How to minimise your travel footprint: 14 sustainable swaps our writers have made

·5-min read
How could your booking, mode of transport or packing be greener? (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
How could your booking, mode of transport or packing be greener? (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Travel - or, as it’s sometimes known, the industry of human happiness. It’s something that brings joy to millions, offering enrichment, both in terms of experience for the traveller, and in terms of cold, hard cash for tourist destinations. But it also has a cost. This Earth Day, here are some ways our team and writers have found to make their travels kinder.

Shampoo swap

“I’ve ditched plastic shampoo bottles for solid shampoo bars in my holiday washbag - as well as limiting the plastic I bring to my destination, they go further and are one less thing to worry about for the hand-luggage liquid limit.” Lucy Thackray

Refillable bottles

“I always travel with my own water bottles and keep these refilled - most airports have a drinking-water tap or fountain after security so you can go through with the bottle empty and fill up for free before your flight.” Mary Novakovich

Destination rethink

“Travelling more sustainably starts when you choose your destination and means of getting there. Flying isn’t always necessary, as I discovered on recent trips to Switzerland (by train) and Ireland (by ferry).” Kerry Walker

Electric trains

“I’ve drastically cut down on my European flight time and now always try and look for a rail alternative, if possible. Even when travelling at home between Edinburgh and London, I used to fly, but now I go for a sustainably-minded (and ridiculously-affordable) Lumo train every time. It’s 100 per cent electric, digital and serves plenty of plant-based food on board. Hardly the traditional British Rail experience.” Mike MacEacheran

Straw poll

“I actually travel with my own straws! I have a copper one and a bamboo one, very useful for grabbing a roadside coconut or in the evenings at a restaurant. I can’t stand plastic straws and while some places have ditched them here in Thailand, it’s not guaranteed so I’m really glad I carry my own.” Lucie Grace

Walking tour

“I used to hit all my city stops in a random order - now I’ll plan my day and the things I’m going to be doing based on a walking route. This way I get to see everything I want to without setting foot in a bus or taxi, and overly long walks across town are broken up with experiences, restaurants and bars. It’s good for getting the steps in, stumbling upon hidden gems and I’m doing my little bit for the planet -not to mention the money I’ve saved on taxis.” Vish Rana

Go direct

“On short-to-medium-haul journeys – up to around 10-12 hours – fly direct if you possibly can. Changing planes adds to your carbon footprint as well as your journey time. But for ultra-long-haul trips such as going to Australia, a trip with a stop halfway is less harmful. Very long flights must, by definition, carry a prodigious amount of fuel - and keeping enough kerosene aloft to sustain a 9,000-mile journey itself consumes a lot of fuel. Travel light: your baggage has a carbon footprint, too.” Simon Calder

Soap and glory

“This may be a small trick, but I always bring the little hotel room soaps back with me - I can’t bear the thought of them getting chucked into landfill after a couple of uses, and they always come in handy at home.” Nicola Brady

Offsetting option

“Wherever possible, I pay a little extra when I book my plane ticket to offset the carbon generated by my flights – many airlines offer the option and it’s usually only a few dollars.” Justin Meneguzzi

Built-in filter

“A few years ago I upgraded my refillable water bottle to one that includes a built-in filter, which pretty much eliminates the need to ever buy single-use plastic bottles of water while abroad. The filter removes up to 99.99 per cent of nasties before you sip, so you can safely fill it up from any tap or fresh-water source, no matter where you are.” Lorna Parkes

Public transport

“I used to take taxis from airports to a city centre, as well as for getting around day to day – especially once Uber made it all too easy. But I now make an effort to use public transport instead. It can take much longer (hello, Dublin) and there might not be that much of it (hello, Nashville), but it means I get to experience another side of the destination while lowering my carbon footprint. I recommend using apps that do the logistics for you, like CityMapper and Google Maps.” Shilpa Ganatra

Bag it up

“A cloth shopping bag takes up next to no room in my luggage and is great for souvenir hunting minus the plastic - plus you can stash dirty clothes in it for the journey home.” Sian Anna Lewis

Ditch the spray

“Instead of bringing plastic bottles of mosquito repellent spray and covering my destination in Deet, I always keep a stock of those little anti-mozzie paper stickers you get all over Asia. I’ve even started seeing them in the UK.” Tamara Hinson

Swap plane for train

“My biggest swap is train for plane: I’ve taken the Flight-Free UK pledge every year since 2020. That means I won’t be flying on any of my trips until at least 2023 (when I may well take the pledge again). Not only is it the easiest way to slash your individual carbon footprint, it also opens you up to a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to trip planning and forces you to get creative. Want to go to Venice? Why not catch the new night train from Paris to Vienna, spend a few days there, and then hop onboard the sleeper service to La Serenissima? Several holidays for the price of one.” Helen Coffey

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