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Planning for a Low-Impact Holiday

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 19 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Community Based Conservation Waste Water

However we choose to travel there is no escaping the fact that our holidays will have some kind of impact on the environment, so unless we are prepared to give them up altogether, the best we can hope to do is pick ones which do as little damage as possible. There is nothing wrong with wanting to visit different parts of the world and experience what they have to offer – but we do need to remember that we always do so at a cost. Holiday brochures are littered with the promise of “low impact” breaks – but how can we separate those that really are from those which are liberally doused in “green-wash”? Like so many things, the devil is in the detail – so making sure that our holiday impact really is as low as we would like it to be really all starts with good planning.

Where to Go

Choosing your destination can be one of the most important elements of a low impact holiday, so it is well worth putting in the effort at the outset to make sure you pick wisely. For some venues it may be possible to consider community-based tourism projects which provide a very real economic benefit to local people, or opt for an establishment which makes a direct contribution to social or conservation initiatives. However, even where these sorts of options are not available, you should still be able to find something to suit – and anywhere offering a proper, written environmental policy would be a good place to start.

Any establishment claiming green credentials should have one and it ought to cover most of the questions you need to have answered. At the very least it should cover things such as what they do to help recycling or conservation projects, their policy on local purchasing and procurement and what steps they take to minimise their own environmental impact. Other issues may also be important to consider, depending on where your travels will take you. Employment, poverty, waste management, food, water and sewage treatment are serious problems in some parts of the world; any environmental policy worthy of the name should address these points – and if it does not, you can probably draw your own conclusions!

The popularity of your intended venue is another possible factor to consider and this is not just a problem for foreign destinations. One of the greatest ironies of eco-tourism is that the growing numbers of people looking to reconnect with nature and take their holiday at home to avoid excessive carbon costs, can often avoid one potential impact at the expense of creating another. For example, many of Britain’s favourite spots, such as National Parks, forests and upland walks, suffer heavily for their “honey-pot” status with eroded paths, litter and local congestion.

Travel Plans

Deciding where you are going to stay is one thing, but with travel itself often being a major source of environmental impact, it makes sense to choose your holiday transport very carefully – and try to plan your route to keep your carbon emissions down as much as you can. For some trips it may be impossible to avoid flying – and as everyone knows, aviation has been on the receiving end of a good deal of criticism – but even so, it is still possible to minimise the worst effects by thinking ahead. Although the distance you fly inevitably affects emissions, most of the carbon release occurs at take-off and landing, so reducing the number of internal flights and avoiding stop-overs can make a significant difference to your overall environmental debit. Pick a reliable carbon offsetting scheme – and a certification programme is currently being developed in the UK to help you select a good one – and the damage your holiday flight does cause can be balanced out by contributions to one of a number of suitable eco-initiatives.

For some trips, other forms of transport may hold the key to low impact holidays. With rail-links around Europe becoming better by the year – and ticketing arrangements simpler – for many destinations, the train is at last becoming a serious rival to the plane. While using public transport whenever possible will invariably help reduce your overall holiday footprint, the easiest way to keep the impact of your holiday travel has to be simply not going very far in the first place. It may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect break, but if everything you want does lie close to home, then you are well on the way to a minimum impact getaway.Some level of environmental impact is inevitable, no matter how carefully you choose your holiday. However, being aware of the possible problems – and planning accordingly – equips you to avoid doing too much harm and allows you to enjoy your holiday with a clear conscience, rather than just trusting to luck.

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