Going green: 18 ways to ensure you're travelling responsibly

The future of travel may feel uncertain right now, but one thing is for sure: when the world re-opens, it's time to go green. Here are some inspirational ideas to make your adventures more responsible...

8 mins

It may seem strange to think about travelling green, when the world isn't travelling at all.

That said, we now have some time to reflect on our travel habits, to think about where - and how - we explore the world when it re-opens.

Discover our top tips for going green at every stage of your journey: planning, preparing, getting there, enjoying the trip and arriving home.

Here are 18 ways you can ensure your next trip goes green...

Choose an eco-friendly destination

Consider an eco-friendly destination like Iceland (Shutterstock)

Consider an eco-friendly destination like Iceland (Shutterstock)

When planning your journey let your conscience be your guide; choose somewhere with a green ethos. Do your research.

Is there a public transport system, a cycle network, local food markets or volunteer programmes? There are an increasing number of destinations working to become more eco-friendly.

In 2016, France became the 
first country in the world to announce a total ban on the manufacture and sale of single-use plastic cups, cutlery, plates and takeaway boxes by 2020.

Finland’s ‘Be more like a Finn’ campaign and New Zealand’s ‘Tiaki Promise’ both encourage visitors to make
a pledge to respect the country’s nature, culture
and inhabitants during their stay.

Meanwhile, Iceland’s ‘Kranavatn Challenge’ gave the country’s tap water a luxury branding to give people an incentive to save on plastic bottled water
and drink running water instead.

Unfortunately, though, the more 
a destination is promoted, the more people tend to flock to it. In order to avoid overburdening popular places, try to buck the trend or travel out of season.

Pack lightly

The heavier planes and trains are, the more fuel they use, so why not lend a helping hand by only taking what’s necessary.

When laying out your clothes, think about how you can adapt outfits to wear again. Take a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, as well as recyclable shopping bags.

Packing your toiletry bag is key, too. Reduce plastic waste by taking a bamboo toothbrush. Decant products such as shampoo and conditioner into reusable bottles to save on plastic or – even better – use a shampoo bar. If you do have to take liquids in plastic bottles, take them home afterwards to reuse.

Try to ensure all your products are biodegradable and check your sunscreen is reef safe so you’re not polluting the environment.

Eco-proof your home, before you go

Recycle, recycle, recycle! (Shutterstock)

Recycle, recycle, recycle! (Shutterstock)

Make sure your home isn’t wasting energy while you’re away. Unplug all your electronics – just not
 your fridge or freezer – or ensure switches are off.

You can also turn down the thermostat as there’s no point keeping the temperature high while you’re not around. If you have a newspaper
 or magazine delivered to your house, why not suspend the service for the time you’re away to save on paper and delivery?

Finally, make sure you’ve recycled everything. If you’re packing new toiletries or medication, leave any packaging at home.

Land waste in foreign countries can be problematic so
it’s best to reduce the amount of waste you produce abroad. It may not be as easy to recycle overseas as it is in the UK and you don’t want to add to a landfill.

If you're flying, choose an eco-conscious airline

If you’re travelling by plane, spend a little more money and fly direct. Taking off and landing actually uses more fuel than being in the air.

It may be more expensive, but it’s quicker, easier – and just think of your carbon footprint! Many airlines now offer the option to off set your CO2 emissions during booking or at the airport, too.

If you’re flying, why not choose an IATA (International Air Transport Association) member airline that offers carbon offset programmes.

A growing number of airlines are looking to make their services greener, from plastic on board to the fuel they use. Hi Fly, Norwegian, Scandinavian Airlines, easyJet and Emirates are among them.

On the plane? Find ways to save

How can you save on the plane? (Shutterstock(

How can you save on the plane? (Shutterstock(

There’s plenty that air passengers can do to help while they’re
 on board, too.

If you want to reduce plastic waste, say no to headphones and blankets in plastic wrapping, bring your own reusable bottle and possibly even a bamboo spork.

If you’re on
 a shorter flight, you could save money and take your own food.

Consider travelling by train

Trains may be slower, but they could save you money and lower your carbon footprint, especially if you choose an electric or even hydro- powered train instead of a diesel one (again do your research – some slower trains may be more energy- efficient).

A trip from London to Ljubljana, Slovenia, emits 42kg per passenger by train compared to approximately 268kg by plane according to EcoPassenger, who operate an online calculator that compares the impact of different transport options.

Not only do trains emit less carbon, but they often carry more people making them even more efficient when it comes to energy-saving. Plus, if you travel by train, you get to see a country;

indeed, the train journey can be an experience in itself. Book the Eastern & Oriental Express, for example, a slow train that travels through South-East Asia, and you can sit back, relax and not only enjoy the view, but also a taste of fine dining and elegant comfort.

Travelling by train already cuts carbon emissions, so if you buy a Eurail Pass, an all-in-one rail ticket that gives flexible access to most trains across Europe, you’ll be making one of the greenest choices.

The average C02 emission on a train trip is about three times less per person than travelling by car and four times less than by plane.

Travelling by boat? Consider your options

Boating the Mekong River? Sign us up (Shutterstock)

Boating the Mekong River? Sign us up (Shutterstock)

Travelling by boat isn’t necessarily greener: cruise ships can omit up to three times more carbon emissions than aeroplanes.

However, you could sail emission-free, board an electric boat or take a kayaking holiday. Boats may take longer and can cost more than a flight, but they offer a different perspective.

One option: Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen has been dubbed the world’s greenest cruise ship. The combination of diesel and electric motors allows it to sail purely on battery power in sensitive areas with much less noise and lower emissions.

MSC Cruises recently announced it will be building two new ships powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). 

Ferries are generally a greener option than flying, too. Norway will see five new electric passenger ferries hit
 the water in 2021. The new vessels being launched by Boreal Sjø will run between Oslo City Hall and the Osloford islands.

Finally, Wendy Wu Tours’ new eco-friendly vessel, Victoria Mekong, offers four new group tours and two private tours through Cambodia and Vietnam by river cruise.

The boat boasts an advanced water purification system, uses solar power to heat water and aims to reduce its plastic usage.

When you arrive, use public transport

Using public transport is not only much more eco-friendly than driving (as there’s more people travelling per gallon of fuel), it’s also a great way to see a country – whether that’s journeying across a continent by bus or using a hop-on/hop-o service in a city to see the sights.

Of course, if the transport happens to be electric or uses alternative fuel, then that’s one step better.

Walk or rent a bike

Renting a bike is a great way to see the sights (Shutterstock)

Renting a bike is a great way to see the sights (Shutterstock)

The best way to avoid a carbon footprint is to make real footprints! Why not explore your chosen destination on foot or by bike?

You’ll discover new routes and get to take in more of your surroundings, and you’ll feel all the better for it as you’ll be breathing in fresh air and enjoying the exercise.

Plus, if you rent a bike, you’ll save some money!

Rent a hybrid or electric car

If you do want to drive, try renting
 a hybrid or electric car.

Hire companies such as Avis and Budget have fuel-efficient options and some hotels offer accommodation discounts if you’re travelling in an electric car.

There are also things you can do while driving to save on fuel. Avoid quick stops and starts, make sure your tyres are always inflated to the correct amount, don’t idle on the roads and keep to the speed limit.

If you’re travelling long distances make sure to keep your load light and save on fuel.

And keep your eyes peeled for new ways to explore by electric car. At Ol Pejeta Bush Camp in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, for example, Asilia is one of the first safari operators to launch an electric car safari.

Not only is the vehicle more quiet and steady, it also emits less pollution into the park than a typical safari jeep, for a much more sustainable wildlife experience.

You could even save money on hotels by travelling cross country by campervan or use a lift share service like BlaBlaCar to get to your destination more cheaply.

Sleep green where you can

Pacuare Lodge, an eco-lodge in Costa Rica (Pacuare Lodge)

Pacuare Lodge, an eco-lodge in Costa Rica (Pacuare Lodge)

If you don’t want to spend money on a hotel, you could choose instead to camp under the stars or stay with a friend – after all, the best way to see a country is with a local.

But if you must use a hotel
– as is often the reality of the situation – then try to select accommodation with third-party certification.

Do some research into their environmental policies. What goods and services do they use? Do they have good waste management?

Don’t overlook small hotels. Often they are the more eco-friendly choice.

At the hotel, make sensible choices

There are also steps you can take yourself while staying at a hotel
to reduce your impact on the environment.

Keep your showers short, turn off the tap while brushing your teeth and don’t use the hotel’s laundry and cleaning services to save on water.

Turn off the TV, lights and air conditioning when you leave the room and reuse your linen and towels. Your habits shouldn’t change just because you’re away from home.

Try the local cuisine

Eat local wherever you can (Shutterstock)

Eat local wherever you can (Shutterstock)

By eating local or organic food you are reducing your carbon emissions as your food doesn’t have to travel far.

It also means you’re supporting local farmers and benefitting the local economy. Order à la carte instead of buffet to avoid food waste. Research restaurants before you dine out to ensure an eco-friendly menu.

Be an ethical consumer

Your choices about who you travel with are often
 as important as how you travel.

Do your research and pick ethical tour operators who are also working to protect the planet; you want to be travelling with companies who respect people and nature.

Smaller tours have less impact on the environment. Where possible use local and choose your tours wisely. Are they authentic experiences? Support local communities and sustainable tourism. 

If you want to buy souvenirs to support local communities make sure you’re buying sustainable products. Watch out for rare wood, animal horn and coral.

Take care of your destination's environment

A pristine beach in Palawan, Philippines (Shutterstock)

A pristine beach in Palawan, Philippines (Shutterstock)

If you want to visit pristine ecosystems healthy beaches, breathe in fresh mountain air and wander through a picturesque town with clean streets, you need to care and respect for the environments you’re travelling to and through.

Don’t litter – even better, pick up litter if you see it. If nature calls, do your business responsibly. Don’t leave toilet paper.

Protect natural habitats by watching where you walk and sticking to paths. Instead of dune bashing on a four-wheel-drive trip, take an ethical camel trek to explore the desert.

And when diving, protect the reefs by tucking in your equipment so you don’t touch or damage the coral.

Make sure your travel is animal-friendly

In order to protect the environment, we also have to protect its inhabitants. Animals play an important part in keeping ecosystems healthy.

Wildlife trips can be life-changing experiences, but do your research and choose companies carefully.

Don’t ride elephants or pet lions and stay away from dolphin tours that lure the animals towards boats with food. Act responsibly by not feeding wild animals and keeping your distance.

There are a number of organisations working to promote animal-friendly travel. PETA (the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has launched awards to celebrate businesses meeting the demand for vegan and animal-friendly travel products.

Ryanair won the 2019 Best In-Flight Meal for its vegan lasagne, while Virgin Trains got the award for Best Trainline for Vegan Food. There
is a growing trend for meat-free, plant-based food.

Top tip: Clean your boots! Transporting seeds and insect eggs to different locations could lead to invasive species.

Keep up your (excellent) efforts on your way home

Your eco-journey doesn’t come to an end when you return home after a trip. As well as your usual green lifestyle, there are actions you can take to protect the planet.

Firstly, don’t leave any waste such as half empty toiletry products and used batteries when you’re packing to go home. It will most likely be thrown out and end up in landfill. Rather take waste home and recycle it if possible.

Most importantly, you can retrospectively offset your carbon footprint using a variety of tools. Why not donate to a tree planting scheme or get involved yourself?

And finally, you can donate to grassroots organisations working to protect the communities you visit and minimise the impact visitors have on places.

Last but not least, take the slower route

If you don’t want to feel guilty about your travels, there are many things you can do. Small choices make a big difference. But perhaps the most important one is to go slow.

Instead of rushing your journey, take a longer trip. See more of
the country. Turn off your digital devices, spend more time outdoors, get back to nature, breathe in the fresh air. Enjoy the planet you’re trying to protect.

And if you spend more time planning and finding people and places with green practices, you’ll have an even better experience, not only because those places will be better preserved for longer, but because you’ll know you’ve done everything in your power to prevent further damage.

According to Skyscanner’s Global Travel Trends 2020 report, Premium Economy bookings on long-haul flights were up 8% and one out of five customers chose their ‘Greener Choice’ label for more sustainable flight options, showing the trend within the industry is for slower, longer, greener travel.

Over the last quarter-century, the Wanderlust team have consistently found that travellers want to make a real difference – and often, with a small amount of research, they really can.

After all, there’s no need to let your journey cost the earth.

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