When you are travelling there are a lot of things that are out of your control but there are definitely ways you can travel more responsibility and decrease your impact on the environment. Sustainable travel is about making smarter choices that help to mitigate the negative impacts we create as travelers.
It is not possible for us to control the carbon emissions in the planes we travel in, the chemical cleaners used by the hotels in which we stay in or the dumping of trash into the ocean by the big-name cruise liners. However, we can choose more eco-friendly modes transportation, hotels with greener credentials, tour operators that are more sensitive to the environment, cruse liners that don’t flaunt regulations and shopping in a way that does less damage to the environment and benefits more local people.
To travel greener does require research. You need to get behind the greenwashing and really understand how all the providers you use are working to make their product or service better for the environment and for the local people. You want to use providers who are working towards a long term positive impact for both the environment, the people they serve and the local community.
Most providers in the travel industry who are serious about the mission of creating a long term positive impact for all with be affiliated with a reputable organisation. Some of the worldwide organisations include the World Wildlife Fund, Rainforest Alliance, the Center for Responsible Travel and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. To become members of these organisations you must meet certain criteria.
10 things you can do to travel greener
For the individual trying to make a difference, there are a number of things you can do, most of which are super simple and usually cost-effective. We have put together a list of our the top 10 things you can do to make yourself a greener traveller.
1. Train over plane
Use a train over a plane when you can. If you do fly try and use one of the IATA member airlines that has a carbon offset program.
2. Research certifications
Check out the certification programs to rate sustainability initiatives in the place you are travelling to. Like the ones mentioned above some of the biggest ones are international but there are others that are more local or country-specific. For example in Australia they have EarthCheck. Then look for a seal of approval when you are booking with hotels, tour providers and attractions. Always, always ask about certification when you are checking into a hotel or buying tickets for something because the more people who ask the more likely organisations will look into certifications. When you write your reviews make sure to mention if they were certified or not.
3. Invest in a water bottle
Carry your own water bottle (& coffee cup) – simple and effective! In many places, it is easy to fill them up but in others where you can’t drink water from the tap, it is better to fill them from a large water source rather than buying a whole lot of small bottles. Also when ordering drinks ask when you are ordering for no straw. In some places, plastic straws come already in the drinks rather than on the side so once you have your drink the straw has already been used so it’s too late to say no to it.
4. Hang up your towels when staying at a hotel
Hang your towels up after you have used them. Again this is very simple to do and effective. Hotels will usually wash any towels that are not hanging up.
5. Take fewer brochures
Only take maps, brochures and tourist information if you want it. Don’t horde a whole lot just in case you might need them. If you are staying somewhere where you can return the cleaner ones to be used again do it!
6. Shop locally
When shopping buy locally made wherever possible (and generally try to buy less). This not only helps the local economy but it cuts down on shipping so reducing the carbon footprint of the item you have purchased.
7. Clean up as you go along
Clean up behind you. Even if you are in a country that isn’t known for its waste management try and not add to the problem. Carry a bag you can put rubbish in and then dispose of it responsibly.
8. Learn about recycling
Take time to learn the recycling program for the country you are in. Most of the time, countries will have specific bins for different materials, and it takes two seconds to figure out where to put what. Also, many countries in Europe have a deposit system on their bottles and cans. If you do buy a plastic water bottle or a can of soda, you can usually find a machine to get your money back in most supermarkets.
9. Research the areas specifics
Research where you are going and make allowances. If there is a water shortage at your destination take quick showers. If you are going to be swimming in coral reefs make sure you have oxybenzone free sunscreen. Where there is good public transport to chose a hotel that allows you to easily access it.
10. Travel light
Check out our full article on minimalist packing here. Travelling light reduces your carbon footprint. Less weight for the plane means less fuel. The less space you take on the train means the more passengers it can take. It can also mean the difference between being able to walk to your hotel when you get to your destination rather than taking a taxi or more transport.
On your next trip try to implement these initiatives into your travel to lighten your impact on the environment. If it seems overwhelming to do them all at once just pick a few to start with and see how you go. I think most people will find they are all pretty simple and with a bit of mindfulness its actually quite easy to lighten your impact.
Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.