I won't sugarcoat - I feel torn.
I love to travel, especially if that means I’m rejoining family members and old friends.
I will admit that from time to time, I feel an urge to move around a bit. To shuffle my surroundings. To wake up in cities I don’t know my way around and have conversations in languages I cannot entirely comprehend... God knows I try! :)
Go traveling and you won't ever be the same.
But - yes, there's always a 'But'! - I know it’s hard to make travel a truly “sustainable activity" because hey, no matter what you do, flying around on big petrol-drinking jets will probably never be a green thing.
Does sustainable tourism exist? Can we travel responsibly, while being more mindful of other people and the planet?
I truly don’t know.
Reflecting on my past travels, were all of those trips as sustainable as they could have been? Most likely not. Back then, I didn’t know a fraction of the things I know now and I guess that's ok, no one is born knowing it all, am I right?
My previous trips (and my trips to come) are part of the motivation for writing this post.
Let's walk through some of the best sustainable travel tips I could come up with...
Turns out, the majority of our carbon emissions come from our travel to and from our destinations. But you probably knew that already!
So, a simple way to travel more sustainably is to reduce the distance we travel. Simple, right?
If you're still in the planning phase of your trip, maybe find a local destination that might get you the same fix – sea, mountains, foodie locations, incredible sunsets… well, Ireland has it all, lemme tell you that!
As someone who still has to fly abroad (to see my OG family & friends!) myself, I know this isn't always possible, but it's well worth considering.
Have you fully explored this beautiful green island of ours?
If you are going to far-far-away lands…
If you are traveling to a foreign land, then make it count!
Maybe not the "sustainable travel tip" you expected, but if you choose to take a few longer trips each year vs. a lot of small trips, we'll be making progress on reducing our carbon footprint. The goal might simply be to cut down on the number of plane, train, and long road trips you make each year.
If I am off to Rio, what I usually do is to spend more time there which means I will spend less time actually traveling – the greatest emitter of this whole sitch!
Become a Pioneer!
The most popular travel destinations are typically popular for a reason. Quinta de Lago? Some island off the coast of Spain? Yes and yes, they are all stunning spots.
However‚ with that popularity has come overcrowding which leads to more waste for locals to manage, greater noise pollution for the local wildlife, and high emissions from cars and transport in the local area.
The advice here is: Seek out somewhere less travelled.
The economies of local communities can benefit from some extra tourism. While seeking out more unknown destinations can better distribute the negative impacts, it can likewise also distribute the upsides of tourism for locals.
While you might think that my first piece of advice would be to "travel light" (yes, that's a given!), I'd rather make the case for packing to be prepared.
After transportation, the goods we purchase at our destinations are what make up the greatest amount of carbon emissions while traveling – isn’t that wild?!
While there's always the urge to pick up a local souvenir, we sometimes run into issues where we need to buy something to make our trip more comfortable. Think of that extra tee, maybe a scarf or a jumper because we're cold. We buy the cheapest, most readily available option, with no expectation of wearing or using it after the trip… panic leads to bad choices!
While you might travel with an item you don't end up using, bringing that rain jacket you've already purchased makes less of an impact than just planning on buying something if you need it when you're traveling.
Please don't go overboard!
Just mitigate the chance that you'll encounter a scenario where you need a clothing item you don't have with you. And, if you end up in that scenario anyway‚ buy something that you will wear again and again.
Reuse is king (as always!)
As you pack, think about the items that you can bring that might have multiple uses.
My top picks are:
- Water bottle
- Coffee Cup
- Silicone Pouch (and/or a Lunchbox)
- Reusable Bag
- Charcoal Stick (to filter water on the go!)
Finally, I always bring solid versions of shampoo, conditioner, body wash and deodorant so that I can avoid using miniatures or having to buy new ones at my final destination…
Bring the Extras
While they may feel silly to pack, here are a few extras that you might find useful throughout the trip that will cut down on potential waste:
- Reusable Wipes – from kids hands to wiping food stains on the go, these are so handy to have!
- Spot Gone Stick – to remove stains (hello, red wine!) when a washing machine isn’t an option
- Refillable Hand Sanitiser – because we no longer have an option, am I right?
But wait… How do you get there?
Ok, I'll be honest‚ when researching for this article, I 100% believed that air travel was without a doubt the most inefficient and carbon-intensive means of transportation. However, the results of my research weren't that absolute… #shocker I know!
The answer of whether you should fly, drive, or take a train is‚ well, it depends!
What a vague answer, Pat… tsc tsc tsc!
Thing is, I learned a few key things here… If we're given the opportunity to drive (vs. fly), the most fuel-efficient form of transportation is a bus and that's because "buses have about 3x the per-passenger fuel efficiency of an average car."
Really, it's all about the fuel efficiency per passenger over the distance.
Hey, I know that this may or may not be within your control...
But if you can drive from a city to another, get a friend in the car who needs to make the trip too and it'll be more efficient than if you flew!
Now if we're talking about visiting Costa Rica from Dublin, well… there's not really an option – we're flying, right?
And this brings us to our next tip…
Yes, I know all our wallets are shaking in fear right now, but the majority of a plane's fuel supply is used for take-off and landing.
On shorter flights, it's near 25% of the total fuel supply.
That means it's best for us to avoid connections as much as possible.
I know that direct flights are often more expensive, but if you do decide to treat yourself and splurge on direct, do know you're doing the planet a major fav, too.
Not driving your own car? Look to rent a hybrid or electric vehicle. Most major rental companies now offer both options. And always remember to research recharging points along the way so you are not suffering from recharge-anxiety!
Offset Your Travel Footprint
Lastly, with all your travel accounted for, you can take the additional step of offsetting your emissions by purchasing carbon credits – VITA Ireland is my go-to. Don't get carried away with the hope of offsets being the 'silver bullet,' they aren't a perfect solution. We can offset our way out of this climate mess….
When Local, Go Local!
Forget Star-big-bucks, support the local coffee shop instead!
Yes, when exploring the world it is key to support the local economy. Buy local produce, go to local restaurants instead of the same old McD’s. The same rules you apply as when you are at home, that’s basically it. That produce that was grown locally had to travel a much shorter distance. Plus, finding a local street market is always a plus!
As a visitor enjoying a city you don't know, do everything you can to give back to it while you're there. An easy way is to shop with locals!
Mind Local Culture & Customs
It's always important to be both mindful and respectful of the communities who are hosting you. You are a guest there!
Be mindful of this when you're visiting other communities. Consider that what's best for their local economy and preserving and celebrating their culture might not be what your home country has done. And…
Leave No Trace
You shouldn’t litter at home, why would you do it while abroad? Well, you won’t. Make it your goal to make it seem like you never visited. Isn't that the goal of being a good house guest? Well, the same applies to our travels!
Pick up after yourself. Mind local waste and recycling guidelines and capabilities. Respect the local flora and fauna!
The thing is, folks...
Traveling "sustainably" is not just about the environmental impact anymore. It's much broader than that. We must consider the people affected, too.
To me, there's something quite incredible about traveling.
It challenges us to try and experience new cultures, new food, new ways of doing things, it opens our minds up to new perspectives, and puts our lives into scale with all that's happening around us in the world.
By adding in this additional consideration, of not just what that travel experience meant for you, but what it meant and means for the local community where you were a guest, we can broaden both the significance and impact of what it means to be well-traveled.
Travel with purpose and be mindful of your choices from the minute you decide to go on a holiday.
Every little helps.
- This picture was taken in Costa Rica at a village called Nosara back in 2009. Probably, the most beautiful place I've ever been... dreaming of going back there one day!