Travel is a big part of life in our family and we try to incorporate many of the environmental sustainability principles we use at home when we go on holiday. Here are my top 10 tips for planning an eco friendly holiday.
1) Use a dedicated eco travel agency or holiday provider
There are a number of holiday travel providers which specialise in eco friendly holidays and destinations. Its great that businesses like this exist to help get you to remote or difficult to get to eco-luxury destinations, but to be honest, if you have the time to do a little planning, there’s no absolutely reason that you need to use one of these services, especially if you are travelling on a budget or if you want to travel to a conventional destination or resort. Remember when you get to your destination there will also be small, independent travel/tour providers who can help get you to out of the way locations and you won’t be paying a middleman if you book with them directly. The local tourist bureau can recommend reputable companies – I used to run just such a business myself and the local tourist bureau sent us and the other local eco-tour providers lots of business.
2) Travel Independently if Possible
Its much easier to do eco travel when travelling independently, but I appreciate that resort-based travel can be much easier for some people, especially solo and more mature travellers, people in high stress jobs and those with physical disabilities (though lots of people with physical disabilities are able to enjoy independent travel with a little forward planning). You can apply lots of your sustainability principles from home when you’re staying at a resort, but its never going to be as ‘green’ as travelling independently. For instance, at a resort, there will always be upsetting amounts of food waste and you don’t know whether the items you place in the waste bin are actually being recycled or just sent to landfill (or eventually ending up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is now twice the size of Texas). If you’re travelling with kids its much easier to do independent travel (as opposed to resort travel) and you can read my article on Travelling with Kids to find out more. Whether you choose to travel independently or with a package holiday, you can still use some of the tools below to travel more sustainably.
3) Plan Well with the Right Tools
We find it exciting planning our holidays, and I highly recommend using Lonely Planet guides. Click here to find out more if you’re itching to get planning that next holiday. Lonely Planet guides are all written by authors who have long-term knowledge and experience of living in the areas they’re writing about and I find they are really sensitive in meeting the needs of those who like visiting local markets, hiking nature trails, trying new foods and exploring out of the way beauty spots…as well as all the usual fun and trivial stuff which is all part of the joy of travelling too. You can buy the classic guidebooks, ebooks and even just PDFs of particular chapters you want.
I also find Trip Advisor incredibly helpful too as a free resource to research things to do at destinations. I’m a top contributor, so if you’d like to read some of my reviews, you can check out my profile and explore destinations you’d like to visit by clicking here.
4) Travel Green
Try to think about how you can reduce your carbon footprint with your mode of transport while you’re travelling. Sometimes you do just need to use a car, but often its cheaper, faster and more convenient using public transport like Eurail (which includes Eurostar) which we’ll be using to get to France and Germany this summer. Right now Eurail has 37% off their global passes – their biggest sale ever – so its a great time to think about booking your summer holiday on a budget. Click below if you’d like to find out more.
When flying, it may be cheaper to include stopovers, but its more environmentally friendly to fly nonstop (and less of a hassle generally) because take-offs and landings are what use the most fuel. So you’ll need to balance your budget limitations against how environmentally conscious you would like to be. Some airlines offer carbon offset programmes.
Remember that depending on the type of holiday you’re booking, you can also use cycling as a mode of transport which is good for your health and which will reduce your carbon footprint. It may not work for the whole trip, but even if just for a day or two it can be fun and bicycle rental is generally pretty inexpensive too.
There are also lots of places where you can even travel by ferry boat as a mode of public transportation and this can be really fun. We’ve done this in both Italy and Greece.
If you do need to rent a car, try to rent a hybrid car if its available. City buses, subways and trams are often much quicker than going by car and you won’t have to worry about finding a parking spot.
5) Prep a Travel Kit
I have a little kit of travel gear that I take with me when I travel and this helps me avoid creating too much waste when I’m on holiday. I have a lightweight hooded rainproof coat from LL Bean that folds down to a size not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes and I keep this permanently in the backpack I travel with, along with a lightweight plastic Keep Cup (for coffee and takeaway cold drinks), a stainless steel straw, my eco-lunchbox, a couple of lightweight produce bags, a cloth grocery bag that folds down super tiny, some Norwex travel cloths (which I use for everything from napkins to wiping snotty noses to sanitising surfaces in dubious hotel rooms – they have silver integrated into them so after a good rinse in boiling or hot water and allowing them to dry, they self-clean, as bacteria can’t reproduce on silver), a mini first aid kit and a teeny-tiny Thieves cleaning spray. Your travel kit has stuff that you need to help avoid using too many takeaway coffee cups, plastic bottles, plastic cups, straws, paper napkins, kleenex, plastic rain ponchos, disposable wet wipes, plastic shopping bags and plastic takeaway boxes while you’re on holiday. These are the things that really add up, so by reducing these you can make a difference.
Think about when you go to a conventional resort – every time you order a drink you are presented with a new plastic cup and a couple of new plastic straws and you see stacks and stacks of used plastic cups and straws at every beach chair, every day. Its a bit sickening actually. If you have your own plastic or stainless steel takeaway cup (I recommend plastic or metal in this instance because you won’t be allowed to use glass around poolside areas) you can just hand this to the bar staff and have them refill it, using your own stainless steel straw (or no straw at all). Just this one change alone will make a significant environmental impact, so if you’re new to this whole world of trying to reduce your environmental impact, do this one thing as an easy start.
6) Eat Local
Research the local cuisines and foods and spend your money on those when you go on your holiday. If you’re staying at an apartment like an Airbnb (find out more here) then try to find local shops and farmers markets with locally grown or prepared foods to stock your apartment, or if you’re staying at a hotel, then research some restaurants which prepare traditional dishes made from local ingredients. Again, Lonely Planet guides and Trip Advisor are great at helping to research these types of details in advance. By eating locally grown foods, there will be less food miles, less carbon emissions associated with the foods you’re eating and you’ll be contributing more significantly to the local economy by supporting local farmers and growers and small business owners.
7) Choose Low Impact Activities
Okay, so if Disneyland is your destination, this might be harder to do. And its okay if you want to go to Disneyland – we’re not about judging here. But most places will have some kind of activity to do that won’t be so hard on the environment – like kayak adventures, bike rentals, hiking trails, finding non-touristy beaches (just – obviously – clean up after yourself when you leave) or visiting a local archaeological site. This is going to contribute to local economies more than hanging out at big chain restaurants/bars, spending the day on herbicide-saturated golf courses or going to theme parks (although I understand that all those things might be fun to do from time to time). By the way, that’s me below, back in the day, climbing my favourite route and below that I’m on a canoeing trip with my BFF last summer!
8) Buy Reef-Friendly Sunscreen
Not only is most sunscreen bad for your skin (remember all those chemicals you slather on your skin are absorbed and have to be processed by your liver), but they’re bad for the environment too. Sunscreen is responsible for damaging coral reefs. Thankfully, as a starting point, Hawaii has made the forward step of becoming the first US state to ban sunscreens which are harmful to coral reefs. Hawaiian Airlines has even partnered with RAW Elements sunscreen company to hand out complimentary samples of their products to passengers. That is cool.
I’m not a proponent of the no-sunscreen approach (because cancer, right) and am wary of homemade sunscreens as you can’t be certain of how old the products you’re using are and how much of the SPF is still active, but there’s no reason to slather harmful and toxic SPF products on yourself and your kids unless you are really faced with no other alternative (and yes, I’ve run out of sunscreen on holiday and had to do this). I haven’t tried RAW Elements yet, but they’re a good, clean brand with a plastic packaging free option and I intend to try them out this summer so I can report back to you.
Its not just sunscreen either – try to pack toiletries which have less environmental impact when they enter the water table. Natural soaps like Dr Bronners 18-in-1 or Moroccan Beldi soap and natural face oils, body lotions and deodorants are a good idea too.
9) This One is For the Girls
Yeah, this is a weird one for a travel blog to write about and it doesn’t apply to you guys, but read on, because frankly, this matters. Girls, your tampons are going to clog up the incredibly delicate plumbing systems in most countries that aren’t the US, Canada or UK. Okay? And your pads are going to take literally hundreds of years to break down in local landfill – or worse, the ocean. So make sure you have a menstrual cup and/or some period pants (both on heavy days) so you’re not causing any unnecessary environmental damage to the place you’re visiting. Make sure you use clean or freshly boiled water to clean your menstrual cup – at home I wash mine in the sink, but am a bit more conscientious when travelling somewhere where there may be more microbes in the water system. Period pants are an easy option too. I have a pair by Modibodi available in UK, NZ and Australia but my readers in the US and Canada can get theirs from Thinx.
10) Take a Water Bottle
Water bottle plastic waste is a serious issue and I don’t really trust that many places will recycle the bottles after we place them in the bin. Recycle bins can be difficult to find when travelling in remote locations. And if you don’t think that plastic water bottles are a problem…check out this lovely river in Guatemala (the beautiful country where I honeymooned, by the way).
Okay, so clearly we’re not going to drink from the taps in Guatemala or a lot of other places in the world where our stomachs could be affected by pathogenic microbes, so what can we do? Clearly safety is the ultimate priority and the answer is NOT just to bring your water bottle from home and cross your fingers you’ll be fine. There are companies which have developed non-chemical built in micro-filters which eliminates 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria (such as Salmonella, Cholera and E. coli) and 99.9% of protozoa (including Cryptosporidium and Giardia). They can weigh as little as just 2.7 ounces and the filter can purify up to 500 litres of safe drinking water from lakes, rivers, streams and tap water before they need changing. I’m currently doing research on which one I like best and will make a specific brand recommendation once I’ve tried them all out.
Thanks for reading what I have to say about eco travel. I’ve included two affiliate links in this post – to Lonely Planet publications and to Trip Advisor, both of which I’ve loved and used for years, long before becoming an affiliate. If you’ve enjoyed my content, please use these links to have a look at the products and make any purchases you’d like to. You’ll be able to take advantage of special rates you can get through my affiliate links and I’ll receive a small commission to help me pay for my blog. Thanks so much for your support!
Photo Credit: Lonely Planet Guides by Valerie and Valise