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13th February 2020

Is it possible to travel sustainably?

With more and more people wanting to cut down their environmental impact, the question is raised; is it possible to travel more sustainably?
Is it possible to travel sustainably?
Photo: Julius Silver @Pixabay

With climate justice becoming increasingly important as climate-related disasters continue to worsen around the world, the question of whether travel and sustainability are compatible is more relevant than ever.

If you have ever worked out your carbon footprint (the WWF calculator is a pretty good start) you will know that flights are a huge contributor to carbon emissions. While more and more people are trying to supplement flights with train and boat journeys, this isn’t always an easy way to get to your destination. However, there are ways to be more environmentally conscious on your next trip by taking steps to reduce any impact on the environment and offset your carbon emissions as much as possible.

So, the answer is that travelling more sustainably is possible. You can travel and still be aware of your environmental impact to try and reduce it. Avoiding any negative impact on the environment is not possible without avoiding transport completely, but many travellers are beginning to find other ways of reducing their impact on the environment. Although it may sound cliché, the beauty of travel can be in the journey itself, so it doesn’t matter if it takes a little longer to get to your destination; for example, train journeys can offer some beautiful views, time to talk to other travellers, and will have a lower carbon footprint then flying.

A growing number of countries are supporting a sustainable tourism ethos. However, many of these destinations are not particularly student-budget friendly. Lake Garda’s Lefay Resort and Spa offsets an impressive 100% of its CO2 emissions and draws 60% of its energy from renewable sources, boasting the first spa in Italy to be given Ecocert’s “Ecological Spa certificate”. But when room prices come in at around £500 a night, these sustainable resorts may not be the most student-friendly, or budget travel choice.

While some sustainable hotels might be a little on the pricey side, there are many other destinations supporting a greener tourist economy. Vienna lives up to its name as the “green capital city”, with its 2000 parks, 1300km of cycling trails, and new Green Taxi scheme of 370 hybrid and gas-powered taxis, making for a beautiful and green holiday choice which will be more affordable.

However, until more countries are on board with national green initiatives and reaching their targets of carbon neutrality and renewable energy, the responsibility continues to fall on the individual, a problem that continues to face many who want to travel while minimising potential contributions to the environmental crisis. One step to overcoming this is to check whether accommodation and tour providers are certified as sustainable wherever you travel. The best sign of this is if they are certified as ‘sustainable’ by a GSTC-Accredited Certifying Body.

If you are conscious about reducing your negative environmental impact, one of the best ways to work towards sustainable travel is supporting local businesses and communities. Eating local food and buying local products (avoiding any made from threatened natural resources), using local laundry services and looking out for local tour guides are all great ways to do this and will give you the ability to make the most of experiencing a new culture.

It’s also important to be aware that not all countries will have easily accessible recycling systems, so travelling with a reusable water bottle and shampoo bars (those found in LUSH which come in a tin which makes them great for travelling) avoids chucking away single-use plastics. Making sure to stick to designated paths in rural areas helps minimise damage to the natural environment.

The disastrous effects of climate change around the world are undeniable, as Australia continues to battle bushfires. I know I still have a way to go towards becoming a sustainable traveller, but if we all try to be a little more travel aware, being more conscious about the impact we have on the environment, more awareness will spread. Whilst flights can be difficult to avoid, and are particularly damaging to the environment, making these small changes whilst away on holiday is a step in the right direction.

These sustainable travel tips and many more can be found on the GSTC guidelines for travellers.

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