Travel is a wonderful thing, and for many of us it is our greatest pleasure in life—but there’s no denying that it is bad for the environment. Tourism is responsible for five per cent of global carbon emissions, 75 per cent of which is down to transport, mainly air travel. There are also huge problems with over-tourism in certain places, with people not respecting the environment, from animal tourism and a multitude of other issues. Read on to discover ten ways that you can help to cut down the environmental impact of your travels.
Step off the beaten path
Rather than visiting the same destinations as everyone else, step off the beaten path and discover different countries, cities and regions. Help to avoid over-tourism by staying away from destinations that you know have problems with increased numbers of tourists, like Barcelona and Venice. If you do decide to visit a popular destination, do it differently. Don’t just follow the crowds, forge your own path and see a different side of the country or city.
Choose more sustainable transport
Avoid flying when possible and opt for more environmentally friendly forms of transport such as travelling by train. This may involve choosing to explore the country that you live in or destinations that are close by, rather than travelling long haul for every trip.
Consider how you travel when you reach your destination
When exploring your destination, try your best to travel by foot or to hire a bike. Not only will you greatly reduce your carbon footprint, but you’ll see much more of the place you are visiting. If you decide to explore further afield, hire an electric car or look into the most sustainable form of public transport.
Cut down on waste when travelling
Bring your own water bottle and thermos flask so you can avoid buying plastic water bottles and disposable coffee cups. Research into the quality of the local water—you can safely drink spring water in many destinations, but if the water supply isn’t clean, you can carry your own water filter or fill up your bottle at a reliable source. It’s also worth carrying your own set of metal or bamboo cutlery so you can turn down plastic options when eating on transport or when enjoying street food or takeaways.
Avoid big chain restaurants and eat where the locals eat, helping the local economy. Choose sustainable meals that use local resources, rather than ingredients that have been shipped in from far away. This may mean stepping outside your comfort zone, but you will have a more authentic experience if you eat the local food. Be aware of gimmicky food aimed at tourists that promotes hunting endangered animals, such as the sale of whale meat.
Choose sustainable accommodation
Stay in eco-friendly hotels or apartments that minimise their environmental impact through sustainable energy sources and excellent recycling programmes. Look for locally owned hotels that employ local people. If you are unsure of the environmental impact of a hotel, look for the words ‘eco hotel’ or contact the hotel to ask questions before booking.
Respect the local environment
Obey the laws of the land. If there are signs instructing you to stay on the path or not to walk in certain areas, respect the rules. These are often in place to protect nature reserves or areas where animals or birds nest. Don’t drive off road, do pick up your litter, and leave places exactly as you found them, showing respect for the local environment.
Offset your carbon footprint
Offset your carbon footprint when travelling by plane by calculating the carbon emissions created by your flight and donating money to programmes that plant trees or work in other ways to offset your carbon footprint. This is sometimes an added option when booking your flights, or can be organised by a quick Google search.
Cut down on paper
The average traveller uses a great deal of unnecessary paper during their trip. Cut down on paper by using e-tickets and boarding passes instead of printing everything out. Keep your itinerary on your phone and use the internet for looking at maps and researching instead of picking up dozens of disposable maps and leaflets.
Stay away from animal tourism
Interacting with animals (such as riding elephants or taking selfies with tigers) should always be avoided. If you want to get up close and personal with local wildlife during your trip, do your research and find a sustainable company that looks after the welfare of the animals. Avoid companies that make entertainment out of animals, and instead visit sanctuaries and wildlife reserves that look after animals. Not only will you have a better experience, safe in the knowledge that the animals you visit are being cared for, but the money that you spend on your ticket will be helping the animals.
Emma Lavelle is a UK based writer and photographer and has her own blog Field and Nest.