6 ways to travel more sustainably

Offsetting is one way to address flight-related carbon omissions – and planting trees (or donating to a charity that does so) is one of the most effective ways of doing so

It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but it is possible to globetrot with an environmental conscience. From embracing slow travel to volunteering for a local project, here are some key ways to explore the planet more sustainably. By KATE WILLS


Slow it down

Resist the pressure to see everything in one trip and spend a bit longer getting there instead. There’s a growing movement for employers to offer ‘journey days’ on top of annual holiday allowances to encourage people to take the long way round and lower their carbon footprints. These days, traveling by train or boat doesn’t have to mean compromising on luxury. The Caledonian Sleeper between London and Scotland now has double rooms with en suites and eggs royale at breakfast. Or explore Indonesia on a traditional wooden sailing ship such as the Silolona, which Gwyneth Paltrow has chartered for her family holidays. Apart from anything else, making the journey part of your vacation creates a deeper appreciation of your surroundings.

Not all flights are created equal

We all know that embracing slow travel is the best way to reduce our carbon footprints, but sometimes we have no choice but to fly. In those cases, we can do a bit of research when it comes to choosing an airline. Air France-KLM, British Airways and EasyJet are all trying to improve their eco-credentials, from carbon offsetting to adjusting wing-tip design to increase fuel efficiency. Choose non-stop flights to minimise the excess emissions caused by landing and taking off, and try to keep your holiday-packing light – the heavier the aircraft, the more fuel required.

It’s also a good strategy to calculate your flight’s carbon emissions with a calculator such as the one at, which allows you to donate to an offsetting charity of your choice. For example, to offset a return trip from London to New York in economy (1.67 tonnes of CO2), you would need to plant around 10 trees. We love the female-focused TreeSisters, which encourages women to plant trees in tropical rainforests. “As of December 2019, we have now funded over 7 million trees across our projects in Kenya, Madagascar, Brazil, Cameroon, Nepal and India,” says Clare Dubois, founder and CEO of TreeSisters. “Planting trees is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere to tackle the climate crisis. Forests can stop runaway global heating, encourage rainfall, guarantee clean water, reduce air pollution and provide livelihoods for local people and reserves for rare wildlife.”

Be souvenir-savvy

Purchasing locally made products from local businesses ensures your contribution to the economy will have a positive impact. Never buy wildlife-related products, such as coral or fur, as this supports the marketplace for trafficking rare and endangered species. And don’t forget about the sustainable practices you use at home just because you’re on vacation – packing a tote bag to take to the market will cut back on plastic waste.

Opt for eco-friendly accommodation

It’s important to look beyond the greenwashing in the travel industry and choose hotels that really are giving something back to the environment – beyond the practice of simply not washing towels every day. Select a hotel that has sustainability woven into its very being and isn’t afraid to shout about it. The Scarlet hotel in Cornwall, England, for instance, is sustainable in over 100 different ways, from the sea-thrift-planted roof that attracts insects to the slippers made from recycled plastic bottles. “Sustainability is not just something that we feel is right, it has become a way of life,” says Emma Stratton, director of The Scarlet. “We strive to redefine what luxury can be: a richness of experience without overconsumption.”

Another practice you can adopt when booking a vacation is to find out if your hotel has been built with locally sourced materials, like the Katamama in Bali, for example, which was built using 1.8 million hand-pressed bricks. Chlorine-free swimming pools and chemical-free cleaning products are also a good indicator of a hotel that is taking sustainability seriously.

Finding out if your hotel has a chlorine-free swimming pool can be a good indicator that it is taking sustainability seriously

Give something back

Spending a day or even a few hours of your trip volunteering for a local project is a memorable way to meet locals and experience a destination beyond the sunlounger. Tour operator Audley Travel has teamed up with the social enterprise ME to WE to arrange volunteering experiences for travelers. At Lapas Rios ecolodge in Costa Rica, guests are invited to read with students of a nearby primary school, which is funded by the lodge, and to contribute to a reforestation program by transplanting a primary rainforest seedling to an area of secondary growth.

Leave your phone at home

Cloud storage will soon overtake air travel as a source of greenhouse gas emissions, with the data centers that house computer servers responsible for about two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. “Data centers are one of the largest and fastest-growing in terms of electricity demand,” says Gary Cook, who runs Greenpeace’s Click Clean campaign.

“More than half of the energy consumed at the data centers that most of the big firms use still comes from fossil fuels, at times of the day or year when renewable sources are not available. So we need to make the energy consumption from our digital lives smaller.” Reduce your use of these data centers by switching your cell to flight mode for the duration of your trip and see this as an opportunity to get a digital detox alongside the benefits of going on holiday.

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