Let’s be honest- international travel is not a very sustainable practice. Most people probably don’t think about the personal impact they are making when they go on a trip, they just want beaches and fun and a getaway from everyday life. But really, if we want to preserve the places on this planet that we love to travel to, each one of us should be thinking about this on a daily basis and especially when travel.
If you give “how to travel green” a quick google you’ll find tons of information on the topic from people who are more knowledgeable than we are. The Union of Concerned Scientists even has a detailed reported entitled Getting There Greener with a more detailed analysis and comparison of emissions depending on travel means and distances (it’s from 2008 and looks at the United States, but it still gives you an idea).
Tapping on the extensive knowledge already out there and also our own personal experiences, we try to follow some basic general principles:
- Minimize emissions- The less you emit, the better. Go by foot when possible. If you can’t make it by foot, try another self-propelled means of transport like a bicycle or kayak. If you can’t do that, take a bus, or try hitchhiking (the car is going that way anyways). The last thing you should consider is taking a plane, especially for short haul flights. We purchased offsets for a recent flight from Canada to Chile, and while it was eye opening how much a plane ticket emits compared to driving somewhere, it still didn’t break the bank to make our flight carbon neutral.
- Bring water bottle and your own dishes- Instead of using a plastic waterbottle, plastic utensils, and styrofoam food trays, pick up your own water bottle and plastic bowl/plate/tupperware (yes, it’s also plastic, but at least you’re not throwing it away three times a day). There are tons of places to safely refill water bottles in most countries (even if that means buying one big jug instead of ten small water bottles), and your own tupperware is even more convenient than having your soup served in a plastic bag.
- Don’t litter– This seems self evident, but in many countries tossing your garbage over your shoulder is second nature to many locals. We’re not trying to profess that our culture is better, but it certainly can’t hurt to try to set a good example by taking your trash with you until you find a garbage bin, and better yet, helping to clean up the litter in beautiful places left by other travelers.
- Avoid meat- Much to Elliott’s sadness, most meat consumption simply isn’t a sustainable practice. You can cut down on global meat demand by ordering a delicious vegetable dish instead of a meat one. The flavour is in the sauce usually anyways. If you absolutely must eat meat, try to limit it to once a day or less, and remember that chicken is generally the most sustainable meat, pork is somewhere in the middle, and beef is pretty much the absolute worst. You’ll also be less likely to get food poisoning!
- Eat seasonally- In some countries such as Albania this comes naturally based on simple availability. In others, it’s up to you to try to eat local and seasonal foods instead of costly and emissions-intensive imported foods. How are you supposed to know? Look around! If you see your food growing, it’s probably a safe bet. Ask the locals too- it gives you an excuse to chat up local farmers.
- Save the seafood- our oceans are in rough shape. Decades of sustained over-fishing have resulted in some fish populations that are seriously at risk. Even when you opt for a relatively healthy species, consider that other fish are affected in modern fishing practices as well. In Albania we saw local boats coming in with just a few small fish, and couldn’t help but wonder whether this has always been the case for these coastal people who rely on the bounty of the sea. As much as we love it, we usually try to avoid seafood except for on one special occasion each time we travel.
We are always striving to make our inherently unsustainable travel just a little bit better (or a little less bad) for the planet, and we welcome any suggestions anybody might have!