How to see the world, sustainably.

There are certain personal dilemmas that you’ll start to dwell on, as a traveller who wants to save the planet but also wants to see it all. When you’re sitting on your 15-hour flight thinking “I wonder how many trees I have to plant if I’m ever going to balance this out”, trying to be a sustainable expeditioner can feel like a somewhat impossible task.

It’s no secret that there isn’t really such a thing as eco-friendly air travel, and there’s a lot of debate around whether carbon offset schemes are really worthwhile, but there are certain things we can do to try and reduce the impact of globe-wandering.



Plan your route, and go by land when you can

Not so relevant to short breaks, but if you’re going on a lengthy trip and planning to visit a lot of countries, try and minimise the amount of time you spend in the air. Buses and trains in most parts of the world will be cheaper and easier to get around with anyway, but if you’re roaming through a number of countries it’s worth taking the overland routes as often as possible to cut down that carbon footprint. Added bonus: you’ll probably get to see loads of awesome scenery out of the window too.

Take the cheapest airlines

Alright, so that heading is a bit of a generalisation. But overall, budget airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair are often noted as being far more eco-friendly than other operators, in great part because they cram so many passengers in on each flight. VietJet have recently signed an agreement with the provider of the SFC02 ‘fuel efficiency solution’ and Jet2 have bought a whole fleet of ‘next-generation’ energy-efficient planes, so don’t think that taking the cheap and cheerful option is automatically the worst thing you could do.

airasia plane

Airlines like these that get as many people on each journey as possible, and often have extra fees that discourage fliers from bringing too much weight, are actually making themselves ‘greener’ in the process. Flying economy class even on the more upmarket airlines is easier on your wallet AND easier on the planet, and you can remind yourself of that when your legs are squished against the tray table and you can’t get the armrest up.

Speaking of weight…

While my post about the art of minimalist packing  was really more about saving your own shoulders and not being a travel-hoarder than it was about being environmentally-friendly, there’s a lot to be said for travelling light if you want to cut down your carbon footprint. The more weight that any vehicle carries, the more fuel they use to get to where they’re going – cut that backpack down from 15kg to 10kg and you have a little extra something to console yourself with. It’s the same logic that says the cheap seat is better than the bigger, heavier fancy one with all the extra ‘freebies’. Plus, let’s not forget the whole ‘being smug about your super-light bag’ thing.

backpackers in thailand

enjoy the sharing economy

Carpooling, dorm rooms, make do and mend – backpackers often find themselves travelling more sustainably completely by accident, or just because they’re on a tight budget. It’s not to say that if you’re going on a couples’ city break you should book yourself some bunk beds and get sharing that lighting and air con with ten other people, but if  you aren’t taking public transport for any reason then do look at anything from sharing a TukTuk with some other people going your way to booking your Uber with the carpool option. Better yet, find out if your hostel/guesthouse offers free or cheap bicycle hire and cut fuel out of the equation completely.

If you are staying in a hostel, look out for shared food shelves – waste-combatting spaces where as well as saving money by eating abandoned goodies, you can leave behind any food you haven’t used up to save it from going in the bin. Some Airbnbs and other homestays offer a similar thing, and if it combats food waste AND saves you money, what’s not to love?

mai chau cycling vietnam

Balance Things out from home

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that part of me hopes the fact I’ve gone vegan might help to balance out some of the many, many flights I’ve taken in my lifetime. Living sustainably isn’t just something to think about when you’re abroad, and let’s face it, adjusting your every day life is going to have a much bigger impact than just taking a few shared Ubers while you’re on holiday. I’m not about to give y’all a lecture on how cutting out meat and dairy could help to save the planet, but do think twice about the things you buy and the transport you take and all that jazz. Nobody is perfect, but the sharing economy and reducing, reusing and recycling are all things people should be getting more stuck into.

Take public transport, take your own bags when you go shopping, refill your water bottle instead of buying another one, give your old clothes to charity shops and buy cool new stuff while you’re there, try and fix things  that can be fixed instead of binning them and buying more stuff… the list goes on.

If you fly a couple of times a year but you drive regularly and eat meat every day at home, it isn’t the flying you need to be worried about. You might not be inclined to cut out, but everyone can cut down, and it’s the little everyday things you change that do the most to compensate for the impact of flying around the world.

9 thoughts on “How to see the world, sustainably.

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