15 ways to travel more sustainably on your next famil

Posted by Louise Southerden

There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew. ~ Marshall McLuhan

The ASTW has long been an advocate of low-impact travel, from banning plastic bottles at committee meetings to making ASTW events more sustainable. But we can always do more to tread lightly on the planet that sustains us all, and it’s important that we do.

As travel media professionals, we have such enormous influence. Not only can we spread the word about travel that has a positive impact on the world, we can be instrumental in effecting change, keeping the travel industry on its toes by calling it out on sustainability fails and promoting its successes.

It’s good to remember, too, that our privileged travelling lives come with a responsibility. We travel more than most people, giving us a larger carbon footprint and first-hand experience of climate change, and we encourage others to travel. As citizens of the world, we need to keep striving to reduce our environmental impact wherever we can.

Of course travelling for work, particularly on hosted famils, brings certain constraints. For one thing, we can’t always choose where or how we travel.

But there are simple actions we can take when we’re on assignment. Here are 15 of them to help you, our writer and PR members, travel more sustainably on your next trips:

1. BYO bottle. It’s a no-brainer now: whether you’re travelling for work or play, as a writer or a PR, pack a reusable water bottle, preferably stainless steel or glass, which are both better for you and for the environment than plastic. Buying a plastic bottle of water and reusing it during your trip isn’t a good compromise; bottled water has a massive environmental cost and single-use plastic isn’t intended for ongoing use so can leach toxic chemicals into the water you’re drinking, particularly in hot climates. PRs, why not remind writers to bring their own refillable bottles, coffee cups and shopping bags when you send out the itinerary for your next famil?

2. Filter it. When you can’t drink the water at your destination, take your bottle AND a way to filter out nasties – a portable UV filter such as a Steripen, chlorine tablets or a Grayl purifier bottle with built-in filter. For more ideas, see five plastic-free ways to avoid bottled water.

3. Plastic-free eating. Don’t just take a reusable bottle. Make a “travel pack” for your next trip, containing a ready-to-go reusable coffee cup (there are plenty of compact collapsible ones now), a stainless steel or bamboo straw and some lightweight bamboo cutlery (including chopsticks!) in a hygienic cotton pouch.

4. Be a trend-setter: On your next flight ask the flight attendants to refill your reusable water bottle, and use your reusable cup for all your drinks – coffee/tea, wine, beer, juice, G&Ts… Just wipe it clean with a serviette between drinks. You can save a dozen or more single-use cups on a long-haul flight. The more people who use reusable cups and bottles inflight, the more normal this will become, the less plastic waste there will be.

5. Make media kits sustainable. We all need to keep finding ways to make media kits more sustainable and avoid including anything that will eventually end up as landfill. Do you really need to give your media guests another drink bottle or plastic bag? Perhaps locally, sustainably made products can be included instead of plastic ones. And writers, it’s ok to say no to media kits or anything in them that you feel is inappropriate or unsustainable.

6. USB or not? These might be super-convenient and save trees by reducing the use of paper, but perhaps there are times when images and information can be emailed or shared post-trip via a Dropbox link – to minimise the amount of stuff we all have to eventually dispose of.

7. Bring a bag. Packing a reusable shopping bag is a must for those impromptu market visits – and to bring home media kits and brochures collected while away so your host PR doesn’t need to provide a bag.

8. Take your own toiletries. Convenient as they might be, particularly when you’re travelling with carry-on only, those tiny bottles of body wash, shampoo, conditioner and moisturiser all end up in landfill or as more plastic in the ocean. Better to pack your own earth-friendly toiletries in refillable bottles. And when you check out, use the hotel’s feedback form to encourage management to replace tiny toiletries with refillable pump packs of eco-friendly toiletries.

9. Be an eco-advocate. We’re all used to giving feedback after trips, so why not add “environmental impact” to the list of things you mention to your PR host?  And if the itinerary has something you’re not comfortable with – particularly related to animal cruelty such as riding elephants, seeing performing dolphins or eating foie gras – flag it with your host BEFORE you go, so they can offer an alternative. The more feedback we give – and our feedback as travel professionals counts even more than that of paying guests – the more things will change for the better.

10. Go vegetarian (or vegan). Switching to a plant-based diet is being touted as the most effective action we can take, as individuals, to reduce climate change, whether we’re at home or away. Why not use your next trip to switch to vegetarianism or sample a few vegetarian meals, and write about it as a way to promote a more planet-friendly lifestyle? David Attenborough has even been promoting a meat-free diet lately, and he travels more than most of us.

11. Carry hand sanitiser. Time is precious on famils. Carrying a little bottle of hand sanitiser not only makes your toilet stops speedier, it reduces water use, which is increasingly important in some cities – including Beijing, London and Tokyo according to this BBC report. (Cape Town’s water crisis seems to be over, for now).

12. Do your homework. Holidaymakers might be forgiven for forgetting the world’s problems when they’re away; we can’t afford to. Be aware of environmental issues affecting your destination so you can make informed choices about what to eat, do and buy – and help your readers do the same by including these in your travel stories.

13. Fly direct. If you have a choice, choose fewer stopovers; taking-off and landing generate the most carbon emissions when flying. And if you can choose your airline, pick more sustainable ones such as KLM, voted world’s most sustainable airline for the past 12 years. Better still, consider travelling by road or rail whenever you can (trains outgun planes when it comes to low-emission travel).

14. Choose inconvenience. There will be times when you’ll have an Earth Angel on one shoulder, wanting to do the right thing, and an Eco Destroyer on the other, wanting to NOT do it for various reasons (such as not wanting to make a fuss or be different). There will be times when it’s a bit inconvenient to, say, refuse an over-packaged bento box or a smoothie in a takeaway cup. You might even think this small act won’t make a difference. But 7 billion small acts will. We’re all in this together, and only together will we reduce climate change. Everything we do makes a difference – even if only to inspire those around us to make changes too.

15. Write about it! Our words are our greatest tools. So if an operator/hotel is doing great things for the environment, include that in your story so that readers come to expect this kind of service or amenity when they travel and demand it from other operators/hotels. It’s all about normalising respect for the places we visit and write about.

Got more tips? Post a comment below and help us all travel more sustainably.

With thanks to ASTW committee member Penny Watson and writer members Huw Kingston and Angela Saurine for their input. Writer member Louise Southerden has won the ASTW Best Responsible Travel Story award six times, most recently in 2018. We’re all on the ASTW’s Sustainability Sub-committee. 

Check out Huw’s plastic pollution TEDx talk and Plastic Not Fantastic Facebook page and Louise’s No Impact Girl blog.

Footnote: Thanks to Penny Watson, ASTW members can get a 15 percent discount when buying forest-friendly toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, which donates 50 per cent of its profits to help build toilets in developing countries. Just go to au.whogivesacrap.org and enter this code: ASTWNICEBUM. (There’s a limit of one order per customer and the offer expires December 31, 2019.)

9 replies
  1. Jane Corbett-Jones
    Jane Corbett-Jones says:

    Louise, thank you for this great advice which is timely for me. I’ve just returned from Sri Lanka after thirty years since my last visit and was aghast at the huge developments underway or planned for the southern coastline, including on either side of Galle, a UNESCO site.

    I’m not sure what I can do to stem the tide, but I’m all ears regarding sustainable tourism. I know it’s a conundrum in this industry which requires a sensitive balance, but you should see the plans!

    • Louise Southerden
      Louise Southerden says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jane. Yes overdevelopment is changing Sri Lanka, fast (I was there late last year). We can’t do everything, I guess, but we can each do something 🙂

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