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How to travel more sustainably while keeping costs low

With the COVID-19 pandemic slowly inching towards endemic status, the green list is a thing of the past in the UK and air travel is back in full swing. This summer, some are flying off to an island in the sun for the first time since 2019, and others are starting to organise travel to Asia during peak season from November. But what does this mean for the environment?

We know that carbon emissions plummeted during the pandemic, with aviation’s CO2 emissions dropping by up to 60% in 2020. This humbling proof of humanity’s effect on the environment gave us all pause. But by the end of 2021, greenhouse gas emissions had surpassed pre-pandemic levels. The lull in travel during the pandemic showed us that it’s possible to reverse the course, but the question is how can we harness what we’ve learned and travel sustainably.

We’ve outlined below some key elements to travelling sustainably, whether on your adventures this summer, booking future trips or even exploring your hometown - these small and cost-effective changes will help make a big difference to the planet.

Go off the beaten track

Going to a less widely-known holiday destination pays dividends to both yourself and the environment. The most popular holiday destinations - think Mallorca, Barcelona, Paris - are subject to increased water consumption, air pollution and waste due to overtourism. While just 1.6 million people live in Barcelona, up to 32 million will visit every year, clogging streets, driving up rent and littering.* A portion of this overtourism can be attributed to the many arrivals via cruise ships. In 2019, Barcelona boasted Europe’s most polluted port. Disperse the load on tourist hotspots and your wallet by choosing novel getaways without the tourist price tag.

Give back as you go

Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints - we’ve all heard that one before. But have you considered giving back to the community you visit? Voluntourism, agritourism and regenerative travel all function on the basis of giving value to your destination in exchange for the experience it gives you.

From green construction and conservation to community funds, Regenerative travel is a trend in the tourism industry of operators who regenerate local nature and community as they build a tourist experience there. Vote in favour of regeneration with your wallet and book a trip like this. Alternatively, consider a less luxury escape by volunteering with local communities, farms or homesteads in return for food and accommodation. You can do this with organisations like Workaway or WWOOF.

Keep it local

Most obviously of all, choose a staycation over a vacation. Choose slow travel over fast travel. Travel to locations you can reach by foot or bike, then consider a carshare, then consider rail before flying. 2.4% of global CO2 emissions come from aviation and with other gases and water vapour trails emitted by aircrafts, the industry is responsible for around 5% of global warming.** Reduce your carbon footprint and spend by exploring places closer to home and getting some exercise in the process. This could be the most important, healthy change you make to your lifestyle when choosing sustainable travel. See the chart below to visualise the impact different modes of transport have on the environment. 

BBC C02 Travel Emissions Graph

Image Source: The CO2 equivalent emissions for each km a passenger travels varies depending on the length of the flight, the aircraft cruising altitude and weight (Credit: BEIS/Defra/BBC)

For long haul travel: fly direct!

If slow travel is absolutely not an option, especially if you are headed overseas, consider flying direct over connecting flights. While connecting flights can save you the most money, flying direct could save an average of 20-45% of CO2 emissions.* When searching flights on Google Flights, the CO2 emissions are displayed so you can be aware of just how much that layover is costing the planet. Help protect our environment and save some time by flying direct!

Reduce waste and go reusable

The trusty 3 Rs of recycling can’t be underestimated when it comes to sustainable travel tips. Reduce, reuse, recycle - though it's been taught to us from an early age, many of us neglect some simple, economical and green habits. Remove any packaging from new items before travel, as recycling is easier at home. Reduce waste and cost: bring your own snacks in tupperwares and swap disposable coffee cups and drinks bottles for reusable ones. Limiting single-use plastics helps tackle pollution and the wider waste problem in many ways. For instance, it helps keep waste out of our oceans and protects endangered species.

Ultimately, making travel a more sustainable industry will take more than individual action - politics and business are key to real change. But what does sustainable travel mean for you as an individual? Green travel is a mindset composed of thoughtful practices with enduring effects, some demanding a bit of planning, and small tweaks to everyday rituals. And in many cases it’s also the most cost efficient option! 


What are your plans for green travel? Tell us in the comments below!

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