The Leave No Trace Principles – How To Be A Responsible Vanlifer

WHY THE LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES MATTER

Wanting to spend time in nature is something that is quintessentially human. From reducing stress to boosting your immune system and even improving creativity, there are numerous proven benefits to it. However, considering the recent popularity surge of camping and van life culture, we must act sustainably in order to keep it this way. That’s where the Leave No Trace Principles come in!

If you’ve recently joined the community: Hey, nice to have you with us! Let’s get serious for a few moments. It’s important that you learn about our responsibility towards nature, wildlife and each. Overall, the Leave No Trace Principles, aka the etiquette every vanlifer should follow, are pretty straightforward. We simply try to minimise our impact and leave sites better than we found them. In other words, we try to leave no trace. I tried to explain each of these principles as clearly as possible. Have a read through them and try to make them part of the DNA of your vanlife experience.

1. LEAVE NOTHING BEHIND

This is the obvious rule number one: You should leave any site cleaner than you found it. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: Pack away all of your trash and. ALL OF IT. Yes, that also includes your toilet paper (!) and any organic trash, such as banana peels, apples, etc. Sure, some of these items will decompose at one (distant) point in the future. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t still be there for months or that they won’t disturb the local ecosystem! In case you find any trash laying around, please take it as well. Consider yourself as a guest in our big shared garden and take a sec to help out.

2. AVOID USING CHEMICALS

It is of the utmost importance that we try not to disturb the ecosystems we encounter. A huge part of that is to keep harmful chemicals and pesticides far away from them. That includes your personal toiletries (shampoo, shower gels, sunscreen, toothpaste, etc.) as well as cleaning detergents (dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaner). If you cannot avoid using any of these, make sure they are pH-neutral, biodegradable and free of micro-plastics. Sure, these cost a few bucks more, but isn’t it worth it if it makes such a massive difference for Mama Earth?

3. BE POO-CONSCIOUS

If you have a toilet in your van: LUCKY YOU! (Many of us don’t have that luxury.) However, if the time ever comes for you to take a poo in nature, there are important things to consider. Firstly, make sure you poo at least 50m away from any water source to avoid contaminating it! Secondly, don’t just leave your shit lying around. Nobody wants to see that! Take a shovel, dig a 20cm deep hole and – after doing your business – cover it with soil and leaves. Lastly, as previously mentioned, NEVER leave your toilet paper behind. It sounds gross, but you should take it with you and dispose of it properly.

Another thing you should consider is that your poo will decompose very slowly in some areas, such as dry and high alpine regions. For this reason, believe it or not, it is illegal to take a shit in nature in some cases!

4. MINIMISE CAMPFIRE IMPACTS

We all love a good campfire, don’t we? But there are things to consider when you want to have a cozy bonfire night. Firstly, consider the environment you’re in. What is the wildfire hazard level? In some areas/ countries it is not only highly dangerous but also illegal to have a bonfire. Always triple check whether you’re allowed to have one. However, when your gut feeling tells you that the area is too dry, just don’t risk it! 
Moreover, try to use pre-existing fire pits and avoid creating a new ones. Besides that, you should keep fires small and NEVER leave them unattended. When it’s time to go to sleep, put it out fully with water. The following day, after letting them cool down entirely, collect the coals and ashes to dispose of them.

leave no trace principles

5. MIND WHERE YOU’RE DRIVING

Drive on durable surfaces, which means pre-existing roads, pavement, rock, gravel and dirt. Avoid driving on any vegetation, even once, as this has negative consequences for the environment. In some sensitive environments, such as deserts, it can even take hundreds of years for vegetation to grow back.

6. RESPECT WILDLIFE

The animals you’ll encounter while traveling will be as diverse as our planet. From Sweden’s bears to Greece’s tortoises, all animals deserve equal respect. After all, you are visiting THEIR home. That means you should keep your distance and don’t leave any food or scented items out that could attract animals to your camp. Please also don’t feed animals. Even if you mean well you could make the animal sick or make it dependent on humans, meaning it can’t fend for itself in the wild anymore. After second thought, that’s not want you want, is it?

leave no trace principles

7. TAKE ONLY MEMORIES WITH YOU

Don’t you just love finding beautiful shells on the beach or a fossil on a hike? Unfortunately, these items are finite and won’t just grow back. We should leave any items where we find them so that other people may enjoy them, too. Besides, ecosystems are fragile, and the smallest actions can have a negative consequences. Now you may be wondering: is it really that serious? What difference can one shell have?  Well, let me tell you, often it is even illegal to take such items with you – with good reason!
You should also hold back from mindlessly picking wild plants, herbs and flowers, which animals may rely on as food. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. In some countries, such as Sweden, you are encouraged to pick berries, flowers and mushrooms. When in doubt, do some research!

8. KEEP NOISE DOWN

I get it, music is a true source of joy and it’s sooo satisfying to blast your favourite playlist. However, not everyone may share your (probably amazing) taste in music. That’s just how it is. Additionally, some people may be traveling with young children. And besides, noise is also known to disturb the local wildlife. Keeping your music and any other source of noise down is the respectful (and right) thing to do.

leave no trace principles

BEYOND THE LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES: BEING A SLOW TRAVELLER

You want to see the big wide world? You want to see faraway lands? Heck, me too! But just imagine how many gems are hidden along the way. If you just kept on driving with your foot on the gas, you’d miss out on seeing so much… You don’t need me to tell you that your carbon footprint will be a lot lower if you drive less. And if your destination is far away, try to make the most of the journey by having many stops on the way! Go slow and take the journey one step at a time.

Additionally, you should consider staying at each camp site for a few days, rather than just one night, to lower your carbon footprint. Mother nature will thank you for taking it easy! (And of course, your wallet will also thank you for reducing the amount of fuel you use!) This isn’t one of the official Leave No Trace Principles, but I believe it’s a great thing to keep in mind when wanting to lower your overall environmental impact.

leave no trace principles

Now that you’ve had a read through the Leave No Trace Principles, it’s time for you to hit the road and be a responsible vanlifer. Curious about even more tips to make your future road trips more eco friendly? Check out this blog post. If you need some help finding wild camping spots, you’ll love this blog post. If you’re looking for inspiration for your next trip you should check out this blog post to find out why Sweden is my favourite vanlife destination.

I hope this blog post has been helpful and insightful for you. Should you have any more questions on this topic or any other matter, please leave a comment or shoot me a message at exploringrelentlessly@gmail.com <3

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6 Comments

  1. January 15, 2021 / 22:21

    These are amazing points, but I have to say I died laughing at the end of number 3! Who knew 😂😂

  2. January 17, 2021 / 01:29

    Some of these points I have never thought of like 3, the chemicals in some of our products and it being illegal and the last one taking it slow. Makes total sense!

  3. Irina
    January 17, 2021 / 03:16

    Love this so much ❤️

  4. January 17, 2021 / 03:23

    These are great tips! I’ve never thought about the pool near the water source one. Makes sense!

  5. January 17, 2021 / 04:55

    So funny! #3! Thanks for sharing this info! Super important

  6. January 18, 2021 / 02:34

    Great tips! I wish I could travel like this more

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