How to travel more sustainably in 2020

"Никогда нельзя знать заранее, как впоследствии обернутся обстоятельства." Артур Конан Дойл ZMEY
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When it comes to globetrotting with the planet in the mind, most of us know the basics. Stay local, avoid plastic, don’t touch the coral. But if we’re serious about halting the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, avoiding catastrophic forest fires in the southern hemisphere or helping Cape Town avoid Day Zero, we need to think a little more deeply. And we must act. As with most things sustainable, a lot of travelling consciously is about doing less and researching more, making sure our valuable tourist pounds are being spent effectively and in ways we can be proud of.

Here are some reminders about key changes you can make, plus a few tips you might not have thought about before.

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    1. Leave your phone behind

    Did you know that cloud storage will soon overtake aviation as a source of greenhouse gas emissions? When you stop to consider that sobering figure, along with the fact that using phones abroad normally increases cloud usage and storage due to increased photo-taking and sharing, it’s worth asking whether you could travel without it. If the answer is definitely no, at least switch off your apps to minimise downloads, charging needs and the focus of your attention.

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    2. Rethink your packing

    Don’t buy a holiday wardrobe. In the UK, around 300,000 tonnes of clothing is sent to landfill each year despite growing awareness about the negative impacts of throwaway fashion. Many of these items are holiday wear, bought on a whim and discarded, sometimes unworn, after the holiday is over. If you must have new items for your trip, choose basics that will last forever from brands such as Finisterre or Beaumont Organic if you’re in the UK; Selva Negra, Mara Hoffman or Eileen Fisher if you’re in the USA. Look for hi-tech items such as Adidas/Parley trainers or Patagonia swimwear which are made from recycled plastics or fishing nets and go some way towards systemic solutions to plastic pollution – although bear in mind that even recycled plastic items will release damaging microplastics during the washing process. The closer to home your clothes have been made, the better as the fashion industry’s emissions are now higher than aviation and shipping combined.

    3. Lighten your load

    Looking for a new suitcase? You can now find stylish, practical and sustainable options that reduce energy and guarantee fairtrade production from companies such as InCase. On a related note, the lighter your luggage, the better it is for your wallet (in terms of baggage weight requirements) as well as for the planet. Each extra kilo requires extra fuel and, as global temperatures rise, the amount of fuel required for each take-off is increasing too, due to the higher minimum speed required for planes to get off the ground when it’s hotter.

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    4. De-toxify your wash bag

    Avoid buying new plastic minis when you travel. Instead, decant from bigger bottles you already have into small ones that can be reused. This also applies to helping yourself to any minis from the hotel; properties that really care are moving away from these anyway. When it comes to choosing toiletries, chemical-free or organic are the way to go. The chemicals from sun cream are known to damage coral reefs so look for reef-friendly options from Ren or Pai.

    5. Choose your airline with care

    We all know that staying close to home is best when it comes to minimising emissions. And that – when you must go further – using public transport and embracing slow travel will help you engage more while keeping your carbon footprint down. However, sometimes we just need to fly and there are ways of doing this better – by choosing airlines that are working to improve their eco credentials. Airfrance-KLM and Easyjet are among those trying to address the problematic elements of flying by reducing fuel useage and adjusting wingtip design to reduce noise and increase efficiency. Cathay Pacific is especially progressive in its approach, which includes fleet modernisation, air traffic management (to avoid lengthy, fuel-intensive and antisocial circling) and electric vehicle trials. Fly non-stop and you’ll minimise the excess emissions caused by landing and take- off.

  • 6. Carbon offsets are a last resort

    Yes, the idea of a voluntary carbon tax sounds good. But it’s not a get-out clause. It partly implies that we can continue as normal and just pay a bit extra to mitigate the effects of our travel – but even Prince Charles is now adamant that a business-as-usual attitude is the problem. Once the emissions have been created it’s impossible to truly offset them. Plus, many schemes have been proven to not act quickly enough, meaning the concept may not work at all. From 2021, the EU will not allow carbon offsets to be counted towards emission-reduction targets. It’s probably better than nothing, but not much.

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    7. Go by boat…

    Got more time on your hands? A number of small, smart and authentic vessels are blazing a trail for slower, more sustainable ways to experience destinations from the water. Guntu, an exquisitely crafted but exclusive 19-room passenger ship, is one such boat, traversing the islands of Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Silolona, a traditional wooden phinisi, or sailing ship, that traverses Indonesia (and was once chartered by Gwyneth Paltrow) is another.

    Above: Guntu

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    8. … or 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, as others follow the lead of the Swedish government which is pushing to expand overnight connections between Sweden and other parts of Europe. If you need more encouragement, check out ecopassenger.org for the difference it will make to your emissions.

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    9. Find hotels that walk the talk

    It’s easy for hotels to claim eco-credibility by washing towels less frequently or installing LED light bulbs. But these are now the kind of basics that should be a given alongside good service, so look for genuine integrity when it comes to these issues. Cotton is one of the most polluting industries (after oil) on the planet. And yet hotels are one of the biggest markets for cotton bedding; properties taking sustainability seriously (especially those with big budgets) shouldn’t be using it. Look for hotels such as Kinsterna in Greece that use organic cotton or, even better, ones like Eremito in Italy, which uses earth-friendly hemp-yarn sheets.

    On a related note, a hotel that says it runs a project to provide local schoolkids with books or shoes but does little to address the question of why children in the vicinity don’t have such things is not making much of a difference (see number 10 below). Neither is one that offers discounts for customers who make greener choices. Both of these actions make sustainability look like a marketing tool rather than a caring commitment. There’s a huge difference between properties that have sustainability woven into their operational fabric, such as Castara in Tobago or Villa in Copenhagen, and those that just think of them as people-pleasing add-ons.

    Above: Eremito, Italy

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    10. Remember that animals aren’t props

    Don’t swim with pigs, snorkel with dolphins or sit on elephants. It only confuses them, and many studies show that animals too closely exposed to humans experience high levels of stress. The presence of humans may drive animals from their feeding, breeding or resting areas, and routine feeding can actually disrupt their natural feeding habits. Look for innovative conservation projects and know that it’s okay to fund them without having to have pictures of them.

    Above: Elephants in the Amboseli National Park, under Mount Kilimanjaro, Kenya

    11. Decolonise your travel experience

    This difficult subject was recently brought to mainstream attention by the Stacey Dooley/Comic Relief furore. To cut through the complexity, it is vital to acknowledge how the travel experiences of (mainly) white Western travellers are marked by historic power relations between countries and peoples. Considering how communities want their own cultures to be experienced or communicated is a crucial element of conscious travel and should lead us to think more carefully about whose perspective we are really taking when we travel, whose voices are heard when we learn about destinations and who is welcome at hotels and in certain destinations. If people with disabilities or people of colour don’t feel included, then it’s important to ask whether that hotel or destination really reflects the kind of values that encourage so many of us to travel in the first place.

    12. And diversify your influences

    Think about who influences your travel decisions. Anyone who skips around the world wearing fast fashion while occasionally mentioning a reusable water bottle or eco bikini is not really helping. In fact, they are often (maybe unintentionally) misleading and giving negative advice. Diversifying your social feeds and following travel influencers who really care or who are contributing to the conversation with integrity is intellectually enlightening as well positively impactful. We like the perspectives provided by @thecatchmeifyoucan, @hownottotravellikeabasicbitch, The North Face ambassador @vasu_sojitra and @theamarlatif.

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    13. Take the Marie Kondo approach to souvenirs

    That thing that sparks joy in the souk in Marrakech? It might not seem so in the cold light of the British winter. Think carefully about purchases and try to imagine 30 uses of the item before handing over the cash. And if you’re going to shop, look for locally made products and local businesses. Cheap, poorly made ‘indigenous’ items are not only offensive to many indigenous communities but can be potentially exploitative. And while something might be made from natural materials, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s sustainable, especially if it comes in excessive packaging or has travelled many miles in its construction. Bamboo, for example, is often touted as eco-friendly, but requires energy and chemicals to be turned into a usable product. And remember that little issue with cotton? While natural is usually better than synthetic, it’s always worth asking questions about the origin of the material to ensure it has been grown or harvested responsibly.

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    14. Consider architecture

    Much of the impact of a property derives from the way it’s built. So, with new builds or major renovations, it’s important to consider how this happens. If a large hotel chain isn’t using local materials and workers, why not? Is money more of a concern than the environment? What is the carbon footprint of any materials chosen? Are the materials and techniques long-lasting? Do they include any element of local expertise or handicraft? A pioneer in this area is Katamama in Bali, a hotel that was built using the centuries-old tradition of locally handmade bricks and operates according to a ‘be good, do good’ ethos.

    Above: Cappadocia, Turkey

    Sustainability is not just about emissions and materials. It’s also about staffing, worker’s rights, inclusivity and the impact on locals. Many small hotels do these things out of necessity. Others, such as the Good Hotel in London and Villa Copenhagen are more mindful about their motivations, setting new standards for what conscious luxury should mean in terms of how staff should be involved, how to attract domestic travellers and how to operate within communities.

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    16. Choose destinations working to ease their footprint

    It’s heartening to see how many destinations are taking a joined-up approach to complex sustainability issues. Many of these can be found in the Sustainable Destinations Top 100. Countries with the most places on the 2019 list include Slovenia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Others are doing well in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (Sweden, Denmark) and banning single-use plastics (Barbados). Paros in Greece has plans to become the first plastic-free Mediterranean island, while Italy’s Trentino region is home to the world’s first plastic-free ski resort.

    17. Look beyond buzzwords and stay inquisitive

    Eco-lodge doesn’t always mean eco. Because there are no hard and fast rules about the meaning of the word, some properties use creative licence to describe themselves. A lodge made from wood may claim to be environmentally friendly, even if the wood isn’t local, or if sourcing it resulted in the destruction of virgin habitat. Hotels may talk up their sustainability credentials (electric vehicle transfers, not washing towels) or have whizzy green policies that belie negative impacts elsewhere. We’re not knocking attempts to be better, but greenwashing is rife in the travel industry. Read the small print and think bigger than specific tick-box actions such as reducing plastic water bottles. Being curious about what might be going behind the scenes is a vital part of sustainable travel. In the USA, train travel is not necessarily more sustainable than air travel mile-for-mile, because many trains run on diesel. So lots of issues are more complex than they first appear and it’s important to continue to learn, change our behaviour and ask questions.

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    18. Ditch the meat

    Many of the things we can do to travel sustainably can also be done at home, and eating less meat is never a bad idea. However, veganism isn’t always the answer. Many popular vegan items such as almond milk have a huge environmental impact, and it may be better to eat local, organic meat instead of vegan products that may be flown in and packaged in plastic. Avoid buffets which generate large amounts of food waste and eat as locally and seasonally as possible.

    19. Make your tourist pounds count

    How we spend is the most effective way of stating our intentions. Locally owned properties and restaurants often have a greater incentive to protect and preserve neighbourhoods and keep money within local economies. And they struggle more when tourism drops as a result of natural or political disasters. At the time of writing, properties on Australia’s Kangaroo Island are running at low occupancy and need visitors to stay afloat. Pretty much every time a traveller books with a small-time owner, they’re helping to keep profit local and more equitably distributed. By contrast, you might be surprised by what happens with the profits made by bigger firms. The CEO of Las Vegas Sands, the largest casino company in the world whose properties include The Venetian, Las Vegas, and Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, is one of the Trump administration’s biggest donors. So trip takers looking to mitigate any negative effects of travel may want to avoid the company.

  • How to travel more sustainably in 2020

    20. Enjoy!

    Work on shifting mindsets (your own and those of others). Much of the information that exists around sustainability is framed in terms that make us feel bad or uses language that suggests giving something up. But researching is fun and knowledge is power. There is huge joy to be gained from knowing we are travelling with less harm and more positivity.

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