Low carbon holidays travel guide

A couple of decades ago, chatting about your holiday was simply a matter of ‘where’ and ‘when’. Today, the conversation around travel needs to go further and deeper; we need to be talking about low carbon holidays. Decarbonising travel lies at the heart of responsible tourism today, and in order to make the travel we all enjoy truly environmentally responsible, we need to be ambitious and forward thinking when it comes to carbon emissions.

Responsible tourism helps sustain livelihoods, support local communities and conserve the world’s natural and cultural heritage. That’s always been the core belief here at Responsible Travel, but the latest statistics on the rate of climate change mean that, to be truly responsible travellers, we have to drastically reduce our carbon, too. That doesn’t just mean taking the train instead of a plane (although that’s a great place to start), it means reducing carbon across every element of a holiday – accommodation, road travel, activities, the lot.

What you’ll find in our low carbon holidays section

This is a collection of trips which are going that extra length to reduce the carbon footprint of travel. Every trip featured in this section has alternative travel means to flying in order to reach the destination (from the UK).

In addition, these holidays must have at least one strong example of how the overall holiday reduces its carbon whilst in the destination itself. For example, perhaps travellers eat locally grown and seasonally produced food during the trip. Or the trip may encourage or incorporate into itineraries the use of electric vehicles/bikes/ kayaking/ wind sailing or walking as a large part of holiday. If the accommodation is using renewable energy, this would also qualify the trip for this section.

When it comes to low carbon holidays, we are setting the bar high. Low carbon holidays are about more than simply swapping the plane for a train, although that is increasingly easy to do. Since we first looked at low carbon travel in the late 2000s, the ease of booking trains and buses has increased exponentially. It's now relatively straightforward to book train and coach tickets online (many sites are available in English), and new high speed routes are being launched across Europe each year. As all of Responsible Travel's holidays can be booked without the air fare included, it's up to our customers to choose if they'd like to fly or seek out an alternative means of arriving at their destination.

Many of our small group adventure holidays use overnight trains to join the dots between key sights in a destination. As well as being a low carbon alternative to domestic flights, public transport is a great way to meet local people, too. So, there is already much good, low carbon travel included in the holidays we sell, but it's not enough - which of course bring us to aviation.
It's impossible to talk about low carbon travel without discussing air travel, for so long the elephant in the room when it comes to responsible tourism. Back in 2009 we stopped offering carbon offsets to our customers, believing that offsetting simply distracts from the real issue, which is that we all need to be reducing our carbon emissions as much as possible.

In 2019, we’ve gone even further. We are calling for a Green Flying Duty – a new global tax on aviation – that will be ringfenced for research and development into electric planes and improving railway connectivity. Individuals can reduce their personal CO2 emissions by taking fewer (but longer) holidays, for example, but it’s our belief that a dramatic reduction in the galloping growth in emissions from aviation must come via the world’s governments.

Truly low carbon holidays encompass more than just the transportation to and from the destination, though. To make a substantial impact, reducing greenhouse gas emissions should influence every decision a travel company makes when it designs and runs a trip. To drive responsible tourism towards a decarbonised future, emissions reduction measures need to be bold, ambitious and all encompassing. Why shouldn’t accommodation be run off solar panels, a small wind turbine or, at the very least, be signed up to a green energy tariff? Why shouldn’t the cars on a self drive holiday be electric vehicles, and why can’t hotels and lodges offer free and fast EV charge points?

First steps

Decarbonising travel is in its early stages - and any gains are simply not compensating for the rapid rise in travel and tourism. Global dismay at climate change may drive interest and urgency around low carbon travel, but the growth in affordable green technology will help turn it into reality. Increasingly, responsible travellers will demand low carbon facilities and alternatives on their travels, too, and when both the responsible tourism sector and the responsible traveller push for change in unison, low carbon travel will undoubtedly grow.

Change is in the air – literally, in the case of Canada. Vancouver’s Harbour Air, which is North America’s largest seaplane airline, hopes to fly all-electric sea planes within three years, from March 2019. Whether it achieves that remains to be seen, but the ambition is there, and this progress towards electric plane use on short haul flights is exciting.
In Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, a local company, Aurora Emotion, is offering the first electric snowmobile safaris in the world. These eSled safaris run for a couple of hours, covering up to 25km, so there’s good range and no reason why such vehicles can’t become the standard offer for tourists. Travelling on a near-silent, non-polluting snowmobile is more than simply a low carbon option; it’s a chance to experience the snowy wilderness without the noise of a petrol engine. It illustrates how low carbon travel is more than just responsible, it actually generates new, unique experiences for curious travellers.

Closer to home, some of the holidays companies we work with are already operating completely sustainably. In Devon, southwest England, a collection of three ecolodges on eight hectares of farmland is run on 100 percent renewable energy, most of it generated onsite via a wind turbine. The low carbon initiatives don’t stop there, but extend to every moment of each stay, with free arrival and departure pick up from the local train or bus station, a hassle-free recharging point for electric vehicles onsite, electric bikes available to hire and regular push bikes free to use.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Low carbon or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Our low carbon plans

To push carbon reduction up the responsible travel agenda and begin to decarbonise travel, we all need to be ambitious - not tomorrow or next year, but right now. It's time to dive into the possibilities of low carbon travel, and expand its scope through new technology but also good old fashioned common sense. So, we'll be asking lots of questions of the travel companies we work with. Some offer ostensibly low carbon breaks, like cycling holidays, which are great, but we will be asking about additional low carbon features, beyond the guys in Lycra on two wheels. Is the support vehicle tailing the cyclists run on petrol or electric power, for instance? Or, on a walking break, are the routes designed to start and end at a public bus stop, so walkers can return to their guesthouse without using a carbon footprint-boosting taxi? If not, why not?

In kind, we are encouraging the holiday companies we work with to really shout about the carbon reducing steps they’re taking. Many of them are already running impressively sustainable trips and accommodations, but it's now vital that we celebrate every last low carbon detail, to keep the issue of carbon emissions at the core of the travel planning process. Got a wind turbine on your farm? Big it up! Running a solar powered boat? We want to hear about it! The more we celebrate the low carbon initiatives and intentions out there in travel, the more travellers can make informed choices, and the more other holiday companies can gain inspiration for change.

Through clearly accessible information we hope to empower travellers to shop around for a low carbon holiday. Our trip pages will contain a detailed explanation of the low carbon initiatives in place on each holiday - whether that be in the accommodation, or relating to the transfers, transport and activities. We wil update these pages regularly, to keep pace with new developments. Transparent, positive information about carbon reduction measures keeps the concept of low carbon travel front and centre. It helps travellers make informed choices and it celebrates the advances made - and those planned - by responsible holiday companies around the world.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Blomst] [What we really mean: Nicky Boogaard] [First steps: Dianna Cudworth ]