5 Tips for Travelling More Sustainably

May 29, 2019

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It’s time to address the elephant in the room: the carbon footprint of air travel. To put it bluntly, flying in its current form is not sustainable. If we were to look only at the carbon emissions from flights, taking two return trips to a long-haul destination would more than double your carbon footprint for that year.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world with a realistic alternative — at least, yet. To quit flying, we would either have to accept never seeing most of the world and many of our friends and families, or, be able to quit our jobs and spend weeks travelling across continents on boats, buses and trains. Neither of those are things most of us can do without compromising our lives.

Therefore, the more of us who want to travel more consciously, the more pressure we can put on the travel industry to stop the use of single-use items, switch to biofuels and renewable energy solutions, and even possibly make the switch to electric planes.

If you want to travel more consciously, here are some things that you can do to help reduce your impact on the planet, whilst still exploring the world.

Offsetting

To achieve a net neutral carbon impact of zero for your trip, pay the extra to offset your flights. This fee will vary depending on your flight route, but, for example, offsetting a return trip from London to Spain would cost about £4, or London to Sydney about £35. In the grand scheme of saving the planet, this is a very minimal cost. It’s important to research where your money is going when offsetting, as not all offsetting projects are as transparent as they may seem.

Go Climate Neutral not only allows you to offset your flights, but also your entire lifestyle if you want. The group only supports Gold Standard UN-Certified climate projects that focus both on direct sustainability aspects (like the planting of trees and wildlife conservation) and also act to target the indirect impacts of climate change by reducing poverty and helping to provide cleaner air and water.

Two other good options, particularly for businesses, include Climate Care and Climate Seed.

Conscious Packing

We’re all likely guilty of overpacking, but it’s so important to sit down and think carefully about what you actually need to take on your trip. Make a list beforehand based on what you will actually need and stick to those core items. Think about what you can share with any travel companions, and also about lighter alternatives, particularly for self-care products (for example, take a shampoo bar instead of a bottle).

Hand Luggage Essentials

Cutting down the weight of your case is not the only way you can travel more consciously. You can plan ways to reduce the use of single-use items that add to the environmental impact of your flight. Utilise that hand luggage space — here are some key items you can include in your handbag for zero-waste travel:

  • Reusable cup: Ask the airline hosts for your drinks to be poured in your cup instead of taking a plastic cup each drink round.
  • Cutlery set: Instead of opening up the plastic-packaged cutlery that will come with your meal, take your own.
  • Bamboo towels: It’s not just plastic that we need to cut down on, but also our use of paper products. Washable tissues are a simple way to do exactly this.
  • Toothbrush + bamboo case: Taking your own toothbrush and carry case for it means fewer people will take the sets provided onboard planes, reducing the demand for these and limiting the number of single-use items that are produced and thrown away.
  • Blanket and eye mask: If you’re going on an overnight flight, you will save opening up that plastic packaging surrounding the items the airlines provide. The textile industry is one of the most polluting to our planet, so assume that airlines will not be using sustainable and ethically sourced materials, and just bring your own that can be used time and time again.

Choose Accommodation Wisely

Choosing your accommodation wisely can reduce the impact of your trip substantially. Hotels account for more than 20% of tourism-based emissions (the second-biggest contributor after air travel). Take the time to research hotels in your destination to find one that uses sustainable practices such as solar power, elevators that generate geothermal energy to power other things, organic cleaning supplies and more. Some good examples include Bardessono in California, The Green House in England and Rancho Margot in Costa Rica.

Even if you are not staying in a so-called ‘sustainable’ hotel, you can still be conscious about your actions and how these may impact the local community. This could be as simple as not getting clean towels and bedding each day to reduce the amount of water used for laundry.

Local Activities

Think about how your activities can impact the local area and people where you are staying. A really easy way of doing this is by supporting local tour operators who help to support wildlife and preserve local cultures. This will ensure that your time there reduces any negative impact on the surrounding culture or habitat, but it will also enhance your own experience, giving you more opportunities to learn about the local culture and see places that are not necessarily in guide books.

Alternatively, why not take part in a more physical action, like doing your own beach clean or spending some time volunteering for a local organisation that helps support local wildlife or people?

Ultimately, sustainable travel is about becoming more conscious of the impact of tourism; valuing the environment and participating in actions to help preserve it.

These tips are not an exhaustive list. There are so many other ways we can reduce our impact on the planet whilst travelling, but the main thing is to become more aware of our actions, and take that extra time to plan to reduce them. Any step in the right direction will make a positive impact, and you never know, you may find a new hobby in trying to reduce your carbon footprint and spreading that message to others as you explore our planet!

Featured photo by STIL on Unsplash.

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