Environmental sustainability is a much debated topic nowadays, and it has gained greater public attention. Despite this, little is known about what are the principles for being environmental friendly when on the move. Here are some very important practical guidelines to remember when travelling abroad.
Green travel is for everyone – yes, even for you! You don’t need to be an ageing, bearded hippie or an alternative-type backpacker to travel responsibly. With a bit of time and effort, and a few tricks, all travellers can behave in an environmental-friendly and sustainable manner.
Here are our best-practice tips for "going green":
•Choose your tour company wisely. Even if you go on a package holiday, you can promote responsible tourism. Look at the provider you’re about to choose, and ask yourself if they’re committed to sustainability.
Do they regular publish reports on corporate social responsibility? Have they got an official environmental policy? Do they book stays in "green" accommodation and locally owned housing?
If they’ve got an eco-label or have recently won a sustainability award, check out this feature, too. Sometimes, such prizes and seeming quality standards can be mere promotion tools. Always look at the actual guidelines they follow.
•Research your transportation options. If you do need to travel by plane, see which airlines are particularly interested in fuel efficiency, and don’t forget to donate to a CO2 compensation policy. However, you should opt to go by train or bus if you can.
Once arrived at your destination, make sure to walk as much as possible, to use the public transport network, or to borrow a bike. If you have to rent a car in order to get around, search for models that run on hybrid fuel or bio-diesel. If the latter aren’t available, a fuel-efficient vehicle is still a good option!
•When packing your suitcase, reduce waste and weight. Often, you’ll buy new items for your journey. Remove their packaging material and recycle it properly. Moreover, heavy luggage requires more fuel to transport. Not to mention it’s very cumbersome to haul around! You’ll do yourself and the environment a favour if you pay attention to what you bring along.
Reusable items, such as battery chargers, shopping bags, or lunch boxes, come in handy. With regard to clothing, choose quick-dry, non-wrinkly fashion, so you can rinse or clean the clothes yourself, if necessary. In hot climates, natural fibres like cotton or linen will let you breathe easy and not get soaked with sweat immediately.
Last but not least, pack some organic toiletries and cleaning agents in small refill bottles. This is especially important if you travel to remote locations without a well-stocked supermarket round the nearest corner.
•Finally, remember your last preparations before leaving. Adjust your central heating and your water heater to cut down on energy costs, especially if you plan to stay abroad for a long period. Close the windows, turn off all lights, and unplug your electronics as well. Except for the fridge, obviously! If you stock any perishable food that might soon go bad, ask your friends or neighbours if they want it instead.
•While enjoying your dream vacation, watch what you buy and what you eat. For example, shop at local markets for local produce, or buy organic food whenever possible. Reducing your meat consumption also to help decrease your carbon footprint. This might be a good opportunity to have at least one “veggie day” per week.
Moreover, if you go shopping during your holiday, make do without superfluous packaging material or unnecessary plastic bags. When choosing souvenirs for your friends, try to buy authentic arts and crafts – but beware of anything made from exotic animal products! No matter how pretty they look, things like ivory figurines or tortoiseshell ornaments contribute to endangering protected species.
In general, do your best to support local businesses and restaurants rather than international corporations or globalized fast food chains.
•Sustainable travel isn’t only about the environment: It’s also essential to respect the local culture, especially if you explore remote locations or developing countries. Don’t be an "ugly tourist" stereotype, but read up on intercultural issues and appropriate etiquette instead.
Having at least some basic knowledge of the local language is a definite bonus. It might not be enough for living in a foreign country, but a few polite phrases tend to go a long way.
•Be critical as far as “voluntourism” is concerned, though. The trend of participating in NPO projects abroad certainly stems from laudable intentions. However, such efforts are often more about making the travellers feel good than about helping the people they should benefit.
If you are interested in this kind of "green travel", study the project very carefully. As an alternative, you could just make a donation to another organization that’s active in the same community; this money then goes towards paying a professional aid worker or hiring local employees.