Travelling more sustainably doesn’t mean making lots of sacrifices or following rules. The habits we need to form are simple; the choices often easy. It’s about considering the impact you have on a place while you’re there — both the good and the bad. Travelling in a more respectful, thoughtful way can deepen your experience, making you feel more connected and engaged with what’s going on around you.
Do your research
Planning a trip involves making a lot of choices, where to go, where to stay, how to get there. It’s an opportunity to spend your money in places that value sustainability and share your priorities. Research is key. There are more environmentally friendly accommodation options than ever before, from luxury beach resorts to hostels. Choose a tour operator that believes in wildlife conservation and protects the natural habitats they travel through. Try to book with local businesses. Making informed decisions means you can feel positive about supporting organisations that are actively trying to reduce our burden on the planet.
The least sustainable part of travel is, of course, flying. If you can travel by train instead, you’ll use ten times fewer carbon emissions and see more on the way too. To get to places on the other side of the world, flying is the only realistic option, but there are ways to reduce its impact. Take-off and landing use the most fuel so try to fly direct, sit in economy, which has a smaller carbon footprint, offset your emissions and choose an airline that uses sustainable fuel.
Support local communities
Travelling gives you the chance to support local communities around the world in a way that you can’t from home. Stay somewhere that’s locally run rather than part of a chain. Buy souvenirs directly from the craftspeople when you can. Eat at markets, street food stalls and family-owned restaurants (conveniently where you’ll also find the best food). Meeting people and learning about a country’s culture are two of the most rewarding, enriching and joyful parts of travel. Travelling sustainably isn’t just about limiting the impact we have on the world; it means thinking about the good we can do in it too.
Cut down on plastic
Seeing the plastic bottles pile up in your hotel room when you’re somewhere hot and you can’t drink the tap water is depressing. But there are lots of ways you can reduce the amount of plastic you use when travelling. Choose to stay somewhere that offers filtered water and bring a refillable bottle, carry a tote bag to avoid plastic ones when shopping, consider using a purifying water filter, buy food at markets, which usually use less packaging. These are things many of us do at home anyway, they’re quick, inexpensive and easy.
Seeing animals in their natural habitat is thrilling. But it’s important to ensure that your presence isn’t disruptive. Before booking a safari or animal experience, check that the company is committed to protecting the environment and treating animals ethically. Be respectful. Don’t buy souvenirs that exploit wildlife or threaten endangered species, like ivory or coral. Don’t feed wild animals and leave plants and shells where they are.
Use public transport
Some of my most memorable travel experiences have been on public transport. There was the time I was sat between a towering box of tomatoes and squawking chickens on a bus in Laos, the journey across Patagonia where I sleepily watched the sun coming up from behind a mountain range, and the train ride from St Petersburg to Moscow, passing through little towns we couldn’t read the names of, looking out the window, playing cards in our cabin. These are the things you remember, the best of times and the worst of times. It can be tempting to jump in a taxi or hire a driver, but as well as increasing your emissions, you also miss out on the experience.
Conserve water and energy
It’s easy to slip into holiday mode when you’re away, doing things you would never do at home, leaving the air conditioner on, forgetting to turn off the lights, having your towels washed every day. Educate yourself about local sustainability issues. If the area you’re in is going through a drought, for example, it’s even more important to limit the amount of water you use. Treat water and energy like the limited resources that they are.
Embrace slow travel
Slow down. Instead of cramming five stops into each holiday, visit one or two. You’ll have time to walk everywhere, maybe even take the train instead of flying. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint and more fully immerse yourself in the place you’re visiting, its culture, its landscape, its food. Your trips will feel more meaningful, your experiences deeper, and you’ll be helping the planet too.