We all need to be more mindful of how we are living and how our day-to-day choices impact our planet. When considering how we can minimise our individual carbon footprints and cut back on emissions, the obvious solution is to fly less often. But this is not what travel-lovers want to hear. For those of us who want to see and experience the world as well as save it, there are a number of effective ways to make our trips more sustainable. Whether it involves being more aware of where you go, what you pack or how you choose to get there - there is a lot we can do to reduce our environmental impact while travelling.
Sustainable travel refers to creating and participating in experiences that can be maintained long-term without damaging natural and cultural environments. For travel to be considered sustainable, it should minimise the negative impact of tourism and, ideally, be beneficial to the area in which it takes place.
Sustainable tourism is an industry that fully accounts for its future economic, social and environmental impact while meeting the needs of its visitors, the industry, the environment and its inhabitants. The sustainable travel industry should be fully committed to making minimal impact on the environment and local culture while aiding in the generation of future employment for locals. The main aim of sustainable tourism is to make sure that a destination's development is positive for local people, ecosystems, tourist companies and tourists.
In general, the shorter the distance from home you travel, the smaller your carbon footprint will be. However, for those of us who like to explore far and wide, some destinations make more sustainable choices than others.
When considering where to go for your next trip, why not consider somewhere nearby? There is no greener form of travel than seeking out local adventures. You could go walking in an unexplored corner of your neighbourhood or visit a museum in your city.
If you want to venture a little further than your own city, then stretch it a little further by hopping in the car and driving a few hours to a sandy beach or beautiful forest. A staycation can be the best way to have a holiday from home.
In 2019, a number of sustainability organisations compiled a list of 100 destinations thought to be the best places to visit to have minimal environmental impact. Each of these 'eco-destination's' was selected based on certain criteria. In order to be considered, these locations had to meet a number of factors, including possessing a governing body to manage sustainability, being committed to protecting natural resources, people and heritage, and reducing energy consumption. For those of us who feel the need to travel further afield, you can try to reduce your carbon footprint by choosing one of these more sustainable destinations.
Another way to travel far but sustainably is to opt for destinations that require your support to rebuild after a disaster. For example, Puerto Rico has developed a robust tourism sector since experiencing a devastating hurricane in 2017. Once you arrive at one of these in-need destinations, you can further help by volunteering for environmental and social projects aimed at helping to rebuild damaged communities and ecosystems.
Transport is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to emitting greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants. Taking into account how you plan to get to your destination and how you will get around once there can help you minimise your carbon footprint while travelling.
Trains tend to be one of the most environmentally-friendly forms of travel, whether they are electric or diesel-powered. While it isn't possible to get to all destinations via train, it might be worth considering for shorter distances, especially in Europe. Trains also offer a slower alternative to planes, giving you the opportunity to take in the scenery, read a book and arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to explore.
If you have to fly to your chosen destination, then the best thing you can do is to consider the environmental impact of the airlines that you are using. Instead of simply choosing the airline with the cheapest deal as you would normally, opt for an environmentally-conscious airline that utilises biofuel or has plastic-free flights.
While this might seem obvious, it is super common for travellers to simply book a rental car without thinking. However, not only is public and local transport much better for the environment but it is often a more efficient way of getting around. Trains and buses are two of the lowest carbon-emitting modes of transport and a great way to immerse yourself in the local way of living.
You could also consider a bike or walking tour if visiting a city. These local tours are a great way to get your bearings when you first arrive at your destination and provide an environmentally-friendly method of seeing the city.
Whatever mode of transport you opt for to get to your destination and to get around once you're there, you can choose to offset your journey to neutralise your impact on the environment. One way of offsetting your carbon emissions is by purchasing credits that go towards a project that helps sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Be sure to check out the reputability of the offsetting project you choose though because they tend to be unregulated and can vary substantially in legitimacy.
One great organisation that has a number of ongoing projects that reduce carbon pollution is Cool Effect Some example of projects include building biogas digesters for Vietnamese farmers, bringing renewable energy resources to Costa Rica and restoring and protecting the planet's oceans and forests.
Once you have booked your trip, packing the planet-saving essentials is the next step in reducing your environmental impact while travelling.
Another effective way of minimising your impact on the environment while travelling is to avoid plastic and excessive waste. The easiest way to do this is by packing your very own sustainable essentials.
Here is a list of must-have sustainable travel tools:
When it comes to packing clothes, try to take a selection of essential, versatile items that mix and match well with one another and can easily be layered. Putting together a capsule wardrobe can help to reduce your carbon footprint by minimising the amount of luggage you have to take with you. Packing fewer clothes means that your luggage will be lighter and easier to transport. When creating your capsule wardrobe, it is best to opt for a simple, neutral colour palette; natural materials such as cotton, linen and wool; and clothing items that can be hand-washed and air-dried.
The sustainable mindset doesn't stop when you get to your destination. Even while enjoying your trip, it is important to make the necessary compromises to reduce your environmental impact.
Once you arrive at your destination, try to opt for activities and experiences that will not only avoid harming the environment but that will also benefit the local people and ecosystems. We must start to consider the wider effects of what we and see and do at a destination. While it is easy to get drawn in by pretty photo opportunities and the most popular attractions, it is crucial that travellers start to research the impact an activity can have on the environment and locals.
Whether it's riding elephants in Thailand or shark cage diving in South Africa, it is definitely worth making sure that your money isn't being used to negatively impact the planet. Instead of partaking in any of these unethical tourist activities, consider doing something that blatantly helps rather than hinders the environment. Visit a reef restoration project, help out at a local organic farm or volunteer.
If thinking about going on a tour then make sure you also research the operators and guides. Responsible and reputable companies won't promote or allow unethical experiences and should give back to their local community or support conservation efforts. The best way to ensure you are acting responsibly when travelling is to speak to local people and ask them what to see and do. Not only will this help you minimise your impact, but it will also encourage you to venture off the well-trodden tourist path and find unique experiences to try.
Another way of reducing your negative environmental impact when travelling is opting for sustainable accommodation options. Whether you're limited to a strict budget or looking for a touch of luxury, there are plenty of eco-friendly accommodation options around the world to choose from. Many hotels, Airbnbs and resorts are using investing in innovative methods to reduce their impact on the environment.
When looking for an eco-friendly hotel to stay in, there are a few things you should look out for:
To help you find sustainable accommodation, you can use sites like EcoBnB and GreenHotels. Alternatively, if you would prefer to stay in a a self-catered apartment then you could try looking on Airbnb for hosts that are mindful of the above factors.
Instead of choosing the easy option and getting a travel agent to plan your trip, wait until you get to your destination to pick out the best, most authentic and conscious tours and activities. Booking locally means that the tour operator or business gets the majority of or all of the money you pay. Whereas, if you book through a third-party operator, they will likely receive a tiny percentage for their work.
Additionally, when choosing those special gifts to take back to your friends and family at home, try to avoid purchasing mass-produced souvenirs. Instead, opt for something more unique that is sold directly by the person who made it.
By far one of the best things about travelling is the food. However, not all food experiences are sustainable. The sustainability of food is an incredibly complex topic and so the best way to ensure you aren't having a negative impact through what you eat is to opt for organically farmed, locally sourced food that is in season and supports the local community.
Many restaurants, hotels and resorts import their food which means that before it even reaches your plate, it has a huge carbon footprint. These places are also failing to support their local community, choosing not to buy from local farmers. When choosing where to stay and eat, you should attempt to find out where they get their food from.
When grocery shopping abroad, it is best to seek out foods that are in season and grown locally rather than simply picking up the classic staples that you can get anywhere. You should look for roadside stands and local markets when buying your food.