Simple ways to have a more sustainable focus when travelling

sustainability

If COVID-19 has taught us anything about travel, it’s to treasure what we have on our doorstep and that we don’t need a long-haul flight to enjoy a relaxing and memorable break. Yes, we’re still navigating through an uncertain time where we don’t even know what may happen with travel within the UK, let alone cross over to mainland Europe, but staying closer to home can be a more sustainable way to travel.

I’ve become more conscious of the impact I have on the planet over the past couple of years, and I’ve tried dabbling in the world of environmentally friendly travel too. So, let’s think about what’s all within the art of possible when holidaying within the UK (and mainland Europe too when we get there!). There are lots of things we can all do, so for this edition of HotSpot, here are some ideas for you (and me too!) to have a more sustainable focus on our adventures.

The first suggestion is to find alternatives to flying. There is no doubt that flying is quicker and more convenient, even when travelling across the UK, but what impact does our frequent flyer lifestyles have on the environment? According to BBC’s Smart Guide to Climate Change: Should we give up flying for the sake of the climate?, the aviation industry is responsible for around 2.4% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and combined with other substances emitted from aircrafts, this equates to around 5% of global warming.

Can you swap out a flight for train travel? We have a great train network across the UK, and with the use of Eurostar, you’re not limited to just staying within mainland United Kingdom either once restrictions ease up. In 2019, I took a train from the south of England to Inverness in Scotland, and a few years before that, I took the Eurostar train to Belgium and then used the Belgian public train and tram routes to get about.

Not only do trains get you from one city centre directly to the another, but what I like about train travel – apart from the trolley cart (and that’s particularly special if you’re travelling first class) – is that people are much more friendly and conversational. I’ve had more fascinating conversations with people I’m sharing a table with on a train than I have ever had on a plane or a coach. Although saying that, if you’re finding that you’re not enjoying the company of your new travel companion, you can move seats, or even carriages!

I haven’t yet encountered someone I couldn’t have a conversation with for a few hours. On one particular train journey from Fort William to Edinburgh, (which cost me £18 as I booked some time in advance), the route took us through Rannoch Moor, a filming location for a scene in the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Moor seemed to extend for miles and miles, and I loved staring out of the window. The track was a single lane, and the train seemed to travel a lot slower to the service I’m used to. I wasn’t in any rush and it was quite lovely to have a slower paced lifestyle that is so far removed from my city life. At some stops we had to wait for the northbound train to pass, with many only consisting of two carriages.

It’s those experiences that makes me love train travel; I use it as an opportunity to sit back, relax and enjoy the views. Convinced to give it a try? Make sure to check out any deals or special offers with the train provider before booking though, as many offer 2-for-1 entry to tourist attractions.

Remember to take the local train when travelling abroad too. As well as using the Eurostar, I’ve used the overnight sleeper train in Egypt, and travelled from Budapest to Munich using their train network, stopping off at many cities along the way. If you need help researching train travel before you go abroad, I highly recommend the website seat61.com, which has provided me with lots of advice over the years.

There is another way to travel that is flight-free. How about travelling by coach or bus? Many have toilets on board or planned toilet stops. Or if not, ask the driver to pause for a quick break when passing by a public toilet (I have done this before, and they generally don’t mind if it doesn’t cause them any inconvenience!). When travelling up the east coast of the USA, I used Megabus several times, with the tickets costing less than $10.

I’ve also used Scottish Citylink, taking me from Glasgow to Fort William, some 100 miles. The route took me through the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park and was one of the best coach/bus journeys I have ever experienced. Not for the bus quality, but for the views! Going up the road along Loch Lomond was very windy with sharp ‘z’ style corners, and narrow roads for the bus to navigate. I saw more waterfalls and streams that I could possibly count. Hundreds. Some trickled down the mountain and were barely visible, others were huge waterfalls cascading off the edge. I wouldn’t have seen this if I were driving.

But what when you do need to drive? Like flying, driving a car is convenient but that doesn’t mean you should stick to your own gas-guzzling vehicle. Why not hire an electric car, and one that’s just the right size for your needs? There are several websites that show electric car charging locations across the UK and Europe, along with the charge speed and how you can pay, making electric driving more accessible than ever. I haven’t even driven an electric car let alone hired one when on holiday; it’s something I’m definitely going to do in the future! 

So, you’ve got your method of travel sussed, but what about your accommodation? This is something I’m yet to do and is absolutely on my to-do list: staying in a “green hotel”. 

Many hotels are committed to being more environmentally friendly, considering their sustainable impact. We’re all learning in this space, so it’s encouraging that the hospitality industry is attempting to make a difference too. What makes a hotel a green hotel? Things to look out for is how the hotel is reducing their impact on the environment, such as landfill waste, consumption of water, reducing their use of unsustainable energy, and whether the food they serve is sourced locally. The latter can be applied to when you’re staying in self-catering accommodation and eating at restaurants too. Choosing local each time is a small step to making a big impact on your carbon footprint.

If you do want to stay somewhere that classes themselves as a green hotel, there are plenty of guides online that provide advice. Bookdifferent.com, for example, rates all the major hotels and tells you what your carbon footprint would be per night based on your accommodation of choice. But do bear in mind that not all environmentally friendly places of accommodation will be on booking websites. If you’re travelling abroad and reside at a homestay for a few nights, that serves fresh and local produce, that alone can make a positive difference.

As a final thought for how you can be more sustainable when travelling around the UK, consider reducing your use on single-use plastic products too, such as water bottles and cutlery. I’ve always taken a reusable water bottle with me on travels across the UK and frankly, there isn’t an excuse not to. My next trip I’ll be taking my new set of reusable straws with me.

When foreign trips do start opening up again and if you’re keen to explore new countries and cultures, think about the environmental and social impact before you book. Many tour operators now do have a sustainable focus, helping to support the local communities by employing local guides and funding programmes that give back to the local economy, such as swapping hotels for homes. Or why not plan in a walking or bike tour, rather than an open top bus?

I love flying around the world, and being completely realistic, I’m going to continue using aeroplanes to get me to the other side of the world. But minimising the impact on more local travels, or even just using public transport once you get to your destination, can make a difference.

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