Sustainability and Traveling
We love to travel. Almost all of us. Experience new places, smells and culinary experiences. Immerse yourself in foreign cultures and escape everyday life. Find peace in nature and end up taking home a bunch of wonderful photos. Traveling has become easier than it used to be. For relatively little money I'll be in Dubai tomorrow and lying under a palm tree - maybe even on the palm.
But I wouldn't be writing this article if there wasn't a downside of traveling: the German Federal Environment Agency published a reportin 2020, according to which 8% of greenhouse gases are due to global tourism – and the trend is rising. Tourism thus makes a decisive contribution to the climate crisis. Many locals suffer significantly from the consequences of the sharp increase in tourism. Because by far not everyone benefits from the money that visitors spend. Rising rents, filthy beaches and crowds are just a few examples of negative impacts leading to growing social tensions.
Travel doesn't have to be an ecological or social disaster!
Together we have the chance to reinvent the culture of travel, to learn from each other how we can make our vacations sustainable. This blog article is intended to give you a holistic insight into the topic of sustainability and in particular to disclose the aspects and overlaps with travel. Every now and then you will find our own experiences and approaches. Aylin and I are constantly trying to align our way of life with the principles of sustainability - but logically we are not infallible either. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to talk to us.
Many travelers are already real experts in the field of sustainability, but you might still find some inspiration in our approaches to making your next trip lower in CO₂.
What is sustainability?
Sustainability is a topic on everyone's lips. It is a principle of actionin which a permanent satisfaction of need should be guaranteed within the framework of the natural regenerative ability of the systems involved. In particular, damage to living beings and ecosystems should be averted.
With great effort, we humans have been able to establish a social system over the centuries that is largely based on freedom, peace and growing prosperity. Social aspects of sustainability are combating poverty, reducing inequalities, gender equality and high-quality education. The preservation of the natural environment is an elementary basis of this social order.
Living the concept of sustainability personally is not that easy, because we are not even aware of many of the effects of our actions because they are not immediately recognizable or only come about as a result of mass phenomena. But this doesn't mean they dont exist.
Downer Climate Change
Most have already heard about the complex issue of climate change. The increase in temperature caused by the emission of greenhouse gases (especially CO₂ and methane) endangers all living things on earth. The mantra is to make all current processes CO₂-neutral as quickly as possible. This gargantuan task is best approached through a classic dominance analysis. This means looking at which processes are primarily responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. And start from the top to change the system of pollution.
In the public debate , there is currently a lot of talk about the ban on plastic bags and disposable plastic cutlery. Of course, these are simple approaches, but in relation to the size of the problem, they are just a drop in the ocean. If we look in our waste bin, we mostly find printed packaging waste that is difficult to recycle - not plastic cutlery. Discussions of this nature eat up our precious attention and keep us from taking effective action .
Everyone should initiate change within the scope of their own possibilities Fields of action are mobility, nutrition, consumption, heat/housing. I don't want to spoil: Many aspects directly affect our cultur. In everyday life, we typically emit CO₂ by heating our living space or by mobility with vehicles with combustion engines. Also our diat takes a crucial role: the consumption of animal-based foods such as meat, milk or butter in particular is associated with high greenhouse gas emissions.
Big Income - Big CO2 Footprint
Historically, the industrial west is responsible for a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. Comparing emissions per capita also shows how strongly culture and lifestyle influence individual emissions. A reference like: "But the Chinese..." makes little sense in this context and is, moreover, only a pseudo-argumentnot to have to change one's own behavior patterns. Differences in per capita consumption are not only significant when comparing countries, but also between different income brackets..
A current Oxfam study shows again: The higher the income of a household, the higher the CO2-emissions. The richest 10 percent of the German population (8.3 million people) caused more CO2-emissions in 2015 than the poorest 50 percent (41.3 million people). This clearly shows the need for social and fair regulation of climate-damaging activities.
Every European knows this: It's vacation time, the suitcases are packed, everything including the family is loaded into the car and off we go across the country to the chosen place of desire. Traveling is very common for most of us. Air travel and the stressful concept of cruisinghave also been booming for over 30 years. The annual passenger kilometers flown have multiplied in recent decades and ticket prices are lower than ever. Suddenly Thailand and Australia are as close as never before. The state subsidizes kerosene and we run the risk of ruining an entire planet because of our western holiday culture .
But even moving around with an electric motor is not unproblematic, because we are all bound by the laws of physics. Whenever mass is set in motion, energy must be expended corresponding to the weight and resistance. The physically required energy to accelerate a 2000 kg car is independent of the built-in motor (if efficiency is ignored). Of course it is theoretically possible to move an electric car CO₂-neutral, but replacing all engines 1:1 will not stop our climate crisis. At least not if the production of renewable energies is not expanded at least fivefold. Not only the electricity for households and industry has to be decarbonized, but also all fuels for transport and heating. I see little hope for this scenario in the medium term. We are the victims of a gigantic greenwashing-campaign because decision-makers in this country are unwilling to state the true extent of our actions and the resulting ecological catastrophe. The conclusion from this must be an immediate, drastic reduction in individual and collective energy consumption .
But let's get a little more specific: In order to achieve the goal set out in the Paris climate agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, no more than around 300 billion tons of CO2 may be emitted worldwide. With annual emissions of 42 billion tons, we as a world population have around 7 years to make the necessary changes. For each one of us, there is a calculated remaining budget of around 40 tons of CO₂ that can still be added to the atmosphere in order not to exceed the 1.5° target [as of June 2022]. To illustrate: The average CO₂ emissions of a German citizen is between 7 and 8 tons per year. This is not a particularly bright prospect and this article is not intended to put you in a bad mood. Rather, it should be about ways in which you can plan a sustainable trip in the future and gradually reduce your CO₂ footprint.
Tip #1: Choice of transport – Go slow!
The greatest potential for reducing emissions on your next trip lies in your choice of mode of transport. If possible, try to reach your destination by train or bus. Train journeys in particular are comfortable and have a low ecological footprint. With this gentle way of reaching your goal, you get a healthy connection to distances. In many countries, a lot of money was invested in the expansion of the infrastructure and new vehicles. We did a 4 week Interrail trip through Southern Europe in 2019. A great combination of relaxation, culture and freedom. Just give it a try! The platform Blablacaris a bit more unconventional but attractive from an ecological and economic point of view. Drivers offer their free seats for passengers online - so the journey will certainly not be boring. Our personal new favorite mode of transportation is hitchhiking. Once you've tried it, you'll try it again and again - I promise! Everything you need to know can be found on the great Hitchwiki . Obviously many faraway dream destinations cannot be reached without an airplane. This type of travel is nice and fast, but also surprisingly energy inefficient. In addition, the travel kilometers are usually considerably higher. Up to 90% of the emissions of the entire holiday can be attributed to the arrival and departure by plane.
A comparison of CO₂ emissions: 100 kilometers by train pollute around 3.6 kg of CO₂, a car with two people ~10 kg, while the same distance by plane comes with 21.1 kg.
For distant destinations in particular, we recommend longer and less frequent trips. Oft haben wir das Gefühl gerade erst irgendwo angekommen zu sein und schon steht das Abreisedatum schon wieder ins Haus. Ein längerer Aufenthalt kann die Tiefe der Erfahrungen und Erlebnisse erhöhen. Mit mehr Zeit kannst du viel besser in die Kultur und Gepflogenheiten des Landes eintauchen.
Tip #2: Less is more - travel destinations in your area
One thing we definitely don't miss right now is travel stress. Rushing and annoyance because some procedures at the airport are not working - no thanks. A nice thing about travel destinations that are close by is the relaxed and short journey by bus, train or car. That leaves more time for vacation! Or why not travel according to the motto: The journey is the rewardHow long ago was your last bike trip with the tent? Or have you ever walked a stage on one of the European long-distance hiking trails ? Our 10-week hike on the E1 from Flensburg to Hamburg was something very special for me. Although less than an hour's drive away, I've never spent so much time in Schleswig-Holstein. The beaches around the Schwedeneck are wonderful!
Holidays in your own country can be something very special. There are so many corners that you have never seen and at the same time you learn something about your own culture and the neighbors in the other federal states. Conveniently, any holiday acquaintances live much closer, which makes it easier to visit them again after the holiday. How about the Danube Valley, the Swabian Grand Canyon just around the corner? Or have you ever been to the Wackelwald? With the canoe through the Spreewald? Climbed the Saxon Swiss? If you don't drive far, you can significantly increase your travel days by skilfully choosing vacation days! From long beaches on the Baltic Sea to the Alps in Bavaria, breathtaking landscapes await you. Germany has a lot to offer, especially for short trips.
Tip #3: Support locals and owner-managed businesses
Once you have arrived at your travel destination, there are various options for making your trip socially and economically sustainable. Not only do you benefit from this, through much nicer experiences, but also the local population. When looking for a restaurant, don't look on the promenade, where you're mostly paying for the view. Don't eat in the same big restaurant-chains you know from home. Try something new. Have a look inside and try to guess if locals eat here too. If so, the chance for great food at fair prices is much better!
Many like to take something special back home as a souvenir from the travel destination. It may be tempting, but please refrain from buying protected cultural assets or souvenirs made from endangered plant and animal species. Local products such as honey, delicious nonperishables or genuine craftsmanship are much better suited as souvenirs. Large shops often carry copies of local crafts from Far East. Look for the small shops, rather ask and listen to your gut feeling.
This way of exploring the area and discovering new things is a very natural way to exciting and authentic travel experiences. The money you spend reaches the local people and you strengthen the local economy.
Tip #4: Leave no trace – except for footprints
An important aspect of sustainable travel is minimizing effects on the environment of all kinds. The motto "Leave no trace" from the outdoor adventurer and urban explorer scene can also be applied when choosing accommodation. Some hotels explicitly advertise how they deal with waste. Accommodation and hotels that use the suffix "organic" in their name or are labeled as such are subject to regular controls and must adhere to principles of sustainability.
For outdoor trips: Start with good planning. Know local regulations and be prepared for emergencies and contingencies.
When you're out and about and need a good pitch for your tent , you need to find it, not make it. Robust surfaces such as rocks, sand, gravel, grass or snow are well suited. You might also find a place where a tent was recently placed.
Stay on the trails and respect the space of wild animals, avoid littering and do not interfere with nature. Faeces should be buried at a sufficient depth. Be extra careful when starting campfiresSecure the fire, keep it small and avoid it altogether in dry and strong winds. Only use deadwood from the ground.
When we take down our tent in the morning and pack our things, we not only collect all our leftovers, but always try to take at least one more piece of rubbish with us to leave the place better than we found it.
Tip #5: Travel off-season
As always: the dose makes the poison. When thousands and thousands of tourists flock to one and the same place during the high season, this has a significant negative impact on the quality of life in the region. Not only do the people come togehter at crowded marketplaces and leave behind piles of rubbish on overcrowded beaches. In trendy cities like Amsterdam or Lisbon, a lot of living space is being converted into holiday apartments, which means that there is an increasing shortage of affordable living space. An unregulated market on platforms like AirBnb has also exacerbated the problem.
Those not traveling with school-age children should consider avoiding the busy summer months. Not only to escape from mass tourism, but also to defuse the problems mentioned above. Off-season travel gains in authenticity and more local life takes place on the streets. Those who travel countercyclically enjoy more spontaneity and real life on site. You might even save some money that you can invest in delicious cocktails or the like!
Tip #6: CO₂ Compensation
We generate carbon dioxide with every type of combustion – whether in a car, bus, ship or plane. An interesting option is CO₂ compensation through climate protection projects. A possibility that is often mentioned in the context of air travel but of course is also appropriate for a cruise or road trip ! The links lead to a calculator by myclimate, that calculates the greenhouse gases of a trip and the costs of compensation.
Tip #7: "Do good and talk about it"
This should not only be a phrase, but ultimately also have a positive effect. We believe that certain environmental and social issues continue to receive too little attention and too few to contribute to change for the better. We would like to motivate everyone to also talk about their efforts to tackle current problems! We all should have an interest in the fact that we and future generations can experience the fascination of travel and not just find scorched earth. Traveling is an elementary part of international understanding and helps to break down (racist) prejudices. Be open and attentive in everyday life and on your travels. Dare to try something new and get out of your comfort zone. Inspire others to travel green, fair and local too!