As a self-proclaimed environmentalist, my desire to hop on a plane and rack up air miles can often feel conflicting. There’s nothing I want more than to spend the rest of my days wandering from place to place, however, I’m certainly not naive to the huge environmental pressures put upon the planet as a result of increasing tourism.
From the carbon dioxide emitted by different forms of transport to the destruction of the world’s most beautiful beaches, there’s no doubt that society’s love for travel is doing some serious harm. But, if we’re not willing to stay put, what are we to do?
Thankfully, there many ways to reduce your carbon footprint on the go and become a more sustainable traveller. Here are my top tips for doing so:
Offset your carbon footprint
It’s no secret that jumping on a plane isn’t great for the environment. A plane’s carbon emissions are pretty hefty, whether you’re flying across the world or you’re taking an internal flight to avoid a long train journey.
If you can avoid flying – great! There are many fun and convenient ways to get around, such as by lift sharing or taking public transport. However, if flying is the only option available to you, taking steps to offset your carbon emissions is a great way to relieve some of the damage.
In order to offset your carbon emissions, you’ll first need to calculate them. You can do this through the Carbon Footprint website. From there, you’ll be able to choose a carbon offsetting project, designed to counteract the carbon emissions from your flight. I don’t have any experience with this particular website myself, but I’ve previously used it to calculate my emissions and adjust my behaviour accordingly.
Buy a filter water bottle
In recent years, we’ve become aware of the damaging effects of plastic on the environment – especially single-use plastics such as water bottles. However, when you’re abroad, the idea of risking tap water is simply a no go. There’s no denying it – bottled water is the safest option.
But, think how many bottles of water you’re buying and discarding in one day, let alone how many you use in a week or even a few months. To cut your plastic waste output significantly, getting a filter bottle is – in my opinion – the best possible option. Filter bottles allow you to fill up from the tap without the risk of contracting illness, providing you with clean drinking water without the need to buy multiple plastic bottles!
I bought a filter bottle from Aqua Pure for approximately £40 before I left for Vietnam, and the filter worked for the entire seven months. What’s not to love?
Respect the local wildlife
While every traveller wants to stray “off the beaten path”, there are some times where this just isn’t appropriate or eco-friendly. Whenever you’re hiking or you’ve found a beautiful new beach, do all you can to stick to footpaths and pedestrian routes; these will have been created to not only keep you safe, but also to make sure the local environment doesn’t get damaged. Posing on a particularly precarious rock or tree trunk may look great for Instagram, but consider the impact your footfall has.
This is also true when it comes to interacting with animals. Make sure you respect wildlife of all forms, and always put this before your own curiosity – disturbing animals or damaging their natural habitats may cause more damage than you think.
Re-use towels and bed sheets
Whether you’re staying in a hotel, hostel or guesthouse, there are many things you can do to limit your impact on the environment. One of the simplest yet most effective ways to do so is to re-use your towels and bed sheets until they really do need to be washed.
While it may be a great luxury to use fresh, fluffy towels every day, it’s important to consider the environmental repercussions of having them washed over and over again. Treat your hotel or hostel as if it was your own home – if you wouldn’t wash your towels more than once a week normally, so try and stick to that rule on holiday.
Use a menstrual cup
Girls, there’s no denying that getting your period abroad can be stressful. Whether you’re on a boat in the middle of the sea or you’re camping on the side of a mountain, realising mother nature has come along can be uncomfortable and all-around frustrating. We’ve all been there.
On top of that, sanitary products such as pads and tampons are extremely damaging to the environment, especially when flushed down the toilet. Chemicals and plastic fibres can find their way into sewage or seep into soil, causing harm to the local environment and causing problems to drainage systems which are simply not designed for such waste.
Luckily, menstrual cups exist. Menstrual cups are comfortable to wear, can be carried around and used wherever you are, and best of all, are completely reusable. In fact, when they’re cleaned properly, one cup can be used for up to three years. This takes away the need to use tampons and sanitary towels altogether, and makes travelling on your period MUCH more comfortable. My favourite brand is Mooncup.
Walk or cycle where possible
When it comes to protecting the environment, every little helps! When you’re on holiday it can be easy to settle into luxury mode and travel via taxi everywhere you go – especially in countries where Uber is ridiculously cheap.
However, like all forms of transport, cars and buses do have an impact on the environment. So, if you can walk or rent a bike and cycle, try to do this instead. You’ll likely enjoy this more anyway, as it’ll give you the chance to see more of the city you’re based in!
Choose sustainable accommodation
There are many beautiful hotels and hostels all over the world each trying to do their bit for the planet, so why not support them? After all, this is where you’ll shower, eat, sleep and enjoy much-needed rest days by the pool, so making sure you choose somewhere with a focus on sustainability is important if you’re hoping to become a greener traveller.
When looking for eco-friendly accommodation, a quick Google search will show you all the hotels, hostels and guesthouses with an ethos similar to your own. However, another great way to find somewhere planet-friendly to stay is by searching through TripAdvisor’s Green Leaders, as this will show a certified list of accommodation committed to sustainability practices.
Eat locally grown produce
In my opinion, one of the greatest parts of travelling is trying local delicacies. Whether it’s enjoying a plate of Pad Thai in Bangkok or tomato and basil pizza in Naples, there’s nothing better than trying a country’s speciality.
Dining in local eateries is also a great way to minimise your carbon footprint on holiday, as supporting such businesses means you’re not contributing to large enterprises and chains. These are much more likely to import food, whereas independent cafes will probably opt for locally grown goods instead. Top marks if you opt for a veggie or vegan meal, too!
Stick to the eco-friendly habits you know (and adopt new ones!)
Different countries have different approaches to environmentalism – some will be better than those in your home country, and some won’t be quite so good. However, when you’re travelling, it’s always good to be adaptable. It can be easy to let your green habits go out the window when you’re in holiday mode, but the planet will certainly thank you for doing your bit.
Stick to the eco-friendly habits you already have (e.g. if you find yourself in a place which doesn’t recycle, try extra hard to limit how many single-use items you purchase), and also try your hardest to form new ones. For instance, if you’re holidaying or passing through somewhere that operates a bottle recycling scheme, make sure you do your bit and get involved.