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20 sustainable travel tips to keep in mind for your next trip

How to travel more sustainably

At Contiki, our mission is to MAKE TRAVEL MATTER®, which is basically our fancy way of saying we’re committed to protect and support the people we meet, the wildlife we interact with, and the beautiful planet we share. There’s a reason that as of 2022, all Contiki trips are carbon neutral. Sustainable travel is the future, and we’re dedicated to making it happen, and we want to give you sustainable travel tips so you can make it happen as well!

But what exactly is sustainable travel? Is it all about plastic? Are we really expected to avoid flying? What is carbon off-setting and what does carbon neutral actually mean? You’ve come to the right place, eco-traveller. From savvy transport decisions to navigating carbon-offsetting; prioritising animal welfare to supporting local communities, we’ve outlined the small steps we can all take to help us travel more sustainably in 2022.

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1. Be more mindful of your destination

We all look for different things when we travel – culture, history, beaches, wildlife – but eco-conscious travellers are increasingly on the hunt for sustainability creds. So, the first step in your sustainable travel journey is to actually choose where you’re going to journey to. Here are a few of the most sustainable destinations in the world. They’re not just worth a visit: they also have a lot to teach us when it comes to living a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Ljubljana, Slovenia

This leafy, liveable and very loveable city is conscious in more ways than one. Walking along the banks of the sparkling Ljubljana river is one of Europe’s greatest pleasures, and as you watch the flow of cyclists and pedestrians around you it’s not hard to see why this is one of the continent’s most sustainable destinations. 

The city makes excellent use of its show stopping river; using it to produce clean drinking water without any technological processes. There’s never any need to buy single-use plastic bottles when the city’s abundant drinking fountains provide free refreshment all year round.  Ljubljana is also the first capital in the EU to make a pledge to become fully zero-waste. And has preserved its public areas like no other. 

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The Azores, Portugal

This gorgeous Atlantic archipelago set in the mid-Atlantic is know for its dramatic coastlines and sweeping green pastures, steaming geysers and volcanic lakes (which they cook meals inside!). But this place isn’t just a looker. It’s soon to be home to the world’s first ‘100% renewable’ energy grid. Utilising its unique landscapes and weather conditions, the island of Graciosas harnesses wind, hydro and solar power to provide 100% of its electricity. Authorities are now looking to use similar systems on the neighbouring islands. It’s an exciting glimpse into the future of renewable energy.

Sweden

Sweden is officially the most sustainable country in the world. A ranking it earned for its use of renewable energy as well as social practices such as investment in education and infrastructure. And that education seems to be paying off, as it’s not just the state that likes to stay mindful. In the EU, Sweden ranks first for recycling, the consumption of organic goods and using renewable energy. 

For an idea of just how ahead of the curve Sweden is, its city of Växjö was the first city in the world to pledge to be fossil-fuel free. No, not in 2010, in 1996. Using a sophisticated district heating system, energy-efficient architecture made from timber and efficient public transport that runs on renewables, the city is undoubtedly one of the most sustainable in the world. 

San Francisco, USA

The USA isn’t usually associated with eco-initiatives, but looking at San Fran, maybe that’s a bit unfair. Single-use plastics were banned in the Golden Gate City all the way back in 2007, and its composting and food waste programmes are world-leading. The city’s next goals are to reduce reliance on gas-guzzling cars through its public transport network and become totally waste-free.

Chile

Chile makes great use of solar and geothermal energy. The country is keenly aware of the damage that mining can do to its environments, often rejecting lucrative projects in favour of protecting its wildlife. The government is also actively expanding its National Parks, particularly in Patagonia, shielding all of that unique beauty and brilliant biodiversity. 

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2. Think about how you’re going to get there

So, you’ve picked your dream, earth-conscious destination. Now you need to figure out how you’re going to get there – and how you’re going to get from A-B once you’ve arrived. Transport is one of the most important considerations when it comes to sustainable travel. If you can, spend a little time exploring alternative ways of getting there or researching more eco-friendly local transport once you’ve reached your destination. Simple.

3. Flying isn’t ideal, but there are ways to make it more sustainable

Let’s not mess around. When it comes to travel, most of us fly, and it’s by far the most fuel-intensive form of travel. If you can travel internationally by train or boat, then you should. But, alas, we can’t all travel around on a fully sustainable racing yacht, so if you’re left with little option, there’s still plenty you can do to make your trip a more sustainable one. 

Firstly, fly as directly as possible. Planes use the most fuel during take off and landing, so by choosing a direct flight rather than making one or more stops, you are ensuring that your flight is far more energy-efficient. We can also help you offset the carbon footprint of your flight. Use our calculator powered by South Pole, who’ll provide you with a variety of verifiable carbon offset projects you can support.

Picking your airline is essential, too. Incredibly, there can be up to 26% difference in efficiency between the most and least sustainable airlines. The latest aircraft models are already miles ahead of their predecessors in fuel efficiency, with each new generation of aircraft improving fuel efficiency by roughly 15%. You can compare the least and most efficient airlines at the Atmosfair Airline Index. 

travel-advice-book-early-flights

Image source:Contiki

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4. Trains are a good shout if you’re looking for a better way to get from A-B

Aside from walking or biking, taking the train is the most sustainable way of travelling. In fact, compared to cars and airplanes, trains emit between 66-75% less carbon. In terms of energy consumption, use of space, and noise levels, trains are far more sustainable too. Rail travel between cities or on long distances produces the least amount of greenhouse gasses into the air out of all forms of long distance transportation. In fact, trains are more efficient than a Prius. We talk more about the transport options you can use to reduce your carbon footprint here.

travellers taking a train in Europe

Image source:Contiki

5. And have we told you about our coaches?

Buses are slightly more fuel-intensive than trains – transporting lots of people with small amounts of fuel. And, well, we don’t want to brag, but our sleek fleet of Contiki coaches are one of the most mindful ways to travel across Europe. They’re all equipped with Euro 6 engines, so sometimes the air leaving the engine is cleaner than the air that goes in.

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contiki-coach

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6. If you can walk or cycle, walk or cycle!

Obviously there’s nothing more sustainable than using our own two legs. If you can walk or cycle, do it! If you can’t, local forms of transport like rickshaws and tuk-tuks are a good way to support the locals, even if they’re not great at keeping your carbon footprint down.

8. Pack a little more mindfully

One of our top sustainable travel tips is to be mindful of what you are packing. If we all thought more about what we took with us on vacation, the world genuinely would be a better place. Try to avoid single-use plastics and do a little research on more sustainable products that you can take instead.

Small decisions can really matter, such as a reusable water bottle (check out the Contiki one which has a filter so you can drink safe water across the world), shampoo bars instead of plastic bottles, tote bags instead of plastic bags, and bamboo cutlery instead of that horrible plastic stuff.

A woman is unpacking her travel essentials from a suitcase during her summer vacation in Europe.

9. Think about your outfits

When it comes to clothing, sometimes it’s worth investing in quality. The culture of fast fashion has a horrific impact on our environment, not to mention the terrible employment conditions necessitated with the mass production of such cheap clothing.

We know you want to look cute on your next holiday and take all the best pics, but you’re bound to have some adorable outfits stuffed somewhere in your closet. No need to buy an entire new collection! Or, if you must buy, consider visiting some charity and thrift shops around.

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10. Support local communities

To travel sustainably, respecting local cultures and supporting the traditional heritage of local communities and artisans that you visit is a must. Sustainable travel is all about providing greater economic empowerment to small communities. Another great way to do this is through volunteering, helping projects such as building schools or wells in impoverished communities.

11. Make Travel Matter

Part of what we love to do is giving back to the communities we visit by engaging with the local economy and the local people, and trying to learn something from them. This is part of our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® initiative and we work hard to find unique experiences all around the world for our travellers to experience and support.

For example, when we visit Jordan, we head to the Al Amir Women’s Cooperative, enjoy a home cooked meal and chat with the women, learning about their lives and work, while supporting their incredible projects.

cusco-weaving-project-treadright

Image source:Contiki

12. Get a local guide

What better way to get to know a city than to tour it with someone who’s actually from there and who actually knows it? Hiring a local guide to show you around your holiday destination is not only a great thing to do to support the local community, but it’ll make your trip so much more worth it.

Local guides know these places like no one else – in a lot of cases the towns and cities you’re visiting are their homes. They know the good shops, the best places to eat, which tourist traps are actually worth seeing, etc. Their tips are invaluable, it’s a no brainer!

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13. Swerve the big chains

It seems small, but engaging with local stores and restaurants creates such a positive impact. You’re helping the economy flourish, which in turn keeps people employed and keeps them afloat, able to live their own lives as well.

It’s as simple as swerving the big chains and supermarkets – try to shop locally while you’re away. And besides, who wants to eat at a McDonald’s when you’re in Italy or Thailand or Mexico, with all these amazing flavours and aromas carried in the breeze? Buy local wherever you can!

14. Make sure your wildlife experiences are ALWAYS ethical ones

Travelling sustainably and being environmentally conscious also means supporting and educating yourself on ethical animal experiences and helping to protect the world’s most at risk wildlife from extinction. As well as protecting marine wildlife by cutting out single-use plastics, (and helping clear up beaches and waterways of harmful plastic pollution) it’s also about ensuring that your animal experiences are always ethical.

It’s all too easy to get sucked into a ‘sanctuary’, which is in fact a cheap means of exploiting animals for monetary gain, particularly in the case of elephants and tigers in Thailand and India. That’s why we ensure our wildlife experiences are always ethical, as we visit rehabilitation centres and educate our travellers and what can be done to support and protect endangered species. 

animal-love

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15. Don’t take pictures with animals

As much as we all want to hold an adorable little monkey in our arms, we shouldn’t. It’s important to remember that wild animals are just that: wild, and many of these places offering animals like baby monkeys, tiger cubs, bears, etc. on display are keeping wild animals in cages.

These kinds of tourist attractions are highly unethical. Often times, the animals are kept in poor conditions, tight cages, and are neglected. The money taken from people wanting a picture is immediately pocketed and not a cent of it goes to the animals’ welfare.

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16. Travel in packs

Exploring locally on bikes

Image source:Contiki

The more the merrier we always say, and the bigger your travel group the more sustainable it tends to be! It’s the same reason public transport works, more people heading to the same place on the same carriage off-sets the carbon impact!

Many tour companies, like ourselves, champion social travel. Not only are you being that little bit more sustainable, but you’re also making some friends for life and learning all about where they’re from and their culture as well. It just keeps the merry cycle going!

17. Travel slow

Slow and steady wins the race, right? And really what’s the rush? Travel should be all about relaxing and taking it slow, there’s no hurry to get from point A to point B and slow travel is a trend that really emphasises that. Instead, be in the moment, and really take the time to connect with nature, with communities, with animals, etc.

people practicing water tubing in mykonos

18. Research your tour companies

There’s a certain appeal to travelling with a company. Everything is already planned for you, there’s no hassle and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy! But before booking with just anyone, you want to make sure they have strict sustainability goals and values. The travel industry can be a tricky one to navigate when trying to travel sustainability, but as long as you do your research you’ll find the perfect brand! *ahem*.

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19. What does carbon neutral and carbon offsetting mean?

Carbon neutral is a state of balance – once you’ve reduced carbon emissions as far as possible, you balance the unavoidable emissions that are emitted with the same amount of emissions reduced elsewhere. The result is zero. Neutral.  At Contiki, we do this by carbon offsetting and purchasing verified carbon credits from our partner, South Pole.

Carbon offsetting is the thing that allows individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects around the world to balance out their own carbon footprint (ie. the amount of carbon dioxide that various activities release into the air). You can read more about Contiki’s carbon offset projects here – we won’t support any project that’s not been verified by a reputable international standard.

Now, carbon offsets only prevent or reduce emissions from entering the atmosphere. This is important and of course comes with great co-benefits for local communities (i.e access to energy, local employment, critical support for biodiversity etc.) But carbon removal is considered by many to be the future. You can read more here about the carbon removal solutions we’re investing in with our partner, the TreadRight Foundation.

It’s important we all do what we can to progress towards a better future for our planet and the means in which we travel. Going carbon neutral is our commitment to this.

20. Keep the conversation going

One of the most important takeaways here, is that sustainable travel doesn’t end when your trip ends. You learn so much about the world when you travel. Sustainable travel is also about educating others, calling out irresponsible behaviour when you see it and encouraging people to make more thoughtful choices when it comes to booking an adventure. As Shannon Guihan says: “A sustainable tourism industry isn’t just a nice idea. It’s imperative if we want to keep being travellers.”

Ultimately, sustainable travel takes thought, it takes research: it’s multifaceted. It’s also essential for the future of our planet. 

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