In 2020, while humans stayed indoors, we all saw images of nature taking back it’s spaces, with skies and canals clearing, and wildlife roaming the streets. We also read stats detailing the impact the pandemic had on emissions worldwide, as there were less planes in the air, and less cars on the roads.
As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in most parts of the world, and as people go back to planning getaways, let’s make sure we do our best to keep the momentum going and limit our emissions and our impact on the planet as much as possible, by finding ways to travel more sustainably.
Choose your destination!
The shorter the distance from home you travel, the lower your carbon footprint will be! Wherever you are in the world, chances are there are some hidden treasures in your back yard of which you know nothing about, or which you’ve always overlooked. Staying close to home means saving money on transportation, reducing emissions and giving back to your community by spending your budget on local businesses.
Finding local adventures in your town (walking unexplored routes or visiting museums) is among the greenest forms of travel there is, but if you’ve already set your mind on traveling further from home and exploring new cities or countries, then research destinations committed to reducing waste and emissions.
You could also decide to travel to destinations rebuilding after a disaster and which need tourism to recover from natural calamities that have recently hit them.
Let the planning begin!
Once you’ve chosen your destination and start planning your itinerary, make it a point to only print what is absolutely necessary. These days between Apps, e-tickets and e-mail confirmations you should be able to avoid printing out all sorts of documentation such as boarding passes, hotel bookings, tour reservations etc.
If you absolutely find yourself having to print out a ticket (some airlines still require a paper one) then hold on to it until you get back home and then put it in a scrapbook or use it as a bookmark so to doesn’t go to waste.
Where to stay
When choosing where to stay research accredited accommodations (certain websites ensures claims to sustainability which are checked by third parties) and consider that by choosing self-catering options you will be able to shop at markets and cook your own meals, eliminating takeaway containers and restaurant waste (if you do choose to eat out, here are some ways to reduce food waste while dining out).
Not all accommodations will be credited, so if you aren’t able to find something that meets your specific needs on accredited websites, look up individual accommodations and find out whether they promote the fact that their business uses renewable energy sources, serves fresh organic produce, cares about water conservation, and/or employs locals. On short stays when you check-in be sure to let them know that you don’t wish your sheets and towels to be changed while you’re there.
How to get there and how to move around
Transport is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants, so choosing how to get to your destination is a very important part of traveling sustainably.
When possible, choose slow travel. Not only will it be cheaper and more relaxing, but by choosing the train for example, you’ll get to see much more scenery along the way than you would if you flew. In addition slow travel such as trains, boats, buses, cars (if you’re renting, choose an electric one), are more flexible and you'll be more likely to stumble across less-known places.
Always do your research though, because even though we may think that traveling by cruise ship is more sustainable than flying, the truth is that ships usually burn the lowest-quality and most polluting kind of fuel, which can affect the passengers, crew, and the environment and populations of the destinations being visited.
Although it’s one of the most damaging things for the planet, sometimes we just can’t avoid taking a plane and that is just a fact, nevertheless, there are still things we can do to make our trip more sustainable.
First of all you can compare airlines and their fuel emissions, and if there’s an option that gets you to where you want to go, choose an airline that has already reduced, or is trying to reduce, emissions. In alternative, you can always offset your emissions.
Once you get to your destination, as far as transportation goes, take walking tours and make the most out of renting bicycles and using public transit.
What you decide to take with you on your journey can help reduce your impact even further. Pack biodegradable shampoos, laundry detergent, reef-safe sunscreen with fewer chemicals, and of course, your reusable kit with all your essentials!
Items such as reusable bottles, reusable cutlery, reusable straws, cloth napkins, bamboo toothbrushes, collapsible containers for carrying snacks around, and reusable bags for groceries or shopping, can drastically reduce your consumption of single-use items wherever in the world you go. As far as toiletries go, fill up on solid package free shampoos, conditioners and soaps, reusable make-up remover set, menstrual cups and a reusable stainless steel razor.
Leave your home the right way!
If you’re going on a break, take the opportunity to give your home a break too! Unplug all electronics such as TVs, chargers and other appliances that won’t be in use. Of course if you’re just leaving for a couple of days, leave your fridge and freezer on while making sure you’ve taken care of everything that might go bad while you’re away (find out how to properly organize your fridge so that you reduce your food waste here). If, on the other hand, you are staying away for longer periods of time, consider emptying everything out and unplugging those appliances too in order to save energy and avoid keeping appliances running just to keep spices and condiments cool.
Following the same logic of saving on energy, remember to turn your heating/thermostat off (if it’s summer) and down to around 10° C in winter to avoid your pipes freezing!
Once you’re there
Small businesses have been the most hit during the pandemic, so try as much as possible to buy local and support them as much as you can. It’s there that you will often find the most unique souvenirs and gifts for everyone at home, and by buying something that is handmade or produced locally, you’ll be reducing the need for mass production from larger businesses, as well as actively supporting someone's livelihood.
Also, when you can, make sure you leave the packaging behind.
Activity wise, join a beach clean-up or participate in events that are in some ways giving back to the community.
Avoid anything that feels like exploitation, such as purchasing souvenirs that are made from ivory and other animal parts that may be supporting poachers, or tourist traps such as elephant riding.
Sustainable or zero-waste travel is all about effort, not perfection, you may forget to pack certain things, you may forget not to say that you don’t need a plastic straw or plastic cutlery and have it served to you, and so on, don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually. Every bit helps and a few hiccups should not discourage you from trying to do better next time!