How To Become A More Sustainable Traveller


It’s a wonderful world, so let’s try to keep it that way. Slow Travel is no longer just a trend but a growing community of travellers, tour operators, hotels and even airlines trying to facilitate our wanderlust, with the least negative impact on our planet.

So we’ve stopped buying fast fashion, swapped our harsh chemical-laden products for clean, environmentally friendly ones, but we still want to see as much of this beautiful earth as we can. How is that possible when we jump from jet to jet, each emitting large amounts of toxic gases into the atmosphere? Put it this way, it’s unlikely we can go cold turkey and walk, sail or catch a train everywhere… especially when vast oceans often need to be crossed… but we can absolutely take steps to reduce our carbon footprint. Here’s how.

What is a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, place or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent. (Source Wikipedia.)

Carbon dioxide actually plays a positive role in the earth’s atmosphere due to its “greenhouse effect.” The Earth’s average temperature would be very chilly -18 degrees Celsius without it but thankfully CO2 has the ability to absorb energy from the sun and redirect it back to earth, thereby heating it. The problem arises when we have too much CO2, as henceforth too much heat, leading to the dreaded “global warming.” As we all know this excess heat has led to melting ice caps, rising ocean levels, and creating a rise in pollution as the gases trap radiation at ground level, resulting in ground-level ozone. Overall, not great for us, or the planet.

We humans are producing a staggering 135 times the amount of CO2 that volcanoes do in a year. That’s an estimated increase of 36% since the Industrial Revolution. Not great at all. So what are the biggest causes of a carbon footprint?

ENERGY – this is the burning of fossil fuels, and therefore most planes, cars, homes and businesses. All of us, basically.

AGRICULTURE – modern agriculture, food production and distribution. Often leading to deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution and acidification of the oceans.

INDUSTRY – power plants, iron and steel manufacturing, coal mining and the petrochemical industries, amongst other offenders.

So how can we reduce our carbon footprint?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last decade the chances are you’re aware of climate change and the potential environmental disaster we face if we continue to ignore it. Thankfully we can all take steps to affect meaningful change from reducing our energy consumption, recycling to eating less meat – all you vegans out there please take a bow! Changing our mindset is often the first step to easing into a new transition; it’s all a matter of perspective. Firstly, anything we do to protect our home, the earth we live in, has got to be a good thing, and it’s not just for us but also for the generations to come. We owe it to all of us to at least try.

Slow travel

For those of us with a healthy dose of wanderlust, the words “responsible travel” may sound like we need to give up the thing we love the most. Given that most of us also spent the past two years grounded, that fear can feel even greater. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many ways in which we can continue to see the world, just a little bit kinder.

Staycations are an obvious choice. How many of us know other countries better than we know our own? We’re not saying swap a beach in Bali for Bognor (no offence Bognor), but could we perhaps swap one international destination for a more local one?

Discover an eco-hotel. Seek out family run, sustainable and eco-friendly accommodations that try to adhere as much as possible to responsible tourism practices that “leave no trace.” Treating local people and places with respect is the right thing to do, so if we can opt for accommodation that recruits locals as well as using local produce, whilst giving back to the community, we should try. If anything this type of stay lends itself to a more authentic travel experience. Isn’t that why we travel anyway?

Pack lighter. Hands up which of you pack for every imaginable scenario only to wear the same three outfits on repeat? We know we’re guilty and every time we swear to pack lighter next time but how many of us actually do? If we put our minds to it we probably can do better and how about packing more sustainably while we’re at it, and lessening our need for single-use plastics. Stow away a water bottle, reusable coffee cup, portable cutlery set and even a tote shopping bag. It’s not so fantastic plastic and just because we’re away from home doesn’t change the problem.

Go mobile free, if you dare. Turns out the ‘cloud’ isn’t that white fluffy thing in the sky after all, but massive buildings filled with hard drives, guzzling a crazy amount of energy; which in turn create a ton of heat, which then require high powered air conditioning units to keep them from overheating and so on, ad infinitum. On that note, turn off the air conditioning in your room and try a fan instead. You know what they say – if you can’t stand the heat? But if you are going to take your phone. You know; for ‘emergencies’, you might want to consider packing a solar-panelled charger. Whilst not quite as effective or quick as regular chargers, they do get the job done; it just takes a little longer. But not to worry, you’re going to be too busy disconnecting and tuning into utter bliss to notice!

Lastly, please don’t forget to be mindful. There’s enough blame and cancel culture flying around already. We are all trying our best and we must remember that not everyone is going to be as informed about these matters as we might be. Be patient. Give credit where credit is due and if you notice areas which could be improved, speak up and educate. After all, we’re all in this together. Let’s just try and enjoy the ride.

Boats, trains and automobiles

As with most things in life, it’s not just about the destination but also the journey. How about prioritizing our mode of transport over the speed at which we arrive? Whilst some airlines are offering greener flights, planes still contribute to a higher number of CO2 emissions compared to other transportation. We’re not suggesting a slow boat to China but some travel options could be truly exceptional. The Orient Express for starters. The artisan of travel since 1883, these luxury trains are an experience in their own right. The Alberg Orient Express actually takes you as far as Greece. Starting in London, it passes through Paris, Zurich, Innsbruck, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade before finally arriving in Athens. Close your eyes and just imagine all the contrasting and breathtaking landscapes you’d pass along the way. Something you’d never see with a commercial flight. Not to mention an exquisitely glamorous journey to boot. Picture this… a sleeper through Zurich, the snow-capped Bernese Alps in the distance, a glass of Merlot in your hand. Railways are like moving stories. What story are you going to tell next?

So many of us live life on fast-forward. Constantly striving to reach our goal that we forget to stop and actually enjoy the moment. Many slow travel companies are now waking up to this and in a bid to offer a more sustainable travel option too, offering flight-free trips to most of your favourite locations. Aside from the Orient Express there are a myriad of options available for travel by train, bus or boat… and one that enables you to see the world every step of the way. How about a wildlife cruise in the Galapagos or a colourful houseboat in Kerala? Explore the Polar regions of the Arctic, Spitsbergen and Antarctica with expert guides. Or take your pick from the Outer Hebrides to the Maldives. Whether you’re seeking sun, city or adventure, from small ship cruises to sail boats, there’s a dream holiday for everyone.

For the ultimate responsible travel, go on foot. We know we know, for some of us the idea of walking anywhere fills us with dread and blisters but it doesn’t have to be that way. For centuries people have travelled by foot whether it be for a pilgrimage, to visit friends and family, or simply to be at one with nature. Walking holidays have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, especially in conjunction with a return to nature. Walking is no longer just seen as a way of getting from point A to B, but also as an exercise in wellness and relaxation. Walking in nature brings about a sense of peace that’s hard to find in the city. Add a dash of forest bathing, known in Japan as shinrin yoku, and enjoy all the de-stressing benefits as you spend time being calm and quiet amongst the trees and emerge calmer and healthier. Research shows that just two hours of forest bathing can lower blood pressure, and improve concentration and memory. With all this renewed energy, where will you head to next?