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Tourism is a great way to broaden our horizons and see the planet, but all this travel isn’t doing the planet any good. How can we travel sustainably?

The Dream Holiday

If you’re anything like us, being stuck at home is making you pine for travel. Many people will no doubt come out of lockdown with grand plans for a dream holiday – but we mustn’t let our desire to take a break stop us from thinking about the planet.

Global tourism is a massive industry, and like most massive industries, it’s also a pretty big polluter, accounting for around 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Between transportation, accommodation, dining, leisure activities and commerce, there are myriad ways in which our holidays can have negative effects in the environment. In this post we’ll be taking a look at the ways in which our tourism can harm the planet, and think about how we might be able to travel more sustainably.

(Don’t) Come Fly with Me

Air travel is one of the fastest ways that we can grow our individual carbon footprint, and, despite movements like Greta Thunberg’s “Flygskam” (flight-shame) working to discourage people from flying, passenger numbers grew by 3.3% in the last year. If you’re looking to be sustainable, then, embrace the slow journey and choose boat or rail wherever possible – it takes a bit longer to get to your destination, but you might catch some stunning scenery on the way, and the environmental cost is so much lower.

For context, some numbers. Based on UN World Tourism Organization calculations, long-haul flights represent only around 2% of all tourist trips, but contribute 16% of all global tourist-related CO2 emissions. In contrast, journeys by coach and rail represent about 6% of all global tourist journeys, but stand for only 1% of total emissions. Flying is worse for the environment than taking the train by a factor of forty-eight!

So give alternative travel a chance when choosing travel options, and consider travelling to destinations that you can reach without long-haul flights. If you really can’t avoid flying, however, some airlines out there are working to reduce the impact of their flights. Airfrance-KLM is working to reduce fuel usage in aircraft and adjust wingtip design to increase efficiency, while Cathay Pacific is implementing progressive fleet modernisation and air traffic management measures within their planes to avoid lengthy, fuel-intensive circling above airports. Many airlines, including the popular easyJet, have also started buying carbon offsets on behalf of passengers, planting trees and donating to other carbon offsetting initiatives in order to negate customer’s flights.

Plan a Green Getaway

Outside of travel, you can also take steps to make the rest of your holiday more sustainable. Scouting all of this out might take a bit more research before you set out, but it means that you’ll be able to enjoy the trip even more, knowing that you’re causing minimal harm to the planet.

  • Support local economies: Especially when it comes to accommodation, choosing locally-owned or independent business over chains and international resorts. This ensures that your money goes back into local economies and you trips actually benefit the places you’re visiting.
  • Check accommodation and activities for green credentials: Whether you’re looking to see if a hotel has solar panels, energy-efficient lighting and recycling capabilities, or checking that the tours you’re booking are accredited by green bodies (keep a special eye out for Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance, EarthCheck and the Green Tourism Business Scheme), there are a number of easy and common things you can look for when booking your holiday.
  • Avoid large resorts and all-inclusives: Large resorts consume huge amounts of water and energy, and often concrete over large areas of natural habitat, while all-inclusive holidays discourage tourists from going to local restaurants, hire local guides and participate in local culture.
  • Walk the road less travelled: Avoiding the over-visited locations, such as Venice or Barcelona, will reduce overcrowding. Going off the beaten path means your tourist money will make a bigger difference to local business and economies.
  • Avoid wildlife souvenirs: Souvenirs in general can often be wasteful and lie unused, but buying wildlife souvenirs – shells, animal products, etc. – can contribute to unsustainable hunting and the illegal wildlife trafficking. Search for mementos you’ll use, or items with minimal waste like food.

Seeing the World, Sustainably

It takes a bit of research, but it’s perfectly possible to travel the world with minimal environmental impact. If you’re at home planning your dream getaway right now, be sure to spend some time considering the ways that you can make seeing the planet better for the planet.


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