Now that more of us than ever are travelling far and wide and transport is responsible for 22 percent of the globe’s emissions, it’s high time we all took steps to make our adventures a little more eco-friendly. These ten green travel tweaks will make your next trip kinder to the planet, and they’re all easy to do.
Guide to green travel: how to plan a more eco-friendly adventure
1. Take the train
More eco-friendly and arguably more romantic, if definitely far slower than a planet journey, is train travel. If you’re just as into the journey as the destination, going by rail can be a wonderful way to travel across a country, or indeed across many, especially in places such as Europe where it’s easy to hop on and off trains between cities. In some countries, taking the train can be its own travel highlight – Sri Lanka’s beautiful train journey from Columbo to Kandy through tea plantations, for example, is a must-do. Tailor Made train holidays have great ideas for planning a trip around a train journey – you could hop between European cities, explore Switzerland’s mountain villages and get to ski resorts by train or even take the posh Belmond Andean Explorer train from Arequipa to Cusco – imagine arriving at the start of the Macchu Pichu trail by rail.
2. Go carbon neutral
Sometimes leaving on a jet plane is the only realistic way to reach a far-flung country, but there’s no escaping the fact that flying is one of the major polluters of our planet. There are ways to make your plane journey more green, including going carbon neutral – paying a fee to counteract the emissions created by your trip. You can book trips directly with carbon neutral companies such as Intrepid Travel, which automatically offsets the environmental costs of their journeys. Or do it yourself – online carbon calculators work out the cost of a flight (i.e 0.25 metric tons for a return flight UK-Portugal, which would cost £3-£16 depending on how you choose to offset it) and then let you pay the equivalent into renewable energy initiatives such as tree plantations or community projects. Carbon Footprint lets you tot up your emissions and then choose an offset project from their portfolio. And when you can afford to, fly direct rather than booking connecting flights – it can be more expensive, but it makes for a lower carbon footprint.
3. Take public transport
This is a no-brainer – opt for bus or train travel in-country rather than private transfers, domestic flights or renting a car. Slow travel can be one of the most amazing ways to really see a country, meet locals and stop off along the way – you’re guaranteed to have more stories to tell after a journey on a Latin American ‘chicken bus’ than a bog-standard plane. And long-haul, country-crossing buses are often the cheapest way by far to travel, even if they can be a bit of an endurance test. As well as traditional buses, destinations that are backpacker favourites such as Australia and New Zealand have overland backpacker bus tours specifically aimed at travelers. These can be expensive but are very social and often include group activities as well as scheduled arrivals and departures in locations you’re probably keen to see.
4. Go bike touring
Even better than using public transport, try exploring a new city or country on two wheels. Your hostel may have a bike you can borrow – otherwise, seek out a rental shop with decent-looking bikes, or sign up for a tour – you could bike around Amsterdam with a local or go on a wine-sampling cycle in South Africa’s vineyards. A bike tour is truly green travel – it’s free once you’ve rented the bike, it has no negative impact on the environment and you’re getting fit as you explore.
5. Plan a staycation
Save the planet and some cash by staying in Britain for your next holiday. It’s easier to find a really wild adventure than you might think, and you could use the cash you’d save on a plane ticket to do something really awesome like learn to dive, go on a wildlife safari or rent a little cabin in the mountains.
Try my guide to island-hopping in the Scottish Hebrides
6. Go on a self-supported hiking tour
If you want to know you’re having pretty much zero impact on the environment, it doesn’t get better than a self-supported hike – carrying you own food, water and camping kit and leaving no trace on the landscape after your trip. You can plan your own or book onto a guided trip – the latter is a great way to learn how to pack your rucksack and look after yourself on multi-day hiking trips.
7. Go short haul
You don’t need to travel far to find truly wild places – there are amazing adventures to be had a short plane journey or a train ride away. Try my favourite short-haul adventures chosen for The Independent, all under a four-hour flight from the UK and including surfing in Morocco, hiking in Finland, diving in Malta and exploring the amazing, subtropical Isles of Scilly off the coast of Cornwall.
Ideas for short haul trips that are big on adventure
8. Practice good eco habits in-country
I’m definitely guilty of this one – being good at recycling, avoiding single use plastics and making green choices at home, but immediately forgetting all my good habits when I’m in a new country. But it’s easier than you think to make the effort to keep your eco habits up abroad. See if recycling is available where you’re staying. Say no to single-use plastic wherever possible. And be flexible – in some countries, drinking water to fill your flask up might not be as readily available as at home, but on the flip side a local market might make it easy to buy plastic-free fruit, veggies and snacks for your travels. If every traveller asked their hostel or a local shop for plastic-free options and water refills, they’d quickly be on offer.
Try these ten easy switches to limit your plastic use at home and abroad
9. Rent an electric car
It’s still in its infancy, but you can now swap your usual fuel-guzzling car rental for an electric car instead, a great road-tripping alternative in countries with decent charging points. Sixt have electric cars available in the USA and some of Europe, as do Enterprise. Green Motion also offers rental cars with lower emissions.
10. Make a statement with your money
You have the power to change the world whilst you travel, just with the choices you make each day. Every time you make a commercial choice abroad, you cast a vote – and as travellers we can show exactly what we value, helping to change what’s offered to us in new destinations. Make a point of choosing to stay in eco lodges and green certified accommodation or local homestays (Costa Rica, for example, has eco lodges in abundance, and you can check they have accreditation before you book), take public transport, rent bikes and pick tour operators with a community link or green accreditation. Choose green travel options whenever you can – if we all do, they’ll become the norm. Wouldn’t that be amazing?