If there’s one thing we should all be striving towards as travellers, it’s to adjust our approach to slower and more sustainable adventures. There are so many aspects of travel that contribute to global carbon emissions and environmental degradation, such as overcrowding, resource use, pollution and waste. It might seem a little overwhelming at first, but it also means that we can have a huge impact if we decide to travel a little differently.
There are many ways that you can make your next adventure more sustainable, from flying less to walking more and rethinking how you consume things when you’re away from home. So, I’ve put together this blog post with all the best tips on how to become a more sustainable traveller. It’s not about being perfect, but about being aware and informed and making the best decisions that you can to reduce your footprint on this beautiful earth.
Fly less or at least carbon offset your flights
Many of us are aware that flying is bad for the environment. The aviation industry produces around 8 per cent of global emissions. This isn’t improving either, with carbon dioxide emitted by airlines having increased by 30% over the past five years. In the big picture, you might not think this is significant, however, on an individual level, it’s one of the best changes that you can make towards being a more sustainable traveller. For example, giving up just one long haul flight per year can be the equivalent of going car-free for an entire year.
I don’t necessarily believe in so-called “flight shaming” though. There are times when flying might be necessary or practical and I’m not suggesting that you never fly again. However, making a conscious effort to fly less can have a huge impact and it’s one of the best ways to make your next adventure a more sustainable one.
- Try planning your travels closer to home
- Opt for a road trip rather than flying between cities
- If you’re planning a multi-country trip, try to visit countries that are close together
- Travel overland between countries rather than flying
I’m a huge advocate of overland travel, you can find all my border crossing reports here
If you do need to fly, try and pay the extra fee to offset your flights. Most airlines now offer a carbon offsetting option when you purchase tickets and it’s simple to tick the box and pay the extra fee. It can be as little as a few dollars for short flights.
So, what is carbon offsetting? Carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for every tonne of CO2 you emit. Carbon offset projects generally do this by investing in activities such as clean renewable energy or CO2 capture programs such as preservation of forests. There are a variety of carbon offsetting projects and initiatives and airlines generally partner with some of them to offer their passengers the option of offsetting their flight. If your airline doesn’t offer this, you can choose to calculate and offset your emissions through a website like carbonfootprint.com.
Choose a responsible travel company
If you prefer to travel through a company or tour operator, you should do your research on what kind of company they are and whether they have sustainable travel policies in place. Many big travel companies will have their policies and values published on their website, but if you don’t find anything about sustainable travel, then you should ask the question. There’s nothing wrong with asking a company about their sustainability commitments before booking a trip.
Consider the types of places they visit, the accommodation they choose, the transport options offered, the way they work with the local communities that they operate in etc.
A highly recommended company is Intrepid Travel. They are a well-recognised industry leader when it comes to responsible and ethical travel.
Get off the beaten track or travel in off-peak
Wondering where to go? Try and take the road less travelled. In the age of Instagram and pretty photos, many of us are pulled towards the big drawcards and insta-famous spots – think, Machu Picchu, Nusa Penida, Venice etc.
However, overtourism is a real threat to many of these places that see swarms of crowds every year. Whether it be a European summer or trekking season in Nepal, certain places get overrun for certain months of the year. To combat the degradation and reduce your impact on these places, it’s best to try and get off the beaten track as much as possible.
Try alternative sights and corners of the country that you haven’t seen photos of before or visit places that a local might recommend to you. It not only reduces your impact, but it can also be more enjoyable, without all the crowds.
If you’ve always dreamed of going to Santorini in summer or seeing the Taj Mahal at sunrise, I can understand. These places are popular for good reason and I’m not necessarily saying that you should never go. But the reality is that there are plenty of places on this earth to explore, but so many of us get stuck in just a few select sights that we end up doing more damage than good.
Another sustainable travel tip is to try travelling in off-peak periods when crowds are much lower. Spreading out visitor numbers is a great way to prevent some of the damage done by mass crowding.
Go for public transport, or cycle or walk
Road transport is an even bigger contributor to global emissions than the aviation industry. So, one of the best ways to make your next adventure more sustainable is to go for public transport as much as possible. Sharing local buses and trains is one of the best ways to reduce air pollution and traffic on the roads. If you’re planning on going to a foreign country, public transport can also be a great insight into the local culture and a way of really understanding the city and country that you’re exploring.
An even better alternative is to ditch the road transport altogether and opt for using your own two feet. Walking is, of course, one of the most sustainable ways to travel and you should do it as much as possible. If you want to cover more ground, then opt for a bicycle. Most cities now have bicycles available to rent to the public and cycle tours are a great way to see a new place.
Try a walking holiday
I might be biased to say that a walking holiday or a hiking trip is the best option for your next adventure. I love hiking so it’s no surprise that I would recommend that you opt for a multi-day trek, but I’m not alone. Walking holidays have seen a huge popularity surge in recent years as more and more people are seeing the benefits and joys of exploring a place at a slower pace and in a more intimate way.
Whether you opt for a group walking holiday where everything is logistically arranged for you or you want to undertake a self-guided, self-sufficient hiking trip, it’s one of the most sustainable trips you can take.
Interested in a hiking trip? Check out my popular trek reports:
- Mestia to Ushguli in Georgia
- Langtang Valley in Nepal
- Gokyo Lakes trek in Nepal
- Larapinta Trail in Australia
- Great Ocean Walk in Australia
Follow leave no trace principles
The Leave No Trace principles are considered the best practices for outdoor adventures. There are seven principles which are kind-of like unwritten laws for behaviour in the great outdoors. They were originally made with backcountry hikers in mind, but they generally now apply to everyone who wants to enjoy being outside in any kind of landscape that you find yourself in. It’s about both enjoying and protecting the environment at the same time. You can read more about the Leave No Trace initiative here.
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Dispose of waste properly.
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
Try for a zero-waste trip
Waste is a huge problem that we face on the planet. We produce waste every day as individuals and as a planet we produce billions of tonnes of waste each year. From single-use plastics to thrown away appliances, the issue is large and complex. However, as travellers, we can become more sustainable by trying to cut down on waste on our trips and even aiming for a zero-waste holiday.
It’s not an easy feat when so much of what we buy and consume creates some form of waste. But if we are conscious about our decisions, it’s amazing how much we can cut down.
- Use a refillable drink bottle
- Carry a reusable shopping bag with you
- Say no to plastic straws at cafes and bars (and carry a metal straw with you)
- Purchase fresh fruit and vegetable that aren’t wrapped in plastic
- Save leftover food for later
- Don’t use the small toiletries in your hotel room
- Eat-in at a restaurant rather than take away
Eat local, seasonal and ethical
Try to eat at local restaurants on your next trip. Not only does this support local families and small businesses but they generally have more sustainable practices than big fast-food chains. It also usually means that your food has travelled far fewer miles to reach you, with many local restaurants often utilising the local food system.
Another sustainable food tip is to try and eat seasonally. Head to the local market and see what kinds of fruit and vegetables are in season and try to stick to eating them. Seasonal food means that you’re keeping your purchases to a more local level and it also lowers the miles that your food has to travel.
You also can’t mention sustainable eating without mentioning meat consumption. Livestock production contributes more emissions than the transportation sector, meaning that in reality what you eat can have a bigger impact on your footprint than how you choose to travel. I don’t expect everyone to become vegetarian, but if you consciously choose to eat less meat then you’re still making a difference. Start with one meat-free day per week and work from there.
Choose eco-friendly accommodation
When deciding where you’re going to stay, try and consider what kind of impact the place might have on the environment. Massive multilevel hotels and sprawling luxury resorts can have a huge environmental footprint, with mass water and electricity consumption, food waste and rubbish all being consequences of having hundreds of guests staying at the same place.
Of course, the most sustainable accommodation option is likely camping, which has a very small impact on the environment, especially if you follow Leave No Trace principles. However, not everyone wants to camp all the time and there are some accommodation properties which make a specific commitment to being sustainable.
Whether it be using recycled water or running on solar power, you can find some great eco-friendly hotel initiatives all around the world. These green accommodation options are a great choice if you want to be a more sustainable traveller. At the same time, you can also choose more responsible options like small family-run guesthouses or local homestays. These places might not have comprehensive sustainability policies, but they do have a much smaller impact than large scale resorts. Personally, family-run guesthouses and homestays are my favourite places to stay!
Carry a refillable drink bottle and reusable shopping bag
This was kind of covered above when I suggested a zero-waste trip, but these two simple things need to be emphasised again. You should always carry a refillable drink bottle and reusable shopping bag on all trips. These two additions to your luggage are the simplest ways you can make your next adventure more sustainable. Plastic bottles and shopping bags are two of the biggest contributors to the global waste problem, and by easily carrying a water bottle and resuable bag, you can completely prevent yourself from adding to this problem.
If you’re going to be heading somewhere and you’re uncertain of the quality of the water, don’t use that as an excuse to purchase bottled water either. There are filtered water bottle options available that work very well to keep you healthy as well as cut your waste.
LifeStraw is my go-to and I’ve been using it for over five years now on all sorts of adventures.
Make your toiletries and beauty products more sustainable
You know those small plastic toiletries that you get in most hotel rooms? They contribute hugely to accommodation’s plastic waste with many of them catering for short stays and being replaced every time a new guest comes to stay. A simple solution is to simply ignore the toiletries and bring your own, which is a great idea in itself. However, you should also take a look at your own toiletry bag and consider more eco-friendly alternatives.
Some eco-friendly toiletries include:
- Bamboo toothbrushes
- Shampoo bars
- Biodegradable washing liquid
- For the ladies, a menstrual cup
Invest in good quality, responsibly made adventure gear and clothing
I’ve covered a lot of industries in this post, but the fashion industry is actually one of the worst polluters in the world. It emits more CO2 than international flights and maritime shipping combined, which is a damn lot.
This means that you should buy less and buy from high quality companies who have responsible commitments to sustainability and a more eco-friendly production line.
There are a few ways that you can create a more sustainable travel and adventure wardrobe:
- Invest in high-quality gear that will last you years rather than months
- Buy less – you don’t need an overflowing suitcase or backpack for adventures
- Pick sustainable materials and fabrics such as merino wool, hemp and recycled polyester
- Choose to purchase from brands who are committed to sustainable practices