Now more than ever, we’re made explicitly aware of our roles in the fight against climate change, whether that’s buying an electric car, ensuring we recycle our rubbish properly, going vegan, or simply turning the light off when we leave a room. But we find many travellers aren’t fully aware of how they can tread lightly when they visit the further flung corners of the globe, or simply set off on a short holiday.
For that reason, we’ve put together a handbook for travellers that will help to guide you in making sustainable choices when you travel, so that we can protect the planet we love to explore for future generations to come.
1. Find flying alternatives
It’s now common knowledge that flying is one of the most harmful activities that we, as consumers, can undertake when it comes to carbon emissions. The global aviation industry is responsible for around 2.4% of all the carbon we produce. When you combine this carbon with water vapour trails left by aeroplanes, it is thought that flying contributes towards 5% of all global warming.
With air travel expected to grow exponentially in the next decade or so, and with sustainable flying still very much a work in progress, for now the best option seems to be to reduce the amount of flying we do, or look for alternatives in the way we travel.
By far the most environmentally way to travel is by train or coach, and often travelling by train can be just as efficient and timely as flying. Studies have shown that when travelling up to 700km, train travel is just as fast a way to travel door to door, as you cut out the maddening rush of check-in, the seemingly endless wait at the departure lounge and the hassle of getting to and from an out of town airport.
In countries or continents with better rail service, rail can even be a faster way to travel as far as 1500km. At Not In The Guidebooks, we have a wide variety of holidays where the journey is just as attractive as the destination – whether that’s exploring the magnificent NC500 in Scotland, or an all-encompassing adventure across the south of France, there is a huge amount to explore to that doesn’t require getting to 30,000 feet.
2. When you do fly – choose responsibly
Whilst no-fly holidays are the most sustainable option, we’re pragmatic in the knowledge that travellers will always fly. And this is realistically no bad thing. To completely halt aviation as a form of travel for tourism would be detrimental to communities all over the world.
Whilst it’s true that the tourism industry is responsible for a significant proportion of climate change, it also makes up 8% of global GDP. To all immediately stop flying would be to cut off regions and economies that rely on money from travellers. Tourism has also proved, when done right, to be an extremely useful tool when it comes to combating climate change.
So, the question we’re left with is – how can we fly in the most sustainable fashion? To reduce the carbon footprint of your flight, select journeys with the lowest number of transfers, put some time into researching airlines that have sustainability policies, and consider purchasing carbon credits or carbon offsetting your flight.
Carbon offsetting is far from the perfect solution, and at worst is a tool for greenwashing, but by purchasing carbon credits that invest in green or renewable energy schemes, you can help to reduce the impact of your flight.
3. Eat local
As we’ve mentioned, tourism is hugely important to economies and communities around the world. Done right, travel can help some of the poorest and most isolated towns and villages in the world into a thriving, service-led economy as tourists arrive to spend money on food, accommodation and activities.
Sustainable travel is not simply about the environment. For travel to be sustainable, you must also ensure it benefits everyone, not simply the traveller. To be sustainable when you visit a community you need to travel mindfully, and consider where you spend your money carefully, in order to avoid tourism leakage.
It’s thought that in some places as much as 95% of the money spent by tourists leaves the local area. By eating at large chains that cater to western tastes or never leaving an all-inclusive resort, you would be contributing nothing to the local community.
Seek out small, independent restaurants and cafes, owned and run by locals, and you’ll find far more of your money stays in the local community and can go towards improving the standard of life in the area. You’ll also benefit yourself, by experiencing local flavours and unique dishes you wouldn’t be able to find at home.
4. Select accommodation carefully
Continuing with the local theme, wherever possible you should stay in accommodation that is independent and owned locally. Rather than staying in a hotel chain, where the staff will be paid but the majority of your money will end up in a central office elsewhere, seek out accommodation where, to the best of your knowledge, your money will stay in the area.
Another issue with many large chain hotels is that they can often put enormous strain on local resource, such as water and waste disposal, which not only results in negative consequences for the locals, but also damages the immediate environment.
Eco-retreats and green accommodation can be an excellent way to avoid these types of hotels, and while many hotels may advertise themselves as ‘green’, it’s a good idea to verify how eco-friendly these accommodations are by checking for any certification.
It’s always worth doing your research to get sustainable, locally owned accommodation, as it won’t only benefit the community and the environment, but will also enhance your own experience as you enjoy a more authentic holiday.