All concious travellers sooner or later wonder if there are ways to travel more sustainable. Obviously if you want to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible, avoiding all travels would be the way to go. For all the travel bugs out there who want to see the world but are concious about their impact on the planet there are ways to reduce the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions during travels including where to go, what to eat and what to pack.
1. Choose your way of transportation
Transport accounts for around one-fifth of global CO2 emissions. In countries with a very mobile population transport is one of the largest segments of an individual’s carbon footprint. The most sustainable travel options are walking, biking, or taking the train. However the length of the journey impacts the CO2 emission as well. Over short to medium distance walking or cycling are nearly always the most efficien options. If you’re travelling distances below 1,000 kilometers flying has a higher carbon footprint than a medium-sized car. Since take-off requires much more jet fuel than the ‘cruise’ phase of a flight, the amount of extra fuel needed for the short flights is relatively larger compared to long distance flights.
For a distance above 1,000 kilometers flying has a slightly lower carbon footprint per kilometer than driving alone. Also the carbon footprint is proportional to the choice of your class. Business and first class are a waste of space. Therfore a seat in the economy class has a lower carbon footprint. When choosing an airline it makes sense to look for one operating the newest types of planes as they are optimized with regards to fuel consumption.
2. Cut the distance
Travelling closer to home is more sustainable and lowers the carbon footprint. Therefore explore your home country as well as the neighbouring countries. If you want to explore destinations further away, the Top 100 List by Green Destinations is a good go-to page for advice. Each year the non-profil organisation Green Destination puts together the top sustainable destinations world wide. Each of the destinations on the list is selected based on criteria such as commitment to protecting natural resources, decarbonization of the energy supply or localizing the supply chain. It is worth to browse through the list prior to booking the next flight.
3. Go to places in need of support
Visiting places after a natural disaster or conflict is a great way to support local business. Of course you should not turn into a crisis tourist. It is not the point to visit regions devasteted by war or natural catastrophies to show off your goodwill. The aim is to help locals get back up on their feet by spending your dollars in regions in need. It is always best to book your travels directly with the local providers without using the costly middle-agencies. This way you can be sure that your money find it’s way into the pockets of the local businesses.
4. Travel Off-Season is more sustainable
To tick off some popular bucket list destinations, consider travelling during shoulder or off-season periods. This not only helps your bank account but also reduces stress on nature and local communities. Consider to stay longer at one place. If possible, choose certified accommodation ensuring sustainability claims are checked. Also homestays and avoiding big hotel chains are good way to support the locals. Try to find local activities instead of the most touristic attractions. Also the latter ones can often be bad tourist traps.
5. Be extra careful at the coast
If you plan to visit a coast look out for marine protection areas. As the coastal areas are especially vulnurable to climate change and pollution put in an extra amount of research to find areas protected by local law. It should be self explanatory but don’t leave any trash behind on the beach. When sailing follow the instructions given by your charter company and do not throw your trash into the ocean. Use reef friendly sunscreen without oxybenzone and micro plastic. If you like fishing only do so in regions declared available for leisure fishing. Do not take home sea shells or any dead creatures from the beach as it can affect the ocean’s ecosystems and increase shoreline erosion. Leaving shells where they are is actually the smallest possible contribution to sustainable travel.
6. Offset your journey
Whatever way of transportation you choose in the end you can offset your journey. By offseting a journey you buy credits that go toward an organisation or project that works to avoids emissions or helps absorb already emitted CO2 from the atmosphere. If you decide to buy offsets you have numerous options. Some airlines offer this as well as ohter companies and nonprofits organisations. However not all carbon offset programs are of equal quality. To decide smarter always check how much money goes into financing the organization’s overhead. Also it is advisable to look out for projects with broader benefits, like helping increase biodiversity or improving air quality.
7. Packing smart as part of sustainable travel
What you bring with you on vacation can also help to travel more sustainable. The easiest way is to use biodegradable shampoos and laundry detergent. This is also a good idea to do at home however in countries where the water cleaning systems are not as advanced this can make a real difference. Consider bying an all-use biodegradable soap which can be used to wash body, hair, dishes and clothing. We have the Dr. Bronners All in One as the one to go to saop in our van at all times.
As a sustainable traveller bring your own water bottle to reduce the consumption of plastic bottled water. For destinations where the water from the tab is not drinkable it may be worth investing in a bottle that can filter and purify water. The latter is also very handy when running out of water while hiking. Bring a tote bag with you to transport your items. This will help you to reduce the use of unnecessary plastic bags.
8. Choose your food very carefully
It is obvious that eating vegetarian or vegan (whether at home or traveling) is the best way to reduce carbon emissions. It is well known that meat, dairy and the respective supply chains have a tremendous impact on climate change. If you still want to consume meat try to limit the intake or choose chicken or sustainably sourced seafood instead. A great way to limit the CO2 emissions within the food’s supply chain is to choose local and seasonal products. Trying local dishes is also the best way to get to know more about the culture of the contry you are visiting. Also by bying local you support the local farmes and restaurants even if it means that you need to go for a meat-option instead of a vegeterian dish.
9. Bringing back souveniers
Part of sustainable travel is being conscious of the consumption abroad. It is a good step towards becoming a sustainable traveller and leave a lighter footprint. Entirely avoid chain stores which are likely to sell cheap and imported products. Always choose local stores and markets, for food and other items of interest. Avoid items with animal products such as leather, fur and obviously ivory. This also goes for sea shells or sea stars as those items are usually harvested when the animals are still alive.
10. Build up a sustainable travel wardrobe
A capsule wardrobe is a small collection of clothes and items which can be be worn together as they harmonize in color and line. While travelling, a capsule wardrobe is not only sustainable but also very useful. You can layer and combine the clothes depending on the weather and occasion. You could start building up your capsule wardrobe around the following pillars:
- Workout (pants and tops): for hiking, biking, running or the hotel gym.
- Lounge (pajamas, yoga pants, sweatshirts): comfortable pieces for the journey and movies at the hotel room.
- Layering (tanks, throusers and skirts): choose tanktops and t-shirts you can layer. Also bring 2 pants and 2 skirts which you can easily combine with the tops. Keep in mind that some travel destinations expect a certain dresscode from men and women.
- Outerwear (jackets, swimwear, hats): Choose one jacket to keep you warm in the city and one to keep you warm in nature. Pack swimwear and hats to protect you at the pool and when queuing for museum tickets.
- Formal / Accessories (necklaces, scarves, earrings): Bring at least one option for a formal dinner occasion. Style up the outfit with jewlery or scarves.
- Shoes (boots, sneakers, sandals): If you plan to spent time outdoors bring good quality hiking boots. A pair of sneakers for the city and a pair of birkenstock for the beach will do the job. If you plan to go out formally bring one pair of heels as well.