Travel is Back – Here’s How You Can Travel More Sustainably

Buying local, seasonal produce is a sustainable practice that also happens to be delicious
Buying local, seasonal produce is a sustainable practice that also happens to be delicious | © John Duarte / Getty Images
Photo of Holly Tuppen
13 September 2021

As the world opens up again post-pandemic, it’s time to reassess your relationship with travel. Here are our top recommendations on how to make more sustainable choices while globetrotting.

There’s never been a better moment to embrace a more mindful form of travel. Covid-19 has provided a snapshot of the kind of global chaos we can expect if we don’t halt the climate crisis. On the positive side, it has also highlighted how we can work together within our communities for positive change and find solace found in slower pursuits and the natural world. Read on to discover Culture Trip’s top tips for travelling more sustainably in the wake of the pandemic.

Ready to travel again? Check out TRIPS by Culture Trip, our collection of small-group adventures to some of the world’s most exciting destinations. Curated by experts, led by Local Insiders.

Go overland

Hopping on a plane is, unfortunately, the most carbon-intensive thing we can do as individuals. So, reducing flying habits is a crucial part of travelling sustainably. As demand for train travel exceeds supply, new long-distance routes are popping up all over Europe. Austrian rail operator ÖBB is expanding Nightjet services between Amsterdam, Germany and Austria and start-up Midnight Trains has proposed 12 new international “hotel on rails” services from Paris. Charity Climate Perks might even persuade your employer to give you extra holiday time to go slow.

Train travel has long been a popular way to get around Thailand | © Pakin Songmor / EyeEm / Getty Images

Avoid economic leakage

The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that only $5 out of every $100 spent by tourists in the developing world stays in that country. Most of our holiday money ends up in the hands of large multinationals via hotel and restaurant chains, tour operators, money transfers, commissions and flights. For travel to be more sustainable, we need to look for local businesses every step of the way.

Protect biodiversity

The climate crisis is directly related to the biodiversity crisis, whereby species are dying at 1,000 times their natural rate. Tourism can provide an economic incentive to protect ecosystems worldwide, offering an alternative income away from more destructive industries like mining or fishing. Look for travel experiences and places to stay that use funds for conservation like The Long Run, Route of the Parks in Patagonia, or the European Safari Company.

Be mindful of what you eat

What we eat and drink is responsible for a quarter of global carbon emissions, according to the University of Oxford. Being more mindful of what we consume on holiday can significantly impact our environmental footprint. Cutting meat and dairy can reduce your carbon “foodprint” by up to two-thirds. Going local is often the best approach; food and drink doesn’t have to travel as far, traditional diets tend to be kinder to the environment and it injects cash into the local economy.

Be mindful of what you eat when you explore the local food scene | © entrechat / Getty Images

Ditch the plastic

During the pandemic, we’ve taken a huge step backward when it comes to single-use plastic. Even if it’s supposedly compostable or recyclable, in reality, the vast majority of single-use plastic ends up in the ocean. Experts predict our seas will contain more plastic than fish by 2030. Pack reusables, check that your suntan lotion and cosmetics don’t contain microplastics, reject single-use plastic and make a lot of noise to pressure businesses to kick their habit and clean up the supply chain.

Resist fast fashion

The fashion industry has a greater carbon footprint than the aviation and shipping industry combined, so stuffing a suitcase full of fast fashion brands like Boohoo, Asos, H&M and the like is a sure way to undo any efforts to be sustainable elsewhere. Besides carbon, the fashion industry can have devastating environmental impacts due to dye run-off, unused clothes going to landfills and excessive water use in extremely dry parts of the world. That’s not to mention some of the world’s worst labour standards.

Think outside the box

In 2018, our enthusiasm for travel was so rampant that “overtourism” was shortlisted for the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year. Around this time, places like Venice, Barcelona, Machu Picchu and viewpoints like Horseshoe Bend in Arizona questioned how many visitors were too many. By ditching the outdated bucket list mentality that has pushed travellers to the same spots for years, we can lessen the burden of tourism. Instead, seek lesser-known destinations, look for opportunities to explore well-known destinations in a less touristy way, or travel offseason.

Heading to lesser-visited areas throws up a variety of rewards

Empower communities

The most responsible form of travel answers the needs of communities, champions culture, improves environmental and social well-being and strives for greater equality. This can only happen when experiences are developed by or in partnership with a community – it has to be based on mutual respect and a two-way exchange. Ask questions before you book to avoid voyeuristic trips or tours. If in doubt, consider whether you’d be comfortable with something on home turf. For example, how would you feel if a group of tourists started taking photos of your kids at school?

Do your research

There are over 300 sustainable travel certification schemes, making it a minefield of information for anyone trying to make better choices. While there’s no quick win for selecting sustainable places to stay and tour operators, doing the required research is getting easier. Look for robust stats on a lodging or operator’s website, ideally with meaningful stories to back them up. If something isn’t clear, ring and ask; if no one’s willing to answer then, that’s probably all you need to know.

Holly is a sustainable travel writer and expert. Her debut book, Sustainable Travel: The essential guide to positive impact adventures, was published in June 2021.

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