10 ways to travel greener
Tread lightly on the earth while you’re exploring it, and make sure your holiday is as green as it can be with these ten tips for more eco-friendly travelling, says Anna Melville-James
Cut out just one five-hour flight from your travel schedule and your carbon footprint will be a tonne lighter. Flying is the single biggest contributor to our carbon footprints, and the most impactful change a traveller can make. Travel by other modes of transport, such as by train or boat, may take a little longer but you’ll have an adventure in the process. Not only will you get to slow down and see more of the countryside as you travel through, not over, it – but end up with a carbon footprint that is far more virtuous. A Eurostar train from London to Paris, for example, emits up to 90 per cent less carbon than the equivalent flight.
Offset your carbon footprint
Carbon offsetting became a popular way to assuage ‘flying guilt’ a few years ago, but while it’s now generally recognised that the impact of excessive flying can’t be cancelled out by planting a few trees it remains a positive thing to do. Some airlines will allow you to donate your loyalty miles to NGOs to help various environmental projects, while others, like KLM, give you the option within the booking section to contribute money to reforestation initiatives to offset your flight. One of the easiest ways to offset though is to visit Carbon Footprint (https://www.carbonfootprint.com/), which will help you to calculate your impact, choose projects to support and donate money online for every journey you take.
Book green hotels and hotel chains that have signed up to sustainable practices – these include hotels in LEED Certified buildings (usgbc.org/leed) and those using renewable energy, recycling and composting and eco-friendly cleaning products. Useful guides to hotels and resorts that are making true efforts to be environmentally friendly include Green Key and Green Globe International certification programmes, while tour operators such as Responsible Travel (https://www.responsibletravel.com/)and specialist sites such as Bouteco (https://www.bouteco.co/), for sustainable luxury products are also useful.
Choose an ethical travel destination
Ethical Traveler’s (https://ethicaltraveler.org/) annual list of the world’s best ethical destinations is a useful guide to choosing a place with sustainable tourism on its agenda for your holiday. The list ranks countries by their environmental protection standards, social welfare and human rights records – 2020’s list includes Armenia, Jamaica, Mongolia, Costa Rica and Uruguay. Check out the Destinations of Interest section too, to see which countries made the top 10 on previous lists, for more choice.
Slap on reef-friendly suntan lotion
Up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen wash into coral reef systems each year from the skin of swimmers, depositing a heavy load of chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate into the water. A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that these commonly used ingredients caused massive coral bleaching in reefs globally, even at low concentrations. Protect marine life as well as your skin then by choosing either a ‘reef safe’ sunscreen or at the very least one that is ‘oxybenzone-free’ and cover up with a rash vest or T-shirt so you have to apply far less than you would if just wearing a bathing suit.
Travel with reusable bottles
Those teeny tiny hotel-size toiletries and products are a huge waste of resources and plastic, so resist the urge to use them. Instead, pack your own soap, shampoo, lotion and other products in reusable bottles – or take non-liquid toiletries such as shampoo bars which are packaging-light and also don’t take up much space in your case. If you have to use a small bottle of something on your travel then take the empty bottle home and refill with your own products to use it on your next trip.
Eat local food wherever you are traveling, and avoid dining out at global chain restaurants that will put virtually no money back into the local economy. Eating out of season food flown in from 5,000 miles away when you are in a place full of new tastes, ingredients and cooking styles is not only unsustainable, but will also give you an ersatz experience of a destination and all it has to offer. Local produce that is fresh will have far less food miles on the clock and tend to taste better all round. The one rule though is not to eat endangered species such as turtle or over-harvested shellfish, even if is billed as a ‘local specialty’.
Treat your hotel like your home
It can be easy to let eco-friendly principles fly out the window on holiday, seduced by sunshine, scenery and a relaxing vibe that feels far away from home. But take your home with you, at least in the way that you treat a hotel room, to contribute to a more sustainable trip. Remembering to turn off TV, lights and aircon when you leave the room, reusing towels and avoiding wasting water with long showers and running taps while brushing teeth are all ‘green living 101’ – remind yourself that what you do, counts – no matter where you are in the world.
Avoid animal “experiences”
Very few encounters with wild animals can be considered ethical, and if you’re riding an elephant, visiting a zoo or aquarium, watching dancing bears or an animal circus, having your photo taken with an animal or swimming with captive dolphins you are perpetuating a cruel trade that exploits living creatures for entertainment. Don’t be part of the problem – if you really want to see animals on holiday then see them in the wild with an ethical tour operator such as Responsible Travel and support their protection instead of their pain. And if you witness animal cruelty abroad report it to the Born Free Foundation, whose travel Red Flag initiative is supported by British Airways Holidays.
Go off season
Travel to popular destinations in peak seasons and it can feel that you are sharing your holiday with half the world. As such, ‘undertourism’ is a growing trend – taking holidays in ‘off’ or ‘shoulder’ season to avoid crowds. Many destinations have their own unique pleasures out of the main holiday season – Venice in winter or the Highlands in autumn are stunning, for example. And as well as being a canny way to travel it is also a way to get a competitively priced break – as well as creating more certainty for local businesses and reducing overwhelming peak season tide on areas of natural beauty, attractions and local communities.