Want to become a more eco-conscious and ethical traveller? From riding the train to booking sustainable tours, we reveal some of the greenest and most responsible ways to hit the open road.
The UK government recently revealed its plan for net-zero aviation, which aims to eliminate carbon emissions deriving from flights by 2050. While experts debate how feasible this measure actually is, there are many things we can do to make our trips better for the environment. And with the threat of overtourism returning after a few stagnant years of travel, being more mindful about how our trips affect the places and communities we visit has never been more important.
Here, we’ve listed seven easy tips to help you travel better — so you can attack your bucket list with a clear conscience.
Opt for slow travel
According to the European Environment Agency: “Rail travel is the best and most sensible mode of travel, apart from walking or cycling.” It makes sense; a 2021 government report found that a petrol car journey from London to Glasgow emits approximately 3.3 times more CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per passenger than the same journey by train, while travelling by aeroplane would emit 75% more CO2e per passenger than the car ride.
So, if you’re looking to minimise your carbon footprint, slow travel is the way to go. Walking and cycling won’t get you as far, of course, but trains and buses can be excellent alternatives to aeroplanes, especially when it comes to shorter trips. Many European governments now strongly encourage slow travel, with France leading the way: since April 2022, domestic short-haul flights have been banned where a train or bus alternative of two and a half hours or less exists. More countries are set to follow this strategy at some point.
Next to the eco benefits of travelling by train or bus, there’s an added perk: you get to enjoy the scenery along the way, getting a close-up of marvellous landscapes that wouldn’t be visible from an aeroplane.
Use public transportation wherever possible
After arriving at your destination, try to resist renting a car, and use public transport instead. Bigger cities will usually have an organised transportation system in place; while smaller ones are often easier to travel around on foot anyway. Cycling is also a great alternative, allowing you to make the most of glorious vistas while exercising.
Read more: 10 ways to go green in 2022
Stay in eco-friendly lodging or with a local family
It’s not always easy to find an eco-conscious hotel or Airbnb at your chosen destination, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Look for those that take decisive steps towards helping the environment, such as recycling and avoiding the use of plastic where possible, minimising the number of towels they give to guests or relying solely on renewable sources of energy.
In some cases, you may also find that local families are willing to let you stay in their homes, which can make for a more authentic experience, while giving you the chance to support the local community instead of a large hotel chain. Use HomeStay, which has partnered with UNICEF to donate a meal to an underprivileged child with every booking, or search on relevant Facebook groups for recommendations of hosts in your chosen destination.
Support local businesses
Shopping in chain department stores or eating at well-known restaurant chains when visiting a new place won’t really help to support the local economy. Choose smaller businesses instead, and you might come across a few gems.
From local chefs to creative craftsmen, the owners of these businesses and their products offer a precious insight into a place’s culture. Start a conversation with an Athenian shoemaker during your Greek getaway and you might find out that their family has been creating one-of-a-kind leather sandals for generations. Or why not have dinner at that small restaurant you wandered past in Budapest, which serves a most delicious goulash soup that’s part of Hungary’s history.
Connect with nature and wildlife responsibly
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t harm your natural surroundings (by leaving your rubbish on the beach, for example), but there are other effective ways to protect the ecosystem. In countries where wild animals roam free, be careful not to touch, feed or play with them, or you may end up hurting the animal and yourself in the process. You might want to rethink a visit to the zoo, too, by swapping it for a park outing if possible. Animals showcased as tourist attractions could be exploited, especially if they’re made to perform tricks, and you wouldn’t want to be contributing to their abuse in any way.
If you feel like interacting with animals and nature in a safe way, book a travel experience that’s committed to protecting both, such as an ethical safari in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, or an urban-farm visit in Berlin or Helsinki.
Invest in sustainable travel accessories
Buying a bottle of water every time you’re thirsty may seem convenient, but bringing along a reusable water bottle is far greener and more cost-effective. It’s also worth investing in other eco-friendly travel accessories, such as this organic, biodegradable dental kit from Bamboogaloo, or a recycled shoe bag like this one from EcoRight; the latter can fit a variety of pairs, so you don’t have to carry multiple plastic bags at once. This sustainable backpack from Roka London, meanwhile, makes a great companion for your next getaway.
Volunteer for beach clean-ups
If you have the time to devote yourselves to a worthy cause, try helping with beach clean-ups, which are always in need of more volunteers. There are a number of beach clean-up initiatives to get involved with if you’re travelling around Britain — including those by the Marine Conservation Society and the National Trust — while many more exist globally, such as the Trash Free Seas initiative. You’ll find quite a few of them on Volunteer World.