Travel: Is sustainability on your packing list?

As the summer is coming to a close we wanted to reflect on our travels and how we made them more sustainable - or not as the case may be. We ultimately wanted know if sustainability was something we just consider in our day-to-day lives, and leave at the door as soon as we head for a vacation. We know we indulge ourselves more when it comes to food and drinks, and maybe not exercising as much, on holiday but does that logic apply with our sustainability values, too? We wanted to share our thoughts with you on different types of travel, from Airbnb stays, to long flights abroad, to short stays. You can also check out the episode where we chat all out this topic here.

Did you know that, according to a Sustainable Travel Report by booking.com, 87% of travelers say that they want to travel sustainably but only 48% manage to do so? With that stat alone, it made us want to break this down some more. We approached it with three questions:

  1. What defines sustainable travel, and what areas would it apply to when on holiday?

  2. What are barriers in why we don’t always opt for travelling sustainably?

  3. What are some easy wins?

What do we think sustainable vacationing means?

We thought it was easy to split this up into categories:

  • Transportation - getting there and back and around (You can listen to our transport episode releasing next week)

  • Accommodation - impact of the hotel, or where you are staying (You can listen to our episode with Tutaka where we dive into what eco-lux even is)

  • Impact on the local society - are we impacting local community/ economy? 

  • Overall environmental impact

Ultimately all of these areas will have an impact on where your vacation falls on the sustainability scale and in our opinion its really up to you to pick and choose what matters to you - it’s hard to win at everything. When it comes to transportation, depending on your holiday, this typically accounts for the largest impact in your holiday, so try to look for alternatives where possible, and if that flight is so hard to avoid there are ways to offset your emissions. When it comes to where you stay there is so much information on the web about how sustainable hotels are, but we know it can be a bit tougher when it comes to Airbnbs and assessing the impact of the actual place you are staying. Check out our episode with TUTAKA for more information on how this consultancy is working to supply hospitality businesses with more sustainable products, from bed sheets to yoga mats.

What are some of the barriers that stop us from keeping our sustainability value on holiday?

In our opinion and from that stat its not that people don’t want to be sustainable when on holiday, so it isn’t actually the same thing as when you indulge in food and beverages, because that extra dessert is a treat. From our experiences it typically is a matter of cost, lack of information, time, or social impact. Let’s take the plastic bag example, when we grocery shop at home the reusable bags are with us on our normal journey and we can expect to need that at a specific time so it helps us plan. When you are on holiday you could be with a group of friends, unexpectedly buy things, not sure if it is appropriate to bring a bag etc. We get it, it can be hard, its something we struggle with, but luckily we have a few tips that will hopefully make it easier for your future travels.

What should we look out for/ what are easy wins when traveling sustainably?

Again lets break it down into two parts: A) planning and B) when you are there.

A) Planning:

  • Research: review travel blogs, reviews etc. to find the local, unique places to see/eat/do 

  • Packing: pack things that will help you out along the way (e.g A reusable water bottle, packing your clothes in canvas bags so you can use them there, your own toiletries in refillable containers)

    • Water bottles in countries where it’s not safe to drink the water we found were one of our biggest challenges, but there are hacks such as when at your hotel getting filtered water for your water bottle, or getting some bottles that come with built in filters or filter systems (SteriPEN or LifeStraw).

    • Rental homes - if you are staying at a place you know you will cook in, it doesn’t hurt to bring some of your essentials like seasoning/ingredients you won’t want to buy in bulk or a lot of. Also pack these things in a Tupperware you can use when you are there to save food and costs.

  • Tour operators: there is a lot in tourism that isn’t so great. When booking things spend a few extra seconds to ensure that they aren’t impacting the society, natural environment, or anything else concerning. Are they giving back in anyway, do they support things you care about? This is especially important when visiting natural spaces or communities like going on a safari tour. Even when doing city tours, think about the more sustainable ways you can do them such as by foot or cycle.

    • Something to watch out for: greenwashing - we found it hard how to decipher the good from the fake. Many tours can market themselves as ‘eco’ even if it’s elephant riding or impacting natural habitats. How can you filter this stuff out:

      • Tours should put local people and environment ahead of tourism;

      • If they work with local NGOs or programs, are they affiliated with international organisations (WWF, Rainforest Alliance etc)?

      • Openness and transparency - ask questions, and most should have their sustainability and CSR initiatives listed.

  • How are you getting there? Is there a more sustainable way to travel there, or even from the airport to where you are staying? If flying, try to book non-stop, because it’s actually the take-off and landing that cause the most carbon emissions.

  • What accommodations have you booked? Do they abide by sustainable standards- is this something that you can look up? Hotels can be certified by Rainforest Alliance or the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

B) When you are there: 

  • Buying local - shopping around in markets is not only more fun, but it can help you connect with the community, eat fresh produce and avoid plastics.

  • Using public transport instead of a taxi - we find this also find this more exciting, and also walk where possible and safe.

    • Even if you do get a rent-a-car, is it a green car? Are there options for this when booking?

  • Re-use your towels - or request they do not get washed. Lots of hotels have this. Does your room needs to be cleaned every day? 

  • Leftover soap/shampoo - this will all get thrown away. Take it with you and you can reuse those little tiny bottles.

  • Rentals - bring your leftover things you buy home, and no its not weird to bring cloves of garlic back with you, we have done it! Alternatively, see if apps like OLIO exist where you are, or ask others if they want things you can’t take back with you.

Hope these tips and tricks help you on your travels, and please share all of your thoughts and wins with us. Happy travelling!

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