“Πάντα ῥεῖ!” said Heraclitus of Ephesus, famous Ancient Greek philosopher, over 2500 years ago. His pearl of wisdom translates as ‘Everything moves and flows.’ This is as true today as it was all those centuries ago.
Although less philosophically, we can agree that our frenzied world never stops. Our hectic routines require us to travel from one place to another all the time, whether to collect our weekly food shop or to begin our morning shift at work.
Even when on holiday, we are constantly on the move. You may be crossing the country to spend a weekend with friends and family in your hometown, or you may be exploring a new continent and enjoying stunning landmarks every day. In both cases, you will need to use some sort of transport to reach your desired destination.
When it comes to choosing our mode of transport, duration is usually our primary concern, and we tend to select the option that gets us from A to B in the shortest amount of time. However, the environmental consequences are gradually taking their toll on our planet. Tourists visiting the stunning Sicilian area of Syracuse last August, for instance, will have certainly experienced one of climate change’s detrimental effects as thermometers registered an unbearable and record temperature of 48.8°C (119.84 °F). Therefore, the next time we plan a trip, it would be wise to carefully weigh another important factor: how can I reduce my travel carbon footprint?
Here we set out some expert tips that could come in handy when organising your future eco-friendly travels.
WHEN YOU TRAVEL
Booking your tickets is arguably one of the highlights of the trip. In all honesty, filling out tedious forms and registration pages is probably not that memorable, though once your reservation has been officially confirmed, it is difficult to repress a small surge of excitement. So much so that you may even be tempted to print your tickets straight away, just to convince yourself that the anticipated vacation to Mykonos or Fuerteventura is actually happening. If possible, save a digital ticket on your phone instead: switching to paperless documents is the first step towards making your holiday as sustainable as possible.
Train or plane?
It is no secret that aviation emissions contribute dramatically to climate change. That said, however, it is also true that planes can comfortably cover distances that would otherwise seem insurmountable. Therefore, our suggestion would be to book a flight if the plane journey lasts three or more hours; in fact, if you decided to use a different mode of transport, chances are you’d already have to be on your way back by the time you reach your destination.
When travelling within your country’s borders though, try to opt for a train ride instead. Studies show that by hopping on a train rather than a domestic flight, you are reducing your carbon footprint by 84%. Not only that, the scenery outside your window as you dart along the rail is unbeatable, and you are doing nature a whole lot of good.
Prior to the ongoing pandemic, travelling by plane had become increasingly popular, with about 4 billion passengers flying every year. As we slowly return to our beloved travels abroad, there are a few actions we can take to ensure that we are minimising our personal negative impact on the environment.
- Fly direct: when booking a flight, search for non-stop routes. Changing planes at airports will increase your carbon footprint, as aircraft use most fuel when taking off and landing.
- Use your local airport: if you are lucky enough to have a well-connected airport not far from your home, make sure to choose your local one over options that are further away. It will both limit petrol consumption and save you time.
- Travel light: there is always an impulse to pack your entire wardrobe when setting off on an adventure, but it would be wise to only fill your suitcase with things you really need. Every item on a plane makes it heavier. And the heavier the plane, the more fuel is needed.
- Fly cheap: this is a win-win situation: save precious spending money and help the planet. By travelling in economy, seats are smaller, and more people can be carried with the same amount of fuel. According to a World Bank study, if you were to fly in business or first class instead, your emissions would be three times higher.
WHEN YOU’RE THERE
You have finally arrived and are ready to enjoy your well-deserved vacation. Even when in loco, there are some specific actions you can take to continue having an unforgettable eco-friendly holiday.
Your hotel can often be viewed as a place in which to forget all housekeeping rules and let the staff take care of your every need. With a touch of mindfulness, however, you can truly minimise the impact of your stay.
Firstly, leave the “do not disturb” sign on the door so that staff do not enter your room to clean it when there is no need to. Similarly, fold and hang your towels instead of throwing them on the floor. Hotel laundry services not only are generally quite expensive, they also consume an unnecessary amount of water.
Also, act as if you were at home and had to pay your own bills: use lighting, water, and heating responsibly.
Travel, buy, and eat local
As you land in Barcelona, the city is there for you to discover. You can stroll along La Rambla, take pictures outside the Camp Nou and the Sagrada Familia, and walk around the enchanting Parc Güell. Wherever you go in the world, make sure to experience the place to the fullest.
Why not consider exploring your holiday destination on foot or by bicycle? Get lost in its traditional alleyways, chat to locals, and reduce your carbon footprint to the bare minimum. Also, try traditional dishes made from locally grown products and buy souvenirs from local artisans: you will be supporting the local economy and drastically cutting the kilometres your food and keepsakes have to travel to get to you.
If you are up for some breathtaking and adventurous experiences which will stick with you forever, there are some sustainable options that you should definitely look into. Here are a few that caught our imagination:
- Hop aboard the Shinkansen – With an Orient Express vibe going for it, the Shinkansen is a speed train that shoots through Japan in around eight hours, taking passengers from the bustling capital city of Tokyo to the remote and snowy Sapporo in the country’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. Japanese speed trains are substantially cleaner than diesel-powered lines, and this particular journey will allow you to admire mesmerising contrasting landscapes while having a low impact on the environment.
- Cross the Andes and bathe in two oceans – Taking several days to complete, the Expreso Internacional Ormeño is a 6,300km bus trip (the longest in the world) that extends from the Pacific to the Atlantic. It is an unforgettable, slightly crazy endeavour that will transport you through the Andes without the need to board a plane.
- The ultimate alpine routes – If your dream is to delve into the mountainous Swiss villages and settle down in a different cosy inn every evening, the Haute Route is for you. Walk or cycle from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn and enjoy the eco-friendliest tour of them all! However, if you would rather take in the marvellous views of the Alps while relaxing and leaning back on a comfy seat, hop on the OBB train and contemplate the Austrian peaks from Graz to Innsbruck (or Zurich in Switzerland). With free railway Wi-Fi connectivity on board, you will have the chance to take stunning pictures along the way and immediately share them with friends and family on social media.
And there you have it – please feel free to follow these suggestions to travel and spend your well-deserved holiday in a sustainable and environmentally conscious way.
Referring back to our Ancient Greek friend, Heraclitus’ aphorism implies also that things mutate over time and never stay the same. Perhaps it should be taken as a gentle encouragement to tweak our ways of doing and travelling too, in order to preserve our planet and make sure we can keep enjoying the beautiful sceneries we admire today.