2019 ended the hottest decade on record and I experienced it firsthand when I was in Paris this past summer. I went to visit a museum for my Master’s dissertation. As I was trying to stay out of the sweltering heat, I, along with many others, thought of how I can be a better citizen of the planet. And with 2020 off to a not so great start, it is more important now than ever that we take responsibility. I started to think about how I can become a better ecotraveler.
“The first thing I have learned is that you are never too small to make a difference.” -Greta Thunberg
I was a poor (still am for that part) postgraduate student that is here taking responsibility for her actions against Mother Earth. I was stuck between the costs of flying or taking the train. A flight from Manchester to Paris costs ~£80 and ~.18 metric tonnes of CO2 versus a couple of train rides from Manchester to London and then the Eurostar from London to Paris costing ~£250 and ~.01 metric tonnes CO2. I chose to fly as it would save me more money but ultimately do more harm to the planet.
While avoiding flying completely is best for the planet, it isn’t always possible or economically feasible for me. However, I have found ways to be more environmentally conscious during my travels while not breaking the bank.
LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL
Living in a city in the United Kingdom made me incredibly aware of the issues arising with Airbnb. Renting out entire houses and apartments has created a housing crisis making it very difficult to find affordable options. While it may seem like you are benefitting the local economy, you’re not really. Try to avoid Airbnb’s and international hotel chains. If you must, try to book private rooms in apartments so someone is actually living in the apartment and working for the local economy or with chains that have pledged to do right by the environment, such as Intercontinental Hotel Groups offering toiletries in bulk size containers by 2021. Instead look for small inns, B&Bs or homestays.
BookDifferent – Powered by Booking.com, it provides you with the greenest choice by utilizing staygreencheck and will show you the CO2 footprint in kg per guest night of every single hotel on their website. (Offer the best price guarantee on over 800,000 hotels!)
Hotels.com – On a budget? Try using hotels.com as they give you secret prices and include boutique and independent offerings (local accommodations but no green credential comparisons). Additionally, you can earn free nights (averaging the nightly costs you usually book)
*You could combine these two by searching on BookDifferent and then compare prices for the optimal nightly rate!
Similar to any other time you are traveling, asking locals where to eat will give you better experiences! Locals will typically send you to places that aren’t part of an international or national chain, have delicious dishes found on seasonal menus and work with local farmers to get the freshest ingredients possible.
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
I always travel with a Reduce/Reuse kit. Mine includes: a canvas (extra sturdy) tote bag, Swell water bottle, reusable cutlery set (nothing sharp when flying), and Keep Cup. (As always, you can tell that my travels prioritize food and coffee.)
DON’T DO IT FOR THE GRAM
Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram just as much as the next person (possibly more) but it is getting a bit out of hand. I’m not telling you to stop using Instagram completely, I still use it for research, to get an idea of what I’m in for when I’m traveling somewhere new, or to find unique gems that aren’t always known to all. But, we must think before we gram.
I came across Laura’s initial blog post starting a series in collaboration with Nicolas of E-City Chauffeur, #HashtagScotland, on the relationship between social media and Scotland before I was heading there for a trip myself. It really made me reflect on why I travel to certain places and how landscapes are changing due to over-tourism. An example I saw while traveling through Scotland was the many tourists photographing the Jacobite steam train as it went over the Glenfinnan Viaduct and trampling the hills for a better view. She continues to make great points through other posts in the series, specifically An Instagram Q&A Geotagging, exploring Scotland and the pursuit of likes and A postcard from… Lochaber, and some thoughts on slow travel.
“In this new and seemingly apparent race for retweets and likes, are we turning travel into one big quest for social media content? Is it a race over an experience? Are we commodifying our experiences to game the algorithms? How then does this recast how we feel about our own memories if they are solely ‘for the gram’?”
-Laura of Laretour
PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES
This is an obvious one but use public transportation as much as possible. I know it’s not always reliable in every location. But if you’re in Europe, you don’t have many excuses (in my opinion). Plus, train travel is just the absolute best.
While we can’t travel everywhere by public transportation, there are options to offset the emissions we use while road tripping, hiring cars, and flying in planes. Calculate your carbon footprint with this free Carbon Calculator.
WHAT IS CARBON OFFSETTING?
Carbon offsetting is the practice of balancing your pollution by investing in projects that reduce emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For example, you could buy a carbon offset for a flight from Cleveland to Barcelona. To answer all your questions on carbon offsetting your travels, check out the Washington Post’s By The Way article, “6 questions about carbon offsets for flights, answered”.
Cool Effect – Nonprofit platform that’s successfully reducing carbon emissions and improving the lives of people around the world. They have a specific travel offset meter that estimates your carbon output and lets you easily “fly and wipe away the baggage of carbon pollution”.
Green-e – While they don’t offer carbon offsets themselves, Green-e is the trusted global leader in clean energy certification and provides links to retailers so consumers can feel confident in their choices.
Gold Standard – Established in 2003 by WWF and other international NGOs to ensure projects that reduced carbon emissions featured the highest levels of environmental integrity and also contributed to sustainable development.
While it’s almost impossible to be the perfect ecotraveler in today’s world, being conscious of our decisions and actions while traveling will always benefit the planet. I hope your 2020 travels (and beyond) look a little more green with these tips!
Read more of Kirsten’s blog here and happy eco-#wildbumming!