Climate friendlier travel is growing popularity. Last week 35,000 people signed up for a promotion Dutch theme park the Efteling just held together with Natuurhuisje.nl in which they promised to plant a tree in exchange for each application to sleep a unique night inside the theme park. In a recent article, booking.com said that over half (55%) of global travelers is more determined to make sustainable travel choices than they were a year ago. I guess nobody wants to spend their holidays on a beach full of trash.
Where to start?
Climate friendly travel. Eco friendly travel. Green travel. Whatever you want to call it. Trendy terms that come down to the same damn thing: making smarter choices that help to limit the negative impact of our travel. Nope, I am not first in line at the climate protests. By far not the stereo-type hippie type you may expect around this topic. And honestly, the daily news about climate issues annoys me on a regular basis.
But hey, I would like to enjoy this pretty planet a little longer, and I guess so do you. However, being a frequent traveler, where to start? Sure, traveling more responsible, sustainable and conscious is the right thing to do. Together we have a huge cumulative impact and can play a big role in protecting all the beauty that Planet Earth contains. But cooking on solar power in front of an organic tent is not really my cup of tea… I do not want to become a couch potato and stay home all year either. Obviously one of the reasons for writing this article is feeling slightly guilty over being part of the problem, but nobody is perfect, right?!
Traveling less? Yeah right.
Yep, guilty as charged, no denying I am a frequent traveler myself. I am far from perfect. In a momentary lapse of reason I did make New Year’s resolutions for 2020 to postpone new travel booking as long as I could for this year. It lasted for about three weeks. However, from environmental perspective there is some improvement in my travel behavior. Some statistics of my travels:
- 2019: 10 trips
- 2018: 16 trips
- 2017: 17 trips
- 2016: 33 trips
Just saying “travel less” is easier said than done. Especially when having no kids, lots of holidays, money to spend, no mountains, waterfalls and unpredictable, changeable weather in my own country… A luxury problem, I know. And of course, you can try to go with the seasons and appreciate those to the fullest instead of escaping the weather at home. But nothing lifts my spirit more than sunshine in the winter, I honestly need it. Having so many beautiful things to see in this world does not make it easier to keep my travel urges under control either.
I just love flittering from place to place and see new things in this world. Traveling is my greatest passion in life. How can I give that up?
Furthermore some of us (like me) have to travel for work and business. Linda mentioned this travel vs. climate dilemma, which got me thinking too. So this year I switched to an electric car, I ride my bike to work a couple of times a week and I do my best to sort my waste at home. I do not have any children, although I realize one could potentially become the inventor of a climate problem solving idea or thing…
My journeys have become more climate-friendly since I swopped my diesel for an electric car
Consequently, I started thinking. Besides the obvious “travel less”, what other options do we have? If we decide to travel anyway, how can we travel at least climate friendlier and decrease our carbon footprint? Some things may be common sense, nevertheless I will be glad if there is already one thing that will inspire you to break with a non-eco-friendly travel habit so we can all enjoy our pretty planet a little longer.
1. Sustainable destination
Try to choose a destination closer to home and/or one you can reach by transport other than airplane is an important way to travel climate friendlier. Pick a destination that has an eye for climate change in relationship to tourism. Not sure yet who will win this year, but last year (March 2019) specific places in countries like The Netherlands and Portugal were listed in the Sustainable Top 100 Destination Awards, for example because of their efforts to develop innovative eco-friendly tourism. Palau requires every incoming visitor to sign a stamped pledge promising to behave environmental friendly while staying on the island.
2. Fly direct
Fly direct and avoid stop overs. Book non-stop flights as much as possible. Take offs and landings of airplanes cause most C02 emissions. Avoid short haul (less than 500 km) flights and preferably avoid domestic flights wherever whenever possible. If you cannot avoid flying, pick an airline with higher occupancy rates and more efficient aircrafts. If all seats are fully booked, per person the CO2 emission will be lower compared to multiple half-full flights. Check in online and save your boarding pass on your phone instead of printing it. All ways to travel climate friendlier.
Flying direct is not only a way to avoid jetlags
3. CO2 compensation
Fly with an airline that offers C02 compensation when booking a flight. For instance, KLM helps us to travel climate friendlier via their CO2ZERO program, which enables to pay straight away for CO2 compensation when booking a flight. Count on about 1.1% on top of your flight ticket’s price, sometimes less like EUR 5 with Djoser. KLM has taken the lead in making the aviation industry more sustainable and reducing their CO2 footprint in various ways, including investments in biofuel and more sustainable aircraft, optimizing their flight operations and compensating for emissions, achieving a reduction of 15% on CO2 already.
If you cannot avoid flying with an airline that offers CO2 flight compensation during the booking process, check out external projects such as Trees For All. Websites like Carbonfund take the opportunity to offset your carbon footprint a big step further, beyond travel by air. Will it really work? I am not sure, but it may pay off at least for your guilty conscience for a while.
4. Road trip
Make a road trip instead of going by airplane to a far destination, be creative. And when traveling by car, whether it is your own or a rent a car, try to get your hands on an electric or hybrid vehicle. Especially in Western Europe there are quite some loading points along the road now, making it easier to travel with these eco-friendlier type of cars. Not always attainable of course, but think about it. For sure it is eco-friendlier than taking a flight. There are also initiatives like Bla Bla Car to share car rides (carpooling), which can also be a practical solution for example when the bus and/or train are full. Use Uber Pool and/or Lyft Line to share taxi rides in cities.
Making a road trip is means you travel climate friendlier than flying
5. Shared transportation
Instead of driving your own or a rental car or hire private driver, take the public transport like a bus or train, book a group tour with mini-van or touring car. I can imagine this is not practical attainable when have a family with small children, but couples and solo travelers should definitely look into this, at least for part of your trip.
In Europe we have a proper train network and Flixbus. In New Zealand there is Stray and the Kiwi Experience, in the US there is Greyhound, etc. Look through the window and see how beautiful the country side is. Watching the Swiss landscapes flying by, life could be worse, right? In countries like Vietnam traveling by night train for example can be a pretty cool adventure too. Give it a try! Usually cheaper too. And who knows, you will have an unexpected great travel experience, meeting new fellow travelers from all over the world or friendly locals. A nice side effect of traveling climate friendlier.
Getting on a bicycle is a nice, healthy and eco-friendly way to travel around in many countries, especially when not too mountainous, humid, hot, windy and/or rainy. Recently we rented a couple of e-bikes in Israeland did fun guided bicycles tours in Prague and Bangkok. As a Dutch girl I was more or less born and raised on a bicycle, I realize that, but hey you are never too old to learn right? Same counts for riding a horse. I love riding a horse on holidays. And otherwise there are other new ways of getting around without producing (a lot of) C02 emission, like e-steps, Segway, etc. Or, of course, simply walk.
A bicycle tour is a fun, climate friendly activity when traveling
7. Packing light
On an airplane, every kilo counts because the production of CO2 emission highly depends on the total weight of an airplane, including your luggage. The current rise of additional fees for check in luggage already helps. Try to pack light, be selective and pack only what you need. Wash your clothes locally and avoid dragging around too much stuff you do not really need after all. Ideally you either hand wash your clothes yourself, or deliver a pile big enough to fill a laundry machine because hotels usually wash every guest’s clothes separately (even a few items).
I know, easier said than done. Pick multi-purpose items, like a hamam towel, which you can use at the beach, as a scarf when you are cold on the plane, and to wrap around your waste or shoulders when you want to enter a temple or church modestly. This also means not bringing all of the handy travel items I listed in this earlier article on every tip, select the most essential ones for that particular type of trip. Swopping printed papers for e-readers and keep notes on your smartphone instead of on papier are other simple, practical things you can do to travel climate friendlier.
Do you really need to bring that laptop and big camera on every trip?
8. Eco products
More and more climate friendlier travel products are coming on the market. Responsible sunscreen that does not harm coral reef (chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate increase coral bleaching), solar driven power banks, refillable water bottles with filter, menstrual cups… Anything you can imagine. Some are a bit too strange to me, but it is definitely worth checking some of these out.
When something of your travel gear gets broken, try to get it fixed it. Much climate friendlier than buying new stuff. For example, when a wheel of your little carry-on suitcase breaks off, go to a shop that sells that brand and ask them to repair it, they often can. Saves money too. When buying a new suitcase or backpack, spend some extra money on something that is durable and does not need replacement every year or so due to a lack of quality. And check out second hand options, also for travel guides and such.
I always bring my own amenities when traveling; little reusable bottles that I fill at home with my own shampoo, hair cream, etc. Die-hard hippies may scream that we should not use any shampoo at all, or only organic, but I prefer to be realistic here. At least bring your own amenities instead of using those disposable bottles provided by the hotel. How tempting they may look, they definitely contribute to the millions of tons of waste hotels produce every year.
This may be why you see more and more hotels with bigger containers secured to the bathroom wall instead of the smaller loose amenities on the washstand. Should you have forgotten something and decide to use the hotel’s amenities and piece of soap, you may want to bring the left overs home to avoid them to be put to waste.
Bring your own, re-usable amenities when traveling
10. Eco-friendly hotel
Nature camping, eco-friendly hotel, sustainable hostels – the accommodation business clearly picked up the trend of climate change worried tourists. Booking a hotel or another type of accommodation that has an eye for the environment is a good idea to reduce your own carbon footprint when traveling. Methods vary all the way from LED lightning to the re-use of (rain) water to solar panels to recycling. You won’t see an overloaded breakfast buffet there, one of the least climate considerate burdens of tourism, causing millions of tons of waste per year. This eco-friendly lodge in Northern Vietnam is still one of the post stunning located places we ever came across. But there are definitely more.
Topas Eco Lodge near Sapa, Vietnam
11. Save hotel resources
Pretty cliché that sign in your hotel room but it is true: if you re-use your towel multiple days, it will safe piles of extra laundry. Common sense for some, while others seem ignorantly lazy as hell. Is it really necessary to change your towels on a daily basis? Make yourself at home, where you probably also re-use your towels every few other days instead of every single day? Hang them up on the towel rack, the universal hotel language for “I would like to use them again”, although sometimes ignored by staff.
And like at home, chose showering over bathing, do not shower too long, turn off the lights and air-conditioning or when leaving your room, do not leave the water tap running while brushing your teeth, etc. It may seem like a small step but it is an important, easy way we can all contribute to environmental friendlier travel. Moreover in areas that experience a dry period, be extra sparing with water. In case of hot sunny weather, close the curtain or blinds in your room or apartment. Leave maps and brochures behind in the room so that they can be reused by future travelers.
12. Be picky
Share in your hotel reviews how eco-friendly they are. If you start looking into eco-travel options, you will discover that there are many travel companies that offer tours, activities and even complete holidays that support sustainable development. Pick tour operators with an eco-friendly reputation. Also be aware of so-called greenwashing. Tourist companies that spread the message and image of being eco-friendly while they are not at all. You see this will elephant sanctuaries in Thailand for example, only a few are treating the animals really like it should be. It is the money that drives those companies, not passion or love for the environment.
Try to find out whether the company gives back to the local community, whether they have local staff, etc. The most sustainable form of tourism is community connected. Think about those international owned beach resorts in the Caribbean that keep out local inhabitants from their purchased beach and fly in their own staff. Sustainable companies strive to benefit the environment including the local community.
13. Eat & drink local
This counts for home as well as during your travel. Try to eat the food that is produced in that country, preferably even region. Everything that is not, caused C02 emission. Food for thought for vegans and their daily avocado that has been flown in to end up on your plate. Drink a glass of local wine and/or beer. Who would have thought alcohol could be involved in traveling climate friendlier?!
Go to the farmers market and see what their offerings are, try new things. Markets are one of my favorite places for travel photography, like the Can Cao Market high up in the mountains near Sapa (photo below). If you like meat (like me), select meat that is produced locally, and consider meat that is less intensive carbon-emission meat like pork (versus beef for example).
Clean up your own mess. For instance when you go hiking, bring a small bag and pick up other pieces of trash you may encounter along your way. Never leave any plastics or other type of garbage behind you, for example when you make a pit-stop on a long car drive, walk around in a National Park or theme park. Take your trash with you after a day on the beach. Even if the locals drop their trash on the floor, as a tourist please show a good example and take your own trash with you to the garbage bin. Also your children. Dispose sanitary waste as prescribed, do not flush tampons, condoms, etc. down the toilet.
I was shocked to see all the plastic and other type of waste materials in the river and forest in Transylvania, Romania. I am fed up to see those annual summer photos in the newspaper of Zandvoort beach full of trash because people did not feel like cleaning up their own waste. Like the fabulous Liz the Young Adventuress recently wrote in her remarkable article Your friendly guide to freedom camping in New Zealand: the locals share their slice of heaven with the rest of the world, while tourists apparently shamelessly feel free to literally take a piss on their beloved land and shit everywhere they like. People, you really cannot do this. Double-oh behave!!
15. Plastic bags
In many countries, plastic bags are still very common in shops and on markets. When you go to a local market for example, take a foldable, re-useable shopping bag with you and say no to single use plastic bags. Also, bring your own water bottle with filter and a handy spork to avoid having to buy plastic water bottles and disposable cutlery. It will save a lot of waste on each trip. Speaking from myself, I tend to reuse a few plastic bags while traveling, for example to transport dirty shoes. Be creative in order to travel climate friendlier.
16. Respect nature
Stay to the trails and public footpaths when hiking. Do not remove or damage plants. You do not want to trample on endangered plants, right? Keep noise down and grant everyone a turn at viewpoints. You may not realize it, but the behavior of humans on the natural environment influences a whole biodiversity eco chain, which gets disrupted and possibly completely disturbed and change or even break down and vanish. All because people step in and decide to be ignorant and drop a piece of plastic or a Coca-Cola can on the ground or in the river or sea. Re-use and recycle. You see, there is a reason why the bay that got famous over The Beach the movie got closed indefinitely. When snorkeling, try not to touch the coral as it may disturb its vulnerable ecosystem. Keep the conservation in mind.
Do not feed, bathe or touch wild animals. Stay on a safe and respectful distance from wildlife. Should you be attacked or bitten because you got too close, it is not uncommon the animal gets killed in then end to ensure it does not happen again, while all they did is showing their natural behavior trigger by human behavior. When going on a jungle expedition trip to spot wild animals, join a small group tour to ensure the animals and nature do not get disturbed by a big mass of people encountering them. Animals can often hear more than us humans and they feel the vibrations of movements.
Avoid tours that promise wild animal encounters such as riding or bathing elephants, walking or cuddling with lions or cheetahs, etc. We need to break the business model of exploiting wild animals for tourism. Do not join tours that promise you will go into the water regardless if there are baby dolphins in the group or not. If we all ignore those kind of non-sustainable tour operators, they will be forced to change and facilitate our climate friendlier travels to stay in business.
Try something different than the umpteenth day tour, go off the beaten track. Get your bum off that beach, your hands out of the pockets and become an eco-volunteer for a day. It is a great wat of giving back and to make your travels climate friendlier. Trash Hero does great work for example on Koh Chang, Thailand. Just make sure you have the right visa to do volunteer work legally in the country you will visit. Even without getting paid any money, volunteer work can be considered work.
19. Local arts
If you insist on getting a souvenir before heading home, get something that you can use in daily life, something practical, like a handy tool for in the kitchen or ear rings for example. Or something to eat or drink. Support the local community by getting a handicraft (not import). If possible, buy a piece of art directly from the artist him/herself. Buy something that will not end up under a layer of dust at the back of your mom’s closet. And check if it does not say ‘Made in China’ somewhere while being in a small shop at the country side of Spain for example, you’d be surprised.
20. Responsible souvenirs
That sea shell or piece of coral may look irresistible pretty, but please do not take it out of the sea to bring it home. You damage the nature and potentially end up with a fine if customs catches you. Also do not buy anything like that from local shops. Sometimes the shelves are full of products made my endangered species or things like coral, but that does not make it right or legal to buy and bring them home. Calm down your urge to purchase and leave it where it is. Tortoise shell, ivory or snake skin really should not end up in your closet as a souvenir or as a gift. An important thing to keep in mind when you wish to travel climate friendlier.
Do not make this fish homeless by taking coral home with you
To conclude, you do not need to become a smelly hippie or boring couch potato in order to travel climate friendlier. There are many ways to reduce your carbon footprint. How climate friendly and environmental conscience are your current travels? Do you always CO2 compensate your flights? Did you change your travel behavior due to the increasing climate change discussion? Do you have any additional tips to travel climate friendlier? Please feel free to leave a comment below.
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Last Updated on 03/03/2022 by Elisa Flitter Fever