If you’re anything like me, the climate emergency has you more than a little concerned. In fact, since you’re here reading this blog about eco-friendly tourism, I’m willing to bet that you are! So what do you do when you love to travel… but hate killing the planet? It’s a catch-22. A no-win situation. A between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place kind of conundrum. Basically just a real big pickle (not the kind that comes in vinegar).
For those of us not able to get rid of the itch in our feet, eco-friendly travel seems to be the best alternative. The best (and likely only) answer to our aforementioned pickle.
But that answer brings with it a whole host of other questions. What is eco-friendly travel? How do I become an eco tourist? Why is it important? Luckily, I have found the answers to some of those questions. From small changes to big destination decisions, here’s a list of ways you can travel a little bit greener. Hurrah!
You heard it here first. Maybe… Probably not. It’s an obvious one but a good one. Packing lighter is one of the easiest ways to reduce your travel carbon footprint. To lighten your load, cut out clothes that aren’t multi-purpose. You could even get rid of paper weight by downloading books on a tablet or e-reader. The possibilities of culling weight are endless – right up to heading to a nudist retreat. Just kidding.
For those of you thinking “oh my God how will I last 7 days with just 12 bikinis?” Don’t worry. It’s easier than you might think! Check out my simple packing guide for easy tips on packing light.
So the next time you feel that familiar urge to grumble about the baggage rules and fees for your airline, remember that the lighter the aircraft, the less fuel it burns. Plus, you get to be kind to the planet and your bank balance. Is there any better act of kindness?
Use safe sunscreen
In July 2018, Hawaii became the first U.S. state to ban the sale of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Why? Because they have been found to increase coral bleaching. And if David Attenborough has taught us anything, it’s that protecting our oceans is important. And plastic isn’t the only problem.
So next time you slap on your sun cream, make sure to check it’s ingredients before jumping into the ocean. The coral reefs will thank you!
Choose eco-friendly destinations
Support destinations that are working hard to combat climate change and preserve their local ecosystems.
Not sure which destinations are eco-friendly? Slovenia, Portugal, Costa Rica, Ecuador and more are doing their bit for the planet. Whether it is showing innovation in sustainable tourism or protecting their natural habitats, these destinations aren’t to be missed. For a more comprehensive list of eco-friendly locations, check out the Sustainable Destination Awards.
Bring your own toiletries
Remember all those tiny, travel-size toiletries? Yeah, bin ‘em. They are terrible for the environment. Packing your own toiletries in reusable containers is yet another simple way to reduce single-use plastics.
This is one of the main reasons many hotels now opt for large, built-in dispensers, rather than tiny bottles of shampoo that are only good for one use. Are you staying in a hotel still using said tiny, single-use bottles? Save them for another guest. Or even better, donate them to your local homeless shelter.
Opt for e-tickets
Scan your smartphone, save a tree. Almost.
Slow and steady wins the race
Travelling across land? Opt for a train or bus instead of a flight. Cutting out just one 5-hour flight will make your carbon footprint a tonne lighter.
Travelling overland is a great chance to take in some local scenery too. Some of the best landscapes I’ve ever seen have all been thanks to a long-distance train.
Avoid the buffet
Stop right there. Put down the cold bacon and step away from the buffet. Although improvements have been made, buffets are still incredibly wasteful. Particularly in hotels and other consumer-serving businesses.
Only 10 to 15 percent of that food can be donated or repurposed because of food safety regulations. It comes down to this: Hotels are worried about seeming like they don’t have enough food, so they overcompensate—and waste. By avoiding the buffet, you’re casting your vote—one bite at a time. Choose a la carte instead.
Filtered water bottles
If you are travelling to a country where safe drinking water can’t be found in a tap, chances are you will be buying A LOT of bottled water. Particularly if the country in question is hot. Why not cut down on the plastic pollution and purchase a filtered water bottle?
Filtered water bottles work exactly as they say on the, well… bottle! They take water and purify it so that it is safe to drink. Giving you peace of mind and protecting the planet. Eco-friendly travel just got even easier.
I know in some destinations this is unavoidable. But where possible, quit cars. Instead of hailing an Uber or Lyft, opt for public transport instead. Not only is it cheaper, but it is much better for the environment too.
Or at least go fuel-efficient
If you really, really can’t avoid using a car, at least go fuel-efficient. On our recent trip to Australia, we rented a hybrid car to tour Western Australia. We saved money on fuel and hugely reduced our environmental impact. It was a big win-win.
Leave no trace
Take a cue from leave-no-trace camping, where the goal is to have as little effect as possible on the destination: anything you carry into camp, you should carry out. Carry your own reusable bags, straws, utensils, and takeaway containers whenever you can. You’ll be making a small but mighty change.
Plastic pollution has been a hot topic for a few years now. And not without good reason. Eight million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our ocean daily. Even worse, 79% of plastic waste is sent to landfills or the ocean, while only 9% is recycled, and 12% gets incinerated.
So, skip those plastic straws. Stop buying foods wrapped in plastic. Maybe even quit smoking. They’re small changes that make a huge difference to the quality of the world’s oceans – and protect the marine life that lives there.
Want eco-friendly travel? Choose an eco-friendly hotel!
Aside from air travel, hotels have some of the greatest impact on the environment. Eco-friendly hotels and properties will be sure to reduce their energy use, food waste, and ensure they are LEED-certified.
Check a hotel’s website for a “Responsible Travel,” “Environment,” or “Good Stewards” section. If they have spent time, energy, and money to be low-impact, they’ll likely have this information displayed. For a list of global hotels and destinations that maintain high sustainability standards, check out the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
It’s that time of the month
Periods. Don’t let them cramp your eco-friendly travel goals like they do your stomach. Periods suck for many reasons, but the effect that most disposable period products have on the environment is one of the biggest. That’s why I have invested in a menstrual cup.
The vast majority of disposable period products contain plastics that can’t be recycled. And as a result, many used products end up in landfill. Not only does a menstrual cup reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill, it saves heaps of money too! It is estimated that a menstrual cup could save you over £1k throughout your lifetime. I know what I’d rather spend that money on!
Just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean you can – or should – skip on separating your plastics from your papers.
Offset your carbon footprint
You can do this in one of two ways. The first option is to book a carbon-offset trip. A range of companies, such as Intrepid Travel, offer a variety of carbon neutral adventures. How? By calculating the carbon emissions for each trip, these operators will reduce your carbon footprint wherever possible, and offset what remains. The emissions from transport, accommodation, activities and waste have been accounted for and the cost of offsetting is included in the cost of your trip.
The second way to offset your trip is to do it yourself. To find out how much carbon you “produce” on a trip you’ll need to crunch the numbers. Then, once you have a final figure, you can donate the monetary value to any number of eco-friendly organisations. Carbonfund.org and TerraPass are good examples.
If maths isn’t really your thing, some airlines even have a carbon offset option. Check for this option when booking your flight – any money donated will go towards reducing the emissions created by your trip.
Drink local beer!
You’ve come a long way. Why not sample the local beer? Not only will it likely be delicious, it will be low-carbon too by cutting down on your “beer mileage”. This rule doesn’t just apply to appear, it applies to local foods and produce too. Take your tastebuds on an adventure too. The earth will thank you.
Don’t go off the beaten track
Not words you’ll hear many adventurers saying – but important ones nonetheless. When hiking in nature always make sure that you stick to clearly established footpaths and walkways. This not only protects local species and habitats in the area from accidental damage, it also protects you.
So don’t be like those ignorant tourists who wandered off the walkways in Croatia’s Plitvice National Park. They caused serious damage to the park’s waterfalls and forests – and also made international news for all the wrong reasons. Look after yourself and the environment. Walk on the paths.
Make yourself at home
Do you really need a clean towel every day? We didn’t think so either. Act like your at home and reuse your towels and other hotel amenities for as long as you can. Other important things to remember are to turn off the lights, air con and TV when you leave the room.
Start your eco-friendly travels
While travel definitely isn’t the most eco-friendly hobby, it’s a relief to know there are things we can do to make it that bit greener! Whether you use all these tips, or just one, I hope your next trip is an amazing (and eco-friendly) one.
Do you have any more tips on being an eco-friendly traveller? I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments.