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With the visible and catastrophic effects of climate change being felt around the world, living responsibly and sustainably is more important than ever. But the sheer magnitude of the changes we need to make in our every day lives can leave us feeling overwhelmed and inept. And while it’s true that the way we live and travel needs to change, it is more manageable to make smaller, smarter, more sustainable travel choices, rather than implementing a complete life overhaul in one go.
If travel is your vice of choice, you’re probably all too aware of your carbon footprint and the impact of that on the planet and destinations you visit. But rather than quitting travel altogether, why not implement these top 10 tips to travel more sustainably?
What Does Sustainable Travel Mean?
Sustainable travel is about more than just reducing our carbon footprint. Travelling sustainably also encompasses our impact on culture, community, infrastructure and ecosystems. Over the past few decades, travel has become more accessible than ever. The rise in budget airlines, cheap package deals and viral videos have us jetting off to famous places around the world multiple times a year. And while there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, it’s the sheer volume of tourists and the rise of mass tourism that has a detrimental impact on places, communities and wildlife.
Make a Pledge to Yourself and the Planet
Making a personal pledge can be a great way to commit yourself to planet-friendly practices. From taking part in beach cleans to using public transport more often, this pledge can be tailored to your own circumstances.
While looking through the various pledges, it struck me that some of the things on the list I already do without thinking, while others have never occurred to me. And that got me to wondering about other ways to be a sustainable traveller. So, ease your impact on the planet with these ten suggestions:
10 simple ways to be a sustainable traveller
Volunteer for a Good Cause
Volunteering holidays are becoming more popular and are a great way to improve the sustainability of your trips. Whether you choose to volunteer your time to help in a school, orphanage, medical centre, or help out with wildlife and environmental conservation, you’ll be sure to have an amazing experience, meet some incredible like-minded people and learn alot.
Check out this article about volunteering in South Africa at Amakhala Game Reserve.
Take the train over the plane
I love flying, I love airports, and I love the adventure of landing in a new country but, unfortunately, air travel is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. According to this website, and research by Eurostar, you can reduce your carbon footprint by as much as 90% by opting to take the train instead. While it’s impossible to avoid flying completely, it is possible, and often cheaper, to travel by train in Europe. So, if you do just one simple thing, check train fares for your next trip and see if you can swap out damaging emissions for a relaxing train ride instead.
Say no to plastic
Man’s relationship with plastic is unsustainable. Distressing images of the ocean littered with plastic have been rife in the media lately, causing many people to make a concerted effort to use less plastic in their daily lives. While it’s definitely more difficult to do this when travelling, it’s possible to make small changes to the way we consume plastic in the following ways:
Bring along a reusable water bottle with an inbuilt water filter and drink tap water as much as possible. Of course, in some countries, it is not advisable to drink water from the tap, so buying plastic bottles is unavoidable in some situations. I’ve been using this Sundried Water Bottle for the past few months and can’t recommend it enough.
Carry a fabric tote bag with you at all times rather than using plastic bags for food and souvenirs.
Say no to plastic straws, plastic cutlery, plastic cups and any other single-use plastics.
Pick up rubbish when possible
Whether you see plastic on the beach or litter in the street, pick it up and recycle it or put it in the appropriate bin. Not only does this make the area a nicer place to be in, it also prevents children and animals from injuring themselves on rubbish that shouldn’t be there. It’s a simple thing that doesn’t cost us anything.
Get involved in a beach or park clean up
If you want to take it one step further, why not take part in an organised beach or park clean up effort? If you can’t find one, organise one yourself. With the use of social media and a little effort, you can easily set up an event and gain traction. It’s also a great way to meet locals, make new friends and make memories. And, if you’re travelling with kids, it can be a fantastic way to teach them a lesson about sustainability.
Support local businesses
Choose authentic souvenirs and delicious, homemade food over mass-produced, imported goods. By eating local food and buying local souvenirs, you get to truly experience the culture and help local businesses too. Many people around the world rely solely on tourism, but if we repeatedly choose to eat at large food establishments and buy from well-known, international brands, we are unknowingly restricting their ability to earn a living.
Cycle, walk or take public transport
There’s no doubt about it, getting around on a bike or on foot is one of the best ways to really get a feel for your destination. When we travel, it’s easy to default to hiring a car simply for the convenience of it, but often this is one of the most stressful ways of seeing the sights. Unless there really is no other option, reduce your carbon emissions by walking, cycling or taking public transport.
Turn off electrical appliances
I don’t know about you but I tend to run out of my hotel room/apartment/villa without checking that everything is turned off. Maybe it’s because I’m not paying the bills but this is really something I need to work on! Simple things like turning lights off before you leave and making sure the TV is not left on standby can make a big difference to the environment.
Avoid unethical animal tourism
As an issue that is close to my heart, I’ve written about the negative effects of animal tourism in the past. I know it can be tempting to take a selfie with a tiger or ride an elephant, but just stop for one minute and question how that particular establishment treats the animals. Are the animals doing something that is outside their normal nature? If they are, treat this as a warning sign and avoid at all costs. Even better, see animals in the wild or research ethical animal sanctuaries and spread the word to inform other people about this important issue.
Use a bamboo toothbrush
How many toothbrushes have you used and disposed of during your lifetime? Now imagine that every single one of those toothbrushes is sitting in a landfill site, or in the ocean, and will be for the next 4 centuries. It’s shocking, isn’t it? Something as simple, and affordable, as using an eco-friendly, biodegradable bamboo toothbrush over a plastic one can have a significant impact on the environment.
Use a menstrual cup
Ok, this is one for the girls. Although I haven’t made the move from tampons to a menstrual cup just yet, I keep hearing about how great they are for travelling. Never again will you have to dash from shop to shop in some random country looking for tampons and never again will you have to carry a gazillion tampons in your carry on just in case! And what’s more, a menstrual cup is much better for the environment as you can wash and reuse again and again.
At the end of the day, it falls upon us to be a part of the solution. The earth cannot sustain this level of abuse and we need to make practical, consistent and active decisions to do our bit.
It’s time for us to take responsibility. I’m starting today.