It’s 2020. The world is on fire, the ice is melting, and the climate emergency is well and truly upon us.
Sorry to start on such a doom and gloom note, friend, but acknowledging climate change is important. As humans, it’s essential that we think hard about how we can make a difference, before it’s too late. As travellers, we need to think about how we can reduce our footprint and become more sustainable travellers.
So should you just stop travelling? Avoid planes entirely, and stay put? I don’t think so.
While travel can be harmful to the environment, it’s also beneficial in many ways. Travel opens your eyes to the world. Exploring new cultures fosters understanding and community. Your backpacking trip can, I think, make you care more about the world we live in. Because it’s a pretty amazing world, really.
But before you leave for your next trip consider how you can take steps to travel more sustainably. Whether it’s packing a reusable drink bottle, eating less meat or offsetting your carbon, the little steps you take can make a big difference.
Committed to going green? Dive straight into this guide to discover my top 10 tips for how you can be a more sustainable traveller in 2020.
10 Ways To Be a More Sustainable Traveller in 2020
1. Pack a Reusable Drink Bottle
You wanna know what haunts me? The amount of plastic drink bottles I went through on my 2017 trip to Southeast Asia.
Honestly, I just hadn’t thought through the implications of travelling to a region with little safe drinking water. Sure, I bought my reusable drink bottle, but where would I fill it up? Few hostels had filtered drinking water, and when we were out and about it felt like the only option was to buy bottled water.
Now, with a mountain of plastic bottles haunting my nightmares, I’d do things a little different. In a lot of developed countries drinking water is perfectly safe, and your reusable drink bottle will do the job. But if you’re planning on visiting countries with unsafe water consider investing in a SteriPen or LifeStraw. Though they each work slightly differently, their purpose is to filter your drinking water, making it safe for you to drink.
It may seem like a larger cost upfront, but if you’re travelling extensively these bad boys could end up saving you money. Plus, the planet will thank you for not using plastic bottles.
2. Invest in Shampoo/Conditioner Bars
Ok, I’m guilty of this one. When I’m travelling I generally take a small bottle of shampoo and conditioner, and either fill it up with hostel toiletries along the way or buy more when I run out.
But friend, there’s an easier, more planet-friendly solution; shampoo bars. Not gonna lie, shampoo bars could change the game for you. They’re compact, easy to travel with, last for ages, and are good for you and the environment. In New Zealand there’s a great brand called Ethique who offer a range of shampoo bars for different hair types. Universally Lush offers a similar range.
3. Consider Your Destination – Travel Offbeat or Off Peak
From Barcelona to Bangkok, tourist hotspots around the world are being overwhelmed by tourism. And mass tourism doesn’t just mean longer queues and hiked prices.
Places are being destroyed by overtourism. In Thailand and the Philippines beaches are closing. Locals are being forced out of their homes due to rising accommodation costs. Irreplaceable ruins are being well, ruined.
So how can you help? When planning your next holiday consider where and when you’re travelling. If you can, maybe step a little off the beaten path to help ease the burden on cities like Venice that are massively struggling with overtourism.
If you do still want to visit Venice and other tourist hotspots (I can’t blame you – Venice is incredible), consider visiting in the off season. Queues will be smaller, prices lower, and the city won’t be as overwhelmed with people.
4. Say No to Plastic Straws
This is a simple one, but it surprises me how many countries around the world still serve drinks with plastic straws.
Plastic straws, and other single-use plastics like plastic knives and forks, are massively harmful to the environment and end up clogging our waterways and killing our marine life. But friend, there’s a simple solution; just say no to the straws. If your Moijto just won’t taste as good without a straw consider packing a reusable, foldaway travel straw. Yup, it’s a thing.
5. Choose Your Souvenirs Wisely
As I’ve travelled more I’ve grown better at choosing souvenirs. Now, I focus on collecting souvenirs with meaning; things like a print from Myanmar that I can hang on the wall, or unusual foods you can’t find anywhere else.
Sustainably speaking, there’s a good reason for being more choosy with your souvenirs. Tacky plastic keychains, cheap elephant pants or bracelets are inevitably going to end up in the rubbish. Because either A) they’ll break, or B) you’ll discover them at the bottom of your wardrobe 5 years later and wonder why you bought them in the first place.
So be a little picky, don’t buy cheap trash, and invest in souvenirs you’ll want to treasure forever.
6. Consider Catching a Bus or Train Instead of Flying
Ok, if you live in New Zealand avoiding flying is damn near impossible. But where possible, consider switching to a more carbon-efficient means of travel like a bus or train.
With a little planning your Europe OE is just as feasible if you commit to flying less and using ground transport more. Trains in Europe can be expensive, but if you know your route and can book weeks or months in advance you may be able to snag a good deal.
Additionally, consider spending a little longer in each destination. Instead of jetting from Barcelona to Paris to Rome to Santorini, spend a week or two on the ground exploring one country. You’ll get a better, more local experience and be able to utilise more trains and buses. A win for you and a win for the planet!
7. Offset Your Carbon
If you have to fly look into offsetting your carbon. Essentially, carbon offsetting is a way of funding projects that are looking for solutions to reducing carbon emissions. Companies work directly with communities to clean rivers, plant trees, and invest in clean energy. It’s not a foolproof solution and you should still consider flying less, but offsetting your carbon is one small way to be a more sustainable traveller.
Some airlines offer carbon offsetting automatically for a surprisingly small fee, or there are companies that will do it for you. Not all carbon offset companies are created equal so make sure you do a little research before you choose where to invest.
8. Choose Your Animal Experiences Carefully
In today’s world there’s no excuse for riding elephants or taking photos with drugged-up tigers.
And yet, people still do it. Don’t be that tourist, friend.
If you’re planning an animal experience, research it carefully. Many elephant ‘sanctuaries’, for example, still allow people to ride elephants and engage the elephants in unnatural behaviour designed for tourists. Before you go, do a little digging. Responsible Travel keeps a great up-to-date list of ethical elephant experiences around the world, and from personal experience Elephant Nature Park in Thailand is a great bet.
Basically, for any experiences involving animals make sure to do your research. Ethical is a trending word in travel and it sells, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Use your gut and if something doesn’t look right, don’t do it. In your quest to be a more sustainable traveller, the animals are your friends.
9. Eat Less Meat
The meat-free movement is growing globally as more and more people wake up to the devastating realities of climate change.
Reducing your meat intake is hugely beneficial to the environment. Did you know the livestock sector — raising cows, pigs and chickens — generates as much greenhouse gas emissions as all cars, trucks and automobiles combined?
Personally, I’ve committed to a 90% vegetarian lifestyle. I eat vegetarian at home 100% of the time. But when I travel I do eat meat, though not as much as I once would have. I do this for two reasons; I don’t want to miss out trying unique cuisine when I travel, and I think meat plays a big role in different cultures.
So if you can, consider eating less meat. You don’t have to commit to full vegetarianism but even a few meat-free nights a week can help you to be a more sustainable traveller, and human.
10. Invest in Local
One of the best things you can do to be a more sustainable traveller is to invest in local.
Instead of staying in large hotel chains, consider staying in a locally-run guesthouse. Rather than travelling on tourist buses or with tours, try and take local buses and transport. Always eat from local restaurants and eat local food, as opposed to McDonalds or Western chains. Buy souvenirs that are made by locals, rather than shipped over from China.
In some cases investing in local can be cheaper, and in some cases it’s a little more expensive. But every time you invest in locally made products, transport, food and accommodation you pour money back into communities and people, rather than corporations.
I’m not perfect. I still fly, I occasionally eat meat and I don’t always offset my carbon. But I’m making conscious steps to become a more sustainable traveller. I want my future children and grandchildren to be able to explore our world the way I’ve been able to, and that starts now. 2020 is going to be a turning point in the climate emergency. It’s up to you and me, friend, to change the planet now, before it’s too late.