How to travel sustainably and keep your carbon footprint low

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Travelling is a wonderful experience, but it often comes with a high price tag. Not only does travelling cost money, but it can also negatively impact the environment. This is sobering for those of us infected with wanderlust. However, there are ways to travel sustainably and reduce your carbon footprint throughout your adventures.

With much of the world looking to increase their eco-friendly initiatives and run their businesses more sustainably, eco-conscious travel is easier than ever. Rather than avoiding travel altogether, you can support businesses on your adventures with values that align with your own. And you really can travel with minimal environmental impact as long as you’re conscious of how you do it!

Here are some top tips for seeing the world while keeping your carbon footprint low.


Offset the carbon impact of your flight

Travelling typically mean flying, which can be the most costly and environmentally damaging part of your trip. Try to book with an airline who are working to be more eco-friendly by using newer and smaller planes, or those who use sustainable energy sources. Taking direct flights as much as possible also reduces your emissions as well as your transit time: win-win!

Some airlines also offer carbon offsetting programmes, for an extra fee, such as planting trees or donating to renewable energy initiatives. Even if your airline does not offer one of these schemes, you can use an online calculator to personally find a way to offset the carbon emissions from your flight. Read more about how we offset our emissions from our major trips.

Travel at ground level as much as possible

Trains, buses and cars release less carbon dioxide than aeroplanes, so while it may take you a little longer to reach your destination, they’re better for the environment. Better still, opt for an electric car to explore without worrying about emissions.

For the maximum eco-friendly travelling experience, why not explore on a bicycle? Cycling holidays are a wonderful way to see the beauty of a new country, and by travelling at a slower pace you’ll often stumble upon many hidden gems you would have otherwise missed. You could hire a bike and enjoy the local area of where you’re staying, like we did cycling around Uluru in Central Australia, or embark on a hiking expedition up a mountain or coastal route to enjoy the scenery.

We loved the buses in South East Asia! They were comfortable and a wonderful way to enjoy the scenery and reduce our emissions.

Pack and travel responsibly

With a few adjustments to the way you pack and travel from A to B, you can make quite a difference to your carbon footprint. The lighter you pack, the less energy you’ll be using to transport your things overseas – so try to only pack what you’ll need.

Consider if you could use a local laundrette where you’re staying to reduce the amount of clothing you need, and use reusable bottles for your cosmetics and toiletries. This will mean you won’t have to use the often unsustainable tiny plastic bottles offered in the hotel. Go one step further and opt to not have your towels replaced daily, and you can also save tons of water. Be aware that in developing countries, local resources like electricity and water are prioritised to lavish hotels and can sometimes leave the locals short of supplies, so by using their services rather than the hotels’, you’ll be helping them, too.

Try the vegan options

Whether you are a vegan or not, if you’re looking for ways to explore new cities in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way, go for the vegan options on the menu. Meat production is responsible for a massive 57% of emissions from the global food industry. Breeding, raising, transporting, slaughtering and processing animals for meat takes a massive amount of resources, and releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In contrast, opting for a locally sourced, homemade vegan dish from a restaurant is going to have cost the planet far less than a meaty alternative. For vegan travellers, there are an increasing number of options available in cafes and restaurants, and if you haven’t given it a try yet, you may be surprised at just how delicious these options can be. As the world begins to recognise the benefits that vegan options has on both our world and health, it’s becoming easier than ever to eat more sustainably as you travel.

A feast of vegan food we enjoyed at the Peace Cafe in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Think local when planning your itinerary

When buying anything from food to souvenirs in a foreign country, it’s always more sustainable to shop from local people than bigger chain stores. Injecting money back into the local economy is far better for the area than lining the pockets of international commercial giants. Local traders often rely on tourism to pay their bills and feed their families, so be sure to check their stores first before heading to larger supermarkets. When it comes to haggling in markets, always be respectful and only try to negotiate for items you’re really interested in buying.

If you want to support local environments further, consider volunteering with an ethical organisation that’s running eco-friendly initiatives like forest conservation or ocean clean-ups. Helping out during your travels can be an extremely rewarding experience, and it’s also an excellent way to make friends with like-minded philanthropists if you’re travelling solo. We loved our week volunteering at the Juara Turtle Project on Tioman Island, Malaysia, and it was wonderful learning for us while we helped with their important work.

Stay in local accommodation

On a similar note, why not stay in a family run bed and breakfast rather than a chain resort? Not only will you be supporting the local economy, but you’re also more likely to get a fair price and a great chance to get an authentic taste of your destination. While it may require a little extra research, you will be rewarded with a guilt-free travel experience by opting for more eco-conscious lodgings.

Accommodation that prioritises things such as recycling, using sustainable or renewable energy, and serving local and responsibly sourced food are good things to consider when booking a more eco-conscious room.

The beautiful room we enjoyed at the EcoBnB in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

See the world, but stay mindful

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to see the world and fulfil your travelling dreams without causing unnecessary harm to the planet. Being mindful of sustainable travelling habits like those we’ve listed above will go a long way to helping you keep your carbon footprint low whilst satiating your wanderlust. From taking a little more time to consider eco-friendly accommodation, to making the effort to wisely choose your transport and pack responsibly, these tips will help you to explore the planet with as little environmental damage as possible.

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