A guide of how to travel more sustainably in the modern world. To be able to see different parts of the world and experience new places is one of the most popular pursuits among a growing segment of the global population. Travel and tourism as both an industry and pastime have been growing in popularity for several decades and this trend is predicted to carry on increasing as more demographic markets are becoming financially able to explore, such as the increasingly upwardly mobile Chinese middle class.
In many ways, this trend has a number of different benefits, such as a growing sense of interconnectedness among different nationalities and groups of people which in turn has lead to higher levels of trust and peace. In addition travel & tourism now accounts for a significant proportion of global employment and are bringing greater wealth and prosperity, especially in countries that are experiencing new interest from travellers.
Of course, as with everything, there are downsides to this growth in people exploring the world. One of the most significant of these problems is the issue of sustainability. Recent reports from the UN and other major organisations show that the world is facing a huge threat from global warming and other forms of environmental destruction caused by human activity such as giant plastic islands floating in the oceans, coral reef destruction, large scale loss of animal habitats such as rain forests, air pollution and much more.
This may all sound rather negative and on the one hand, it certainly is. There is no escaping from the fact that human activity is having a significant and lasting negative effect on the planet including for the animals and plants that we share it with. On the other hand, there are a huge number of steps we can all take to cut down the environmental effects that we cause, such as when we decide to go travelling on vacation. Here are 5 of the best ways you can travel more sustainably:
1. Cut Out Plastic As Much As Possible
Plastic really is one of the biggest problems our planet has faced in terms of human impact, in almost the entire period of human history and has accelerated rapidly in recent decades. A growing number of scientists and environmental experts predict devastating consequences for the natural world and wildlife if we don’t change our ways significantly and cut back on our reliance on plastics, especially the single-use variety. For example, a recent study has predicted that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 if things don’t change!
So what can you can do when you travel? Try to refuse single-use plastic items as much as possible and avoid using them. For example, when you go to a restaurant, cafe or bar make sure to refuse single-use plastic straws. It is estimated that over 500 million plastic straws are used every day in America alone and most of these end up in our oceans, killing wildlife such as fish and seabirds, plus breaking down into microplastics and ending up in things humans consume such as sea-salt and tap water. This is one of the easiest items of plastic to cut out, as for most able-bodied people plastic straws are totally unnecessary to use.
You should also aim to seek out places to eat and drink that have made significant efforts to stop using single-use plastic, or have switched to plastics that are 100% biodegradable. One such example of this is Burger Mel, a vegan fast-food chain that started in Tenerife in the Canary Islands and has recently expanded to mainland Spain.
Another easy way to cut back on plastic is to buy a refillable water bottle (often made from aluminium). These are lightweight, stylish, reasonably priced and of course so much better for the environment than purchasing plastic water bottles every time you are out and about which generally get chucked in the trash, and often end in landfill or oceans.
When you are out and about shopping you should start taking your own bags such as a backpack and canvas bags, this means that you can avoid having to use single-use plastic bags which are also terrible for the environment. Once you start noticing these things, it begins to get easier and easier to cut out single-use plastic from your vacations as much as possible. As more and more people start to do this, this will in turn influence brands to take notice as they see which way consumer will is heading and the profitability of plastic begins to plummet.
2. Try to Support Local and Independent Businesses and Brands
When you are on vacation in another country, a great way to travel more sustainably is through choosing to shop with local brands and independent local stores, cafes, and restaurants. A huge issue facing the planet is climate change and much of this is being caused by products being produced in one place then transported across the planet to be sold elsewhere, most often on giant ships which cause tremendous amounts of pollution.
While it is not always possible to avoid products made in other countries because local alternatives may not be available or affordable, you’d be surprised just how many local options there are if you just take a bit more time to shop in a conscious and sustainable way.
For example, if you are shopping for groceries, try to pick locally produced food items that are grown or made in the place you are visiting like local fruits and vegetables. By doing this you will help cut down on the use of products that have been transported unsustainably across the planet.
When you go out for a drink or a meal, why not choose a local independent cafe/bar or restaurant? Or if you are buying your groceries why not choose a small local shop or the market, rather than a huge supermarket chain such as Carrefour. While not always the case, local markets, shops, bars, cafes and restaurants are generally a lot more sustainable for both the environment and also a lot more beneficial for the local economy. By choosing to shop locally you are supporting local business owners, who often sell local products and of course pay their taxes locally.
3. Aim to Use More Sustainable Travel Methods
Unfortunately, at present planes are one of the forms of transport that cause most pollution due to greenhouse gas emissions, plus also the large amounts of waste that are created during flights in terms of rubbish like single-use items of plastic. While it is often inevitable that you will need to use planes to reach certain destinations, such as if you are choosing to head to the Canary Islands from the UK, you can still try to cut down the damage from your flights as much as possible.
For example, many airlines offer Carbon Offset Programs which are voluntary payments that passengers can choose to make that are separate from the booking process. By paying towards these initiatives the airline will send this money towards programs to protect the environment that will offset the damage being done by you flying. In this sense, you can voluntarily choose to mitigate your own damage from the actual flight you’re on.
In addition to this, there are a number of forward-thinking airlines that you could choose to fly with (if they go to the destination you are heading to). For example, KLM which is one of the most forward-thinking flight operators is taking pioneering steps to become more environmentally sustainable such as a Fleet Renewal towards planes that use less fuel, smart aircraft deployment, better engine cleaning, aiding research into aircraft of the future which could be 50% more efficient and quieter and in use by 2025, and a push towards the use of bio-fuels which would cause 80% less CO2 emissions.
Portuguese airline Hi Fly recently made history, by becoming the first airline to complete a passenger flight without any single-use plastics. This is a huge step in the fight against single-use plastic and towards flights becoming more sustainable, thus, in turn, making leisure travel a more sustainable activity. Of course, there is still a long way to go, but by choosing to support these forward-thinking airlines when you fly, you will be demonstrating that sustainability is good for the business thus encouraging other brands to follow their example.
While not always possible or as easy and sometimes more expensive, travelling to your destination by train is a great option if you are looking for a more sustainable mode of transport than the plane. Trains are much less damaging to the environment and are certainly possible to use if you are travelling in Europe between countries for example, including to other European destinations from the UK using the Eurostar.
When you have actually arrived at your destination and are wanting to explore, rather than using taxis or hiring a car, why not use public transport such as the local bus service, trams, trains and coaches. Public transport is far more environmentally sustainable and is often more economical, especially if you get a pass that lasts your whole trip.
You can also walk or hire a bike if you want to explore a city that you are staying in. By going by foot or bike you can also see the local area at your own pace, thus observing things you might have missed if you were in a vehicle, plus of course there is no pollution caused.
4. Research Excursion or Tour Companies
When you are visiting a new destination it is great to try out new experiences such as a new excursion or using a tour company to find out about the local area. Once again, the company you choose to spend your money with has a direct effect on the environment though, so make sure to do some research into the company you do decide to do a trip or excursion with.
Find out if the company has a strong commitment to sustainability and safeguarding the environment, and whether they support the local economy. For example, certain companies will offer detailed information about the local environment, history and culture, employ a local workforce and support local businesses by providing food and drink from local producers, or taking you to local cafes and restaurants for a meal. They may also have a commitment to cutting down on single-use plastic and recycling as much as possible.
One such example of an excursion company that has a huge commitment to sustainability and environmental causes is the excellent Lanzarote Eco Insider, who do a number of wonderful walking tours to discover the unique geology, history and beauty of Lanzarote, wine tasting tours, boats trips, bird-watching tours and more. They are committed to teaching their guests about what makes Lanzarote so unique and about trying to encourage those that take trips with them to travel as sustainably as possible and respect the local environment.
Rather than big, overcrowded coaches and masses of people descending on a local area creating lots of rubbish, noise and potential destruction, Lanzarote Eco Insider has much smaller, more personalised tours led by a knowledgeable tour guide and involving total respect for the local area. These are better for the local environment and also more enjoyable for those taking the tour.
Eco Insider sources the food they provide from local producers, go to independently owned local restaurants and cafes for meals on the tour, recycle and reuse as much as possible and even use recycled plastic for the company fleeces. Of course, Eco Insider is just one example of a forward-thinking company, so whichever destination you have chosen to visit, try to look for excursion or tour companies with similar values.
5. Choose to Stay at Hotels or Resorts that are Committed to Sustainability
A big step to take when you decide that you want to travel more sustainably is choosing accommodation where the owners are committed to sustainability. This is especially important if you decide that you want to stay in a hotel or resort, as these have traditionally produced a lot of waste in terms of food, plastic and other rubbish, greenhouse gas emissions and more, due to the sheer number of guests that stay, especially at larger hotels and resorts.
Of course, there are other options available like private apartments, but hotels and resorts are still the preferred option for many travellers, especially for families because of the ease, convenience and many excellent amenities they provide. If travelling sustainably is important to you though (which it should be), then you should actively seek out brands that are committed to improving their hotels and resorts to become more sustainable, their operational practices and the mindset of the teams that work there.
There are a multitude of different sustainability improvements that can be made such as installing solar panels and other features for renewable electricity, changing windows to reduce heat loss thus reducing the need for air-conditioning, separating different forms of rubbish such as paper, plastic, glass and food waste, reducing waste including stopping the use of items like plastic straws in the hotel bars and restaurants, giving incentives and education to staff to recycle more and either walk, bike or use public transport to get to work and various other steps.
It is fantastic to see that a number of different big hotel and resort brands are starting to take significant steps to move towards becoming far more sustainable. One of these is Diamond Resorts who have 25 resorts across Europe and more than 2,250 apartments, and have made a big commitment to sustainability across all of these. This journey began around five years ago and has grown year on year in terms of scope and popularity among the staff and guests who are all encouraged to get involved.
Since obtaining the ISO 14001 certification that marked the brand’s move towards environmental efficiency, a huge number of different improvements have been put in place across all of the brand’s resorts across Europe. These include separate recycling bins for all different types of rubbish, led lighting in apartments, light movement sensors in common areas and offices, energy-efficient electrical appliances, UV filters for windows, pool covers and much more.
Staff has been encouraged to get involved with various initiatives including a dedicated “Sustainability Ambassador” in each resort, a Sustainability “Focus Group” in charge of establishing and implementing environmental goals and initiatives and a Green Line blog launched a year ago for team members to share their sustainability ideas and best practices.
What Diamond Resorts and their teams have been doing is an excellent example for other holiday accommodation brands to follow and points to a far more sustainable future. They certainly haven’t stopped there as their latest sustainability goal set for the end of 2019 is to reduce the use of single-use plastic by 50%!
There is even a company hashtag #DiamondGoGreen to follow all of Diamond Resorts’ fantastic green initiatives and work across social media, especially on Twitter. You can find out more about Diamond Resorts sustainability commitments and initiatives here: https://rdo.org/industry-updates/diamond-resorts-committed-with-the-environment/
As you can see, there are a number of different steps you can take in order to travel more sustainably when you are on holiday. These are just some ideas with many other ways that you can enjoy travel without causing as much harm to the environment. As new research and technology is released, it is highly likely that holidays can become even more sustainable which is a win-win for everyone.
Let me know in the comments any tips you have for travelling more sustainably!