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Eco-travel: The essential advice on environmentally-friendly travelling

Travel. Everyone’s dream. Seeing parts of the planet you never dreamed of seeing. And yet, with each year roughly 1.2 billion people seeking distant shores, we have to fundamentally rethink the way in which travel is undertaken. 

Whether it’s cities, beaches, mountains, or seas that take your fancy, we’ve come up with a few eco-friendly ideas to take into consideration when planning your next sojourn abroad. 

DESTINATION

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Picking your destination can make our break a good travelling experience.

Not every destination will champion environmentally-friendly practices. Some will, but may be on the other side of the world from where you reside.  Yet there are destinations, that if chosen wisely, demonstrate good-decision making and a commitment to the living planet. 

Before setting your sights on a destination, do your research. Selecting destinations that prioritise sustainability, environmental advocacy, using environmentally-friendly business practices, and are actually investing in their own natural heritage is forward thinking. There are countries, like Namibia and Bhutan, that contain within their constitutional doctrines, environmental protection policy. Other countries place their environments in similar high regard and act accordingly,such as Ecuador’s decision to place 97 percent of the Galapagos’s landmass under the watchful gaze of its national park service.

“Selecting a destination that achieves a balance of protecting natural and cultural resources, providing for sustainable livelihoods, and creating a high-quality traveler experience is challenging.” Says the WWF’s Vice President of Travel and Conservation Jim Sano. But all is not hopeless. There are services you can use that help to inform about which destinations are sustainable. A quick Ecosia search provides a whole host of information, with sites such as Ecotourism, Sustainable Tourism, and Green Destinations providing a wealth of advice. Particularly helpful is Green Destinations, who have compiled a list of sustainable destinations against the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Destination Criteria – “A recognised set of criteria to assess a destination’s management policies and practices. Two hundred destinations have been selected to date.” You’re definitely spoilt for choice. 

TRANSPORTATION

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Train rides may take longer, but can emit anywhere up to 90% less carbon emissions than a flight of the same distance.
 

The destination is only part of the battle. Getting there is possibly going to be your main cause of environmental concern. The US aviation industry alone produces 11% of that country’s net transportation-caused emissions. Carbon emissions from planes takes up a portion of around 2-3% of all global emissions produced annually. Plus, jet fuel produces more carbon emissions per 3.7 litres (1 gallon), than car fuel does.

The 2017 Atmosfair Airline Index is a useful tool when comparing flights for energy efficiency, and last named TUI Airways as the most efficient in both medium and long haul flights, due to its efficient aircraft and passenger to flight ratio. The higher the amount of passengers per flights, the less amount of flights that need to be taken. What you may lose in legroom, you make up for in efficiency. You can also look into airlines that try to offset their carbon production, by investing in projects that try and actively reduce or store carbon in our atmosphere. This is probably the closest direct way of carbon neutral flying. For example, you can look into airlines that work with the International Air Transport Association, using their carbon offset and environmental assessment programs. Another good idea is, regardless of the distance of the flight, look into non-stop trips. Takeoffs and landings are the periods that create the most carbon emissions during a flight, and minimising these instances is a good idea. 

You could also consider taking a train instead of a plane. “Excellent railway infrastructure makes trains a viable alternative to flights, including most of Europe and East Asia, and some countries in Southeast Asia.” Says Steve Long, co-founder of The Travel Brief. Many European rail services run on electric power or alternative fuels, and are the most efficient per journey when boasting a high occupancy rate. 

A brilliant resource to use when deciding which mode of travel to use is the carbon calculater from EcoPassenger. For example, it calculated that a train journey from London to Rome would produce 223.2kg of carbon dioxide less than a flight would. If time is of no consequence, trains should be considered. 

If you fancy giving your sea legs a test, we would advice against taking a cruise. Cruise ships are one of the worst polluters of all transport types, with the industry consuming millions of tonnes of fuel and producing almost a billion tonnes of sewage each year. Friends Of The Earth created an annual report card which compares and contrasts the impacts of well-known cruise lines, rating them based on their sewage treatment, air pollution, water quality compliance, and their transparency, which you can find here. If you still want to experience the seas and all their beauty, you can look into chartering a sailboat, which of course will have an infinitely smaller footprint. 

WHERE TO STAY

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A good bit of travelling isn’t whole without a nice place to rest your head.

Hotels can actually represent a huge amount of environmental impact when it comes to travel. We suggest that, when looking into the accommodation you choose, decide upon which issues matter to you the most. The most ‘green’ hotels across the board will work in tandem with the three pillars of sustainable tourism – environmental, social, and economic. 

Many major hotel chains as well as independents operate green programs (such as IHG, who work by what they call their Green Engage ™ System, or Accor Hotels, who employ their Planet 21 Sustainable Development program). We recommend that you call where you’re staying and ask some questions, as it is their responsibility to try and satisfy you. Inquire about whether they compost, where they source their energy from, whether they reuse their grey water. Do they recycle? Where do they source their food from?

A good way of searching for hotels that are either approved or accredited by programs such as  Green Key, a voluntary eco-label awarded to establishments for their work in environmental sustainability. There is also the U.S. Green Building Council, and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, which oversees the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

“Making environmentally friendly choices on your own during your stay can have a long-term impact on the environment and only takes small changes,” said Rhiannon Jacobsen, vice president of strategic relationships at the U.S. Green Building Council.

In satisfying the aforementioned three pillars of sustainable tourism, you could put your money to good use by helping to invest in local communities. For example, Unique Lodges of the World, a 55-strong collection of properties affiliated with National Geographic, has properties that tick all boxes. The Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in South Africa helps to protect native species, invests in community programs that provide education, and employs a sustainable wastewater management system.

There are some immediate ways you can help when you arrive at your accommodation. If staying at a hotel, decline having your towels and linens changed every day. Don’t take from your room’s mini-fridge. Decline housekeeping. Decline any form of disposable plates or utensils. Avoid buffets, which usually result in a vast amount of wasted food. If the hotel doesn’t seem to be recycling, suggest it to them. If bikes are available to be borrowed or rented, do so. Refuse using or taking the complimentary small plastic bottles of shampoo or conditioner, bring your own, and if you do bring them home, donate them to homeless shelters. 

WHAT TO PACK

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A reusable cutlery set from Bright Zine, a KeepCup, Solid shampoo, moisturiser, and deodorant from LUSH, a tote bag, a bamboo toothbrush, and a cross-body bag from The North Face.

Travel requires eating out, drinking out, and carrying items with you that you wouldn’t normally carry, and sometimes buying items you usually normally buy. To limit your both your physical and environmental impact when travelling, it’s good to carry reusables.

Of course you’re going to pack the usual items, the clothes, possible sun tan lotion, toiletries, but are there ways of making these items sustainable? Clothes are simple and reusable, so already have a better environmental footprint in terms of lifetime than something like a plastic bottle. Second-hand clothes are even better. Are you shopping for new holiday clothes? See what you can get second-hand before you buy new.

In terms of toiletries there is a large community for naked (plastic-free), sustainable products. LUSH do an incredible line of naked products that are travel friendly, such as their lasting shampoo bars and shower gels. They also do travel toothpaste in the form of small chewable pills.

Watch out for where you purchase your sun-tan lotion from, as common sunscreens can contain chemicals that lead to coral reef bleaching. Search for reef-friendly products, such as properly biodegradable or mineral-based sunscreens. Or simply wear protective clothing.

Eating out, dining on street food will probably be on the cards for you, so it’s wise to invest in a good set of reusable cutlery to take with you. The set pictured above is by Bright Zine, but there is a vast amount out there, made by many different companies from many different materials. To go along with your set, it’s also good to invest in some sort of hot drink container for those times when you crave tea or coffee on the go. Pictured above is a glass KeepCup, a cute and fantastic addition to anyone’s eco-friendly travel kit. The cork sleeve is made from sustainably-sourced cork, and 15% of the price of this particular KeepCup went to the Australian branch of Sea Shepherd, the marine conservation organisation. Conventional coffee cups made from cardboard and plastic are over-used and difficult to recycle, so show some love for the living planet by getting yourself a reusable. Most big coffee chains also offer money off for using a reusable cup. 

Another thing that we at Deeply Good stress is good to have on you at all times (not just when travelling), is a tote bag. These can come in all shapes and sizes, but are fantastic for carrying anything from fresh produce to clothing, and help to make sure we’re not using the waterway-polluting plastic bags. Totes can be bought virtually anywhere, and are easy to customise. They fold down to virtually nothing so can fit in any coat or bag pocket. 

A good minimalist traveller will invest in a rugged and durable backpack that fits any occasion or destination. We’re also enjoying the recent trend in cross-body bags (imagine fanny-packs that sling across your chest), as they provide a convenient and trendy way to store items you already have on you, or items you buy. 

Last but not least, remember your reusable water bottle. Not only does it prevent you from buying needless single-use plastic bottles, but it also keeps you hydrated, a bonus if you’re travelling somewhere hot.

Our honourable mentions also include; a microfiber travel towel and a mooncup (or other reusable menstrual cup). Also, if you want to stay protected from the Sun, but dislike buying a plastic lotion bottle, LUSH conveniently do a naked sun-tan lotion bar.

INVEST IN GREEN ACTIVITIES, INVEST IN LOCAL COMMUNITIES

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“The green movement has changed from how to preserve and protect to how to use less and do good when you’re there,” said Dawn Head, owner and editor of the online resource Go Green Travel Green. The array of any eco-friendly activity in any place you go will be vast. Sailing, snorkelling, scuba-diving, hiking, running, kayaking, paddleboarding, cycling, swimming, even walking around a museum – all of these cause minimal, if no impact at all. Why not visit craft markets, second-hand shops, or even local events? Giving your money to local companies is bother better for the environment and the economy than giving it all to a multinational.

There is also the possibility to give back to the community you visit in other ways: volunteering. Some hotels and tour operators arrange short term volunteer opportunities, but this is fairly rare and may take a little bit of research to discover which hotels offer schemes such as these.

There are also programs such as Pack for a Purpose set up. With Pack For A Purpose, you can select a destination and bring supplies to said destination, if that destination calls for them. For example, in Jamaica, visitors can donate school equipment through Beaches Negril Resort & Spa to Mount Airy All Age school, which educates 650 children. This means you can actively support a community you travel to, and would even mean you would probably travel home with less than you came with.

Visiting and donating to local amusements such as wildlife reserves, parks, and protected marine areas would mean that tourism money would directly benefit the local community and environment.

When it comes to travelling, we will sometimes want to bring a souvenir back from our trips. This is all well and good as souvenirs serve as lasting reminders of a time well-spent. When we see an item for sale, especially in another country, we can never tell where that item has been procured from, or whether it is even legal to purchase. Some items may be made of protected wood that may be illegal to trade in, import, or export. Even worse is the sale of animal-derived products, that will usually do more harm than good to local communities, and definitely do no good for local environments. Imagine going to Africa and buying something made of Ivory? It would be highly damaging. 

Ask yourself, before you purchase, what is this item made of and where did it come from? An informed choice may help you dodge fines at customs and also help reduce the demand for unethical or environmentally-unfriendly products. For a list of items to avoid, check out WWF’s Buyer Beware Guide. 

Also, it almost doesn’t need to be said, but avoid all places that deal in any kind of animal exploitation.

Finally, eating locally is a wise choice. Chain restaurants will usually import foods from far away, translating to more carbon emissions, increasing the footprint of your trip. To offset the emissions from your travel, you could even try going vegan for the duration of the trip. Meat and dairy contributes more greenhouse gas emissions globally than all of the transport industry combined. While travelling, eating vegan would not only offset this footprint significantly, it would also be a fun challenge, and would possibly help you contribute to local small businesses, as most cities will have specifically vegan cafes and restaurants that you could enjoy. You would probably be at less risk of catching food poisoning from meat or dairy if you made the easy switch while travelling. 

 

TRAVEL WELL, TRAVEL GOOD.

 

 

 

 

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