Despite making an effort to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, I’m very aware I have some work to do on the travel front where my arrangements usually fall into the ‘scheduled flights and a basic hotel’ category. I could partly blame budget and time restrictions as flying, unfortunately, usually works out much cheaper and quicker than rail travel, particularly on long-distance journeys. However, I could also do more research beforehand and check, for example, the green credentials of different hotels, instead of focusing just on the price and location. Although this is something I’ll attempt to do more in the future, what about right now when I’ve already booked everything?
When you are away from your usual surroundings it’s much easier to opt for convenience, especially on a holiday. After all, you want to relax and enjoy yourself, instead of having to worry about the possible consequences of your every action or activity. My current travel routines are not going to save the planet or even offset the emissions of my flights but they are a continuation of what I do at home and part of my conscious effort to try to reduce my impact on the environment.
For practical reasons I generally book direct flights with budget airlines (with some exceptions!), carrying only a rucksack. Apparently these are good choices! Budget airlines tend to have new planes and want to sell every single seat on their flights so there is no wasted capacity. Direct flights and carrying less luggage also means lower fuel consumption. In all seriousness, I don’t feel smug about these choices but if they proved to be environmentally better than some others, I wouldn’t complain.
Anyway, there are many small hurdles to overcome even before your flight, one of them being the trip to and from the airports. As I travel light, I’m happy to use public transport. Sharing the space with other travellers (and locals) somehow makes the whole experience more enjoyable. (Maybe that’s why I like cinemas so much too.) Once I’ve settled in, I usually explore the local area on foot, and if I need to go further afield, I hop on a bus or a train.
Airports and railway stations are among the worst places if you want to avoid creating unnecessary rubbish with your refreshments. Most food-to-go is wrapped in plastic, and coffee shops regularly use disposable (unrecyclable) cups even if you want to drink in. As a self-confessed coffeeholic, I rely on regular doses of caffeine and my solution to the cup issue has been a fabulous, bright red thermos mug that I carry absolutely everywhere. So far no coffee shop has refused it although once at Gatwick airport my drink was first made in a paper cup and then poured into my mug…! I have also used it as an emergency container when I’ve been blackberry picking. Sometimes you just have to improvise.
As far as unnecessary rubbish is concerned, bottled water is high on my list, particularly in countries where tap water is safe to drink and readily available. I used to reuse old plastic bottles but as that’s not the best option in the long run, I finally bought a bright red reusable bottle (there’s a red theme going on here!). Although I’ve heard some airports have confiscated stainless steel bottles even when they are empty, I haven’t had issues so far. Once you are through security, you can refill your bottle and take it on a flight. Many airports now have refill stations, and cities such as Rome and Budapest have water pumps and fountains everywhere for thirsty travellers.
Although I’m not much a shopper, I want to support local independent businesses both at home and on holidays. This goes for eating out too. Part of the travel fun is to try different foods, and as my room booking doesn’t always include even breakfast, I have plenty of opportunities to check out coffee shops, eateries, restaurants, and markets of the area. This is when it’s good to be prepared: instead of buying tasty bites from a market or a deli in a disposable container, I can use my reusable stainless steel lunch box. It also doubles up as picnic bowls for two or a sturdy version of a “doggy bag” if that meal out was just that little bit too big.
I admit, I used to be “one of those people” who hoarded the travel-size toiletries from hotels as they were, well, travel-sized and handy to take on short trips later on. Now I take my own mini toiletries, which I’ve decanted from bigger bottles at home. It may be a small gesture but saves a few tiny plastic bottles from going to landfill. Hotels also offer fresh towels on a daily basis but if you don’t change them every day at home, why would you when you are away?
About ten years ago in Thailand I happily went on an elephant ride and visited the now-controversial tiger temple. Having later learned more about the issues at the temple and the cruel training methods associated with a lot of the elephant training, I will definitely do thorough research before taking part in anything that involves animals. If I go to Thailand again to see elephants, I will look for a proper sanctuary where riding is not part of the programme. If I’m not convinced of the welfare of the animals in a zoo, wildlife park, or aquarium, I rather watch waddling ducks and squirrels chasing each other in the local park!
If you are, like me, “an average traveller” trying to do good, what other tips would you give? How do you balance convenience with sustainability when you travel? I’d love to hear your thoughts.