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5 Top Tips to Help You Travel More Sustainably

For a growing segment of the global population, being able to experience new places and see different parts of the world is becoming one of the most popular pastimes. For several decades the travel and tourism industry has experienced rapid growth across the world, and this trend is predicted to continue increasing as greater numbers of people in different countries are becoming more financially able to explore. A strong example of this has been the upwardly mobile Chinese middle class and this is likely to be replicated in other growing middle class segments of the world population such as in India and the Middle East.

There are a number of different possible benefits brought about by this trend, such as an increasing sense of interconnection between different nationalities and groups of people, that in turn has lead to higher levels of trust and peace. As well as this, travel and tourism now amounts to a significant proportion of global employment and is can create greater prosperity and wealth, especially in newer destinations which are gaining in popularity.

Alone on an empty path

As with everything, of course there are also significant downsides to the rapid growing numbers of people exploring the world. One of the most serious of these issues is the importance of sustainability. Reports recently released by major global organisations such as the UN show that the world is facing an unprecedented threat from global warming and other forms of environmental destruction being caused by human activity, such as the deaths of coral reefs, vast islands of plastic floating in the oceans, large scale loss of animal habitats like rain forests, worsening air pollution and much more.

On one hand, this certainly does sound rather negative. It is undeniable that human activity is having a lasting and significant negative impact on the planet, including for the plants and animals that we share it with. On the other, there are a number of different steps that we can all take to lessen the environmental effects that we create, such as when we decide to go travelling. Here are 5 top tips for more sustainable travel:

1. Cut out plastic as much as possible

Plastic is definitely one of the biggest human caused problems that our planet has faced, in almost the entire period of human history and in recent decades has accelerated rapidly. There are a growing number of environmental experts and scientists who predict devastating consequences for wildlife and the natural world if we don't make significant changes and cut back drastically on our reliance on plastic, especially the single use type. For example, a recent study has predicted that if things don't change, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish

So what can you do when you travel? Aim to refuse single use plastic items as much as possible and avoid using them. For example, make sure to refuse single use plastic straws when you go to a bar, cafe or restaurant. It is estimated that in America alone over 500 million plastic straws are used everyday, with most of these ending up in our oceans, killing wildlife such as seabirds and fish, as well as breaking down into micro plastics and ending up in sea-salt, tap water and other things that people consume. For most able bodied people plastic straws are totally unnecessary to use, so this is one of the easiest items of plastic to cut out. 

Try to also discover places to eat and drink that have made strong efforts to cut out single use plastic, or have switched to plastics that are 100% biodegradable. An example of this is Burger Mel, a vegan fast food chain that was created in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, that has also recently expanded to mainland Spain.



Another great way to cut back on plastic is to purchase a refillable water bottle (often made from aluminium), such as those from the fantastic Aguita which you can purchase directly from their website. These are stylish, reasonably priced, lightweight, and of course so much better for the environment than buying plastic water bottles each time you are out and about, that are usually thrown away after one use, than often ending up in landfills or the ocean.


Other steps you can take include taking your own bags such as a backpack and canvas bags when you are out and about shopping which means you can avoid single use plastic bags, that are also terrible for the environment. It begins to get easier and easier to cut out single use plastic from your vacations as much as possible, once you start noticing these things. As increasing numbers of people start to do this, brands become influenced as they begin to take notice of the way in which consumer sentiment is heading and the profitability of plastic gradually plummets!

2. Aim to use more sustainable travel methods

At present, planes are unfortunately one of the worst forms of transport in terms of their sustainability and amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted, as well as the large quantities of waste created during flights, such as single use plastic items. If you are trying to reach certain destinations on your next trip, like the Canary Islands from the UK, it is almost inevitable that you will need to use planes, but you can still aim to reduce the damage from your flights as much as possible.

There are many airlines that offer Carbon Offset Programs which are voluntary payments that passengers can choose to make, separate from the booking process. When you pay towards these initiatives, the airline will send this money towards environmental protection programs which will help to offset the damage done by your flight, thus voluntarily helping to mitigate some of the pollution caused by the flight you're on. 

As well as this, if you're trying to decide which airline to fly with based on which is less harmful to the environment, there are some that are more forward thinking than others. A good example of this KLM which is one of the most forward thinking flight operators, that is taking pioneering steps to become more environmentally sustainable. They are planning a Fleet Renewal with planes that use less fuel, better engine cleaning, smart aircraft deployment, are aiding research into aircraft of the future, that could be 50% more efficient and quieter, with the aim of these being in use by 2025, and are pushing towards the use of bio-fuels which would create 80% less CO2 emissions.

Recently history was made by Portuguese airline Hi Fly, when they became the first airline to complete a passenger flight without any single-use plastics! This is a huge step towards flights becoming more sustainable and the fight against single use plastics, that in turn helps to make leisure travel a more sustainable activity. Of course there is still a long way to go, but by deciding to support these more forward thinking airlines when you fly, you will encourage other brands to follow their example by showing that sustainability is good for business. 


While it is often more expensive and not always easy or possible, travelling by train to your destination is a great option if you are looking for a more sustainable mode of transport than plane. They are much less damaging to the environment and are certainly possible to use if for example you are travelling between countries in Europe, including from the UK to other European destinations with the Eurostar.

Once you have arrived at your destination and are ready to explore, rather than hiring a car or using taxis to get around, why not use public transport such as the local bus service, trains, trams and coaches. Public transport is far more environmentally sustainable and often more economical, especially if you are able to get a pass that lasts your whole trip. 

If you want to explore a city that you are in staying in you can also walk or hire a bike. This will allow you discover the local area at your own pace, thus observing things you could easily miss if you were in a vehicle, as well as cutting out on pollution, and of course giving you some exercise in the process. 

3. Try to support local brands and businesses

When you are on vacation, an excellent way to travel in a more sustainable way is through choosing to shop with local brands and independent local cafes, restaurants and stores. Climate change is huge issue facing the planet and much of this is being exacerbated by products being produced in one place, then transported across the planet to be sold in another part, often via giant ships which cause massive amounts of pollution.

While it may not always be possible to avoid products produced in other countries because local alternatives may not be affordable or available, you'd be surprised just how many local options there are, if you simply take a bit more time to shop in a conscious and sustainable way. 

For example if you are food shopping, try to choose locally produced items that are grown or made in the place you are visiting, such as local fruits and vegetables. This will help you to cut down on the consumption of products that have been transported in an unsustainable way across the world. 

If you are heading out for a drink or meal, why not choose a local independent cafe/bar or restaurant? Of if you are buying your groceries, why not choose a small local shop or the market, instead of a huge supermarket chain such as Carrefour. While certainly not always the case, local markets, bars, cafes, restaurants and shops are generally significantly more sustainable for both the environment, and more beneficial for the local economy. When you choose to shop locally you are supporting local business owners, who often sell local products and pay their taxes locally. 

4. Research excursion or tour companies 

It is great to try out new experiences such as a new excursion or discover the local area with a tour with a company when you are visiting a new destination. Make sure to do some research into the company you do decide to take a trip or excursion with though, as the company you decide to spend your money with has a direct effect on the environment of where you are staying.  

Try to find out if the company has a strong commitment to sustainability and towards safeguarding the environment, and whether they support the local economy. Certain companies will offer detailed information about the local environment, culture and history, employ a local workforce and support other local businesses by providing food and drink from local producers, or take you to local restaurants for a meal. They may also have a commitment towards cutting down on waste and single use plastic, and recycling as much as possible.

5. Choose accommodation where the brand or owners are committed to sustainability

A big step that you can take towards more sustainable travel is by choosing to stay in accommodation in which the brand or owners are committed to sustainability. If you want to stay in a hotel or resort then this is especially important, as these have traditionally produced a lot of waste in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, food, plastic, other rubbish and more, due to the sheer number of guests that stay, especially in larger hotels or resorts.

Of course there are many other options available such as private apartments listed on sites like Airbnb, but hotels and resorts remain the preferred option for many travellers, especially for families, because of the ease, convenience and many amenities that are often available. If sustainable travel is important to you though (which hopefully it is), they you should actively seek out brands that are committed to improving their accommodation to become more sustainable, the mindset of the teams working there and their operational practises as a whole. 

There are a whole host of sustainable improvements that can be made to holiday accommodation such as installing solar panels and other features to generate renewable electricity, upgrading windows to reduce heat loss thus reducing the need for air conditioning, separating different forms of rubbish such as plastic, paper, glass and organic waste, reducing waste such as cutting out 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 a whole host of other positive incentives. 

Conclusion

There are a number of different steps you can take in order to travel more in a more sustainable way when you are on holiday. The ideas listed here in this article are just some of the many ways that you can enjoy travel while reducing harm caused to the environment. As new technology and research is released, it is highly likely that holidays can and will become even more sustainable which is great for people and the planet.

Let me know below in the comments what other tips you have for more sustainable travel, I'm always on the look out for more great ideas. Also, if you enjoyed this article and found it useful, please share on social media to help others discover sustainable travel tips!

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