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10 challenges to get you travelling more sustainably

Words: Nina Karnikowski

Illustrations: Lily Kong

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How can we make travel as good for the planet as it is for us? Travel writer and sustainability advocate Nina Karnikowski has come up with 10 challenges for those who want to explore the world more responsibly. See how many you can tick off on your next trip.

The world is beckoning once more. But as our feet itch to hit the road, our minds juggle tandem desires: to have less negative impact when we travel, while not stripping our adventures of joy and wonder. How do we satisfy both? One solution is to set ourselves small, fun challenges that will not only enhance our journeys, but also make them as nourishing for the planet as they are for us. Here are 10 to try on your next trip.

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1. Follow your own interests

The wider we cast our travel nets, the better the chance of making our trips less stressful for communities and environments, and more unique and rewarding for us. Instead of following the crowds to popular tourist sites, which can create crazy blockages (just think of those three-hour lines to enter Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia in the summer), try following the threads of your own unique interests as you would at home. Into live music? Seek that. Love growing vegetables? Find local farmers and offer your services for a day. Get as niche and personal as possible.

2. Minimise your emissions

Yes, the travel industry is responsible for an estimated eight per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, but there are so many ways us travel-lovers can minimise our personal emissions. For your next trip, challenge yourself to keep your emissions as low as possible, by doing things like avoiding flights and travelling closer to home, travelling by bike or foot, staying in homes rather than hotels, eating less or no meat, and more.

3. Pack light

Packing less is better for the planet – the more luggage we all bring, the more fuel that plane needs. It’s also better for your wallet. For your next trip, try resisting the urge to buy a holiday wardrobe. Fashion is the planet’s second-largest polluter, and we now consume 80 billion pieces of clothing each year. So have fun working with what you’ve got or borrow from friends if you need something specific. If you do need to buy, choose second-hand, or good quality timeless pieces and sustainably-minded brands. Good tips for buying from second-hand stores are to look for natural fabrics (100 per cent wool, cotton or linen), stick to block colours and classic shapes, and shop with a clear vision of what you really need.

4. Avoid single-use plastics

About eight million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans each year, and unless we take action now, scientists say that amount will triple by 2030. You can use these depressing facts as inspiration to try accepting as little single-use plastic as possible on your next adventure, carrying reusables in your day bag and always requesting your food to come without plastic. If you manage to go a whole trip without accepting a single plastic straw, bottle or cup, reward yourself. You can also turn this into a competition with the people you’re travelling with. Maybe the loser has to shout the others dinner on the final night.

5. Pick up rubbish

Whether it’s one, 10 or 100 pieces, committing to picking up a certain amount of rubbish each day while you’re away will make a difference – especially if you think of millions of people across the planet doing it. Pack a tote in your day bag, so you can put any trash you find into it, wherever you are in the world.

6. Go local

One of the most powerful and simple ways we can give back to local communities is to put as many of our travel dollars into local communities as possible. So challenge yourself to stay only in small locally-owned hotels (or better yet, homestays), and eat in as many locally-owned eateries as possible. You can also try prioritising local guides and tour operators, and buying locally made goods such as handmade ceramics and textiles, to support local artisans and help keep important artistic traditions alive.

7. Book nature-positive holidays

Try using each trip as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with the natural world, weaving as much hiking, biking, camping or sailing in as possible. Or, book nature-positive holidays with companies that work rewilding or conservation projects into their trips, that repair environmental damage and bolster populations of endangered species. The more nature you work into your trip, the better you’ll feel, too: studies in Italy and Japan have shown that being immersed in nature makes our brains healthier, increases our attention span and creativity, and lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

8. Travel closer to home

Since choosing destinations closer to home is one of the best ways to lighten our footprint, consider unfamiliar neighbourhoods in your own town or city as your next ‘trip’, exploring them with the same wide-eyed curiosity you would while visiting Morocco, Nepal or New Zealand. Another option is a ‘microcation’, taking the train to a nearby beach or forest for a few days. A powerful reset, without burning massive amounts of carbon. And if it is far-flung places you crave, try drawing more of this into your life at home by listening to music and watching films and documentaries from the place you’re dreaming of, eating at restaurants that serve food from there, taking a language course, attending events or exhibitions related to your desired destination, or visiting cultural hubs (Chinatown, Little Italy, Little India etc) in your own city.

9. Take fewer photos

Try giving yourself a quota of photos for the entire trip – one shot a day, say, or one roll of film if you’re going analogue. You will be forced to think more about each shot and why it’s important, bringing you more into the present moment, and will return home with a curated selection of meaningful shots. You could also try spending a full day without your phone or camera, instead taking your journal or notepad and drawing or writing about the thing you’d be otherwise photographing. It doesn’t matter how artistic you are; it’s the act that counts, and the deeper concentration it requires.

10. Adjust one thing at a time

Think about a holiday you already have planned or one you’re hoping to take soon. Choose one small thing you can do to reduce your negative impact – always asking not to have a straw in your drink, for example – and make it your mission to ask about it in every café or restaurant you eat at. Start small, and add on from there.

Nina Karnikowski is an author, travel writer and sustainability advocate based in Australia. This is an edited extract from her latest book   Go Lightly: How to Travel Without Hurting the Planet.

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