How to Travel Green in 2022
‘Eco-tourism’ might not be the first thing many people run a search for when they are planning their next trip. But there’s no getting away from the fact that travel, and international air travel in particular, is a major contributor to the carbon emissions that are causing climate change.
As the UN COP26 climate conference brings world leaders together for what some are calling make-of-break talks on averting a climate crisis, more and more people are wondering how they can do their bit to help.
Global travel presents a conundrum because a) people love to explore the world, and doing so helps to foster a sense of global togetherness, and b) many economies around the world, having taken a shattering blow from COVID-19, rely heavily on tourism.
But when air travel contributes 2% of all global carbon emissions – more than the UK, which ranks 17th on the list of countries ranked by how much CO2 they pump into the atmosphere – it inevitably makes people ask questions. For an easy win to reduce your own carbon footprint, cutting down on air travel, or avoiding it completely, is right up there.
And yet not only will many people be loath to give up their overseas adventures completely, it also begs the question of whether slamming the door shut on international travel is either practical or desirable given how central it has become to the great tangled web that is the modern global economy. And to put it bluntly, people are going to keep traveling anyway.
The question is, until someone comes up with a greener way to fuel aeroplanes, what else can we do to make travel more eco-friendly?
Here are some tips for how you can empower yourself for greener travel in 2022.
Travel overland (or sea)
It seems like stating the obvious, but one of the best things you can do to reduce the carbon footprint of traveling is to choose alternatives to flying. Sure, it might mean rethinking your destinations. But stop and ask yourself – rather than always having your sights set on far-flung corners of the globe, how well do you know places closer to your own backdoor?
From the UK, for example, continental Europe is easily reached by train via the Channel Tunnel, and once you are in France or Belgium, you can get pretty much anywhere you want using the continent’s fabulous connected rail services. It’s also a great way to explore Europe a different way. Alternatively, jump on a ferry with your car (electric, perhaps?) and you can drive wherever you want.
The differences in carbon emissions between flying and road and sea options are compelling. Electrified trains mean taking the Eurostar from London to Paris produces 91% less carbon emissions than flying. But even a longer distance journey, overland from London to Tangiers in Morocco, that involves diesel trains and a ferry results in 85% less emissions.
Yes, journeys take longer overland and by sea, but perhaps that’s something we need to change in our mindset around travel – rather than the objective being to get to our destination as quickly as possible, we should learn to love the journey itself. And with carbon savings like those mentioned above, we could do enough ‘short haul’ traveling overland over the space of two or three years to treat ourselves to a longer distance adventure every now and then – remembering only to travel by land or boat once we get there, of course.
Carbon offset your travel
One reason to take the idea of eco-tourism seriously is that it takes the idea of reducing the environmental impact of longer distance travel seriously, and without resorting to spending weeks on a boat to get to far-off places. One of the ways it does this is through the concept of carbon offsetting, which means taking steps to balance the carbon emissions produced by travel with things that actually reduce levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The easiest way to do this is to book travel through operators who use a portion of the fee they charge you to fund carbon capture projects. So say you want to travel to south east Asia, or South America, and you know the carbon emissions of your return flights will be X amount. Through a carbon offset program, you could put money into tree planting or a clean energy project to balance out the amount of carbon you’re accountable for from your flights.
Yes, it makes long-distance travel more expensive, but as we’ve already said, perhaps we need to start viewing long haul as a less frequent treat anyway.
Be mindful of your own impact
Finally, traveling greener isn’t all about the amount of CO2 produced by that plane you take and what you can do to offset it. Your behaviors and habits while you are on holiday have an environmental impact, too, and you can make a difference in some surprisingly simple ways.
For example, make a point of eating locally sourced food and drink. Think about it – do you really need to be drinking imported beer when there are plenty of local brews on offer? Just think about the carbon footprint of each bottle that gets transported, like you, from overseas.
On that note, just avoid bottled water altogether and, for that matter, as much plastic-packed produce as you can. If you’re worried about the potability of the local tap water, invest in a filtration flask designed to purify water from pretty much any source.
Another tip is to request that your hotel only changes the sheets and towels when they really need to be cleaned. Getting clean towels every day might feel like a luxury, but every spin in a machine means more energy being used. You wouldn’t do it at home, so why bother while you’re away?
Helping to protect the planet even as you travel is ultimately about shifting your mindset and making yourself aware of all the little things that contribute to increased and unnecessary carbon emissions. Every little thing you can do to help matters.
And on the subject of protection – don’t forget to look after yourself on your travels, too. Make sure you take out appropriate travel insurance, bearing in mind that if you are traveling for longer because of overland journeys etc, there’s more opportunity for something to go wrong.