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Top tips to be a sustainable traveller

sustainable travel items

We’re all aware of how important it is to look after our planet. There are many steps we can take to help reduce our impact on the environment.

But it’s easy to forget this when we’re on holiday.

Here are some tips to help you take some positive steps for travelling sustainably…

What is sustainable travel?

The term ‘sustainable travel’ is explained by The World Tourism Organisation as ‘tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.’

Put simply, sustainable travel means travelling responsibly, considering the long-term and short-term needs of the area you’re visiting.

Small steps

The fact that you’re reading this already suggests that you’re doing something right. When you start researching sustainable travel, it can feel overwhelming. We’re not necessarily saying you should do everything on this list, but trying to make a few smarter choices can really help.

If we all take a few steps each to manage our carbon footprint, it can have an enormous effect.

Tips for Travelling Sustainably: Flying

Book direct flights

Take-offs and landings are responsible for 25% of a flight’s carbon emissions (according to a study by NASA). Try to book direct flights whenever possible. While this can be pricier, it has a less of an impact on the environment.

Fly less

This is the most obvious way to reduce the carbon footprint flying creates. If you’re travelling short distances, consider driving or taking a train instead. The further you’re travelling, the more comparatively efficient flying becomes, so you should weigh up your options before coming to a decision.

Offset your carbon

If you do need to take a flight, you can pay a little extra to offset your carbon emissions. Some airlines have an option for this, or there are many charities who will put your money towards planting trees to help offset the carbon emitted by your flight.

Compare airlines and their fuels

Not all flights are created equal. Some airlines have made a partial or total switch to biofuels for their flights, which are much better for the environment. These biofuels come from sources like natural oils, seaweed, or even agricultural waste. AltAir Fuels, used by United Airlines, is estimated to cut at least 60% of greenhouse gas.

Do a bit of research when choosing an airline, and try to pick one that is committed to reducing its carbon footprint. You can check the fuel efficiency rankings of different airlines on the International Council on Clean Transportation.

General Tips for Sustainable Travel

Travel in shoulder seasons

Over-tourism can have a big impact on the environment, both locally and globally. Venice is a big example of this.

Trying to visit more ‘off the beaten path’ destinations can be rewarding from a travel perspective, as it’s nice to have a quiet beach to yourself or wander through streets without fighting crowds.

You’ll also be helping to bring economy-boosting tourism to destinations that may have gone previously overlooked, as well as helping to spread tourism out so that we can preserve all the world’s most beautiful places for future generations.

The same goes for when you travel. If you want to visit a popular destination, consider going during the quieter off-season, or shoulder seasons, so you don’t add to the crowds. This will likely have the added bonus of lower prices and more accommodation choices, so it can be win-win!

Research your tour operators

Choose tour companies that take environmentally friendly travel seriously. There are plenty out there, and most advertise their practices proudly, so they are easy to find. Before you book, ask a company if their trips help support or protect local wildlife, communities, or culture.

Avoid plastic

While you may be used to using reusable items at home, many of us can forget about it when we travel.

Take a reusable water bottle. If you’re in a country where you can’t drink the tap water, buy a filter bottle. These can remove the bacteria from most water sources, so you can safely refill and reuse without needing to buy plastic bottles.

Other reusable items you could pack include:

  • Metal or silicone straws
  • Multi-use razors
  • Reusable coffee-cup
  • Your own cutlery (for picnics / takeaways etc)
  • Collapsible Tupperware
  • Canvas bag for shopping

For more tips on reducing your use of plastic when you travel, click here.

Be aware of the animals

Wildlife travel can be an incredible experience, but it’s not always eco-friendly and can disturb the local wildlife.

Avoid tours that allow for up-close encounters, especially ones that allow you to touch or hold animals. Chances are these animals are being drugged, tamed or have had their behaviour altered in some other way.

If you’re snorkelling or scuba diving, try to do it responsibly. Avoid over-crowding, stick to smaller groups, don’t touch or feed any of the animals or disturb the coral, and wear reef-friendly sun cream.

For any wildlife experiences, look for tours that won’t disturb the flora and fauna, and keep yourself updated about the various issues surrounding wildlife tourism. Don’t avoid animals altogether, but do try to make ethical choices.

One last animal-related tip: avoid buying any souvenirs made with wildlife products. This includes everything from seashells to fur to ivory. If you can’t be sure an item was sustainably sourced, just say no!

Buy local

Many of the ‘local’ souvenirs you’ll find in resort areas are actually made cheaply in countries like China and imported. Not only does this make them totally inauthentic, but importing goods unnecessarily is also impacting the environment. Look for locally made handicrafts – or ask yourself if you really need a souvenir at all.

The same applies to food and drink. Avoid the beers, wines, and spirits that have been imported from overseas, and instead try the local beverages. Although the imported goods might be more familiar, it’s much more immersive to experience local produce. When dining, try to find restaurants that source their ingredients locally. All these steps will help not just the environment, but local communities and economies as well.

Eco-friendly accommodation

Look for green hotels

Try to choose eco-friendly hotels. There are many certification programs around the world that give a ‘seal of approval’ to hotels that are making efforts to be more sustainable. These include Green Globe, the Green Building Council (USA), EarthCheck (Australia), Rainforest Alliance (Latin America, Caribbean), and Green Tourism Business Scheme (UK).

Some countries also have their own programs, so do a little research before making your choice.

Hang up your towels to dry

This is a small step but it can have a huge impact. If every traveller re-used their towel a few times, this could have an enormous impact on the water and energy used on laundry every day. If you notice that your hotel’s housekeeping are changing the towels and/or bed linen daily, consider leaving the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door when you go out.

Turn it off!

It can be all too tempting to leave the air-con blasting in your hotel all day, so that you come home to a nice cold room. But this isn’t doing the environment any favours. Turn off all lights, electrics, air-con and heating before going out for the day.

Leave suggestions

Many hotels have a feedback or comment form they ask guests to fill in. If you notice anything they could be doing better – such as recycling, allowing guests to reuse towels, or stocking more local food – let the hotel know! No one will change if they don’t realise there’s a demand for it.