With the current climate crisis, changing the way we travel is a big way to help the environment. Sustainable travel is on the rise, and although we can’t all take the measures as Greta Thunberg, we should make changes where we can… these tips might even save you some money!
1. Bus > Train > Cars > Planes
Travelling by land is generally the safest option when looking to reduce carbon emissions when travelling. Generally speaking, the carbon efficiency of modes of travel goes bus, train, car, and then plane. In fact, traveling by bus rather than flying could decrease your carbon footprint by up to 13 times. If choosing to drive, make sure you choose the most carbon-efficient car available, and carpool as much as possible. Use this calculator to figure out what the best method of transport is for you!
If you have to fly, make sure you book non-stop flights where you can, as the taking off and landing creates a large amount of CO2. Try and book with budget airlines as they usually fill their planes as much as they can, but if you can’t definitely fly economy over business or first class. Business and first class passengers take up more space and consume more during flights. You can also choose to fly with 30+ IATA (International Air Transport Association) member airlines who offer carbon offset programs to neutralize the aircraft’s carbon emissions by investing in carbon reduction projects. If this isn’t possible, you can pay for carbon-offsets yourself!
For multi city trips, ‘Slow travel’ is a growing trend where travellers are opting for travel between destinations by train. This method is already popular with interrailing and in Asian countries such as China and India.
When at your travel destination, walk and cycle as much as you can – and where you can’t, use public transport. Aside from saving you a lot of money, it’s a great way to discover a city and much healthier too!
2. Practice good hotel habits
Hotels account for 1% of carbon emissions globally. This means that we should be mindful of trying to reduce our carbon impact when staying at a hotel. One of the best ways to do so is reducing the amount of cleaning and laundry that is done in your room.
Ask reception to make sure your towels aren’t changed every day. Hanging up your towels is another great way to indicate they don’t need to be changed. To try and reduce the amount of energy used to clean your room, keep the ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door. Think of the electricity used while vacuuming, water consumption to clean the bathroom and the chemicals used to clean everything! Most people don’t clean their house this intensely every other day, let alone every single day so why do you need it at a hotel?
Finally, as you do at home, make sure all lights are off as well as any other electricity using products. Turn of the AC and close the blinds to prevent the sun from warming up your room too much.
3. Think about your cosmetics
Although sunscreen is necessary for anyone spending extended periods of time in the sun, you should take care to choose the right one. Many chemicals commonly found in sun cream such as oxybenzone are actually really harmful to coral reefs and is being washed into the sea whilst humans enjoy the beach. Even if you’re not swimming after applying sunscreen, it’s likely washing down the drain as you shower. Try and find an alternative that doesn’t include these harmful chemicals.
Many of you probably already do this next tip – make sure to take any leftover soap, shampoo, or toothpaste with you. Unused portions are often thrown away unnecessarily when they can still be used by you. This can save you a bit of money and since they are normally travel sized, the plastic bottles can be reused for your next holiday!
4. Buy REAL souvenirs
Buying locally made products is not only great for the environment but also a socially responsible way to shop abroad. Many souvenirs such as magnets and keyrings have just been imported from big factories in Asia.
Find local artisan products, that will be an authentic souvenir from your holiday. If you buy from indigenous craftsman, you will be helping to preserve the culture and customs of the country as well as the environment. It also creates trade for the locals whose home you are visiting.
On a similar note to our previous piece of sustainable travel advice, eating locally is not only important for the environment but also preserving the local culture and helping the community. Eating food that isn’t seasonal means it has to be imported, which only increases your carbon footprint. . Buying locally means supporting the farmland and green spaces in that area – this applies when at home or travelling.
Also, by eating at a global chain such as McDonald’s, only a small percentage of money you are paying will be seen by the local area. In areas where western-tourism is growing increasingly popular, local food is being stamped out, and as a result the locals become (rightfully so) more hostile to the tourism industry.
6. Think about the community
To tie the previous two points together, you should not only be thinking about the environment in sustainable travel, but the local community as well. Foreigners often go into poorer countries with good intentions – bringing clothes and pencils in developing countries. However, this can cause conflict and unintended dependency for some communities which sometimes leads to an increase in begging.
In some cases criminals will take advantage of naive westerners who feel sorry for poor, homeless children. These criminals actually use victims of human trafficking to make their money. This means the children you’re giving to don’t actually see much – if any – of the money you give them and are owned by gangs. It is a much better solution to research local nonprofits that work on social welfare and work to reduce human trafficking.
7. Save water
Whilst water is largely taken for granted in the western world, it is a precious resource in many parts of the world. Saving water shouldn’t just be a part of sustainable travel, but also sustainable living.
Travellers use far more water on holiday than they do at home – according to one recent estimate, the amount of water servicing 100 guests in a luxury hotel for just 55 days would support 100 families in poor countries for three years. This means the same steps to save water should be taken on holiday as at home – plus a few more.
A great first step to take is to bring a reusable water bottle with you. Lots of international airports have free water dispensers, which saves you money and wasting plastic bottles. For countries where drinking water isn’t freely available, some bottles come with built-in filters, or you can use a portable travel water purifier. Alternatively, you can opt for water purifying tablets.
Another big way to save water involves what we mentioned about hotels. Don’t use hotel laundry as they wash different guests clothes separately, no matter the size of the load. Also, don’t get your towels washed daily!
Finally, as statistically tourists use much more water than locals, avoid traveling to places that are facing water crises. This is also a point of social responsibility since it puts even more strain on the local residents.
8. Save the animals!
Unfortunately, the tourism industry has done way more harm than good for wildlife. Sustainable travel isn’t just about carbon emissions; involving yourself in harmful practices such as petting lions, riding elephants and buying wildlife products as souvenirs also endangers animals. For example, tigers are already endangered, but souvenirs of skin and teeth only increases the illegal poaching and ultimately, further endangering the animals.
Tourist spots where you are able to pet wild animals such as lions and tigers often have little regard for animal welfare, and in some cases even keep animals constantly sedated under a cocktail of drugs in order to prevent them attacking humans. The former is the same in most elephant riding enclosures. Furthermore, these animals are often illegally captured and trafficking. By visiting these you would be supporting the illegal animal trafficking industry. Do you research before visiting any sort of zoo or animal enclosures to see whether their conditions and standards line up with your morals.
9. Pack as light as you can
Packing light has a range of environmental and practical benefits. It’s sometimes easier said than done, but can save you time and money when travelling.
Being able to limit yourself to hand luggage on flights will reduce the weight that an airplane has carry and therefore lower the amount of fuel used. It will also save you money and time waiting around at luggage claim, as well as reducing the risk of it getting lost.
Another interesting point to consider is that you will likely be able to transport your luggage a lot easier, making using public transport possible.
10. Recycle where you can
Recycling can be difficult when travelling abroad. Many countries don’t have an established recycling system, and even if they do, each one is different from the rest. Be savvy about your recycling habits.
Take your own reusable bag with you. They weigh next to nothing and won’t take up much space at all. You can use them when you go shopping – in some countries you have to pay for them now anyway!
Return maps, brochures, and other tourist info once you’re finished with them. By the time most tourists are done with them, they’ve hardly been touched, so pass them on to future travelers.
Use second hand luggage. This will help prevent waste, as well as saving you money. If you don’t travel often will only use it intermittently, even better! Ask to borrow luggage from a friend or family member.
Finally, encourage others to join in recycling with you! If your hotel doesn’t have a recycling system, leave suggestions on comments cards at check-out.
By following some of these tips, adjusting travel to make it sustainable won’t require spending a lot of time or money adjusting plans. A lot of these practices can become seamless habits that you don’t even have to think about before doing. Sustainable travel doesn’t cost the earth, but regular travel sure does.