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My personal 5 tips to travel more sustainably

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

I travel and therefore I fly.

travel more sustainably train reusable cup

As soon as I try to make some recommendation on, let’s say, minimizing rubbish or saving energy, I frequently run into pushback even from my friends: “Honestly, I can produce a huge amount of rubbish before I even get close to your carbon footprint, what with all your flights.”

Tricky, because in some way they are right. It also started me thinking about how I travel, and what I – and each one of us - can do to try and minimize the negative impact we have.

I am certain that the way we travel in future will be quite different to the way we behave at the moment. Things have to change, and I am very excited to see which solutions there will be.

Just last week a friend I had mentioned my concerns to responded that to his mind, the benefits of traveling and meeting other people from different countries, different cultures and different religions outweigh the negative aspects. In many countries, much-needed political change is dependent on the public spotlight that travellers shine on their visited locations, we are not just speaking about selfish self-education at the expense of the visited destinations.

plastic rubbish ethiopia

I cannot imagine a life without travelling. I have always wanted to explore. As a kid we had a record which started with “All continents have been discovered, man has been to the poles and to the Amazonian jungle …” I listened to it and was horrified: “Oh no! What else is there for me to discover?” Over the years I realized that there is still a lot to see and there are still many wild places. But also that tourism changes a country for better and for worse …

I won't pretend that my small efforts will be the planet-saving measures the world has been waiting for. But if you’ve read this far, maybe you’d be interested in these 5 little things you can do to help reduce your (travel) footprint? I at least try it with my own travels …

1.) Bring your own bottle

travel more sustainably own bottle

Plastic bottles are a nightmare. According to the Guardian newspaper, we produce 20.000 plastic bottles per second … and those numbers are several years old already. Recent estimates from Euromonitor International’s Global Packaging Trends predict sales of plastic drinking bottles to reach 583.3bn by 2021!

My personal consumption of drinking water is probably around 3 litres a day. If I were to buy this water in convenient 0,5l plastic bottles, I alone would need around 2190 bottles a year.

So my solution is to bring my own 1 or 2 bottles, boil water, or ask for boiled water. If that is not possible, I use purification tablets. If even that doesn’t seem feasible, it is still better to buy a 5 litre canister of water than to get it in single small bottles.

2.) Bring your own shopping bag

plastic bottels rubbish travel more sustainably

5 trillion plastic bags were consumed last year. That's 160.000 a second, with less than 1% being recycled. You don't have to be Greta to realize this is a huge amount. The energy expended to produce all these bags is one point, the other is the pollution and micro-plastic. At the moment we have 25.579.100 square kilometres of plastic swimming in the oceans. At www.the you can see the numbers increasing in real-time – a shocking experience.

A simple small step: I always have a small bag or a backpack with me and I absolutely never take a plastic bag.

3.) Use public transport

travel more sustainably public transport

In the Seychelles I was really happy about the public bus system: you pay 7 Rupees per ride (about 50 Cent), however many stops you travel. The buses leave frequently and pretty much circle the whole island. Of course often a rental car is more convenient for getting around, but if you have ever seen the number of rental cars on the road, for example in Majorca in summer, you may start questioning if that is the right and quicker solution. If every tourist takes a car, all the roads will be blocked, the cars use petrol and need to be built etc. These are all good reasons to choose public transport. Plus, I just love local transport. It is the best way to get to know the locals, see places which you normally wouldn't stop for and watch the surroundings you’re passing, which you can't do when you are driving. And if that all is too much for you – just close your eyes and have a little snooze – not such a good idea, if you are the driver:;)!

4.) Save water

travel more sustainably pollution

Just going to our local swimming pool here in Heidelberg sometimes makes me really angry. In the communal shower you'll see people having a hot shower for ages. I sometimes wonder if they realize just how much energy and drinking water they are wasting. According to “mein Klimaschutz”, a normal shower head uses 12-15 litres of drinking water per minute. A 10-minute shower – and trust me, that’s not unusual! – consumes 120 litres of drinking water. I think most of you who read this blog take it for granted, as I often do, that we turn on a tap and clean water comes pouring out of it. But according to this UNESCO newsletter billion people have no access to clean and continuously available drinking water.

A few years ago I was in Palestine and I talked to a local politician while filming for a project called “Football for Peace”. He was convinced that in the not-so-distant future, wars will be fought over water, not oil.

So what can you do? Basically: keep it short. Turn the water off while putting on soap. Sometimes a flannel might do the trick, if you have not been sweating too much. I once ran a little competition with a friend in Africa: who can use the least water for a shower, yet come out completely clean? It was easy to measure, since the water came in buckets. My result was 5 litres (including a proper hair wash with shampoo and conditioner). Can you beat that? And yes, I was clean and I didn't have a head full of foam afterwards …

5.) Show respect

travel more sustainably tourists respect

This one is pretty straightforward: Just behave the way you would like your visitors to behave in your home and you should be fine. As I just came back from the Seychelles, I was quite struck how unthinking/insensitive people can be. For example, on Curieuse Island you can admire giant turtles. There were people banging on their shells, stuffing leaves in their faces and clambering all over those poor animals. I wondered what they would say if I did the same – let’s say – to their dog?!? Or if you imagine the beach as your garden - would you go there, have a picknick and leave all the rubbish? Ah … or their children: I shove my camera really close to their faces, take a picture and hand them a sweet as a reward– all without asking. Unthinkable? I should hope so!

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