Everyone loves to travel.
So nobody likes to discuss its impact on the environment.
As a traveller, your carbon footprint is magnified astronomically every time you fly. Jet engines burning fossil fuels sent 859 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2017 alone.
We are on track for a catastrophic warming event that will result in the premature deaths of 150 million people to air pollution.
David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth states that most of the damage to our climate has happened in the last 30 years, even after the iconic formation of the UN’s climate change framework. “We have now done more damage to the environment knowingly than we ever managed in ignorance.” he says. And, he’s right.
I look out my window when I am flying and I feel both blessed and responsible. Blessed that I should live in the ‘in-between’, the time when things are still too good to be true. Responsible for the fact that my travel is one reason it won’t remain so.
Here are six ways I seek to reduce my impact when I travel.
Packing light is hard! But once you get the hang of it, it becomes much easier. Living with less is both more efficient for the planet as you might be inclined to take public transport, rather than big cars, is more fuel efficient for transport and teaches you to be okay with having less stuff with you. Living with what you need, rather than what you want.
Walk or take public transport
I love walking! It is often the best way to see a city anyway. Jump on the local bus, train or tram rather than hailing a cab or getting an uber (unless it’s an electric car!) Be sure to get out on foot at your destination to lessen your impact when you’re there. If you need to rent a car, look for hybrid cars that help to reduce your impact or car share if possible.
Eat vegan or vegetarian
Diet plays a huge role in climate change. Intensive farming isn’t just cruel, but also degrades the soil, can poison local landscape via run-off or chemical spraying and reduces biodiversity. A vegan diet doesn’t suit everyone and often when we travel we want to try all the things!
Take two or three days of your trip to focus on trying new things that are vegan or vegetarian and you might be surprised! Swap the burger for traditional vegetarian dishes, or go for the sorbet instead of the dairy ice cream. It isn’t about feeling deprived, but about expanding the opportunity to try new things and broaden your awareness of the true diversity of cultural cuisine.
Reusables and zero waste essentials
What is on my list of things to pack to help me reduce waste when I travel?
A suitcase that was a hand-me-down and is a bit battered but works just fine!
Degradable tooth floss
Body, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner bars (they also pack down much smaller)
My moon cup
Glass vials of concentrated hydrators and toners (no plastic needed)
Linen cloth for my face
My Allbird shoes (100% biodegradable and machine washable!)
Water bottle - I never go anywhere without it
My bamboo coffee mug
Support Green Accommodation
Whether you’re headed for an Airbnb in the city or an all-inclusive, do your research and look for places that have aspects of sustainability baked into what they do.
Some hotels now do not offer small toiletries unless on demand, most ask that you recycle your towel rather than have it be replaced each day. You can also help by taking shorter showers (dry shampoo ladies!),
Don’t buy crap.
Unless you HAVE to. Which you don’t ever have to. So step away from the crap. I used to find it hard not to buy things, a shiny new ring, new bag, purse or jewellery, a scarf or trinket I wouldn’t find anywhere else. But, now I enjoy browsing but very rarely purchase. I don’t collect souvenirs (unless their paintings) and I steer clear of fridge magnets and general tat. I know there is a trade off here as buying from small local shops supports the local communities and provides employment for some, but unless it is genuinely hand-made, unique, recyclable or of long-lasting quality, I tend to steer clear.
I ask myself five questions: Do I need it? Will it last? How will I dispose of it? Will it enrich my life or provide genuine value? Do I really need it?
Refuse wherever possible
Receipts, fliers, STRAWS, sachets of sauce, maps, plastic utensils, plates, styrofoam…the list goes on. Challenges crop up at restaurants, when ordering food-to-go, tasting food at markets, enjoying ice cream; all things that make a holiday fun. I make sure I always have a water bottle and know what the words are in the local language for ‘Can I have some water please’. But the good old point and bottle waggle is also acceptable in any country. I normally would opt for cone and spoon when eating ice cream, but now to avoid the waste, I opt for a cone, or if you have one bring along your own spoon. I avoid coffee unless I have my takeaway cup or am prepared to sit in. I find local places that are ‘no-frills’ and won’t stick fancy plastic stirrers in my drinks, I take time to sit down and eat, and try not to snack in between so I don’t use any wrappers (still perfecting this one).
There is a lot of controversy when it comes to carbon off-setting. I often wonder, ‘is this doing any good?’ or ‘will we end up creating a culture of permission, whereby it’s okay to use carbon as long as you just offset’? I don’t have the answers, but I do know certified off set projects can do serious good when it comes to preventing carbon release in other places.
The Cook Stove Project by Climate Neutral Now is one I have donated to in the past. Make sure you find a project that is certified as a Gold Standard, so you know your money will genuinely go to good use.
Fall in love
One of the most important things is to really fall in love with the places you go. Allow yourself to be mesmerised by the colours, language, the trees in flower, the artwork on the walls, the gardens and wild places. Falling in love with nature comes hand in hand with a desire to protect it. I love the snow and the mountains, but I know with a hotter climate this is going to be less and less of an occurrence. I want that to change. If you love the rolling forests in Umbria, the rice paddies in Sapa Vietnam, the golden beaches in Australia, the beautiful clear waters off the baltic coast, or the rugged heathland in Scotland, you’ll find yourself inspired to protect it.
Don’t travel to ‘get away from it all’, travel for the love of new places and the discovery of the beautiful corners of our home.