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How to travel sustainably?

Monitoring Desk

The coronavirus pandemic could help to make tourism more sustainable — but, for that to happen, each traveler has a role to play. Let us show you how your next holiday could be made more sustainable.

For over a year, the travel industry has been hit by an unprecedented slowdown because of pandemic restrictions. But, when tourism possibilities expand, many people want them to be more sustainable. Nearly 60% of respondents in a survey conducted in 2020 by the Holiday and Travel Research Association (FUR) said they wanted to make their vacations as socially responsible and environmentally friendly as possible. Here are a few tips for boosting the sustainability of your future travel plans.

1. A long vacation instead of short trips

Sustainability begins with planning your vacation. Jetting off to Milan for two days because flights and hotels are cheap? Then off to South Africa for a week’s safari? That’s impossible at the moment, but before the pandemic numerous short trips a year were attractive to many travel enthusiasts — not least because of the low prices. However, such trips are not sustainable. After all, every trip to and from the vacation destination generates a lot of CO2. Such flying visits also leave little time to get to know the country and its people. Especially when traveling further away, the rule applies: It’s better to go on vacation once for three weeks than three times for one week.

A Boeing 737 on landing approach

2. Near rather than far afield

Because of the ongoing travel restrictions, many people have discovered the benefits of vacationing at their own doorstep. This is a positive development for sustainable tourism: travelers who can use more environmentally friendly means of transport can therefore travel in a more climate-friendly way.

3. Trains over planes

Travel to and from the destination accounts for by far the largest share of a vacation’s carbon footprint. If possible, travelers should consider vacation destinations that are available by rail rather than flights, as air travel is by far the most climate-damaging means of transport. It was not a coincidence that even before the coronavirus pandemic, the expression “flight shame” had become common. For journeys of up to 800 kilometers (497 miles), it is therefore better to travel by car, or even better by train or coach. If you are traveling further distances and a flight is unavoidable, you should try to book a direct connection if possible. This not only shortens the flight distance, but also eliminates the need for additional takeoffs and landings, during which aircraft consume a particularly large amount of energy. In addition, you should offset the CO2 emissions of a flight on portals such as atmosfair, which then invest the money in climate protection projects. However, environmental experts warn against seeing CO2 offset purchases as a kind of modern trade in indulgences and thus continuing to travel with a clear conscience in a way that is harmful to the climate.

Cruise ships in a port

Cruises also have a poor carbon footprint and are a highly unsustainable means of travel, though the industry is trying to make improvements.

4. Holiday apartment rather than luxury hotel

Once you arrive at your vacation destination, you should avoid large hotels. They often consume significantly more energy, water and waste than smaller hotels, guesthouses or vacation apartments. The latter had a boom last summer because of the pandemic. Campsites and farm vacations were also extremely popular, and are climate- and environmentally friendly. This is something worth remembering when travel to the other side of the world becomes possible again. Sustainability seals and certificates also help in the search for accommodation that is as environmentally friendly as possible. An overview of the twenty leading tourism sustainability labels worldwide can be found here.

A holiday chalet with porch, small garden, parasol and paddling pool in the Netherlands

5. Conservation over consumption

When you’re far away, you should be at least as environmentally responsible as you are at home. In many parts of the world, water is already scarce. So reduce the length of showers and use towels more than once. In general, you should take care to conserve resources, even if it is often difficult to do so on vacation. Plastic and other disposable items should be avoided, and local excursions should be made by public transport or coach if possible. Vacationers should treat plants and wildlife with respect, especially in sensitive ecosystems. Heed the tips and instructions provided by the locals. They know best how to behave sustainably on site, as well as what should be avoided at all costs.

6. Shop and eat locally

Even if this point often gets short shrift, sustainable travel has not only an ecological but also a social component. Many countries are heavily dependent on tourism. They therefore suffer all the more as a result of the pandemic. If you want to give the locals of your destination extra support on your next trip, you should shop and eat locally instead of going to the big supermarket or the international fast food chain. Seasonal, regional and organically produced foods not only strengthen the local economy, but also bring travelers closer to the local food culture than the food courts at the shopping center. Like at home, the proportion of animal-based foods should be kept as low as possible due to their poor environmental performance.

A vegetable stand at Berlin's weekly market on Maybachufer

7. Low rather than high season

Many people are currently longing for faraway places — not least because popular European destinations such as Venice, Dubrovnik and Barcelona can currently be enjoyed without throngs of visitors. It cannot be ruled out that overtourism will return to cities, even if many of them are trying to guard against precisely this. Those who want to avoid crowds in the future can travel anti-cyclically. In the off-season, many destinations are not only emptier, but also cheaper.

Courtesy: DW