UPDATED February 2020
Now, more than ever, tourists are aware of the impact of their travels, both ecologically and culturally. With so much emphasis on the changing climate, there is a growing desire to go green, which means people are making a conscious effort to consider ethical and environmentally-friendly options when planning their trips, both at home and abroad.
As green travel becomes more ingrained in the mainstream, people are moving away from the glitzy, chain hotels and pre-planned package holidays opting instead for green holidays at small family-run establishments, boutique stays or holiday rentals. And with climate change currently front and centre in the media, more and more people are choosing to ditch flying, deciding to travel by other means instead.
When it comes to booking a green holiday, however, not everyone is au fait with what to do or who to book through. It’s often easier to stick with what you know. But where’s the fun in that?
These days there are so many amazing sustainable tourism options and green stays available that finding what’s right for you should no longer be a challenge. However, if you do need some guidance, check our handy cheat sheet on how to book a green holiday below.
~ Research the destination carefully
With the rise of ecotourism, there are so many travel options available now it’s hard to choose where to go. Decide what type of holiday you’re looking for first, for example: beach, city, mountain; then narrow down your search to a country. You may already have a few ideas in your head of where you’d like to go. Have a quick research of the ‘best green holidays in [your destination]’ online and see what pops up. Check out Bookdifferent.com, Greentraveller.co.uk and Responsibletravel.com for ideas.
If you’re not sure where to look, Costa Rica is one of the top choices for ecotourism holidays. Kerala, in Southern India has unique houseboats and homestays available, Australia is positively brimming with excellent eco-friendly holiday rentals, and Europe is practically drowning in sustainable holiday options.
~ Choose your accommodation wisely
Just because a property says it’s eco-friendly, doesn’t mean it is. There are many accommodation owners who will use the ‘eco’ label because it is de rigueur, but their practices may be far from green. Look out for official eco accreditation. Unfortunately, there still isn’t a worldwide accreditation label – a few different companies exist according to region or country. The good news is that Green Key is working hard to make sustainability and environmental responsibility standard across the tourism industry by awarding Green Key certification to any business who fulfills their criteria. High standards are expected for the Green Key award are checks are rigorous so you know if you see this certification you’re on to a good bet.
If you can’t see anything about the companies’ green ideals, check their website information carefully, or, better still, contact the owner and ask them about their eco credentials directly.
~ Learn how to pack light
It’s easy to get excited when you’re heading off on holiday, but it pays to pack light. The less you carry, the less fuel is needed to carry it; therefore less carbon is emitted into the atmosphere… if you fly. It also saves money on extra charges for baggage and helps you avoid undue stress on your body – the last thing you need is a strained back from lifting heavy baggage.
A good tip on how to pack light is to lay everything you want to pack on the bed. Go through it once and cull what you don’t need, then do the first pack. Most people will end up trying to squeeze things into their bag. Now unpack everything and do the second cull. Use packing cells to make it even easier. They’re often sold in packs of three. Use one for your clothes, one for underwear and one for toiletries. When you get used to packing with cells you’ll know exactly what fits in to each one and the next time you pack will be even quicker.
For more tips on packing light, check out our How to Pack Light series.
~ Be a responsible guest
If you take measures to look after the environment in your own home, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do the same when on holiday. Sure, someone else may pay the utility bill, but your actions still have an effect on the environment. Limit energy usage by only using the air con and heating when you need it. Conserve water where you can, don’t leave the lights on, reuse, recycle and compost food if there is the facility available.
~ Educate yourself
Learn about the destination, and really immerse yourself in the place. Don’t spend time wondering where the pubs are showing football, or searching for the restaurants selling sausage and chips. You’re on holiday – go see the sights, find out about the culture and heritage of the destination. Check out the architecture and find out what makes the city tick. Those are the reasons you travel in the first place, to discover something new.
~ Be respectful
It is vitally important to always respect the local customs and culture, i.e. don’t walk around Muslim countries in a bikini top and hot-pants. Honestly, it happens. Try not to be too brash or intrusive when taking photos. Snap-happy travellers should ask before taking photographs of people; some don’t like to be photographed, while others will be hard to shake from the lens.
~ Shop local to give back
Wherever you stay, buying local produce, eating at local restaurants and buying gifts made by the local community all go to giving back. It ensures their culture survives and concurrently the identity of the destination. Remember to pack a light reusable bag everywhere you go – it will come in handy for going to the beach and grocery shopping.
~ Sign up for an eco tour
If you really want to go green when on holiday, then why not pull out all the stops and sign up for an eco tour, or two. Research what’s available near the green stay you’re thinking of booking – this may help you narrow down your accommodation search too – and either pre-book a trip before you go, or plan to add it to your itinerary.
~ Ditch the car
The best way to explore any destination is by walking. You can go at your own pace, investigate secret spots that are impossible to reach by car and really get to know the place. Bicycle share schemes, which are especially popular in Europe, are a great alternative for the fighting fit traveller, and if you do need to hire a car, check out the share car hire companies.
~ Offset your emissions
A few years ago, offsetting your carbon emissions was big news. Everyone was doing it, until they heard some dodgy companies were using the money for other things rather than putting the money towards funding sustainable energy projects. It’s a shame, because offsetting your emissions really does make a difference if you choose the right company to go through. Climate Friendly runs some amazing projects worldwide as part of their offset program, including some Australian-based projects, and offers 5% of all sales to WWF. Check out Climate Care and Carbon Footprint to read about other offsetting options.
No matter where you choose to go for your green holiday, rest assured you’re making the right choice for the environment, which means you can relax and enjoy your holiday with a clear conscience.