Travelling is one of the most exciting experiences you can have if you’re curious about other places and people, but the modern way of going about it puts massive strain on the world’s resources. Cheap commercial flights, over-developed tourist hubs and disrupted natural landscapes all contribute to the problem, but what can you do to make sure you’re part of the solution?
The key to travelling in a more sustainable, responsible way is to reduce the impact of your actions at every stage of your trip. Lots of small, commonsense preventative measures add up to a far lighter carbon footprint – and they’re neither hard nor expensive to put in action. See our eco travel guide for five steps to becoming more environmentally-conscious when you’re on the road…
1. Before you go…
If you’re going away for a few days or more, make sure your home isn’t generating excess energy. Unplug phone chargers (which drain power even when the phone’s disconnected) as well as plasma TVs, microwaves and DVD players which use power when on standby. Turn off every light, and put your boiler on the lowest setting.
2. Packing, eco-style
Instead of buying bottled water along the way, bring along a reusable water pouch to refill with tap water (made drinkable with purification tablets if you’re in a part of the world that requires it). It cuts down on plastic waste and is practical, too – when empty, you can roll up the pouch and put it in your pocket. Bring a canvas bag and you’ll be able to get supplies at local shops and carry your kit around without having to pick up any extra plastic bags.
To avoid buying extra mini-toiletries, fill re-usable plastic containers with the amount of you need from your home shampoos, conditioners and moisturisers.
3. Greener transportation
The closer you stay to home when you travel, the fewer carbon emissions you’re responsible for. Taking a break in your home country means shorter journey times and the easy use of public transport – both big carbon footprint lighteners. If it’s possible, replace a short-haul flight abroad with a train journey – trains generates a tenth of the carbon emissions of an equivalent commercial flight. For long-haul flights, go direct rather than booking flights with stopovers – planes use up massive amounts of fuel for taking off and landing, so taking fewer flights means fewer emissions generated for your trip.
Once you’ve reached your destination, use public transport, walk or bike around to explore the area. If renting a car is essential, go for a low fuel consumption model.
4. Finding an eco hotel
Il Cantico della Natura, Perugia, Italy
If your accommodation wants to creditably call itself ‘eco’, it has to go a bit further then just not washing your towels every day! Look for hotels that actively seek to cut emissions in every area of their operation as well as work towards sustaining their community. Hotels with eco-friendly design elements like hot water units powered by solar panels, grey water recycling and heat-conserving insulation are going in the right direction, as are hotels that work with local businesses (like sourcing kitchen ingredients from farms in the area) or sponsor chosen chairites.
Also, it sounds obvious, but you don’t leave environmental responsibility at the door once you check in. Take on the energy-saving strategies you’d use in your own home on a stay away by turning off lights, air conditioning and heating when leaving your room and unplugging electricals like phone chargers when you’re not using them.
5. Community responsibility
Where visitors go, touts and big chains chasing tourist cash will follow, which takes money out of the pockets of local businesses. Support the local economy by buying food and meals from farmers’ markets and independent shops, as well as eating at restaurants that use regionally-sourced ingredients. If you’re looking for goods to take home, check that what you’re buying is locally-crafted rather than Made in China – this cuts the associated shipping miles as well as sustaining traditional livelihoods.
It’s tempting to pick wild flowers or take rocks and sea shells back in your suitcase, but this really chips away at the area’s biodiversity – what’s so easy to remove in an instant can take years to be replaced naturally, and this leaves the rest of the ecosystem wanting. Similarly, if you want to explore, stick to designated walking trails – going off-route can also mean damaging untouched natural environments. Once you create a new trail, others will follow – which inevitably means more trampled plants, more animals disturbed from their homes and a tonne more dropped litter.
Find cheap hotels with an eco-conscience: check out our guide to the best affordable eco accomodations around the globe.