10 ways to travel more sustainably
You only need to look at the wind turbine at HI Bonavista, the off-grid fridges at HI Rampart Creek or the solar panels on the roof of HI Athabasca Falls to see how important the environment is to HI Canada. Come on, there’s even a tree in the logo! For travellers who share similar values, here are 10 tips to lighten your carbon footprint while you’re trotting the globe.
This article was originally published in 2018.
1. Fly smart
Most holidays begin at the airport, and jumping on a gas-guzzling airplane isn’t the best way to give Mother Nature a hug. Luckily, there are ways to reduce your carbon emissions when flying. Try to fly direct to your destination—most of a flight’s emissions are pumped out during takeoff and landing—and reward climate-conscious airlines that reduce their carbon footprints by using more sustainable biofuels and offering offset programs. Use a guide like Atmosfair to compare the most eco-friendly airlines.
2. Travel slow
Once you reach your destination, stop to smell the roses, not the exhaust fumes. Walk, cycle or at least take public transportation instead of relying on cars and taxis, and consider a bus or train between various stops on your trip rather than flying. Taking your time not only helps you really get to the bottom of the place you’re visiting, it also slashes your impact on the environment, because you’re chewing up less carbon speeding from point A to point B.
3. Choose the right tour operator
Do they employ local guides? What’s the size of the group? Are they locally owned, and where does the money from your tour actually go? Are they certified by trusted NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund or the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, or have they won any ecotourism awards? Is there evidence of sustainability practices on their website? Ask these questions when you’re booking an activity to make sure your tour benefits the local area instead of taxing it.
4. Ban the bottle
Not booze, of course, but single-use plastic bottles that take hundreds of years to break down in the environment. The process of producing, packaging, transporting and refrigerating these disposable bottles generates tons of carbon emissions, so when you’re visiting places where it’s safe to drink water out of the tap, bring a reusable bottle rather than buying bottled water. If you're travelling somewhere with unclean water, invest in a purifier such as the SteriPen, which disinfects the water so it's drinkable.
5. Reduce waste
We can all afford to cut down the amount of trash we throw out, but travellers are especially guilty of leaving behind more than just a trail of footprints when they’re on the road. Take a tote bag to shops instead of grabbing another plastic bag. Save leftover food in reusable containers. Don’t grab maps and brochures you don’t need. Use eco-friendly toiletries like solid soaps and shampoos. Carry a reusable mug for your morning coffee. Download electronic tickets onto your phone rather than printing them out. The list goes on.
6. Buy local
Shopping at a farmers market, eating at restaurants that showcase local ingredients and even drinking craft beer brewed in the area is a win-win-win—travellers get an authentic taste of the place they’re visiting, money is injected into the local community and no long-distance transport means less carbon emissions. Those tacky souvenir shops crammed full of cheap tourist junk imported from the other side of the planet, can’t compare.
7. Take shorter showers
This won’t just endear you to your hostel roommates waiting to use the bathroom, it’ll make Mother Nature smile too. Conserving water is particularly important in developing countries with less reliable supplies of water—turning off the tap while shaving and brushing your teeth, washing your clothes as efficiently as possible (no-one’s going to notice the occasional twice-worn shirt every now and then) and showering with a friend (if you’re feeling frisky) are other ways of saving water.
8. Respect animals
Wildlife can be the biggest draw at many destinations, so make sure any animal encounters are respectful. Only book tours that prioritize animal welfare, dodge cruel experiences like tiger selfies and elephant rides and don’t feed black markets in animal products by purchasing unethical souvenirs. Speaking of animal products, eating less meat is great for the environment as well as your budget—livestock farming is one of the planet’s leading carbon emitters, and fruit and veg is always cheaper than meat.
9. Wander off the beaten path
And no, not just to give your Instagram followers something unique to double-tap. Over-tourism is straining more places around the planet, so instead of booking a holiday somewhere that’s already hammered by hordes of cruise ships and huge resorts, take your tourist dollar somewhere that actually needs it. And wherever you go, respect the local culture—learn a little bit of the language, read up on local customs and carry an open-minded attitude.
10. Stay with HI
Okay, fine, we might be a little biased, but it’s hard to disagree that sustainability is woven into the fabric of hostelling—the very idea of travellers sharing bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms is kinder to the environment than other types of accommodation. Borrow a bike. Leave behind your leftovers on the share shelf. Support a not-for-profit—HI Canada at home and the entire HI network around the globe—that has the environment at the core of its mission. Remember, there’s even that tree in the logo!