Eco-holidays: how to reduce your environmental impact away from home
Holidays are a time to relax, recharge, and experience new things, but it’s important not to lose sight of travelling’s environmental impact. Tourism represents 8% of global carbon emissions, significantly contributes to waste and water consumption, and sometimes can lead to larger corporations diverting profits away from the local community.
However, these negative impacts can all be drastically reduced with relatively small changes. A successful eco-holiday relies on research and forethought, but it will also be a far more rewarding experience. Here are three effective ways to reduce the environmental costs of tourism.
Where to start? Packing, of course
An eco-holiday begins the moment you start packing your bag, where the most important change you can make is to avoid any single-use plastics. Every year, the 200 million tourists who visit the Mediterranean create a 40% spike in plastic entering the ocean. With over 80% of all tourism taking place in coastal regions, cutting out single-use plastics will be invaluable to protect our oceans. If we continue on our current trajectory, there will be over 30 million tonnes of plastic dumped in the oceans every year by 2040, so holidaymakers need to address this issue now.
Packing a reusable water bottle will make an enormous reduction to your plastic consumption. Many contain filters, such as Water-to-Go and Grayl, which mean you can consume tap water regardless of the local water quality. Where single-use plastic is unavoidable, this packaging should be brought home to be recycled properly if there are no local facilities. With these changes, tourism can bring economic benefits, while conserving the natural beauty of travel destinations.
The misconceptions of air travel and why ‘slow travel’ is taking-off
As transport accounts for 49% of carbon emissions from tourism, choosing an eco-friendly mode of travel is the most important switch to make. Aeroplanes are unsurprisingly the worst pollutants, but the worldwide passenger count on planes has grown from 100 million in 1960 to 4.56 billion in 2019. Given that trains are around six times more fuel-efficient, avoiding planes is the most significant change we can make to reduce carbon emissions.
New high-speed trains across Europe, for example, facilitate travel from London to Barcelona in only 10 hours. When airport security, baggage reclaim, and travel from the airport to the city centre are all factored in, there is not as much difference in journey time as first appears. Although plane tickets will often seem far cheaper than rail fares, plane and rail costs become comparable once baggage prices are accounted for, especially if train tickets are booked in advance. Taking the train also adds a new experience to your journey, allowing you to take in the scenery around you that would be missed from the air.
Admittedly, for long-haul travel it is nearly impossible to avoid taking the plane. These are also the worst flights in terms of carbon emissions, with long-haul journeys producing more CO2 than the average person from developing countries does in a year. Reducing the frequency of long-haul travel and ensuring these flights don’t become habitual is the best solution. The increasing popularity of ‘slow travel’ and making the most of what we have on our doorstep is a far more eco-friendly alternative.
In the UK, there is a common misconception that Covid-19 increased demand for domestic holidays when in reality, this demand already existed beforehand. The value of ‘slow travel’ has already been realised by holidaymakers in the UK. In 2019, there were 123 million domestic holidays compared to 93 million international holidays. Even greater growth in the domestic travel industry will dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of long-haul flights.
How to find eco-friendly accommodation
Finding more sustainable accommodation will reduce tourism’s impact on local water, waste, and energy resources. Hotels produce 1% of the world’s CO2 emissions, so finding eco-friendly accommodation is essential for reducing tourism’s effect on the environment. The best place to begin is by searching for accommodation run by local families, including hosting and rental websites such as Airbnb. Indeed, according to Airbnb’s own research, its customers purportedly use 63% less energy than people staying in a hotel.
What’s more, many local hosts will take greater care over the environmental impact of their accommodation because they have a vested interest in protecting their home. Many online booking websites, such as Booking.com, now include ‘travel sustainable’ filters, which provide a list of hotels who have been designated eco-friendly by an independent auditor. Alternatively, other booking websites including Much Better Adventures, Earth Changes, and The Long Run focus exclusively on providing more sustainable accommodation. These options often include facilities such as natural swimming pools without chemicals or concrete, as well as a focus on using local produce and supporting communities by hiring local staff.
Making that change
There is huge potential for travellers to make a positive impact by adjusting their holiday habits. From packing a reusable bottle to taking trains over planes and shopping at small markets, making simple changes can help significantly reduce their carbon footprint, prevent unnecessary waste, and put money directly into the hands of the local population. Or in short, taking greener adventures can ensure we protect the planet, as we explore it.
Interested in learning about other steps you can take to live greener? Take a look at these tips from our previous session on integrating plant-based meals into your diet.