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How to be an eco-traveller (and still have it all)

There’s nothing quite like seeing the world, but what if you’re weighed down with the eco guilt of the frequent traveller? We can’t promise to banish it completely but there are ways to make your carbon footprint a shadow of its former self. Each of these tips might seem small on its own but add them all together and it starts to make a big difference…

Where to go

Do your bit to combat over-tourism by ditching the bucket-list, things-to-do-before-you-die mentality and blazing your own trail somewhere less obvious. Macchu Picchu is not the only fascinating ruin in Peru and Thailand has swathes of glorious, untouched coastline. If you have your heart set on going to a tourist honeypot, at least go outside peak season. Venice, for example, is every bit as beautiful in winter as in summer, but a lot quieter and more romantic too.

To find a destination that’s officially certified as taking sustainability issues seriously, we recommend visiting the GSTC (Global Sustainable Tourism Council) website. Places with their eco halos currently shining include Kaikoura in New Zealand and Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland. Or why not check out Vail in Colorado, recently declared the world’s first sustainable mountain resort?

Also worth checking out is the Environmental Performance Index released by Yale University. Every two years they publish a global survey to rank countries on how well they perform on high-priority environmental issues. In the most recent study (2018), European countries occupied the top 16 spots, with Switzerland in first place, France in second, and Denmark in third. The highest-rated non-European country was New Zealand (in 17th place), while the best-performing in Asia was Japan (at number 20). When it comes to Latin America, Costa Rica (in 30th place) gets the biggest tick.

How to travel

  • If you’re heading for a short-haul destination or keeping your trip within the UK, consider travelling by train. Look at the adventure as part of the whole holiday experience – you’ll get to see the part of the world you’re travelling through rather than just whizzing over it. Plus, you’ll have the warm fuzzy glow that comes from knowing you’ve substantially reduced your carbon footprint.
  • If air is the only option, there are still ways to fly greener. Take a nonstop direct flight (planes use more fuel for take-off and landing) and opt for paper-saving e-tickets and boarding passes. And fly economy class – from an eco point of view, the more passengers in an aeroplane cabin the better).
  • Reduce your impact on the environment by offsetting your flight. We recommend using sites like to offset flights. Or use our handy tool which shows you more eco-friendly flight options and lets you make an informed choice.
  • When you’re searching for flights on Skyscanner, make sure you look out for the the green leaf symbol in the top right corner of the most eco-friendly flights. We’ll do the hard work for you and let you know which flights have the lowest CO2 emissions based on the type or aircraft, the number of stops, and the seating capacity, so you can make an informed decision. Any questions? Check out how the CO2 rating is calculated on flights here.
Look out for the green ECO symbol on flight searches
  • Given a choice of airlines, check out their websites to see how seriously each one takes sustainability issues. There should be details on their CSR (corporate and social responsibility) pages. Having a newer, more energy-efficient fleet and fitting planes with winglets (which reduce drag and save fuel) is a good start. Some airlines go further, using cleaner ground vehicles, recycling on-board waste and making sure their support companies are doing their eco-friendly best as well.

What to pack

  • As little as possible – the lighter a plane is, the less fuel it uses. Using e-maps and guidebooks instead of paper versions will cut down on weight. If you usually read your way through a mountain of novels while you’re away, download them to an e-reader instead.
  • Use eco-friendly toiletries with minimal packaging, where possible. We love solid shampoo bars like those from Ethique.
  • Make sure all sunscreens you take are environmentally friendly and biodegradable. Otherwise, any oils and chemicals they contain will wash off when you swim and can harm coral reefs and other marine life.
  • Take your own water bottle (with purification tablets if necessary) so you won’t need to buy bottled water while you’re away.
  • If you end up shopping at the airport on your way out, bring any packaging back home to recycle. And always travel with a tote bag so you can carry all your shopping without asking for a plastic bag.

How to get around

  • Rather than jumping on to a tourist sightseeing bus, sign up for a walking tour with a local guide. Or why not hire a bike, or use public transport? There are plenty of destinations where public transport is efficient and cheap.
  • If you’re exploring off the beaten track and need to hire a car, look for companies that invest in new energy-efficient models. Europcar, for example, has a choice of electric cars and a range of hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles, and other car hire companies are increasingly following suit.

Where to stay

  • Many hotels are genuinely committed to operating more sustainably. Others are just guilty of greenwashing, claiming to be more eco-aware than they are. Tell them apart by checking out their websites: vague promises about being green or eco-friendly mean little. What you want to see are details of practical steps. For example, filtering their own water, using keycards that automatically turn off electrics whenever you leave the room, or stocking the bathroom with large refillable toiletries instead of mini bottles.
  • Don’t assume it’s only individual independent hotels that fit the eco bill. As well as environmentally-minded small groups such as Guldsmeden, in Scandinavia and Inkaterra in Peru, there are plenty of big-name chains (including Hyatt, Marriott, and Scandic) that put serious effort into reducing energy usage, waste, and carbon emissions.
  • Look out for certification from bodies such as Green Globe, Green Key and LEED.

While you’re there…

  • If you wouldn’t change your towels and sheets every day at home, why change the habits of a lifetime when you’re on holiday? Keeping the same linens for the length of your stay genuinely helps reduce the use of water, electricity, and detergents.
  • Try to use air conditioning as little as possible and always turn it off when you leave the room or open the windows. In a hot destination, keeping curtains closed during the day will help keep a room naturally cooler.
  • Save water. Don’t leave the tap running when you clean your teeth and take quick showers rather than long baths (you’ll save both the water and the energy it takes to heat it).
  • Choose leisure pursuits with care. Hiking, snorkelling, and kayaking earn way more eco brownie points than motorised water sports. Golf is a no no – it takes an awful lot of water, pesticides, and fertilisers to keep those courses looking so pristine.
  • Buy local. The more of your holiday money that stays within the local economy the better. Shop at independent stores and markets, eat locally produced food and drink in locally owned restaurants and bars. Shun the tourist tat shops in favour of individual galleries and craft studios – you’ll find some really unique items for sale.

Are you ready to plan your own eco-friendly holiday?