A more conscious way to travel

A version of this piece was published in Fórsa Trade Union Magazine

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg, who is just 16 years old, has inspired millions to take global warming seriously. Her dedication and passion towards the environment have shown us all how we shouldn’t dismiss the strength of our younger generation.

This year Greta made literal waves by sailing in yacht to attend a United Nations conference. Her yacht was designed to achieve a zero-carbon status and was propelled by the wind and powered by both solar panels and water-driven generators for electricity. She made the conscious decision to sail there instead of flying due to the massive carbon emissions caused by planes.

While her work is completely admirable, for those looking to take a break on their annual holidays, sailing to destinations in such an eco-conscious yacht right now isn’t a feasible option for the average person. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have an environmental impact when you’re heading abroad.

Here are just some of the things that will help reduce your carbon footprint next time you’re away. We are not powerless and it’s easy to do your bit for the planet.

Offset your carbon emissions

This has become a viable option for many who travel. Some airlines will give you the option to ‘carbon offset’ when you’re booking your flight. This means that you compensate your emissions by funding equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere mostly through non-profit organisations. The projects are often based in developing countries and involve things like rolling out clean energy technologies, distributing efficient cooking stoves, capturing methane gas at landfill sites or soaking up CO2 by planting more trees. If an airline doesn’t offer it, you can visit an offset website like carbonfootprint.com, use their online tools to calculate your emissions for the trip and pay the offset thus making it ‘carbon neutral’.

Take public transport

Taking buses, trains and the metro means that there are fewer individual cars on the roads. It can take you a bit out of your comfort zone to navigate through it all if you’re used to grabbing a taxi or hiring an UBER but, in my opinion, it just adds to the experience! Check out what transport options are available before you depart. Carpooling options like BlaBlaCar on mainland Europe or Waze Carpool are a more earth-friendly choice too if you must take a car.

Explore a city by bike

Travelling by bike is a very low impact activity and hiring a bike is very easy particularly in European cities where they offer rent-by-the-hour schemes. But if you’re nervous about heading out on your own by bike, consider taking a bike tour! I’ve previously taken cycling tours with Urban Adventures who also make a conscious effort to provide sustainable tours and work with locals and non-profits.

Ecotourism and Greenwashing

Speaking of tours, if you’re looking to travel in a group or do day tours, research which companies actually give back to the community, have a zero-waste ethos and a low impact approach to the environment. Because the word ‘eco’ isn’t regulated a lot of companies ‘greenwash’ their tours and products by sticking the word onto them. This often means that they’re just sticking green packaging onto their product and descriptions to suggest that they’re environmentally friendly, but this is often far from the truth. Beware and do your research beforehand!

Reduce your plastic waste

You don’t really need to buy a plastic bottle every time you head out, do you? Invest in a reusable water bottle and bring it everywhere. I don’t leave the house without my bottle and Stojo collapsible coffee cup (coffee shops are catching onto this and now even offer discounts to those who reuse!). If you’re worried about the quality of water, you can buy bottles with inbuilt filters.

Zero-Waste Flying Kit

As mentioned, you should invest in a reusable water bottle but don’t stop there. Bring your own reusable cutlery (which you can use in the country you’re travelling to) and your own napkin. Airlines are beginning to catch on and are slowly doing away with single-use plastics but not all of them have yet. If you need a straw, consider buying a stainless steel, bamboo or glass one.

Waste no water

You can buy a laundry bar which is basically like a soap bar that washes your clothes. It takes a bit of elbow grease, but I’ve never had an issue with the Palm Free Vegan Laundry Bar and you can find them in many health shops. It’s small and compact and instead of using the hotel or hostel laundry facility that wastes a lot of water I simply wash in the sink.

Reusable Toiletries

I used to think that the small bottles and toiletries in hotels that were given out were cute but in fact they are incredibly wasteful as often they’re just simply thrown out even if they’re barely used. Like the laundry bar, you can also buy a solid shampoo bar that you can bring anywhere in the world with you. Lush do a variety of selections to suit all hair types and you can also find them at threehillsoap.ie Consider in investing in a reusable stainless-steel razor where you only must replace the blades and reusable cotton rounds for removing makeup.

Support local economies

The reality is, is that our stuff, whether it be our clothes, accessories, latest Amazon purchases, and drinks, travels more than we do. And buying these things creates a larger ecological footprint. Consider what you buy when abroad and ask yourself ‘do you really need this?’ If you must buy something look at what you can buy locally be it from a farmer’s market, a shop or café and consider where the actual product is from. I always bring a spare canvas bag in my handbag and rucksack.

Cheap doesn’t mean at no cost

For things like clothes, it may be tempting to get cheaper clothing when abroad, but the fast fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world second to oil. These trendy and often cheap items purposely go out of style quickly and thrown into a landfill where they produce excessive amounts of methane as they decompose. Consider also the human factor behind these clothes.

Most of the clothes from fast fashion companies come from Bangladesh where in 2013 a garment company called Rana Plaza collapsed killing over 1100 workers. The building wasn’t fit for making clothing, but companies chose it because Bangladesh produces the cheapest clothes in the world. Make the decision to instead pack sensibly and bring only what you need. Scout out ethical clothes companies like Patagonia and People Tree. Clothes may cost more but you’ll have to buy them less often because of their quality and it’s without the human cost.

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Hello! Úna-Minh is a journalist, social media consultant and virtual assistant who loves (you guessed it) TRAVEL. She also feels a bit strange writing in the third person so she'll stop that now. You can find out more about me and my Mammy in the about section of this blog!

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