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Eight ways to travel

more sustainably

Travel can be hugely beneficial to tourists and the communities they visit. Maximise those benefits and reduce your carbon footprint with these simple tips

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Responsible travel can be inspirational and educational – and can help us better understand and appreciate our world, its remarkable cultures and species, and its stunning landscapes.

Few travelling experiences are fully green – it's difficult to travel without contributing to carbon emissions. But by experiencing, learning about, and engaging with our amazing planet, we can all make a positive difference – and have some great adventures at the same time!

Here are a few suggestions for ways to reduce your environmental impact when travelling. (We're based in the UK, so many of the examples given here are local to us – but these tips should apply wherever you travel!)

Use public transport

Whenever practical, leave the car at home and use public transport to cut your carbon footprint. Studies suggest you can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 10 times by choosing the train – for example, a journey from London to Edinburgh by train would produce 12.5kg CO2e, compared to 136.4kgCO2e by car.

Book train tickets with Trainline*

Train travelling along a coastline

If you're heading on a city break, using public transport makes even more sense – trains and buses will usually take you right into the centre of the city. And many cities have efficient public transport infrastructures that can be quicker and more convenient than driving. Cambridge's electric U Bus, for example, costs just £3.50 for an all-day ticket – the route includes the train station to the city centre. Some cities, such as York, have hop-on-hop-off buses that you can use all day – these often provide a guided commentary of the main sights too, so you can get to know the city as you travel from A to B.

Manchester offers two bus routes around the city that are completely free. The routes link Manchester Piccadilly station with visitor attractions including Chinatown and the Science and Industry Museum. The buses are 100% electric and emission free.

If you do have to drive, consider using Park and Ride facilities when available. This offers stress-free parking and a regular bus shuttle service into the heart of the city – and tends to work out cheaper than city-centre parking. Park and Ride facilities are generally strategically placed on main routes into cities, and help to reduce traffic congestion in city centres.

View of Paris

Travelling to Paris from London? Taking the train, instead of flying, will probably be quicker – and a lot less stressful. Once you factor in the extra time needed to clear security, and transfer times to and from the airport, using Eurostar (which terminates at Gare du Nord in the city centre) becomes the more logical option.

Enjoy local food

Choosing locally produced food cuts your carbon footprint by reducing food miles – as food that's been transported from far away uses more packaging, refrigeration and transportation than local, seasonal food.

Carrots and beetroot on a market stall

Buying from local markets, or direct from farm shops or producers, often means you can avoid single-use packaging. Shopping in this way supports the local economy, and you may find that the food you buy is fresher and tastier too!

Many places have local delicacies that are hard to buy elsewhere. From Glamorgan sausages and Arbroath Smokies to Bakewell puddings and Grasmere gingerbread, exploring some of the delicious options available when you're away can be a real delight. Also look for restaurants that offer freshly cooked local produce. And don't forget drinks – many regions are home to distilleries and breweries producing tasty tipples made from local ingredients.

Carry a reusable water bottle

With around 14 million tonnes of plastic waste finding its way into our oceans every year, carrying a reusable water bottle with you when you travel is one way you can help reduce your impact on the environment.

Ocean Bottle

There are lots of different brands to choose from, but it's best to buy a durable, plastic-free product. We love Ocean Bottle*, which is designed to last a lifetime – and for every bottle purchased, 1,000 plastic bottles (or equivalent plastic waste) are prevented from reaching the ocean. Coastal communities are benefitting from Ocean Bottle's scheme, as people can use the money they're paid for collecting waste to access education, healthcare and other services.

Refilling a reusable water bottle is easy. Most cafes, bars and restaurants will refill your bottle for you, and there are also apps that show you the locations of refilling stations. If you're visiting London, download the Ocean Bottle refill app* – and every time you refill, you can help prevent even more plastic pollution.

Walk and cycle

On average, a car in the UK produces the equivalent of 180g of CO2 for every kilometre travelled. And a car on a congested road (travelling more slowly, and stopping and starting frequently) can produce much more than this.

So making short journeys on foot whenever possible is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint, whether at home or on holiday – especially if you're in a city. Walking to the shops or a nearby attraction, instead of driving, is better for your health too.

Dark red bicycle leaning against railings outside King's College Cambridge

Cycling is another low-carbon way to get around and explore – and in some cities is actively encouraged. Some hotels in Cambridge offer free bike loan, for example, and there are plenty of hire options too. A city-wide 20mph speed limit and designated bike lanes help keep everyone safe.

Many European cities are also very bike-friendly, with good infrastructure for cyclists, regular car-free days, and easy access to bike hire. Noteworthy places include Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Hanover and Bremen in Germany, and Bern in Switzerland.

Go wild

Find out about wildlife in the region you're visiting. From red squirrels in Anglesey to whales and dolphins off Scotland's west coast, there's a remarkable variety of animals to see.

Seal in the sea, Isle of Arran

Joining a wildlife tour with a local, knowledgeable guide is a good way to find out about the natural world – and often gives you the best chance to spot species, as a good guide will know where to look.

We often join a wildlife tour when we're travelling. Some of our most memorable wildlife sightings include white-tailed eagles in Mull, puffins on the Farne Islands in Northumberland, and seals in Norfolk. Supporting local businesses like this helps boost ecotourism – and can help communities to thrive.

Another way to find out more about local biodiversity is to visit a rewilding site. These can be inspirational places, and many sites offer access to the public. At Trees for Life's flagship Dundreggan Rewilding Centre, near Loch Ness in Scotland, you can learn all about the unique natural and cultural heritage of the region, and explore a remarkable landscape that's being transformed through rewilding.

Seal, Isle of Arran

Bike outside King's College, Cambridge

Or check out Rewilding Britain's Rewilding Network. Members that welcome visitors include the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve in Southern Scotland, Wilder Doddington in Lincolnshire, and the pioneering Knepp Estate in West Sussex.

Buy local souvenirs

Support the local economy of the place you're visiting by shopping for gifts and souvenirs in independent shops, or buying from local craftspeople. Avoid mass-produced, plastic souvenirs that may be made by a large company, possibly in another country – and so do little to benefit local people.

To find eco-friendly souvenirs, look out for independent gift and craft shops that stock locally produced handicrafts. Markets and one-off events such as craft fairs are also a good option – ask locals or check in local newspapers or at the tourist office to find events.

Tarras Valley Nature Reserve

Tarras Valley, Langholm

Red wooden Dala horses

You may even be able to find a workshop where you can see handicrafts being created. In Nusnäs, in the Dalarna region of Sweden, for example, you can watch craftspeople hand-painting the little wooden Dala horses that can be found all over the country.

T-shirts, ornaments and fridge magnets may the most commonly bought souvenirs, but there are other ways to remember your trip – and buying something you don't really want or need isn't very eco-friendly! Choosing locally produced consumable items – food, drink (especially if it comes in an attractive bottle), toiletries, or natural wax candles – is one way to remember your trip without accumulating more stuff.

Shining Cliff gin yellow label

Other ideas include a CD produced by a local musician, or Christmas tree decorations – we collect the latter, and love talking about our travels when we decorate the tree each year. Or, if you enjoy crafting, why not buy a piece of fabric or some locally produced wool that can be used for a project when you get home?

Stay in eco-friendly accommodation

Choosing eco-friendly places to stay on your travels can make a big difference. A few things to consider when seeking green accommodation are energy-use; attitudes to water-use; use of locally sourced and seasonal food; approaches to recycling and attempts to avoid waste going to landfill; and support for local people – including fair working conditions and pay.

Staying in eco-friendly accommodation doesn't mean you have to rough it – we've stayed in some luxurious and memorable places, from off-grid floating cabins and handcrafted tree-houses to modern city-centre hotels.

One way to find eco-friendly accommodation is on a city or region's tourist information website – many now have a sustainable travel section. Also check out organisations that certify sustainable accommodation, such as Green Tourism (in the UK) or Green Key.

And for some of our favourite eco-friendly accommodation in the UK and Europe, see our Directory.

Eco-friendly hotels in the UK*

Eco-friendly places to stay in Wales*

Luxury eco treehouses in Derbyshire*

Follow the Countryside Code

One of the most important things you can do as a sustainable tourist is to 'leave no trace'.

In the UK, when visiting rural areas, this means following the Countryside Code. This includes disposing of all litter in a public waste bin, or taking it home with you. Litter can be harmful to animals – they can climb inside plastic bags and suffocate, or injure themselves on sharp cans or broken glass. Some litter, such as disposable vapes or elastic bands, is a choking hazard.

To protect crops and wildlife, stick to marked footpaths unless walking on open access land. Close gates behind you to keep livestock safe.

Bag and bin dog waste, and keep dogs on leads to avoid disturbing livestock and wildlife such as ground-nesting birds.

Finally, never light disposable barbeques, unless in a designated area where signs say it's allowed. Barbeques and sparks from cigarettes can cause wildfires that could devastate wildlife and habitats.

Rainbow over Peak District countryside
Wooden cabin floating in lake

Green Adventures April 2024

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