How to be an eco-traveller

As a green destination, Bhutan keeps a lid on travellers by requiring a $275 to $343 minimum daily spending, depending on the season.
As a green destination, Bhutan keeps a lid on travellers by requiring a $275 to $343 minimum daily spending, depending on the season.ST PHOTO: ONG SOR FERN

Here are five tips on how to reduce your environmental impact while on holiday

Singaporeans love to travel. A study by Visa in 2017 found that Singaporeans averaged a little more than four leisure trips over two years. This makes Singaporeans the top travellers in the Asia-Pacific region, where the average is 2.7 trips, compared with the global average of 2.5.

But Singaporeans are also becoming more aware of the environmental and social impacts of travelling. In fact, a survey by travel website Booking.com last year found that 90 per cent of 500 respondents from Singapore said they would try to offset the environmental impact of their travels.

Here are quick tips for Singaporeans who love their getaways, but want to make sure they can reduce their environmental impact.


1. CHOOSE A GREEN DESTINATION

Keep in mind that the more pristine a destination, the larger your carbon footprint is likely to be. Pristine destinations usually mean you have farther to travel. Going to the Maldives, for example, means you have to take two flights and perhaps one speedboat ride.

It is not just your travelling that adds to the carbon-emissions count: Everything you consume has to be flown or shipped in. Energy and water consumption will likely cost more as well.

More destinations and hoteliers are recognising the eco-traveller as a market they want to attract, so there are some which bill themselves as eco-friendly locations. Bhutan, for example, famously keeps a lid on travellers by requiring a US$200 (S$275) to US$250 minimum daily spending, depending on the season.

This helps cap the number, and type of visitors, reducing the environmental load on the small kingdom, which has committed to keeping 60 per cent of its land under forest cover. At the same time, the money gets channelled to locals who work as drivers and guides in the tourism industry.

There are also glamping lodges in Africa, luxe beach resorts in Costa Rica and ski retreats in Austria which tout eco-friendly credentials, from green-friendly builds to using solar panels for electricity. All you need to do is research the places you want to go.

2. EAT LOCAL

It is not just far-flung destinations that will rack up a carbon count. Look at a menu in any luxe resort in Phuket, Bali or Boracay: A wagyu beef burger is the gourmet choice that might have flown further than you have to reach the dinner plate. A local dish of nasi goreng is likely to have a smaller carbon footprint.

Eating local is not a chore, especially if you are visiting a country rich in agriculture. In fact, eating local is the real gourmand's choice, especially when visiting countries such as New Zealand or Japan, where local produce takes pride of place at the table.


3. WATCH YOUR RESOURCE CONSUMPTION

You can do little things when travelling to mind the environment. Most hotels, even the mass chains, offer guests options such as not changing towels and sheets every day. This cuts down on the hotel's water usage.

Taking your water bottle with you means you can avoid bottled water.

A foldable shopping bag will come in useful, especially in some countries where plastic bags are chargeable.


4. HIERARCHY OF TRANSPORTATION

A simple rule of thumb: Walk or cycle as the first choice. Older cities built to human scale are often the most rewarding when you explore them on foot anyway. London Walks is an institution in the city. Scandinavian cities such as Copenhagen and Oslo are famed for their plentiful, and orderly, public bike rental services. Segway tours are also popular in many cities and they are a fun zero-carbon way to explore a city's sights.

Buses and trains are the next best options. Paris and Tokyo are superbly connected by their metros and Moscow's underground is a tourist attraction unto itself, built with spectacular Stalinist-era architecture and design.

In larger countries, buses and trains offer connectivity without growing your carbon footprint. Europe, for example, is well connected with railways linking not just cities, but also countries. Train travel can also offer a different way to see familiar sights, for example, the overnight sleeper train from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok. It takes 17 hours, much longer than a plane ride, but it is an experience and a greener option.


5. CARBON OFFSETTING

Flying means carbon emissions. This is inevitable. But you can check out carbon-offset plans. There are lots of non-profit organisations around the world dedicated to planting trees for carbon offsetting. Google "carbon offset" and you will get a mind-boggling array of options.

Here are a few possibilities, ranging from tree-planting programmes to renewable-energy options.

• German non-profit atmosfair channels your offset donations into renewable energy programmes in more than 15 countries. Its website (www.atmosfair.de) is a great resource, especially its annual Airline Index, which ranks the carbon efficiency of the 200 largest airlines in the world. You can choose to offset a flight or a cruise (the website has calculators built in for ease of use) or you can donate directly to the organisation.

• Myclimate is a Swiss non-profit organisation dedicated to education and climate-protection projects. Its bright clean website (str.sg/JohS) offers a carbon-offset shopping plan that allows you to offset everything from travel to household consumption. Check under the My Project option for cooler offset plans such as buying a cook stove for women in Kenya or helping to reforest woodland in Nicaragua.

• Carbonfund.org, an American non-profit organisation, offers a staggering variety of options to reduce your carbon footprint at its website (carbonfund.org). You can choose from preset options for flying or driving and also choose to plant trees (US$10 for 10 trees up to US$5,000 for 5,000 trees).

• If you want to focus just on planting trees, India-based Grow-Trees (www.grow-trees.com) has planted more than four million trees since it began in 2010. The organisation plants a wide variety of trees for a range of communities across rural India, from rural villages to mountain tribes. You can even locate where your trees have been planted using a certificate number and a search function on its site.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 22, 2019, with the headline 'How to be an eco-traveller'. Print Edition | Subscribe