Travel is hardly an eco-friendly activity. From an over-usage of natural resources to the huge amount of fuel required for air transport, a single overseas trip can leave one massive carbon footprint.
On the other hand, most environmentalists agree tourism is a great way to raise social and environment awareness, encouraging a degree of cultural sensitivity and an appreciation of the natural world.
In other words, while we do have a problem, the answer is not to make a jerk reaction and skip your next trip.
Rather, why not embark on the path of ecotourism? According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), this can be defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”.
With TIES now celebrating its 20th anniversary (and HostelBookers becoming a new and proud member!), we thought it was the perfect time to get you started with some top eco travel tips…
There’s no way to avoid it: transport has a detrimental impact on the environment. Air travel in particular has long been lambasted for the enormous amount of fuel it releases into the atmosphere, thus making it the most energy consuming aspect of an overseas trip. In fact, much as we hate to acknowledge it, air travel makes up about 10 per cent of total carbon emissions released across the globe. Ouch.
The immediate solution to this dilemma is to avoid airplanes whenever possible. A better option is always train travel, which generates less than a quarter of the carbon emissions produced by a commercial plane. For some great routes across Europe, why not purchase an InterRail ticket or Eurail Global Pass?
Obviously there will be some situations when air travel is impossible to avoid. In these cases, remember that take offs and landings are the biggest environmental offenders. In other words, it’s always best to book a direct flight!
Before You Go
Before you leave home, there are a number of things you need to remember. And yes, we know, when your mind is full of daydreams about impending adventures, it’s pretty hard to focus on being eco-friendly. That’s why we’ve put together a checklist to make it all that little bit easier.
Save Energy at Home
Unplug all appliances and charges. Remember these still use a huge amount of energy when on standby. The biggest culprits? Plasma TVs, microwaves and mobile phone chargers…
Become familiar with the destination you want to visit by reading up on guidebooks and travel articles
Read up on any environmental laws and guidelines of your destination country. Also consider any local green programs you may want to become involved with when you arrive.
Brush up on some local history, culture and customs before reaching your destination (a train trip is a great time to do this!) Learning a few words of the language will always be appreciated by the locals.
Carry less baggage. Not only will heavier bags lead to higher bag charges, but they will also increase your carbon footprint.
Take a water bottle with you and recycle this throughout your trip. Remember, plastic doesn’t degrade!
Pack essential toiletries like soap and shampoo instead of using hotel mini-bottles – the environmental impact of disposing these adds up over time!
Book an Eco-friendly Hotel
Always do your research and book an eco-friendly hostel for your stay. These ‘green’ accommodations are rapidly popping up across the world, displaying all range of features from recycling programs to solar panels.
To get started, check out our list of top 10 eco friendly hostels
During Your Stay
The last thing you want to do is check your green habits as soon as you check into a hostel. Throughout your stay, remember to follow the requisite environmental practices – turn off lights, reuse towels, conserve water, make minimal use of the television, and opt for public transport (or walking!) instead of hiring a car.
According to Go Green Travel Green, it’s easy to green your hotel stay if you follow some basic tips and tricks.
Upon arrival, remember to:
Unplug, unplug, unplug: That includes all those lamps, the mini-fridge, coffee maker and hairdryer. Spend just 2 minutes doing this and you’ve already made a difference.
Adjust the thermostat: Save energy by lowering the temperature by 2 degrees in the winter or raising it by 2 degrees in the summer.
Stick the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door: This will prevent the hostel from wasting water by changing your towels and sheets, wasting electricity by vacuuming, and spraying harsh chemicals all over your toothbrush!
Of course, in addition to your basic green protocols, eco tourism is all about putting something back into the local community. Sustainable Travel International provides travellers with some great tips to remember when visiting a foreign country:
Respect local cultures: Learn about, accept and respect the differences of locals in terms of customs, social norms and environmental issues.
Spend locally: Ensure that locals benefit from your travels by patronising local businesses, buying locally produced food and products and using the services of local tour operators, outfitters and boutique accommodations.
Give back: Find a local cause or project of interest and make a donation or volunteer your time.
And finally, when it comes to the local environment, do everything you can NOT to make your mark. According to Make Holidays Greener, in order to protect local ecosystems, important things to remember include:
Do not step on, touch or remove any coral
Do not have your photo taken with any ‘wild animals’
Book safari trips with a licensed and trained guide
Do not buy products made from endangered or wild animals and plants
Back at Home
So, you’ve stuck to the eco rule book and arrived home relaxed and well-travelled after experiencing a new country, climate and culture.
Even if your footprint is a light one, there is still more you can do to ensure the eco-friendly nature of your trip.
A carbon offset program is a great way to compensate for your personal carbon emissions, particularly those caused by air travel. There are a number of companies that allow travellers to purchase and donate carbon ‘coupons’ to equalise the eco-impact of their travel. These vouchers go towards such activities as planting trees or investing in wind energy, with prices ranging accordingly depending on the scheme. Check out the programs offered by the CarbonNeutral Company or ClimateCare for more information. You may even be able to bring your carbon footprint right back down to zero!