Eco-Conscious Travel: A Beginner’s Guide

“The environmental impact of travelling can be immense, from carbon emissions to impacting delicate ecosystems and indigenous communities. But taking care of our planet while adventuring is possible — it just requires a sprinkle of forethought and a smidge of effort.”

– By Han Shin

We won’t mince words: Travelling “green” can certainly seem a tall order. The mere act of hopping on a train, or worst still, a plane significantly expands your carbon footprint — your climate-changing influence on Mother Earth. Hotels are notorious perpetrators of pollution and waste. And buying plastic bottled water, particularly in foreign lands where the tap water is dubious, feels as inevitable as visiting the Eiffel Tower while in France or the Taj Mahal in India.

But though it can seem daunting, eco-conscious travelling is not only entirely possible — it can be enormously fun and wonderfully fulfilling. And it doesn’t have to be hard.

Here are a few tips and tricks, many of which are easy-peasy to adopt, to transform your next adventure into a greener one.

Consider your carbon footprint

You may not be able to convince your neighbours to stop driving gas-guzzling cars or even compel your friends to stop using single-use plastics, but one thing you can do is control the size of your personal carbon footprint — the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the environment as a result of your activities.

Before and during your travels, consider how you might minimise this impact. Air travel usually forms a large portion of a traveller’s carbon emissions so if you can, plan to take a train or other greener mode of transportation to your destination. If that’s not feasible, book a direct flight to wherever you’re going — the more take-offs and landings, the more fuel you’re burning.

Your destination of choice matters too. If you can, choose countries and cities that are committed to long-term sustainability, have embraced eco-friendly practices and have thriving ecotourism sectors. Bhutan and Peru, two of Blue Sky Escapes’ destinations, are examples of nations that fit the bill. Bhutan, recognised for its commitment to conservation and its thriving ecotourism industry, has often been described as one of the most eco-friendly destinations on the planet. In Peru, where ecotourism is similarly robust, the government has made recent commitments to sustainable development, including taking steps to curb deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon.

Walking or hiking is a greener way to get from one place to another — plus it slows down time and allows you to truly immerse yourself in sublime surroundings like this. Here, we were trekking on the Salkantay route on a 5D4N journey to Machu Picchu

“We always strive to give more to our destinations than we take from them. That means ethically supporting local communities and economies, conserving natural environments and always ensuring we leave no trace.”

Once you choose and arrive at your destination of choice, opt for greener modes of transportation whenever possible: Walk, trek, cycle or — as adventurers on Blue Sky Escapes’ journeys through the remote landscapes of Mongolia do — ride wild horses and truly venture off the beaten track.

Public transportation is the next best option, with trains considered the most environmentally-friendly. If getting on a bus or van, the general rule of thumb is: the more passengers per vehicle, the better. If you must take a car, consider carpooling if that’s an option or rent a hybrid vehicle.

Another green rule of thumb: Follow the same energy- and waste-saving measures abroad as you do in your own home. Don’t leave lights or air-conditioning on unnecessarily, take shorter showers, and don’t get your sheets and towels changed if they’re not yet dirty. Also try to be mindful of your energy usage, like charging your phones and tablets. Keep such usage to a minimum, especially in remote locations.

In Yunnan's Bodolo Village, a village chief brings us on a walk through a moss-covered trail — one that he's deeply familiar with and protective of. Small groups, he says, are less likely to destroy the sanctity of these trails, and the surrounding forests

Choose ethical travel brands and places to stay

Support travel brands that are committed to going green. Keen to take a cruise with the family? Choose ocean-friendly cruise companies that have adopted energy efficiency and waste reduction practices. Looking for a tour package or company to help guide your adventure? Consider eco-conscious organisations that have vowed to keep sustainability at the heart of their business.

“Choose countries and cities that are committed to long-term sustainability, have embraced eco-friendly practices and have thriving ecotourism sectors. Bhutan and Peru, two of Blue Sky Escapes’ destinations, are examples of nations that fit the bill.”

When on the road, stay at eco-friendly accommodations or, better still, try a homestay. The latter can be a cheaper alternative and can also help support local families. Plus, there’s no better way to explore a new culture than to immerse yourself in it completely. That also means tucking into delicious native cuisine at local eateries, and supporting local artisans and small businesses.

At Blue Sky Escapes, sustainable travel is central to our values and philosophy. We’re committed to minimising the impact that our trips have on local communities and the environment. We seek to reduce our — and our travellers’ and partners’ — carbon emissions and aim to eventually be 100 per cent carbon neutral. We always strive to give more to our destinations than we take from them. That means ethically supporting local communities and economies, conserving natural environments and always ensuring we “leave no trace” (more on that below).

Eco-conscious travel can be as simple as ditching plastic bottled water and bringing along a reusable water tumbler instead. Here, our chef at our campsite in Peru, Alfonso serves boiled water in tin cups

Leave no trace, practice no waste

Don’t litter. If you know you’ll be headed somewhere remote with possibly nowhere to throw your trash, be sure to bring your own litter bags.

Leaving no trace, however, means more than just taking your garbage with you. It also means being good stewards of the habitats and communities you’re visiting. That means sticking to pre-marked routes to avoid damaging delicate ecosystems and paying close attention to the instructions of local guides who can advise you on where to leave your footprints. It also means being respectful and mindful of indigenous cultures and practices.

You should also strive to limit your waste as best as you can, especially plastic. Plastic pollution is one of the world’s most pressing environmental problems — some 19 billion pounds of plastic end up in our oceans every year and billions more are dumped in landfills where they’ll accumulate for hundreds of years, unable to degrade. A major contributor to this crisis are single-use plastic products like plastic bags, bottles, straws and utensils, which environmentalists say are the biggest source of trash found near waterways and beaches.

Plan ahead so you can reduce your consumption of single-use plastic items when travelling. Carry metal straws and cutlery with you, and pack a reusable shopping tote for your purchases. Ditch the plastic bottled water and bring along a reusable water tumbler instead. It may not always be feasible to drink tap water when travelling but you can sterilise water with portable purifiers like SteriPen or LifeStraw, or buy a large container of packaged water which you can use to refill your bottle.

Our care packages help our travellers leave no trace. They include eco-friendly items like biodegradable litter bags, glass-bottled hand sanitisers and a reusable cloth bag

“At Blue Sky Escapes, each of our travellers is given a care package at the beginning of their journeys to help them leave no trace. The packets include biodegradable litter bags and eco-friendly products like plastic-free rain ponchos and reusable cloth bags.”

En route on our nomadic herd migration experience in Mongolia, we set up camp — a great example of an eco-friendly accommodation that you can opt for in your travels — in this remote field just opposite the Chinese border that even our guides had never been to before

Just spending a few additional moments to “think green” before and during your travels can go a long way to reducing negative impacts on local communities and environments — and boosting the good vibes you can bring to a place. Our one and only planet Earth will thank you — and your, shall we say, eco-conscience will be clear.

Let’s Escape