You’re swimming through the balmy tropical waters of Madagascar. The sea is crystal clear… and then a plastic bag floats past.
Travel makes you more aware of your natural environment. It exposes you to some truly breathtaking sights - vast plains, soaring mountains and underwater worlds. But seeing all the natural wonder the world holds will also make you even more aware of the impact people are having on the environment. It makes you start to think; are we really treating it with the most care we possibly can? Will these sights still be here for the next generations to explore?
One of the hard parts about green travel is that you have to put in a bit of effort. It’s easy to relax and go with the flow, even if you know something isn’t quite right. But here are a few simple ways you can minimise the environmental impact of travelling. You can even go beyond just reducing the effect of your travel - you can actually travel and help the environment abroad. More on that later.
GREEN TRAVEL GOLDEN RULES
Sometimes you can’t help the environmental impact of your travel, like when you board an airplane. However, green travel is achievable and it is something worth aiming for. Here’s a few tips to help you be a cleaner, greener, more environmentally responsible traveller even if you’re heading abroad.
These rules should be applied when considering all aspects of your travel. They’re not too demanding and generally will only require a brief pause as you ask yourself the impact of what you’re doing. Remember, the effect of your actions doesn’t change just because you’re on holiday.
1. Find sustainable travel options. At every point of your journey think about the impact you want to have on both the natural environment and the community and culture that calls that part of the world home. This starts right from when you start planning your adventure. Think about not only where you’re going but also the impact your travels will have. If you want to do something that involves the forest, the sea or animals then do your research into how eco-friendly they are. Eco-friendly accommodation and transport can often be the best for you as well. Remember, a business that considers the repercussions of its actions towards the environment will also apply the same logic to their service. It doesn’t have to be one or the other!
2. Support the initiatives that matter. This may seem obvious, but once you’ve done your research then it’s all about living that life. Sometimes it can be hard to do - maybe it’s the more expensive option or takes a bit longer - but in the long run it’ll be worth it.
GREEN TRAVEL BEFORE YOU GO
By organising yourself well before you go, you can cut down the environmental impact of your life at home.
3. Cut down electricity use at home. Turn off and unplug appliances that don’t need to be on while you’re away. All this involves is a quick check around the home unplugging your TV, microwave etc. These things still use electricity even if they’re not in use, and turning them off fully will also save you money on your power bill.
GREEN TRAVEL IN YOUR PACK
There are a lots of cheap and easy to find things that can come in handy while you’re away and will save you wasting water, using plastic and harming the environment.
4. Reusable water bottle. You’ll probably take a water bottle on the plane anyway, so you may as well make it a good quality re-usable one that will last your whole trip.
5. Reusable straw and travel utensils pack. This is another easy way to cut down your plastic use. Bringing your own cutlery will mean you don’t have to worry about going through plastic knives and forks.
6. Reusable shopping bag. No single use plastic bags for you!
7. Your own pre-packed snacks or meals. This could be unrealistic for a whole multiple leg long-haul plane journey, but it’s doable for at least the first part.
8. Rechargeable batteries. Take a charger with you so you don’t have to buy disposable ones on your travels.
9. Biodegradable toothpaste. When you spit your toothpaste down the drain, it’s not the end of it. Toothpaste can end up in all sorts of places, and if it doesn’t break down then it can lead to problems. Biodegradable toothpaste is one thing best bought before you travel - it generally won’t cost too much more than your normal toothpaste either.
10. Reusable coffee cup. If you use one at home, take it with you. Unless you’re really planning on shelving your three-a-day habit and still calling it a holiday?
11. Reusable food containers. Countries that use a lot of street food tend to use one-time takeaway containers. Bring your own and they’ll be happy to use them instead. Collapsible containers are easy to pack and take up barely any space.
12. Reef safe sunblock. Sunblock washes off your skin when you’re into the water, and a lot of it can be damaging to marine environments. By checking your sunblock is reef safe you’ll make sure there’s nothing in the water that will be damaged by your swimming.
13. An environmental travel companion. Take away the temptation to do something you know you shouldn’t by travelling with someone with the same values as you. It also helps reinforce good habits when you’ve got someone else doing the same things you are.
GREEN TRAVEL ON THE PLANE
With air travel becoming cheaper more people than ever before are choosing to pack their bags and see the world. There is no turning away from the fact that planes are particularly bad for greenhouse gas emissions. In Europe alone, greenhouse gas emissions from planes increased nearly 90% between 1990 and 2006.
But that doesn’t mean you have to stay at home, it just means that you should put the focus on offsetting that impact. You can do this by…
14. Carbon offsetting. As soon as you get on a plane, you’re burning fossil fuels. However, there are plenty of programs that involve planting trees to offset your emissions. IVHQ encourages all volunteers to do this in partnership with the UK-based ClimateCare. You can calculate your emissions and help offset them here.
15. Packing light. This reduces the weight onboard your plane and means it burns less fuel.
16. Fly direct to your destination. Planes burn the most fuel during take-offs and landings, so if you can spend more time cruising, you’re not contributing to those extra emissions.
17. Choose airlines that pack their flights. Planes that are half full use a similar amount of fuel and transport fewer people. Some airlines are particularly good at flying planes at capacity - check out which ones here.
18. Say ‘no!’ Don’t accept plastic cups for drinks, instead ask for your water bottle to be refilled. Your bottle has a far greater capacity than your plastic cup, so not only will you be reducing single plastic use, you’ll be keeping extra hydrated.
19. Ask for just the necessities on your meal tray. Once other items are there, they’ll end up in the trash at the end whether you use them or not.
20. Take longer vacations. If you end up somewhere that’s near to another place on your bucket list - go there! Flying all the way home, only to get back on another plane to that same region in a few years’ time will add to your carbon footprint. That’s right - eco-friendly tourism can mean better vacations!
GREEN TRAVEL ON YOUR VACATION
Once you’ve arrived on your vacation, the green travel game plan kicks into full swing.
21. Drink water responsibly. This is one of the easiest ways to make sure your travel is sustainable and eco-friendly. Plastic water bottles are a common source of single use plastic, but they can be necessary if you can’t drink water straight from the tap. Do your research before you go - it may be that you can take purification tablets or find water filters. Either way, always take a reusable drink bottle.
22. Turn down plastic straws. Your piña colada won’t taste any different through a straw, which is just another single use plastic item that you don’t need.
23. Don’t fly domestic. Instead of going through yet another airport, take a train or bus and see more of the countryside. Domestic flights are often short and create a tonne of emissions.
24. Take public transport. Just like at home, public transport is often the cheapest, greenest way to get around. Trains and buses are running anyway, but that rickety diesel taxi doesn’t need to be spluttering fumes into the air just to get you to the local market.
25. Use pedal power. Even better, get on your bike! Cycle tours or rental bikes are a great, green way to explore a new place, and they’re becoming increasingly popular around the world.
26. Reduce your washing. Washing uses lots of water, so if you’re offered a clean towel and fresh sheets at your accommodation every day, just say no. You wouldn’t change these every day at home, so why do it while you’re away? Also, only wash your clothes when you have a full load.
27. Turn off power in your room when you go out. Yes, it may be hot where you are, but you don’t actually need to run the air conditioning to keep your room cool all day. Switch things off at the wall and don’t use anything when you don’t need to.
28. Eat and drink local products. Do you really want to go abroad, only to eat the same take-out you have at home? Eating local is exciting, new and fresh, but it also cuts down on imported foods that require freight and incur associated emissions.
29. Don’t buy plastic souvenirs. Authentic souvenirs are usually not plastic anyway.
30. Give green feedback. When hotels or restaurants ask for feedback, tell them about green options they had that you liked, encourage things they didn’t have or tell them if there was something they did that you didn’t like. It doesn’t need to come off snobby, just tell them it’s something you value.
Now that you know about green travel, why not add to that? Instead of just minimizing the effect of your travel, you can actually make a sustainable difference to the world with your travels.
By putting in a little bit of time on a volunteer project. Volunteering is a great way to give back to a community and is an extremely rewarding way to travel.
5 SUSTAINABLE, ECO-FRIENDLY VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
IVHQ works directly with local teams to ensure volunteers meet the needs of the community you’re in. With more than 200 responsible projects around the world, there’s plenty of options to choose from. Not only that, but there are lots of affordable green volunteer projects that are focused on the environment and aiding conservation. Here are some of the best ones:
Bali - Ubud
One of IVHQ’s most popular programs offers you the chance to take part in Turtle Conservation or Environmental Education. You could be in a hands-on role caring for endangered sea turtles, helping revive the local population or helping educate young Balinese children about good environmental practices.
Take your pick from a handful of projects including Marine Conservation, Turtle Conservation, Forest Conservation and Island Outreach. Study endemic wildlife like lemurs, reptiles, turtles or birds, get involved surveying and regenerating the local coral reef systems, educate locals about environmental issues or use your scuba skills to conduct more underwater research.
New Zealand is known for its clean and green image, and they work hard to maintain it. You can get your hands dirty on the Coast and Waterway Conservation project where you’ll work on stunning beaches, landscapes and islands. Alternatively, you can take on the Environmental Education project and work in various local schools and community groups educating locals about protecting waterways and coastlines.
Peru - Cusco
Help preserve the Amazon rainforest on Peru’s Jungle Conservation project. You’ll be placed in areas that genuinely need your help doing work like reforestation, trail maintenance, conducting animal inventories and other research.
Italy - Naples
Get involved in any number of conservation activities on the Environmental project in Naples. You could be helping preserve historical and UNESCO World Heritage sites, protected marine life or archaeological ruins. Other possibilities include sustainable farming or bio-construction or working with an environmental NGO in conservation and community outreach.
For more environmental vacation options, IVHQ has also compiled a longer shortlist of the top 9 eco volunteer programs available for you right now!