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How to be a more sustainable traveller

How to be a more sustainable traveller

I just learned that the Great Barrier Reef has likely been damaged beyond repair.

To an Australian who personally visited the reef many years ago, this news about the stunningly beautiful natural marine park is truly devastating. I remember snorkelling in the bath-like warm waters off the Queensland coast as a child, completely in awe of the bright coral displays and the vibrant fish that were swimming around me.

This tourist attraction that draws over 2 million annually is extremely close to simply vanishing. The 2,300km long reef is suffering from consistent coral bleaching – a phenomenon that will eventually kill it if the underlying problem (climate change) is not fixed. Global warming is grabbing the earth by its throat and starting to squeeze, and it seems that the reef will be the first to suffocate.

It may be too late to save the reef, but it’s not too late to do something for the environment that we have left. Many of us make an effort to be eco-conscious at home, but when we travel we also have a responsibility to reduce our waste and minimise our carbon footprint while abroad.

The environmental impact of travel is significant, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop venturing abroad – here’s a few things that you can do to be a more sustainable traveller!

IcelandAir flight

Flying over Iceland

1. Carbon offset your flights

Most of us don’t realise that long-haul flights contribute a whopping 770 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere annually. This is about 2% of all man-made carbon emissions.

Carbon offsetting our flights means contributing money to projects that will assist in soaking up carbon in the atmosphere, conserving forest and planting trees, and developing cleaner energy so that we emit less carbon in the future. Now we don’t need to feel guilty about international travel! Learn how to carbon offset your flights here.

2. Choose green tour operators

If you’re planning on doing any sort of tour, whether it be a day tour or multi-day escapade, be sure to check the tour operator’s website first to see what their stand is on sustainability.

Many companies (such as Intrepid Travel) have web pages dedicated to their environmental commitments where they detail their sustainability efforts. If a tour company has no such page on their site, it’s fairly safe to assume that they don’t have any such policies.

HI Chicago Hostel

HI Chicago Hostel

3. Stay at eco-friendly accommodations

It’s worth seeking out eco-friendly accommodation. Many hotels and hostels (like Hostelling International) have initiatives in place to make sure their environmental impact is minimal, such as providing recycling bins, using water-saving taps and shower heads, and using green energy.

Again, you can check the hotel’s website to see whether they make an effort to be eco-friendly.

4. Carry a reusable tote bag

When I first moved to New York City, I was horrified to find that most grocery stores would double bag my purchases – without even asking if I wanted a bag at all. We’ve all heard about the devastating effects plastic bags have on the environment (especially marine life) as these bags don’t bio-degrade, so it’s incredibly important that we stop accepting them as an everyday item.

I’ve accumulated many reusable tote bags over the years, and frequently have one folded up in my handbag just in case I need it. I also take one with me when I travel! Now, before a shop assistant starts packing my purchases into plastic, I present my tote bag and feel good about reducing the number of plastic bags heading to landfill.

The Chicago Diner

The Chicago Diner

5. Eat more vegetarian food

This is a touchy subject as I know many people would prefer not to hear that eating meat damages the environment, but it does, and we should talk about it. This is a serious issue.

The documentary Cowspiracy claims that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (mostly methane emissions from cattle and sheep), which is more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. It’s also one of the biggest causes of the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest, and it uses a mind-blowing amount of fresh water to create just one beef burger.

Reducing methane emissions would start benefiting the environment almost immediately, so by cutting meat out of our diets (both at home and when we travel), we’re all able to make a positive difference.

There are plenty of celebs that have realised this fact and have committed to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle: Miley Cyrus, Ellen Page, Russell Brand, Tobey Maguire, and Natalie Portman to name a few. Join the revolution and stop eating meat – the environment will thank you for it!

6. Seek out recycling bins

Recycling can be difficult when you’re travelling. Public recycling bins are often scarce, and I’ve been known to carry around recyclables all day until I get to a place where I can dispose of them correctly.

Many cities do have bins for both garbage and recyclables, so be sure to check your trash for anything that can be recycled and be a generally awesome person by finding the correct bin for it.

Pensar Syd, Finnish archipelago

The Finnish archipelago

Everyone (and I mean everyone) needs to work towards being an eco-conscious traveller if we’re going to ensure this planet stays beautiful for future generations. What good will travel be to them if they won’t have the opportunity to see things like the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazon Rainforest?

There are many ways that you can save the environment, but the number one thing you can do is be aware of the issue, and start taking little steps towards living a more sustainable lifestyle.

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