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Tips for being sustainable when travelling

Heather Needham gives advice on visiting countries abroad for environmentally-conscious students.

Sustainable travel

With the biodiversity and climate crisis at the forefront of many minds, students are trying to lessen their negative impacts on the environment when they’re travelling abroad for study, work, or leisure. Travelling can leave huge footprints on the environment.  Therefore, if we visit a destination abroad, we should do our bit to reduce this impact by educating ourselves, being more eco-friendly and environmentally conscious.

Here are my top tips for being a more sustainable student abroad:

Learn about your chosen destination 

There are many green cities with sustainable policies that you could choose as your destination. Sustainable cities might have car-free zones, bike lanes, vast green open spaces, use renewable energy, and recycle waste to reduce carbon emissions and impacts on the environment. Learning about the different environmental issues facing the country you plan on visiting, as well as the sociocultural laws and customs, will make you more informed about how to pack and be more respectful. No country or area has the same environmental and sociocultural considerations. You can get to know the country that you’re planning to visit by reading the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Travel Advice which details guidance for over 190 countries.

Did you know that taking long-haul flights can produce more emissions than people generate in a year? This is the reason why you should try selecting a destination where you don’t need to travel by plane and instead arrive by other low-carbon means of transport such as trains or buses. For instance, in Europe, you can travel far across the continent via the train network. However, sometimes flying can be the only way to reach your chosen location – if that’s the case you should try get a direct flight in order to minimise your carbon emissions.

How can I be more sustainable when packing?

You can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly through the items you pack for your trip abroad. On my most recent trip to Krakow I took a reusable water bottle and tote bag to ensure that I wasn’t buying or using any unnecessary plastic items. Water can be expensive to buy in other countries, and plastic bottles are bad for the environment as they take decades to degrade. Some cities like Paris have public water fountains where you can fill up your water bottle free of charge. When I was in Colombia, I saw people using collapsible water bottles that are perfect for travelling with minimal luggage as they take up hardly any room. Another handy tip is to bring your own refillable coffee cup – lots of places abroad offer discounts if you have one. Packing reusable containers can help reduce your plastic waste.

Moreover, some countries have a plastic bag tax and have banned plastic items such as straws and wipes. Therefore, we can do our bit by not importing these products into the country and instead bringing environmentally friendly alternatives. Other items that can be swapped for more sustainable versions include reusable razors, bamboo toothbrushes, bars of soap, shampoo and conditioner. Some toiletries can be damaging for the ecosystem or economy of countries. For example, organic, non-toxic, and reef-safe sun cream doesn’t contain chemicals that damage marine life and therefore, can protect our oceans.

If you’re unsure about what you are allowed to import to your new destination, check out the FCDO Travel Advice to inform yourself of the rules and regulations. I used this website to read about how much liquid I could bring in reusable containers and the size of bottles permitted in different size luggage bags for my recent trip to Tenerife. Here it’s clear that by swapping your normal daily habits for more environmentally friendly alternatives, it can make being a sustainable traveller possible.

How can I be more sustainable with my purchases?

You can stay in sustainable accommodation, reuse, and recycle as much as possible, limiting water use, turning lights off and unpluging devices when they are not in use. Buying local food not only supports local businesses and is more sustainable, it is also one of the best ways to expose and immerse yourself in another culture.

Instead of taking private taxis, you can opt for more low-carbon emission alternatives such as trains, buses, trams, and subways, as well as emission-free transport like cycling and walking. One of the highlights of my trip to Amsterdam was navigating the city by bike. Not only was cycling the best way to explore the canals of UNESCO World Heritage, it also was low cost and had the lowest impact on the environment compared to other modes of transportation. The city is covered by well-designed cycled lanes – no wonder Amsterdam is nicknamed the ‘cycling capital of Europe’. Other well-known cycling cities include Barcelona, Berlin, and Copenhagen.

As well as choosing more sustainable forms of transport, you can select environmentally friendly recreational activities that have no impact on wildlife or ecosystems. In Tenerife, I had the opportunity to snorkel with turtles and observe them up-close in their natural habitat – it was a magical experience! I was impressed with how the organisers encouraged us not to touch or disturb the turtles in any way to reduce damaging impacts on them.

Image credit: Leah Kelley via Pexels.

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