12 easy ways you can start travelling more sustainably right now
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It’s time to address the elephant in the room: your carbon footprint. 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 annual carbon footprint. sustainably
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Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world with a realistic alternative — not yet, at least. To eliminate our commercial air travel we would either have to accept never seeing most of the world and many of our friends and families or else quit the 9-5 and spend weeks travelling across continents on boats, buses and trains.
That said, the more of us who want to travel 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.
You can bet there’s a market for it, too. A recent study for High Speed 1 (that being the train line that connects London with the Channel tunnel) found that 86 per cent of people taking a trip to the continent would choose to travel by rail if enough direct services to their destination were available.
“It is encouraging to see that people who are travelling for business are now thinking about their carbon footprint and looking for more environmentally friendly options whenever they can,” said Dyan Crowther, the CEO of HS1.
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…
Treat your emission-saving goals like you would points
Why not track energy saving like you would Avios points? There are a host of terrific apps designed to help you track your carbon footprint (Capture and Aerial to name but a few) but what we like about Earth Hero in particular, aside from making it sound like you’ve joined The Avengers, is that travel is one of the many areas you can personalise.
Billed as a ‘personal app to rise up against climate change, Earth Hero also allows you to set yourself green goals so you can keep track of the milestones you hit on your eco-quests.
Offset your flights
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.
We’re all likely guilty of overpacking, but sitting down to carefully think about what you actually need to take on your trip is a simple process that has a real impact. 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). The result of less waste and less weight for your flight might seem like it would have a small impact but if we all grouped together to be smarter it could really make a difference.
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 of 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.
Take short showers
The shower or the bath? It’s an age-old debate up there with ketchup vs mayo, or Ronaldo vs Messi. Both have their benefits, granted, but if you’re looking to make an instant impact on the environment then opt for the shower every time, limiting your time under the nozzle to between three and five minutes tops.
Power showers should be avoided wherever possible (far from easy when booking fancy hotel rooms, of course) while low-flow showerheads are practically as good as it gets, reducing water and energy bills in a sizeable way. For proof of that, since installing 10,700 of the things in its hotels, Caesar’s (of Las Vegas Caesar’s Palace fame) now saves an estimated 50.5 million gallons per year across its Nevada operations.
And don’t worry about those fancy rainfall showers you find in most decent four and five-star hotels — they don’t tend to use any more water than a regular shower; it’s just more tempting to stay underneath. But if you remember to limit your tap time you’ll be just fine.
Hang your towels up
By hanging up your towels and not leaving them in the tub, sink or floor (come on, you’re better than that) you could help your hotel or rental property save serious energy and water not to mention easing the strain on staff in the process. To get a scale of just what an impact housekeeping has on daily operations, a report by National Geographic found that laundry accounts for 16% of a hotel’s water usage.
To ensure your towels stay relatively fresh and fluffy just open a window where possible to let them dry faster. And if an overeager staff member is still taking your Egyptian cottons, simply leave a Do Not Disturb sign outside your door for the majority of your stay.
Despite those little signs encouraging us to help protect the environment, studies have shown that less than 25% of guests reuse their towels. It’s a great place to start – be a trendsetter and spread the word. Also, much as you might want that tiny chocolate on your pillow, is the turndown service worth it too? OK, we’ll let you off on that one.
Ditch paper during transit
If you’ve travelled by air since the COVID-19 pandemic began you’ll know how much paperwork governments and airlines have required passengers to carry, and despite the prevalence of apps and QR codes, it’s understandable that passengers have taken physical backups in case anything goes awry on arrival.
But now as we head into an era of pre-pandemic travel and restrictions continue to fall across the world, it’s time to stop printing off air tickets and boarding passes, putting a bit more faith in your battery life.
And when travelling for business, don’t jam up the work’s printer with your itinerary. According to the Paperless Project, the average office worker prints 10,000 sheets of paper every year. When you factor in that one tree gets cut down for every 9,000 pages of A4, you’re practically a white-collar lumberjack.
Keep an eye out for new eco-tech
You know how we mentioned offsetting flights? Lufthansa has begun testing a new service which allows passengers to offset the CO2 emissions of their trip.
A potential game-changer, the German airline is currently testing the service on internet-enabled short- and medium-haul flights from Munich, along with Swiss International long-haul services, where people can ‘compensate for their flight’ via the app and in-flight entertainment system.
On said IFE system, customers use a slider to decide how they wish to offset the CO2 emissions of their flight. This could be either with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (made from biogenic residues), via high-quality carbon offset projects run by the nonprofit organization myclimate or even a combination of both. So keep an eye out as you never know what other tech is around the corner.
Invest in Local Activities
Think about how your activities can impact the local area and the 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?
Book non-stop flights as opposed to layovers
Here at The Points Guy, we take great delight in finding alternative ways to score major discounts for air passengers. In some cases this invariably involves connecting flights and having a bit of extra time on your hands (it might be the difference between flying in economy and going out in business-class). We also know of the benefits of a layover for particularly taxing long-haul journeys, or for work.
But if the cost doesn’t quite warrant a layover, or even a same-day connecting flight, and it won’t hit you too hard in the pocket, then try to fly direct where possible, going from A to B with much less C(02 emissions). For many regular fliers between London and Sydney, Project Sunrise can’t come soon enough.
Avoid destinations suffering from overtourism
Whatever hotspot you have in mind this summer if it’s a town, city or region already blighted by overtourism you’d be wise to swap it for somewhere off the beaten track.
Don’t add to the monsoon of people trampling around Venice ( shooting local pigeons with water pistols). Don’t be another ‘partner of Instagram’ queuing up to take a photo of your beloved in the exact same position as 3,000 other holidaymakers high up in Santorini. And certainly don’t join the Poldark heads in Cornwall. Instead, find somewhere original, underrated, or hidden, perhaps even using our ‘Go Here, Not There‘ series for Inspo.
Airbnb has recently changed its interface allowing you to pick out places to stay based on quirks and aesthetics as opposed to location. You’ll probably be doing yourself a favour going somewhere more remote or less travelled too — with travel chaos expected to last well into summer and beyond, more queues are the last thing you want.
So what are you waiting for? Stop following the crowd and chart your own course…
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.
Additional reporting: Roxy Furman
Featured photo by Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images.
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