To give the answer straight away: no! Traveling will never be fully sustainable but we can do our best to reduce all emissions and resources caused or consumed by traveling.
We all travel. No matter if the destination is an exotic country or the closest lake for a swim. And if we do, there are basically three factors that matter in terms of sustainability: accommodation, transportation and food. Let’s tackle them one by one!
Written by Anskar
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If you travel somewhere for a longer period you need a place to sleep. These days, there are growing possibilities to choose from. Airbnb, hotels, B&B, cars/vans, couch surfing and the list continues.
When we travel and its warm (and safe enough) we usually just sleep in my car (which is a tiny Opel). This doesn’t only safe us some money, it’s also comparably sustainable.
Camping can be another great and rather eco-friendly option to spend the night. You can either camp on a designated facility or in the wild. For the latter it is of major importance to follow some basic rules, most notably to take your trash back home, to avoid protected areas and to not destroy wild plants or disturb wildlife.
But not always do we have the opportunity of setting up our tent. In this case there are some even greater (and probably more comfortable) ways of spending a sustainable night. No matter the destination, you will most certainly find some eco-lodges or certified green hotels/hostels. These green accommodations all somehow try to maintain an ecological lifestyle, might it be through using sustainable products or an eco-friendly furnishing.
Work and travel projects are yet another option. Workaway is a great example as they often offer sustainable projects you can be a part of. We tested it twice, in Spain and in Croatia, and both experiences were very rewarding. Through partly engaging in these sustainable projects you can often live with the families, leaving you with no extra costs for accommodation and food.
If you travel somewhere you need to get there somehow. And unless it’s not on foot, it is simply not sustainable. No matter how you look at it!
The best way of trying to travel sustainable is to compensate for your actions. But it’s something you should be very careful with. Compensation (such as carbon offsetting) can be used for literally everything. But they are NOT an excuse for traveling, for taking a flight around the world or for driving a long distance just for a photo shooting. You should certainly do your research about the projects your money will go to. Atmosfair is our first choice when it comes to carbon offsetting.
Using public transport whenever possible is essential but car-sharing is yet another possible way to reduce emissions when you have to take the car. If you travel somewhere take at least someone with you along the way. This won’t prevent your own emissions but at least you ensure that it’s not set-off double. We usually offer or take rides with BlaBlaCar.
When being abroad you can also always use public transport which is better than go by taxi or rent a car (and once again it’s much cheaper!).
Same as with green or eco-friendly accommodation there are green travel agencies such as Hauser Exkursionen. They will do their best to compensate for the emissions they cause and invest money in conservation/social projects. If you are a fan of guided or arranged traveling you should definitely prefer these over other non-sustainable agencies.
Our food habits will always have an impact on the climate but eating more sustainable is actually often easier when being abroad. In Sri Lanka we had a lot of home-grown food (an avocado tree in our garden!!). Fruits and vegetables are easy to get year around and do not need to be shipped around the world. While factory farming, on the other hand, is often not a big topic. Try to buy local and eat little meat, no matter if being at home or abroad, renounce western food when being in the east and the other way around. It even comes with another advantage: it’s really cheap (once again)!
Some last words: we need to stop thinking that everything we do is wrong. We ALL have an ecological footprint, no matter how we live. But we should do our best to reduce our impact. We think it is totally fine to grant yourself something every now and then as long as you give your best adjusting your overall lifestyle in terms of sustainability.
Think of it like being on a diet. Snacking some sweats every now and then usually doesn’t ruin the whole diet.
Most importantly you should always think twice about how important a journey is and what the cause of it is. Reduction always comes before compensation. And compensation comes before doing nothing!