Ethical travels in the Arctic circle

Myself crossing the Swedish Lapland

In a recent journey to the Swedish Lapland, I learned how human impact on Earth has been so profound worldwide, and how pristine areas are still preserved with the care of local communities. It is not only in the way we travel but how we collectively collaborate for a responsible future.
I decided to participate in the Fjällräven Classic event in Lapland to seek a connection with the natural world. Moreover to gather insights into how to see the travel experience from a holistic viewpoint. After all, it seemed to be an attractive outdoor activity therefore, I was willing to get away in the late summer of 2017 to the north of Sweden. With denim-blue skies filled with emerald peaks and pristine landscapes, the event allowed a great survival approach during 6 days hike (110km) in Kebnekaise.
This trip encouraged me to reflect on the great respect and awareness of the local ecosystem. These people are used to take action by defending and protecting their traditional lifestyle and livelihoods in the face of mass tourism. Indeed, the lack of sustainable awareness can potentially place such delicate places at risk.
The area is part of the Swedish Lapland and has two main peaks. It is a journey through one of last Europe’s wildernesses as a celebration of the outdoors, filled with nordic forests, tundra, mountains, waterfalls, valleys, and some traces of the Sami way of living. The trail lays down in Kungsleden between Abisko and Hemavan and people have to pass 8 checkpoints in time: NikKaluokta-Kebnekaise-Singi-Sålka-Tjäktja-Alesjaure-Kieron-Abisko.
Some preparation is needed. No signs of people or civilization were present in the area. Furthermore, no network is available plus, people have to cook their water to drink and to prepare their food, as well as to carry their food, clothes, and tent.
This event was an inspiring initiative as an example of protecting the environment while traveling to a remote location with eco-travel in mind, with care for the local culture and local environment.

Swedish Lapland (photo by Alexandra Mateus)

Travel is an amazing thing when done with responsibility. The greatest mind-expanding experience and ultimate cultural bridge. However, it should serve local communities and ecosystems, which is not what we are currently witnessing worldwide.
Humanity’s impact on the Earth has been so profound that a new geological epoch was declared — the Anthropocene. The striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea-level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development marked the end of the Holocene.
The curiosity to know more about mindful living came when I took deeper contact with the subject during the Nobel Week Dialogue four years ago in Stockholm, with the theme — Future of Food: Your plate, Our planet. The way how humanity transformed the natural systems on Earth readily fostered curiosity on me while watching and listening to the laureates and guests speaking. How we as a society could potentially cooperate for a planetary health diet where both us and planet profit.
As a consumer, traveler, and designer who considers the circular economy as the enabler towards mindful life and consumption, I thought to be a great opportunity to learn from the systemic thinking and holistic approach regarding our human impact on our planet.

Swedish Lapland (photo by Alexandra Mateus)

How to move forward

Fortunately, eco-travel seems to be on the rise. As the public becomes informed about the impact of travel on the planet, more people are committing to minimize their footprints. Whether that’s staying at a resort that farms its food or choosing places where fees are funneled to conservation. There are currently numberless options for greener travels, allowing future generations to experience the wonders of travel for years to come.

Sitting at the crossroads of environmental, social, economical issues, eco-travel focuses on minimizing the impact of tourism. It covers all variants of ecotourism and green travel, including responsible travel, sustainable tourism as well as ethical travel. While these terms are interchangeable and vary wildly, their principles remain steadfast: minimize human impact, tread lightly, and always leave a place better than you found it. It also promotes environmental and cultural awareness, contributing to conservation efforts and the socio-economic development of local communities.

Follows my tips that attempt to make a positive impact wherever you go:

· Embrace activities that care for the local environment, culture, and communities.

· Eat local

· Shop local

· Find non-profits

· Recycle when possible

· Eat mindfully

· Leave No Trace

· Do not use products that contain chemicals and devastate animal species and coral reefs that live in the sea.

. Make more thoughtful journeys and with much more purpose.

. Travel smarter, probably a bit less, but for longer. Allowing the planet to take a breather evidentially helps.

I hope many lessons are learned once the current pandemic fades away. It would be good to see us collective rethink the travel towards a mindful experience, where both people and the Earth can thrive. We live in times we as consumers have the power to demand services that don’t harm the planet and people. Thus, let’s make the change happen. With a conscious mind, we can rethink travel.

Senior UX designer • Traveler • Circular design • Material futures • http://www.alexandramateus.com/