I think it's time to address the elephant in the room: the carbon footprint of air travel. To put it bluntly, flying in its current form is not sustainable. If we were to only look at the carbon emissions from flights, taking two inter-continental return trips to a long haul destination would more than double your carbon footprint for that year. What's more, those greenhouse gases are released at higher altitudes when flying, which is even worse for the environment as it means they are trapped higher in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, we don't live in a world with, as yet, a realistic alternative option. To quit flying, we would either have to accept never seeing most of the world and many of our friends and families, or be able to just quit our jobs and spend weeks on end travelling across continents on boats, buses, and trains - neither of which are things most of us can do without compromising our lives - and after all, we only get one shot at life!
Therefore, the more of us who want to travel more consciously, the more pressure we can put on airlines, hotels, and other tourism providers, to stop the use of single-use items, switch to biofuels and renewable energy solutions, and even, possibly, make the switch to electric planes one day.
Humans are a very hands-on species, we like to see and experience things with our own eyes. Travelling is not only brings intense joy to people, but it also allows us to experience different people, cultures, and environments and to connect, fall in love with them, and feel inspired to change aspects of our lives to help save them.
If you want to travel more consciously, here are some things that you can do to help reduce your impact on the planet whilst still exploring the world.
To achieve a net neutral carbon impact of zero for your trip, pay the extra to offset your flights. This fee will vary depending on your flight route, but, for example, offsetting a return trip from London to Spain this would to cost about £4 or about £35 to offset flights to Sydney. In the grand scheme of saving the planet, this is a very minimal cost. It is important to watch out for where your money is going when offsetting, as not all offsetting projects are as transparent as they may seem.
Go Climate Neutral not only allows you to offset your flights, but also your entire lifestyle, if you want, and only supports Gold Standard UN-Certified climate projects that focus both on direct sustainability aspects (like the planting of trees and wildlife conservation) and also acts to target the indirect impacts of climate change by reducing poverty and helping to provide cleaner air and water. Two other good options, particularly for businesses, are Climate Care and Climate Seed.
2. Conscious Packing.
I think we are all guilty of over-packing for all of those "what ifs", but it is so important to sit down and think carefully about what you actually need to take on your trip. Make a list beforehand based on what you will actually need and stick to these core items, think about what you can share with any travel companions, and think about lighter alternatives, particularly for self-care products (for example take a shampoo bar instead of a bottle). The heavier the plane, the more fuel it needs to make its journey, so by each and every one of us packing as lightly as we can, we can help to reduce the fuel usage for that flight.
3. Hand Luggage Essentials.
Cutting down the weight of your case is not the only way you can travel more consciously. You can plan ways to reduce the use of single-use items that add to the environmental impact of your flight. Utilise that hand luggage - here are some key items you can include in your handbag for zero waste travel:
Reusable cup: Ask the airline hosts for your drinks to be poured in there, instead of taking a plastic cup each drink round.
Cutlery set: Instead of opening up the plastic packaged cutlery that will come with your meal, take your own!
Bamboo towels: It's not just plastic that we need to cut down on, but also our use of paper products. Washable tissues are a simple way to do exactly this.
Toothbrush + bamboo case: Taking your own toothbrush and carry case for it, means fewer people will take the sets provided on-board planes, so reducing the demand for these, and limiting the number of single-use items that are produced and thrown away.
Blanket and eye mask: If you are going on an overnight flight, you will save opening up that plastic packaging surrounding the items the airlines provide. The textile industry is one of the most polluting to our planet, so assume that airlines will not be using sustainable and ethically sourced materials, and just bring your own that can be used time and time again.
4. Fly in Economy.
Research shows that first class seats can be three to five times as bad for the planet as economy seats, mainly because economy maximises the number of passengers that each flight can carry. Everyone is guilty of enjoying a bit of luxury, especially when on holiday, but a simple way of saving some pennies and reducing your emission for a flight would be to opt for a seat in economy.
5. Choose Accommodation Wisely.
Choosing your accommodation wisely can reduce the impact of your trip substantially. Hotels account for over 20% of tourism-based emissions (the second biggest contributor after air travel), so take the time to research hotels in your destination to find one that uses sustainable practices such as solar power, elevators that generate geothermal energy that can be used to power other things, organic cleaning supplies, and so much more! Some good examples include Bardessono in California, The Green House in England, and Rancho Margot in Costa Rica.
Even if you are not staying in a so-called 'sustainable' hotel, you can still be conscious about your actions and how these may impact the local community. This could be as simple as not getting clean towels and bedding each day to reduce the amount of water taken from the nearby area.
6. Local Activities.
My final top tip is to think about how your activities can impact the local area and people where you are staying. A really easy way of doing this is by supporting local tour operators who help to support wildlife and preserve local cultures. This will ensure that your time there reduces any negative impact on the surrounding culture or habitat, but it will also enhance your own experience, giving you more opportunities to learn about the local culture, and see places that are not necessarily in guide books.
Alternatively, why not take part in a more physical action, like doing your own beach clean or spending some time volunteering for a local organisation that helps support local wildlife or people?
Ultimately, sustainable travel is about becoming more conscious of the impact of tourism; valuing the environment and participating in actions to help preserve it.
These tips are not an exhaustive list, and there are so many other ways we can reduce our impact on the planet whilst travelling, but the main thing is to become more aware of our actions, and take that extra time to plan to reduce them. Any step in the right direction will make a positive impact, and you never know, you may find a new hobby in trying to reduce your footprint, and spreading that message to others as you explore our planet!