• Megan Kate

7 Easy Ways To Travel More Sustainably | Travel Hacks

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

Hey guys, today's topic is one close to my heart and something that's been on a lot of people's minds over the past few months. One of the ~only~ perks of a worldwide pandemic is the fact we've had no choice but to just stop for a second, everywhere, all of us, and it's allowed the world to breathe for a second. Carbon emissions in China are down 18%, Venice's canals are the clearest in 60 years, animals are thriving and more and more positive environmental impacts of us all staying home are being discovered every day. Obviously there is a LOT more that still needs to be done in order to battle the effects of climate change etc, but the recent positive change is nice to see, and the global coverage of these changes has meant people all over the world are being inspired to continue to live and travel better, in order to keep their personal environmental impact as minimal as possible.

None of us are perfect (even me, shocking I know), but if you're someone who is hoping to follow suit and try to improve your sustainability from now on, then this is the post for you. Although there are countless positive reasons why we SHOULD travel, there's no denying that it isn't the most environmentally friendly thing in the world, and that irresponsible travel can lead to some pretty horrifying outcomes. That being said, there are easy changes you can make to ensure that you are offsetting any damage that your personal adventures may cause, and I'm here to tell you about them!

First of all, let's answer the big ol' question:

What IS sustainable travel/ tourism?

It's the concept of visiting somewhere as a tourist and trying to make a positive impact on the environment, society and the economy.

This can be achieved through a variety of methods and small changes, from transportation and accommodation to just simply researching companies a little more before you book. Depending on where you're going and who you're with, your best option to help may differ slightly, but here are some of the easiest ways I've personally found to do your bit whenever you can:

Choose More Eco Friendly Flight Options

What you might not know is that air travel is "technically" one of the most environmental ways to travel when you calculate fuel consumption per passenger, and it's also likely to improve even more as every year companies make more and more efforts to reach greener targets, however we still need to do our part.

There's a few ways you can choose a more eco flight, starting with the aircraft itself. Newer models are much better for the environment as greener improvements get made with each release (such as ways to reduce fuel consumption) and so by doing nothing more than a quick search about the 2 flight options you're considering, you're already doing more than you were.

Some flight companies are generally greener than others, Delta Airlines are in the process of getting all single-use plastic off their planes and also carbon offset hundreds-of-thousands of miles each year, and KLM are focusing on responsible waste management, using recycled materials and reducing noise pollution. Most airlines will have an article about steps they are taking on their official websites.

Okay, so I do realise that researching company policies and aircraft models isn't something that a lot of people would class as an 'easy option', so here are some one-click ways to choose a little more wisely:

  • Travel in economy class- cuts the carbon footprint per passenger

  • Choose a vegan/ vegetarian meal option- meat free meals have much less negative impact on the environment

  • Take a non stop flight rather than one with a layover- this uses less fuel

  • Pack light/ cabin luggage only - less weight, less fuel

  • Pick the 'Greener Choice' options when using SkyScanner- read about how they calculate this here

Use Public Transport Where Possible

So we've spoken about planes consuming less fuel per passenger, but collectively they do still contribute to 2% of the world's CO2 emissions each year. Car travel and short/ domestic flights are the worst transport options when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint, so try to avoid them as much as possible.

Transfers from the airport, transfers from city to city, exploring in your home country; these are all times that we need to be making conscious decisions. All airports have great transport links, most countries will have inter-country travel options like trains or busses, and domestic travel via air is almost certainly always unnecessary with very few exceptions. All of these options are also usually much cheaper than cars/ planes as you pay higher rates for the convenience, so even better!

Minimise Your Waste

This sounds pretty basic but there are so many more ways to do this than you might think. Recycling and reducing waste conserves energy, protects our oceans and beaches, reduces the need for landfill, cuts emissions and also saves money- it's way cheaper to use recycled materials than keep buying newly produced items.

Here is my list of simple ways you can minimise waste specifically while travelling:

  • Plastic free toiletry products- an absolute life saver for me on my America trip was a Lush Shampoo Bar, and they have so many other plastic free options these days. There are plenty of companies who sell similar products, but I worked for Lush for a while, and as a company they really are incredible (read about their policies here) and so they get a little shout out ok! Perks of the shampoo bars in particular are: they don't class as a liquid so give you more room in your liquid bag, they are light and compact, they are completely plastic free, they work incredibly well, they smell amazing, and they last for up to 200 washes (I genuinely must have used mine 50 times and barely made a dent in it).

  • Cook in groups- if you're travelling in a pair or group, cook meals together and split the cost rather than just providing for yourself. Not only will this reduce the cost of each each meal, but it will reduce food waste AND food packaging waste too. Also if you're travelling solo and staying in hostels, the likelihood is you'll make some friends along the way, and the kitchen is one of the best ways to do so. Don't be shy in asking if new friends want to split meals too, as chances are they'll be hoping to ask the same thing and save some £££.

  • Practise a 'leave no trace' mentality- If you're camping, at a festival, travelling van style, on a hike, basically anywhere that would involve eating or doing any sort of activity outdoors: make sure you take EVERYTHING with you when you leave. Whether its a broken camping chair or a small chocolate wrapper, every little thing counts towards ensuring you aren't littering, all you have to do is take it with you until you find somewhere that you can dispose of it properly!

  • Buy reusable toiletry containers- If the plastic free alternative is a little out of your reach, then this is the perfect other option. Rather than buying miniature shampoo/ shower gel etc every time you travel, get yourself some reusable containers. Not only will you save on wasted plastic, but you will also likely save yourself some money as mini products are expensive. It's so much easier to just decant some of your large products before you leave.

  • Take a reusable cup with you- An obvious way to reduce your plastic consumption is through eliminating multiple water bottles or coffee cups. Most accommodations will have water fountains that you can use to refill a bottle, and a lot of cafes these days will even give you a discount if you bring your own cup- a really simple but effective way to be that little bit more sustainable.

A few other really easy, reusable alternatives for common travel items are also fabric carrier bags, bamboo cotton pads, metal straws, a menstrual cup, reusable razors and so many more; a cheeky Google search of sustainable travel alternatives is all you need.

Support Local

Travelling sustainably isn't just about the environment, it's also about managing the social and economic effects of being a tourist. You can do this in so many ways, and are likely to do some of them just through personal interest anyway, because what's more fun in a new place then experiencing things that are specific to the area?

By shopping locally you are supporting the local economy as well as people's jobs, this can be done through markets, small businesses and boutiques, or by eating at a local restaurant. However, being a socially sustainable traveller goes so far beyond just buying groceries at the shop on the corner, there are SO MANY options when it comes to doing your bit. Celebrating local culture and learning about traditional skills is a huge part of ensuring you leave a positive impact on a place, and this can be done by simply buying hand crafted art, taking cooking classes, visiting heritage festivals and much more. Exploring and appreciating a different culture than your own adds so much value to a trip, both to you and to the people who may be showing you around, plus it's fun, so why wouldn't you?!

Research Your Tour Operators

From day trips and excursions to round-the-world tours, knowing who you are travelling with is a big deal. When it comes to value for money and safety, a simple search on ratings and reviews will suffice, but how often do you check how sustainable a company is?

A sustainable company will usually promote their beliefs and policies on their website, so it's a very easy thing to look into. If you can't find it anywhere on their site, then it's most likely that they aren't partaking in any particular effort to help support the community, however there are other things you can look for.

A sustainable company will likely have a GSTC certification, which means they've passed a series of assessments and been deemed to be working responsibly - check out the criteria for this certificate here.

Any company promoting activities with captive animal interaction is not sustainable, and is thankfully something that more and more people are becoming aware of. Elephants should not be ridden, dolphins should not be swam with in enclosed waters, and any wild animal that you are paying to handle is being mistreated. Any company that encourages this is not giving a priority to animal welfare.

Be aware of 'voluntourism' and look for genuine community benefits, as companies are catching on to the fact that people want to make a positive impact on their travels and are sadly willing to exploit that. Companies who claim to organise volunteer opportunities to schools or orphanages WILL have some sort of collaboration with an NGO who ensure that the children aren't being exploited for tourism. Companies claiming they are eco-friendly or sustainable but offer no other details, should have either a sustainability certificate or detailed policies to hand when asked about them.

Companies travelling in huge groups, staying in large chain hotels, or have no affiliation with conservation companies are also not ensuring sustainable longevity with their operations, and so that is also another thing to be aware of!

Pick Conscious Accommodation Options

You don't have to stay at an eco-village in the middle of the jungle to make better choices when it comes to accommodation, every little helps.

In April we were meant to be in Amsterdam, which for obvious reasons got cancelled, but we were supposed to be staying at the Conscious Hotel there. I found this place totally by fluke, but I was so excited to visit. They are an organic, eco friendly hotel who run completely on renewable energy (check out their other policies here) and they were also way below budget for a typical Amsterdam hotel! If you're heading over there soon, definitely check them out.

However, like I said, finding that hotel was totally by chance, but it did inspire me to make sure I do my research on the sustainability of a place before I book it. I've done a bit of research into the best way to go about this, and your options seem to be:

  • Simply use your favourite hotel search engine, and just make sure you research a place before booking. Unfortunately most big search engines don't have an option to click 'sustainability' as one of your criteria, so this may be a long winded way to do things.

  • Search 'sustainable places to stay in x' when visiting a place. I tested this with multiple locations from Europe to Asia, and every time I did, someone on a blog post or news article had done an easy-to-read list of your best options.

  • Use eco search engines such as Ecobnb or GreenPearls, if you want an easy browse search engine to use while also ensuring a place is sustainable, this is your best option I reckon. Websites like this work in the exact same way as the hotel sites you'll be most familiar with, but with the guarantee that you're getting a greener option!

Carbon Offsetting

And finally, the biggy! One way to balance out some of your carbon footprint is to physically pay to offset your air miles, which is also a way to reduce your carbon footprint in one larger investment rather than with every trip.

So the way this works is you use an emissions calculator to find the cost of CO2 that you've emitted during your travels, and then invest this amount in sustainable offset projects to compensate, from solar panel initiatives to planting trees.

There are lots of companies you can use to help calculate your amount, and it really isn't as expensive as you'd think. For example, an easy website you can use is TerraPass, and using this site I have calculated that my return flights from London to LA last year used the equivalent of $35.11, which is the cost of planting 82 urban trees. So to offset this, I would donate $35.11 to an environmental project of my choice.

You can do carbon offsetting after each trip, or you could calculate after a longer period of time (eg every 6 months or year etc) and then just simply invest! You can also carbon offset other modes of transport, from cars to boats to your standard public transport; you can even offset your home emissions!

And that's all I have for now folks, it's that easy! I hope you've had a good ol' read and are willing to consider making some small changes to help preserve our lovely planet. Do you have any other ways you like to use to improve your sustainability? I'd love to here about them.

Meg x