline. Another way of preventing CO2-emissions is to avoid fast food. It is healthier any way to prepare your own food and cheaper.
Energy and resources consumption happens everywhere in  the daily backpacker life. Go to the supermarket and you realize that Australia and New Zealand still have no recycle system and waste fossil resources in terms of plastic bags that come with every article group you buy: one bag for fruit, one for milk, and yoghurt and one for even if it’s only one toothbrush… On top there is simply no waste separation-not in backpacker’s kitchens. But you can use one bottle for your drinking water from the tap (if it is not thoroughly chlorinated). Use textile bags for shopping and shock the packing girls and boys at the counter. “No bag, really?”.  “Really!”

You can do more.  Educate yourself by using free book shelves to exchange books and also to leave some excess books there instead of throwing them away. Do the same with excess food. There are free food boxes in backpacker accommodations that are usually empty. Someone’s always hungry. If this could work out globally, what would that change the global life quality!
And remember, you are not at home-respect resources of others. Try not to waste energy. At some places you find still coal-fired ovens and heating systems and maybe shake your head. Australia draws most of its energy from fossil resources (coal). Solar and wind power contribute below 1 % of the total energy mix. However, Aussies use solar panels a lot to gain hot water. You can see that on nearly every roof in Western Australia. In New Zealand at least 35% of the total energy supply comes from renewables (geothermal and hydro power) that largely contribute to electricity. You cannot really choose your energy supply when travelling.  Just think ecologic!

 Also a matter of sustainability - effect of greenhouse emissions on the climate, spoken dramatically

The way you bring your work and skills into the foreign society also is a measure of efficiency.  Backpackers are often used as cheap laborers that now significantly contribute to agriculture and other industries. If you work “under value” it may be not efficient, yes even frustrating for you. Why not try in your usual profession and also achieve something sustainable for yourself?
Try to keep something for your future and get involved in preserving resources. The biodiversity of a country is one important measure of its sustainability. In New Zealand there are numerous volunteering projects in the field of nature and species conservation that you could join.  If you want to save their national bird from extinction you can also adopt a kiwi or support it with donations. You can also contribute to farm work and help out in Australian or New Zealand families. This will thrive the economy and along the way you learn about people and their culture as well as they will exchange values with you!

Therefore a work and travel or backpacker’s life can be as sustainable as your daily life at home. Sustainability is not only a matter of money but what you are willing to give. The little things count. 

Backpacker petting a little lamb on a sheep farm (Mata Mata/NZ).

Interested in sustainability in Germany? Visit the Science Year 2012

kiwis can't fly ?

Auckland, 3rd of February 2012
KIWIS can’t fly…           

Well, that’s not quite true. About one week ago I just landed on Auckland airport on the North Island of New Zealand. What I will do here, about 10.000km from Berlin, in a country with 30 times more sheep than inhabitants, with lush green hills as green as the famous kiwi fruit grown here. Where the sports and outdoor crazy people adore a flightless bird as their national symbol, yes, even call themselves “kiwis”?! I will tell you in my blog within the following few weeks.
Poking my beak beyond the “rim of my plate” I am looking for inspiration by oversea’s science communication and of course for business contacts. One more reason for my travel is trapped within my business name; however, you’ll read about that later :-)
When I went to New Zealand eleven years ago, I never made it to the Northland where they say, you might even see some of those rare and threatened kiwi birds. I saw lots of protection and attention signs but so far no kiwi at all. No wonder, you say? Right, they life hidden in secret and remote spots, deep in the forest, scared of dogs and cats, lonely and …sometimes you hear their cries at night.  In Waipoua Forest you can stare and glare instead at the only ones and oldest Kauri trees left after decades of tree cut down for building houses and the processing of Kauri gum.  Kauri and rainforest used to cover most of Northland, once the home of many kiwis. Strolling through the lush moss, overgrown tree trunks, tweeting birds, is still breathtaking! But I will watch out further for kiwis, promise.

On my way up north I met gorgeous Rosemary Neave who is a true Kiwi. Although born in Australia, she used to live in the Waipu region most of her time. Being a communicator at heart just as myself, I helped her cleaning up her jungle outside in her garden and in turn she offered me a comfy and heart-warming home called “The Red Door”. Rosemary runs a very cosy apartment and homestay especially for women travellers. If you need travel advice in New Zealand or any place on the globe you may ask for her advice and website womentravel . She used to travel a lot and we shared many interesting discussions, e.g. about the people in Waipu who are pretty proud of their Scottish heritage what they celebrate every year in January with the Highland Games. Yes, kiwis tossing timber poles and bagpipe music played by the eldest gentleman in town. That would be the picture. Moreover I was surprised to hear that there were plans to build a nuclear power plant in that beautiful area. Hard to believe as New Zealand is set on the “ring of fire” with lots of (still active) volcanoes and moving earth plates. Far too dangerous and due to the plenty natural thermal energy resources on the North Island rather not necessary you would think. Concerning the way how to deal with future energy matters Fukushima did play its role here, too.

Kiwis and science in New Zealand
Similar to the development of science communication in the UK and Australia a Science and Media Centre exists steering and supporting the public communication of Kiwi research matters to stake holders, journalists and the general interested Kiwi “on the street”. Media people as well as scientists find hints and guides how to deal with each other. Journalists can learn about the method how scientific research and the peer-review process and thus how scientists work. For scientists in turn is described in easy words what media professionals need to know and how even sensitive and risky matters can be communicated to the public.  It is explained why there is always a bit uncertainty in research and that it is OK if scientists can not always explain everything!

‘Doing science is like trying to bake a cake without a recipe;                                                                     
you keep trying things and eventually find a way that works.’

Everybody who ever lost its best cake recipe and then tried to figure out how it worked might understand how hard scientists often have to try, experiment and stick to their research with passion in order to succeed!
Have a look at their website on!
For pictures and more "tweets" please visit my facebook site!