Our corner of the world is packed with amazing places to visit and things to see and do, but how do you do it without it costing the earth, literally? While everyone loves a holiday, more and more of us are recognising the impact of our travelling carbon footprint on the planet and making attempts to offset it. You certainly don’t have to stop travelling altogether, but making mindful choices in the way you travel can make a big difference.
Here are ten tips for being a more sustainable traveller.
1. Go paperless
You’ve booked your travel, accommodation, tours and activities, but before you press print, consider whether you really need to print the documents. Most travel providers are happy to accept e-versions or boarding cards on your smart phone. Remember this only works if your phone is charged – so don’t forget that charger!
2. Pack light
There are plenty of good reasons to pack light. It’s less for you to carry, but just as importantly, it reduces your carbon footprint. The less you take with you, the less energy is expended in transporting it around. So cut your packing list back to the bare basics and take only carry-on luggage where possible.
3. Bring a reusable water bottle and keep cup
Millions of disposable plastic water bottles are thrown away every year by tourists, so invest in a good quality reusable water bottle. It’s a simple but incredibly effective measure to make your adventures more sustainable. Australia’s tap water is perfectly fine to drink, but if you want extra peace of mind, boil it up overnight in your hotel kettle and top up your bottle on the way out each morning. A keep cup for your daily coffee is also an essential item of eco-travel kit.
4. Reduce your use of absentee power
Even though you won’t be there, in most cases your home appliances will still be consuming power if you leave them turned on. That’s because everything from your toaster to hot water system is designed to sit in standby mode and be ready to deliver at a split second’s notice – even when they’re home alone for days on end. Refer to appliance manuals and switch off everything you safely can (including your Wi-Fi). Also check whether your fridge has a holiday mode (many newer models do).
5. Offset your flight emissions
If you’re travelling by coach, a gold star for you. That’s generally the form of transport with the lowest average emission of CO2 per person when moving between two points. Flights sit at the opposite end of the scale, and are generally the biggest contributor to your carbon footprint (although travelling alone in a car is also right up there). Many airlines give you the option to offset your emissions, and it’s worth taking up. In the case of Qantas for example, 100% of these funds go towards Carbon Offset projects (which are detailed on their website). Alternatively, you can make use of one of the many Carbon Neutral calculators available online to work out the cost of your share of the emissions. Then go looking for a suitable offset project to donate to yourself.
6. Recycle your own onboard packaging
Airlines generate a huge amount of onboard rubbish, and while some operate some form of recycling, it’s hit and miss. Consider taking responsibility for your own on-board waste, and either pass on the cookie and plastic bottle of water completely or take the packaging with you and ensure it finds its way into a recycling bin.
7. Choose a sustainable stay
Many accommodation providers are taking steps to reduce their carbon emissions, and it’s worth contacting your hotel of choice to find out what initiatives they have in place. Here are two gold standard examples:
Alto Hotel on Bourke Ascend Hotel Collection, Melbourne (VIC): Located in one of the most fashionable cities in the world, Alto Hotel on Bourke, Ascend Hotel Collection Melbourne is proving that sustainability is most definitely the new black. The hotel achieved EarthCheck Gold Certification as Carbon Neutral in 2016 and has pioneered a number of initiatives over the years to achieve that outcome, including free city parking for guests with electric or hybrid vehicles, and free recharging of 100% renewable energy. Captured rainwater is used in public toilets and for cleaning purposes and there’s even a commercial rooftop beehive in operation.
Comfort Inn City Centre Armidale (NSW): Comfort Inn City Centre Armidale was certified Carbon Neutral under the National Carbon Offset Standard in 2019. The result was achieved through a number of initiatives, including the installation of a state-of-the-art air-to-water heat pump to improve the efficiency of hot water provision to guests, the installation of rooftop solar, upgrading of lighting to LEDs, and the implementation of cloud-based technologies to reduce paper waste. A worm hotel returns food scraps to the soil in an on-site herb garden.
You can also do your bit to reduce hotel emissions. Bring your own reusable shampoo and conditioner minis, switch off lights and air conditioning when leaving your room, and request and re-use a single towel.
8. Opt for zero footprint sightseeing
Exploring your destination by foot is the cheapest and greenest way to get around. Most of Australia‘s major cities offer a wealth of guided walking tours, which are generally low cost and have next to no impact on the planet. In smaller cities and towns, check the website of the tourism office for downloadable self-guided walking tour itineraries, which you can follow on your phone.
9. Freewheel in and around the city
If you want to explore a bit further afield, but still keep your carbon footprint in check, a bike is a great way to do it. And it doesn’t have to be all hard work either. Look into hiring an electric or pedal assisted bike, and away you go!
10. Sustainable souvenir shopping
Many of us love to take home a memento of our travels, but do you really want to purchase a souvenir that was actually made in an entirely different country and shipped in for sale to tourists? Not only does that make no sense, given you actually want a souvenir from the place you’re visiting, but it’s far from sustainable. Instead, look for local markets selling handmade goods, or artists’ co-ops. Even small towns often have them. You can purchase a piece that was made by hand and with heart. It may cost you a bit more, but will be worth every penny.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.