8 ways to reduce the environmental impact of your annual holiday


It’s perfectly natural to worry about the environmental impact of your holiday, but a few sensible choices along the way can significantly lessen those pangs of guilt.

green holidays

1. Hire a fuel efficient or electric car

For many people driving holidays might evoke memories of endless hours of small bored children constantly asking ‘are we there yet?’ (from about 20 miles in) and the constant fear of the old family estate car spluttering to an unceremonious end in a particularly remote section of the Black Forest. However modern, fuel-efficient or (better still) electric cars are incredibly reliable and contribute far less to greenhouse gas emissions than planes. And, to deal with those pesky inquisitive kids, many now come with built-in tablets and even mobile wifi systems. Plus, if you’ve never had the pleasure, hiring an electric or hybrid car for your holiday journey can be a great way to find out what all the fuss is about.

2. Try camping

Admittedly camping, caravanning or, for the seriously posh, motor-homing, might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Especially if said cup of tea involved rubbing dry sticks together for half an hour and the loss of a perfectly good pair of eyebrows. But even if you broil sausages on a coal-fired barbeque every night and plug every device you have into your only electrical socket, an average family on a campsite will reduce its normal domestic footprint by at least 80% for the duration of their holiday. Even the family in their coach-size motorhome, complete with on-roof tennis court, solar-powered air-con and drop-down cinema screen, are doing their bit to give the planet a summer breather.

3. Try glamping

If the very thought of the ‘hardships’ of regular camping is more than you can bear, you might want to consider glamping (officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary database this year), short for glamorous camping. Variations include Mongolian style yurts, native American tepees and ‘Out of Africa’ safari tents, anything really that might convince squeamish city slickers that they aren’t so much ‘roughing it’ under canvas as ‘being at one with nature’; the common denominator in each being comfort. In some instances this just means an electricity supply for recharging vital electrical devices, but often extends to four-poster beds, fridge freezers and state-of-the art power showers. That said, even the most lavishly equipped affair will still fall short in terms of power used and (therefore carbon emitted) than the equivalent amount of time spent at home.

4. Leave no trace

Wherever you choose to go on holiday it is vital to make sure you use local recycling facilities where available, or, where these aren’t available, take your rubbish with you to the nearest appropriate centre. Just because you separated everything into different bin liners and left them neatly in the kitchen doesn’t mean they won’t just be thrown into the local landfill once you’ve departed. Dare to ask the question and if you don’t like the answer, take responsibility for your own waste.

5. Shop locally

As tempting as it might be to charge down to the nearest hypermarket as soon as you arrive at your holiday destination and buy absolutely everything you’re going to need for the duration, spare a thought for local farm shops and (let’s face it) vineyards, many of whom rely on seasonal customers to keep their low-impact operations going.

6. Give credit where it’s due

In a world awash with customer reviews (who buys anything these days without first finding out what a bunch of randomly connected strangers across the world thought of it?) be sure to reward environmentally conscious holiday operations and venues. And, conversely, be brave enough to complain about the opposite. As one reviewer put it on Trip Advisor about his holiday in Prague, “When my complaints to the hotel manager about the hyperactive central air-conditioning system fell on deaf ears, I resolved instead to buy a jumper from the hotel shop. It was perhaps the best-equipped jumper shop I have ever visited. Swings and roundabouts I suppose.”

7. If at all possible, avoid flying

The most obvious way to reduce your impact is to avoid flying, which on its own accounts for 75% of the global tourist industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. If you do have to fly, consider voluntarily offsetting your impact by purchasing carbon credits. A flight from London to Helsinki for example would cost about £15-£20. A bit like recycling’s current mantra ‘reduce, reuse then recycle’, carbon offsetting has a similar hierarchy: ‘Don’t fly, fly with an efficient airline (in economy class), then offset.” You can check the relative efficiency levels of most major airlines through Atmosfair and it’s important to make sure any carbon credits you buy are ‘verifiable, traceable and permanent’ and conform to the Verified Carbon Standard or Clean Development Mechanism. A little bit of work, yes, but that first gin and tonic on the sun-dappled verandah will go down so much more sweetly.

8. Go by train instead

Rail travel has far less impact on the environment than flying. A high-speed train journey from London to Paris emits only a tenth of the carbon of an equivalent short haul flight. European rail networks are far faster and efficient than they used to be, particularly in Germany, France and Spain, and when you take into account the fact that they usually take you right into the heart of a city rather than to an out-of-town airport, are comparable if not better than flying in terms of total journey times.