Stay local, avoid plastic, don’t touch the coral. We know the basics of what to do to behave eco-friendly – but are sustainability and travel always a contradiction? A study commissioned by the German Federal Environment Agency shows the devastating effects of tourism on the environment. During travel to and from a destination, there is a high consumption of primary energy, climate-damaging emissions and a decline in biodiversity. Arguably the best option to improve your carbon footprint is not travelling at all. But after all, exploring the world is hardly possible on foot. As with most things when it comes to acting more environmentally friendly, the key is to travel more consciously which means doing less and researching more. How you could achieve to travel more sustainably without spending a fortune on eco-resorts or just move by hitchhiking?
Avoid booking flights
Wherever possible, avoid flights. This is where most CO2 emissions are emitted. Ask yourself whether you might not even have time to reach your destination by train, for example. This way, even the journey to your destination will be an experience you won’t forget soon. At the same time, many destinations cannot be reached without a plane. As a rule of thumb, the further away your destination is, the longer you should stay. This way, you automatically strengthen the region through your stay and your local spending. And if choosing an airline, try to reward those using or experimenting with renewable biofuels, such as Lufthansa, KLM, and United Airlines.
Offset your CO2 emission
You can also offset your flight, for example with providers such as „atmosfair“. Here you can calculate how much CO2 you emit with your flight and support worldwide compensation programs with a sum of money. If your destination isn’t possible to be reached by train or boat, sustainable tourists can offset CO2 with “myClimate“ or “atmosfair”, it is possible to calculate the climate damage caused by one’s own flight route. The best way for the traveler to donate the two- to three-digit sum is to support local carbon offset projects.
Travel by train
As well as having a lower carbon footprint than travelling by air or car, going by train also provides opportunities for making the journey a positive part of the experience. An increasing number of European destinations are accessible via overnight services again, when the COVID-crisis will be over. If you need more encouragement, check out ecopassenger.org for the difference it will make to your emissions. If you are into that retro vibe of ancient trains, the most beautiful train rides are offered by Belmond on various continents and stunning paths.
(Read about our experience with the Belmond Andean Explorer trough Peru here)
Book sustainable accommodations
Book an accommodation that is as sustainable as possible. Prefer owner-managed accommodations to large hotel chains, if you see that their locations don’t even try to becoming more sustainable. On booking platforms like „Good Travel“, you can find a selection of sustainable and authentic accommodations in Europe that meet various sustainability criteria. And look out for sustainable certifications, there are a lot like „Green Globe“ and „Green Leaders“ by Trip Advisor.
This very important rule, should not only be followed when you are at your hometown, it is also a sustainable accelerator abroad. Buy where the money also reaches the people. This also applies to souvenirs. Whether in the farm store around the corner or in the store that still makes the souvenirs by hand. Here you should not save at the wrong end. Because this way you directly support the local people. As a rule, such products are also of higher quality, so that you will still enjoy them long after your trip.
Sustainable travel starts before you even leave your house, because you can already make a difference when you pack. Basically, the more weight you have to transport, the higher the environmental impact. Pack as minimally as possible and only take what you really need. And speaking of the luggage itself, we have a favorite sustainable brand for you. Horizn Studios does not only make great design for luggages and backpacks, it is also the world’s first PETA-Approved luggage brand, promising animal-free fabrics, dye, glue and wax components.
Don’t shop (normal) clothes for your vacation
Or at least, buy sustainable options. Because ecotourism already starts with the choice of equipment and outdoor clothing. In particular, water-repellent, windproof and breathable clothing, hiking boots and backpacks are in most cases coated with plastic waxes that are harmful to the environment and health, and which are released into the environment through abrasion, rain and washing. Functional clothing that does not use chemically treated fibers is unfortunately still the rarity, but there are some good alternatives made from natural fibers that can be coated with mineral oil-free wax. Pioneers in the industry are the American company Patagonia or the German eco-brand Hessnatur, which offers outdoor jackets made of organic cotton that contain no chemicals, are impregnated with beeswax and natural oils, and are completely biodegradable.
Don’t support animal cruelty
Often there are no strict laws on animal cruelty in foreign countries outside the EU. Shows where animals are paraded and obviously not kept in a manner appropriate to the species must be avoided at all costs when traveling sustainably. This also includes the popular elephant riding and dolphin shows.
Never buy wildlife products
Speaking of harming animals, as intriguing as it may seem to bring souvenirs home that are made of fur, shark teeth or sea shells, you will inadvertently help to support a growing marketplace for trafficking rare and endangered wildlife products as souvenirs. Don’t buy it, just don’t.
Book with sustainable travel companies
The company Wikinger Reisen was already founded in 1969 and is very familiar with the topic of slow tourism. The provider specializes in hiking vacations, cycling tours and trekking tours, it is a WWF partner and TourCert certified, neutralizes CO2 and supports various foundations. ReNatour organizes low-cost family trips and hiking vacations, as well as eco-vacations that are environmentally friendly and child-friendly. The provider achieves a local added value of currently 78 % in the offered destinations. If you are not based in Germany, the international portal Bookitgreen specializes in arranging sustainable vacations and currently has 130 providers listed. All travels offered are ethical and fair to all local residents.
Use your towels and bed sheets more often
To curb water scarcity at least to some extent, you can use water sparingly at home as well as when traveling. Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth, reduce your time in the shower, and don’t change your towels and bed sheets every day, because that not only saves water but also reduces unnecessary detergent consumption. At home, you don’t throw your towel in the washing machine after one shower, do you? In eco-friendly hotels there is a sign you have to put up, when you want your linens washed instead of the unsolicited service which is still an everyday practice in most hotels.