Easy and effective ways to minimise your travel footprint when on the move, no matter what your budget.
Amanda Breakwell | UNITED KINGDOM
Whether you’re jetting off to foreign climes for a well-deserved break, to experience new cultures or to indulge in your passion for photography, there’s nothing like travel to broaden the mind and soothe the soul. But how can we be greener travellers and minimise our travel footprint?
At a time when we all need to take a greener stance to safeguard the planet, it can seem challenging to keep your environmental impact on an even keel when travel is high on your agenda.
You don’t need to ditch your travel plans to save the planet, however, as there are plenty of ways you can easily and effectively minimise your travel footprint when on the move.
1. Your journey
When you want to get from A to B, flying is often the easiest option, and with many low-cost airlines popping up, it’s never been more affordable to hop onto a plane and see the world. From a carbon footprint point of view, however, flying is the enemy, as it contributes to around 2% of all carbon emissions in the world.
Before you book your next plane ticket, try to consider if there are any alternative options to flying to get you to your destination. Taking the train or bus, for example, is much more environmentally friendly, and although slower than flying, you’ve got the chance to stop off at places en-route that you might not have considered before. In fact, some places are best viewed from a train window!
If flying is the only realistic option to get you where you need to be, then there are still ways to slash your footprint. If you can, choose the most direct route, and consider buying carbon credits to offset the carbon emissions of your flight. You can buy these credits while booking your flight online.
Once you’re at your destination, if feasible, make use of public transport systems for getting around rather than hiring a car, as one less car on the road means fewer carbon emissions polluting the atmosphere. Plus, riding in a rickety bus is one experience you won’t forget, and it will be a great way to experience life like the locals! Even better, why not hire a bike or use your feet to get around? These are a great way to explore a place with a clean and green carbon conscience. If you haven’t yet, try downloading Moovit, an app that gives you all the details on local public transport, trusted by 150 million riders across more than 2200 cities.
If you’re out in the sticks and getting around by hire car is the only option, pick a small, fuel-efficient model that is low on emissions, or even an electric car. You might also come across car sharing schemes that could get you where you want to go, so do some research before you set off on your travels.
When choosing where to kip for the night on your travels, there are lots of eco-friendly options available. If a hotel stay is on your agenda, pick one that promotes environmentally caring policies, such as in the way they preserve scarce resources like water or electricity. Nearly a fifth of a hotel’s resources are devoted to washing laundry, so don’t request clean towels or sheets daily. Go easy on the air con, too, and turn switches off when you’re not in the hotel room.
If you’ve never tried camping before, why not give it a go? Not only does camping let you enjoy the great outdoors and immerse yourself with nature, but if you choose a site that’s eco-friendly, you can rest easy at night knowing you’re doing your bit to safeguard the planet. – Sleep under a million stars whilst minimizing your travel footprint.
Eco-tourism is gaining prominence, and it makes for a smart move if you want to travel yet keep your travel footprint to a minimum. Choose eco-tourism destinations, accommodation or tours that adhere to strict environmental principles, or even allow you to give something positive back to the local community.
3. Eat local
Support local restaurants. For many tourists, it may seem like a ‘safe’ option to have dinner at McDonald’s or at the Hilton, but this way your money goes straight out of the local economy. While eating where the locals eat, you will be backing locally grown produce and family-owned businesses. If you can’t find any locally run places, look for restaurants and shops that employ local people and have initiatives to support the community.
Moreover, buying local produce on your travels not only supports the local economy but also means there will be fewer miles involved in transporting them to their final destination, ensuring you’re making greener choices. Plus, when you step out of your comfort zone and sample something new, whether it be different cuisine or purchasing hand-made products from indigenous people, it can be an enlightening and satisfying experience. Visit farmers markets for local seasonal produce; these places are often a hive of bustling activity and the colours, sights, smells and sounds can be tantalising for the senses.
4. Get plastic savvy
Plastic pollution is a global menace, so when on your travels, do your bit to avoid contributing to this problem. Eat fresh, eat in and steer clear of plastic packaged items and keep reusable bags to hand.
Every minute, a million plastic bottles are purchased globally, many ending up polluting rivers and oceans. Don’t be part of this statistic; instead, bring your own stainless steel water bottle and reuse it on your travels. If drinking tap water is a no-no, get a handy built-in filter for your water bottle.
If you are a daily coffee drinker, take a reusable cup with you! — Only in America 146 billion cups of coffee are used (once) and thrown away daily — As an added bonus, most places will give you a discount on your beverage for bringing your own container.
Say no to straws! Plastic straws are among the top 10 items found in our oceans. Over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used once and thrown away each day in the only United States. – That plastic straw in your drink, which was manufactured from petroleum, shipped around the world, placed in your drink and then used for 10 minutes, will exist for at least 100 years – So next time you’re ordering a drink, politely request “no straw, please.” – Or, try switching to metal straws if you really are straw inclined.
Shop wisely, embrace secondhand. It’s always nice and exciting to find pre-loved unique items/clothes when you are travelling. This is an easy way to cut down trash and minimise your travel footprint. Second hand is not always smelly and old, there are many consignment/ vintage stores out there that are selective and it is likely you find high quality and gently worn designer pieces for a fraction of the price. Oh, and how good are vintage camera shops!
Last but not least, brush better. Over 4,000,000 plastic toothbrushes are used every year. And as they are not recyclable, they end up floating in the oceans or landfill forever. Carry your own bamboo toothbrush (naturally antimicrobial) and compost it when you’re done with it!
5. Recycle and give away
At the end of your stay, instead of throwing away half-empty bottles of sunscreen lotion and shampoo, or magazines you’ve read, see if any locals would be happy to make use of them. In poor countries where resources are scarce, these will probably be very gratefully received.
6. Leave no trace
If you’re visiting a beautiful or protected location, whether to soak up the scenery or to capture the perfect shot on your camera, be respectful and leave no trace, so that the area can be enjoyed in its pristine state by others for a long time to come. Take any litter away with you, and minimise your travel footprint by not picking up any natural artefacts such as shells or rocks that may be a special feature of any area. Look but don’t touch, take photos instead!
It might seem tempting to veer off any designated tracks or footpaths when exploring, but be mindful that this could inadvertently disturb surrounding flora or fauna.
One of the joys of travel is experiencing different wildlife from what you get back home, but if you do spot a critter of particular interest, watch or photograph it from a comfortable distance so that it doesn’t get scared, or your own safety isn’t compromised. Avoid feeding wild animals as they might start to become dependent on food from tourists, affecting their ability to hunt for themselves.
If you go on a tour, choose one that has an eco-friendly ethos, and if you visit any landmark buildings, be respectful, especially if they have ancient, cultural or spiritual significance.
7. Lead by example
Demonstrating that you’re a great environmental ambassador can rub off on others, so when you’re on your travels, practise eco-friendly ways and lead by a helpful example so that others may learn from you and follow suit. Simple measures such as having a reusable bottle or bags instead of single-use plastic ones is a subtle yet effective way to spread the eco message to others who might not be as well informed.
Keep the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle in mind as much as possible, but foster tolerance, accept other cultures and avoid judging people who don’t share your own beliefs or ideas; it could just be that they don’t understand about environmental awareness, or they don’t have the means to make changes.
For more conservation tips go here.