How to Be an Eco-Conscious Traveller
By Sadira Sittampalam
Travelling is one of life’s great gifts; however, it is also a huge contributor to climate change. From flights to staying at fancy hotels to littering, there is a huge ecological footprint associated with travelling.
This is something that is especially detrimental to us as travellers, as what good is climbing up a mountain if all you can see is grey smog? What good is snorkelling in coral reefs if they’re all dead? The good news is there are a lot of ways to lower your ecological footprint so that you can still travel while not contributing too much to climate change.
Choose your method of transportation wisely
The best way to reduce your CO2 emissions while travelling is to simply not fly. Of all the different ways of transport, flights cause the most pollution per kilometre. If you can take the train or a bus instead, opt for those methods first. If you absolutely must fly, you should try and avoid stopovers, as this only makes the journey longer which means more kilometres, more fuel expended and more carbon dioxide emissions.
So while a journey with more stopovers might be a little cheaper, a more expensive direct flight is the price to pay for a cleaner environment. You can also do a little research about a few airlines and see which ones are more fuel-efficient than others.
Another thing you can do on your flight to make sure that you impact the environment as little as possible is to fly economy class rather than anything higher. It is just common sense to see that business class takes up a lot more physical space on the aeroplane, while the economy carries more people and is, therefore, a lot more space-efficient.
It has even been demonstrated than in certain airlines with their entire fancy feature, business class can actually leave three times the carbon footprint than that of economy. You should also aim to pack as light as you can, as a heavy suitcase will make the aeroplane use more fuel than a light backpack.
Then, when you reach your destination, you should always try and opt for public transport rather than cabs or cars, as private transport will only add extra carbon emissions. Moreover, you will have a more interesting experience as you get a chance to interact more with the locals.
Bring a reusable bottle, tote bags and a metal straw
Nearly everywhere you go nowadays, you will always be able to spot a plastic water bottle. As of 2019, almost
one million plastic water bottles are purchased every minute, which undoubtedly creates a lot of waste that is unnecessary, polluting our earth and being a very serious health hazard to marine life in particular. The easiest thing to do here is to pack yourself a reusable bottle so you can just fill yourself up instead of buying a new water bottle each time.
Similarly, while a lot of places have come to eliminate plastic straws, there is always somewhere that has yet to get the memo. The best way to avoid this is to invest in a metal straw that you can carry around with you for whenever you need it. Carrying around a tote bag will also help you avoid any instances where you might need to use a plastic bag.
These are practices that you should be doing in your regular life anyway, but which are especially vital when it comes to travelling. Likewise, you should think about any other disposable products you may have to use along your journey and think up some alternatives you could carry with you so you don’t add to the pile of waste already building up.
Think about your accommodation
The best way to make your travels more eco-friendly is by staying in home-share services such as Airbnb or a homestay instead of traditional hotels. This is because hotels consume a lot of energy to stay running from their use of water to launder large quantities of sheets and towels daily to single-use plastics.
While some hotels are making the effort to be more environmentally conscious, it is a lot safer to stick with homecare services. You can still choose to stay in a sustainable hotel though, just do your research beforehand and see exactly how green they are. If they have certifications like ‘Energy Star’, ‘TripAdvisor GreenLeaders’ or ‘LEED’ that means they meet very strict green requirements.
However, something equally as important is how you conduct yourself within your lodging. Treat your room as if you were still at home - turn off all the lights, reuse the same towel, don’t waste water etc. Maintain the eco-conscious mindset and don’t treat this vacation as a place that you can trash just because you don’t have to clean it up.
Eat and shop local
Going to a different country and purchasing food from a local grocery store is similar to going thousands of miles to just eat McDonald’s. The food at this grocery store has also travelled thousands of miles to sit on those shelves for you to buy - which has contributed to a lot of fuel consumption and air pollution. This is why you should buy as much as you can from local farmers markets or marketplaces. By doing this, you are cutting down on all those miles that the food has travelled while also contributing to the local economy. This will also help you really taste the types of food that the place has to offer.
Moreover, another tip would be to try and consume less meat. The meat industry, particularly the beef industry, is the world’s biggest polluter. Giving up the consumption of beef could even potentially reduce the carbon footprint of the world more than giving up cars. Thus, giving up animal products, especially beef, while travelling would be extremely beneficial to the environment. Of course, you don’t have to limit this to just travelling either - it makes a huge difference if you make this change at home too. However, doing this while travelling is a good start.
Observe nature in a sustainable way
The first thing to remember is to completely avoid places where animals are kept in captivity. Wild animals are meant to be wild and by spending money to see a tiger sedated in a cage or to ride an elephant that has been ‘trained’ to obey commands, you are only contributing to more poor treatment of animals. Instead, opt to go on guided nature walks where you can observe animals in their natural habitat from a respectful distance. You should never feed or touch wildlife. Feeding these animals only makes them more reliant on humans which also often lead to attacks. Moreover, when an animal attacks a human, this animal will most likely be killed.
Finally, when going on hikes, remember that trails exist for a reason! Wandering off the path might lead to you harming native flora or even getting lost, which will only cause more public resources being spent trying to find you. Make sure you have a clear sense of the path, or have an experienced guide with you.
An activity that might make the hike more fun is to have a clean-off, where you bring bags with you to see who can pick up more litter along the way - especially since hiking paths are pretty unsightly thanks to unconscious tourists. The person with the most litter wins.