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16 Jun 2021

Five ways to holiday more sustainably when travel opens up again

You don't have to stay home to save the planet. We tell you how to reduce the environmental impact of your holiday
Cornish beaches

UK holiday bookings are booming as uncertainty around foreign travel continues. As well as breathing life into our economy, it's also having a positive effect on the environment.

The Global Carbon Project estimates that the mass grounding of flights during the peak of the pandemic saw CO2 emissions from aviation reduce by up to 60%.

But after months of being cooped up indoors, many of us are dreaming of an exotic getaway. Here we reveal five ways to make greener choices when travel is back on the agenda again.

1. Take the train

Eurostar boarding

Covid-19 has forced many of us to holiday closer to home and there are plenty of gems to explore - whether it's charming seaside towns or a scenic national park.

But we're not confined to wet weekends forever. Instead of binge flying for multiple city breaks a year, consider one long trip alongside some shorter flight-free jaunts closer to home.

Destinations like Paris, Rotterdam and Amsterdam are actually quicker to reach by train, once you've factored in city-centre transfers and waiting time at the airport. Which? research found you can reach Cologne 20 minutes faster if you travel by Eurostar and reduce your carbon emissions by up to 93%.

2. Choose greener flights

There's no denying that air travel is carbon intensive. Each passenger on a return flight from London to Singapore accounts for around three tonnes of CO2. That's the equivalent of heating a family home for a year.

So while we can't all stay at home forever, we can make smarter choices when we do start travelling abroad again.

Snapshot research from Which? found that a passenger could save around 544 kilos of CO2 on a flight from London Heathrow to Miami by choosing a greener airline. That's the equivalent of more than two months of electricity in the average UK home.

To choose the greenest flight for your route, use Atmosfair's carbon calculator or look for Skyscanner's leaf motif when searching for fares. You can also reduce your impact by flying economy. Business and first class are responsible for up to four times more CO2 per passenger because of the space they take up in the cabin.

3. Pick a lesser known place

The pause on travel has hit the reset button for a number of destinations usually overrun by tourists. Dolphins were spotted in Venice's Grand Canal, withclearer waters and the smog lifting during lockdown. Even the Great Barrier Reef was able to rejuvenate after a break from snorkellers, whose sunscreens contain coral-bleaching chemicals.

Over tourism is a problem because a deluge of visitors leads to increased water consumption, air pollution and waste.

Consider swapping the most crowded destinations for those that receive fewer visitors. Not only will it lessen your impact, but you're likely to have a quieter, cheaper and more rewarding experience. Save visiting the tourist hotspots for off season, when your money will help give the local economy a much-needed boost.

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4. Book eco accommodation

In this post pandemic world, many of us are booking self-catering accommodation to aid social distancing. It can often be a more sustainable option too. A hotel bedroom can emit up to 15 tonnes of carbon a year - that's five and a half times more than the average UK household. This is mainly down to the energy and water consumption from laundering towels and linen, as well as facilities such as lights, fridges and air con.

When booking a hotel or B&B, scan its website for signs that it takes its environmental responsibility seriously. Sustainability professor Xavier Font suggests looking for car-free accessibility on the 'how to get here' page and lots of local, seasonal ingredients on the menu.

A good eco property will also make efforts to change linen less and recycle more, as well as using renewable energy sources and more efficient LED lighting. Toiletry refills and filtered water dispensers are also gradually replacing their plastic counterparts.

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5. Avoid imported food

The pandemic has largely signalled the death of the all-you-can eat buffet, which is a major food waste culprit - as well as being a great way to spread bacteria. But you can still do your bit by avoiding imported foods which have been transported from far away and require more packaging and refrigeration to preserve them along the way.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, a fortnight in a Caribbean five-star all-inclusive resort can produce food-related carbon emissions of 205kg per person. That's as polluting as driving from Lincoln to Luxembourg. Even the humble chip has typically travelled thousands of miles from Midwest America, where the potatoes are grown, processed and frozen.

Where possible eat in local restaurants, which cook with local and seasonal produce. Not only will you get to sample some authentic local dishes, you'll be supporting the economy too.