By Michelle Sanahon
Outreach Communications Manager
If what you’re after is a relaxing holiday, it’s fair to say that most of us can’t achieve this being at home. You spend the whole time thinking about all the odd jobs that need doing. When you finally think it’s all done and dusted and you’re sitting comfortably on your sofa with a book in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, you suddenly remember that other thing that’s been on the backburner for the past year. If you can’t relate, I envy you!
It was for this reason that my husband Paul and I escaped to the coastal waters of Robe in South Australia for a few nights of camping. (Those who know me would be aware that I’ve taken a recent liking to camping – so much so that the team gifted Paul and I with a kayaking and camping getaway to use later this year!). Mind you, we’d already been on holidays at home for 3 weeks at this point, so the trip was also necessary to keep us sane!
Robe is a beautiful place – beautiful beaches, isolated camp sites, and a small strip of café and shops. I hadn’t heard of Robe until we visited, but apparently some know it for the famous line in an old Bega ad, “Robe isn’t famous for Robes”.
For those who haven’t been, there is a 12km beach called, quite fittingly, ‘Long Beach’. We went to get some beach and tan action on one of the warmer days, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what greeted us there. Cars were required to cross the ramp to access the beach and once on the sand, vehicles lined the side for kilometres, their owners sunbathing or relaxing under big marquees if spending the entire day there. We were forced to drive on for a few kilometres past the throng of vehicles to find a free spot. It was the most bizarre experience – kids running between the water and their spots looking left and right for oncoming traffic, cricket games on pause to let cars pass by – and the whole time I couldn’t stop thinking that it felt so wrong. I’m sure there are other beaches that allow for this, and you can call me naive, but for somebody who was experiencing this for the first time, it didn’t feel right and I was sure it couldn’t be good for the environment.
This incident prompted me to think about travel, which Paul and I do often, but more importantly doing it sustainably. I’ve changed so many things in my life – mostly in my home and my purchasing habits – but this incident really made me think about how I’ve failed to address sustainability on my travels. I’m quite ashamed with what I’m about to admit, but it seems that when I go on holidays, so do my sustainability habits. Apparently this is quite common!
When we hear the term sustainable or green travel, the terms ‘carbon offsetting’ and the like often come to mind. All of a sudden it sounds too complicated and we push it aside; even for the most sustainable amongst us. The fact is, sustainable travel is simply making choices to lessen our negative impact on the environment. There are so many ways to do this while traveling and for most of us we are already doing these things at home! They may be small, but they all make a difference and collectively can have a huge impact.
A report has found that if the environmental footprint made by the world tourism industry was compared to the footprint of a country, tourism would be the fifth biggest polluter worldwide! Quite a staggering statistic.
Let’s all help change this by following some of these handy tips on our next travel adventure.
TIPS FOR TRAVELLING SUSTAINABLY
Before you leave home
Part of traveling sustainably starts at home.
If you’re going away for more than a couple of days, if possible switch off power points at the wall to avoid leaving appliances on standby. Even when household appliances are turned off, most are still using electricity. Check out this Standby energy consumption chart to see just how much electricity is sucked out annually in kw/h (assuming the appliance is on standby mode 24/7), and what it’s costing you.
If you’ve purchased anything especially for the trip (for e.g. a tube of toothpaste, a new pair of socks, etc.), make sure you dispose of the waste and recyclables at home. You’d be surprised how many places don’t have recycling bins.
Put a hold on your newspaper subscription deliveries, and stick a temporary ‘No Junk Mail’ sign on your mailbox while you’re away if you normally like to receive these.
Things to pack
This section almost feels unnecessary, but surprisingly people forget (or sometimes can’t be bothered) to pack things they’d normally take with them on a daily basis.
- Drink bottle – most people buy bottled water when travelling, and with the poor quality of water in many countries, it’s quite understandable. However, try investing in a reusable drinking bottle with an inbuilt filter, or since most hotels have a kettle, why not boil water the night before to use the next day.
- Takeaway coffee cup – you carry it around with you to work/school, so it shouldn’t be any different when you travel, and it takes up little space in your luggage. Check out how takeaway coffee cups impact the environment from our article, ‘Could you live without coffee?’.
- Own toiletries – Okay, this is an exception to the list of things you’d take with you on a daily basis, but if you pack your own toiletries in reusable containers and avoid using those provided by hotels, this will result in less plastic going to landfill. However, if you do like to use the soap, shampoo or toothpaste in hotels (we do like to get our money’s worth!), take the leftovers when you leave as unused portions are usually thrown away. At least you’ll be able to reuse the plastic bottles at home.
Finally, (and this may only apply to women) try to pack lightly. The less weight on a plane, the less fuel is required to fly you to your destination.
It’s obviously best to travel to our holiday destinations via public transport or to ride a bike, but if this was the case in Australia, no one would be venturing out of the country. Travelling to other parts of the globe allows people to experience other cultures and helps us appreciate and care for the natural world.
If you’re travelling with family or friends and your holiday destination is within driving distance, take a road trip. Otherwise, if you’re traveling alone, taking a flight is actually more eco-friendly than driving.
When purchasing your airfare, choose an airline that offers you the choice to offset your carbon footprint. Take-offs and landings also create most of an airplane’s carbon emissions, so where possible, try and book non-stop flights.
Also choose companies who recycle waste from food, beverage, packaging and paper. We can’t assume that this is common practice.
If you need to hire a car, choose one that is fuel efficient, or better yet, a hybrid/electric vehicle. Although more costly, it’ll definitely use less fuel and release less carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Treat your hotel room like it’s your own home. I am the first to admit that I am very bad at this! This is a hard tip to follow, and one we often easily forget. Hotel stays are a treat, considering the amount we spend for the luxury. All we want to do is relax and get our money’s worth. As a result, hotels have a huge impact on the environment, and guests are unaware that they are contributing to this due to their hotel habits.
While staying in a hotel, avoid long wasteful showers, turn off lights and air conditioning when leaving the room, and avoid daily linen service. Each set of bed sheets and a towel set (bath, hand and face) requires approximately 44 – 60 litres to launder! Times that by hundreds of rooms, and we’re talking huge figures.
According to the Eco Traveller blog, the amount of water used in a month by the average 150-room hotel is over 22,712 litres of water. The Do Not Disturb campaign was cleverly run in that it prompted hotel guests to take accountability for their environmental impact during their stay by opting out of housekeeping. Not only does this reduce the amount of water required for washing linen, it also cuts down on chemical cleansing agents and electricity for vacuuming.
If you still have trouble following these hotel tips (because who doesn’t like new crisp sheets and fluffy towels?!), then maybe booking through AirBnB or Stayz is for you. At least you’ll feel like you’re in your own home, and those sustainability habits will subconsciously kick in.
Green accommodation and tours
I was excited to find that more and more hotels and other forms of accommodation in Australia are addressing sustainability.
Over 99 hotels in Australia have joined EarthCheck, a scientific certification group for travel and tourism, and in doing so have achieved staggering results. Upon joining EarthCheck, the Raddison Blu Hotel in Sydney reviewed its energy efficiency, water conservation and waste plans and implemented dramatic changes. After 7 years, these changes resulted in the saving of 6 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water, greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 601 cars off the road and enough energy to support 400 average four-person household! Now imagine if ALL hotels achieved this.
There are many websites that make it easy for holiday makers to travel sustainably by offering sustainable properties and eco-tours. Green Getaways Australia is an example of a curated selection of the best green accommodation and green travel in Australia which aims to show the same respect for the environment that you do. Passions of Paradise is one of Australia’s newest Green Travel Leaders recognised by Ecotourism Australia, and the Visit Melbourne website lists some great eco things to do in Victoria. For places overseas, check out the Travelife website which lists all forms of accommodation that meet their sustainability criteria.
Part of travelling sustainably is to support the local communities you visit. Try to eat local food/produce as food miles puts a huge impact on the environment. Also support the local eateries, instead of the big food chains, so you are supporting the local economy.
Buy locally made products for souvenirs, and make sure that you’re not purchasing things that are made from endangered animals or plants, unsustainable material, or ancient artifacts. Indigenous artisans are great to seek out as not only are you supporting an artist, you’re also helping the community to preserve their culture.
If you are taking packaged food, transfer these into reusable containers, especially when camping in national parks as no bins are provided.
As adventurous as you may be, stick to the marked paths and don’t venture off beyond barriers. While some are there for your safety, barriers are often there to avoid us from harming native flora and fauna.
When you’re lucky enough to come across wildlife, never feed them as it’ll interfere with their natural environment and make them reliant on humans. This can lead to attacks, and possibly subsequent death for the animal.
Be a traveller, not a tourist!
I personally dislike being a tourist in another country, and it’s something I plan to change when I next venture off overseas. During some of our lasts trips, I’ve preferred visiting cafés or markets that locals frequent, instead of the overcrowded touristy spots.
There are so many ways to make sure you’re a traveller, and not a tourist.
Make sure you research the country before you visit. This includes their history and cultural traditions, so that you have a greater appreciation for the place and are respectful in all situations while you’re there. I always try to learn a bit of the language as I’ve found that the locals appreciate this, even if it’s a simple ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ (no matter how clumsily or incorrectly it’s pronounced).
Experiencing another country is exactly that, otherwise what’s the point? Throw yourself into the local culture and try out everything these unique places have to offer. Whether it’s a dish that looks nothing like you’d ever order back at home, or dancing out on the street when you have two left feet, joining in with the locals and giving back is what it should be about.
If you’re after an experience with meaning and purpose beyond the tourist trail and have an open heart and mind to other cultures and ways of life, check out our CERES Global trips. Participants learn from and work with CERES Global’s international partner organisations who are doing exceptional work in the areas of sustainability, environment, community development, social equity and education. Places include Arnhem Land, Cuba, Timor Leste and India. A current CERES Global project is The Jamnya Project, where a new teacher’s quarter is being built in one of the poorest boarding schools in a remote tribal village in India. The new facility will provide benefits to the teachers and the school’s 400 students.
It’s quite clear that organising a sustainable holiday can take up a lot of time. For a while this may be hard, but before you know it, it’ll become second nature – just like everything else we do in our lives to be more sustainable.
I have a few trips already booked in for the year, so I should make a start on planning for sustainability. Being more organised this year is one of my new year’s resolutions, after all. I think I’ll start off with looking for an alternative to those tempting luxury hotels…
What do you do to make your travels more sustainable? Join in on the conversation on our Facebook page.