7 Tips For Making Your Travel More Sustainable

By Phil Clarke, Editor of The Handbook website Phil Clarke |
15th October 2019

In the age of Greta Thunberg we are all having to think a little differently. Some of you might be eyeing up a Parliament Square lamppost to glue yourselves to. If you’re Harry or Meghan you’re busy wondering which of Elton’s private jets to charter to a climate change conference. And if you’re me you’re just wondering how to get to Mallorca without feeling really a little bit naughty about all the carbon I’m pumping into the atmosphere.

If the thought of taking your family of four, bucket and spades in hands, all the way to the US on a specially chartered 60ft, £3.7m, carbon fibre sailing yacht, a-la-Thunberg, sounds a little far-fetched, then fear not, it’s possible to travel more sustainably.

1. Just don’t go…

I realise this suggestion is incredibly eye-roll-inducing, but do you really need to take your entire extended family to a monstrous resort in Dubai when, say, Cornwall would do just as well? Clearly the venn diagram of the sorts of people who’d be equally happy renting a bungalow in Polzeath as relaxing pool side in a six star Arabian mega-hotel is pretty narrow, but nevertheless it’s worth considering taking a UK holiday. No Brexit-proofing your plans, worrying about arriving 5 hours early at Gatwick, taking complicated FX hedges or packing copious amounts of PG Tips, just a couple hours on the A303 and a West Country phrase book.

2. Carbon offset

You don’t have to be running a Mr Burns scale industrial complex to need to carbon offset (technically Burns ran the cleanest energy possible, given he owned a nuclear power station, but let’s not get wrapped around that particular axle).  Carbon offsetting is perfectly accessible for the rest of us. City dwellers can’t simply plant another cactus in their window boxes to achieve net zero, but we can turn to services like climatecare.org, a charity who allow you to calculate emissions and then ‘repay’ them, with money going directly to counter the effects of climate change by ensuring your carbon is effectively offset.

3. Travel in economy

For most of us this is a given, but if you happen to live the sort of lifestyle that involves extra legroom and metal cutlery then know that your A01 window seat is killing dolphins. First class travel is approximately four times more carbon emitting than sitting down the back listening to babies wail. Sure, you’re reclined like a Roman emperor being served peeled grapes and Champagne by an attentive stewardess, but think of all the carbon you’d be saving by being shoehorned into a seat down the back while you eat a cheese and tomato ketchup sandwich (genuine Virgin Atlantic ‘meal’) while a toddler kicks the back of your seat all the way to Atlanta. Or you can just pay an extra £30 to offset the carbon!

4. Bottle it

It’s not just jet fuel you need to be concerned about, travelling produces prodigious amounts of waste. From the £7 WHSmith BLT at the airport, to endless bottles of Evian as you chug your way through your travels, you’re a one-man landfill packer. But all the rules that you probably should be following at home, apply when you’re travelling all-the-more so. Reuse water bottles, take your own cutlery, a bamboo straw and zero-waste toiletries.

5. Stay responsible

If the thought of a package holiday at a massive resort where all your food and drink are pre-paid on a wristband is unspeakably naff, then this will be music to your ears: they’re terrible for the environment (not to mention, in some parts of the world, the local communities). You don’t have to go full on hemp wigwam to stay in a sustainable hotel. Sustainable luxury hotels are totally a thing, think of A-lister favourite The Brando at Tetiaroa Private Island in Tahiti, Barak Obama went there to write his memoirs and it’s often touted as one of the most sustainable hotels on the planet (it’s also around £10,000 a night for a villa in high season (saving the planet can be expensive business)).

6. No cruising 

It’s often quoted (and seldom fact-checked) that the QEII needed one gallon of fuel for every six inches it travelled. While that sinks in (no pun) consider that cruise ships are some of the worst polluters on the sea, a large cruise ship can burn through at least 150 tonnes of fuel a day and according to marine pollution analysts in Germany and Brussels can emit more sulphur than several million cars and more NO2 gas (the bad one) than all the traffic that passes through a medium sized town and more particle emissions (also really bad) than thousands of London busses. There are sailing boat alternatives that are far more eco friendly but even then you have to bear in mind the way that cruise ships offload  thousands of passengers on tiny communities distorting economies and causing huge community issues. Even the wake from a cruise ship can cause ecological damage. Sorry, but maybe leave your sea legs at home?

7. Don’t take a walk on the wildlife side

When Kim Kardashian famously posed with an elephant in Bali, she was roundly set upon by a Twitter mob, not for her black trainers (are they a thing again?) but for posting a pic of an apparently maltreated dumbo. The rush for Insta likes has led to dubious animal organisations providing fodder for the Grammers. According to World Animal Protection, animals in the Amazon “are being torn from the wild so tourists can take selfies for Instagram and other social media”. If you must see animals up-close then ensure that you do so in reputable sanctuaries, only heading to places or on safaris that are explicitly ethical and sustainable.

Sure, Greta sets an impossible standard for sustainable travel, but we should all at least be trying. And, often, it’s not actually that tricky to make small differences that would go a long way were we all to adopt them. We can all raise a re-useable water bottle to that…

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