By Amy Gear

Global travel is not what it used to be in the last year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in Ireland, at the beginning of the health crisis, we were limited to a 2 kilometres travel radius, with an allowance for travelling to supermarkets. Travelling to other counties/areas of the country was prohibited, and travelling abroad was almost non-existent for most, with many Airlines shutting down, except for very essential travel.

There has been a massive uptake of the vaccine programme since December 2020, when they were first issued, and over 80% of Ireland’s adult population is fully vaccinated to date. However, I don’t think anyone is naive enough to believe that life will just go back to normal pre-covid. 

Everything has to be slowly unwinded. The travel and tourism industry was hugely affected. Though this was seen as a big negative for many people, it begs the question as to whether we can turn this into a positive solution when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint and finding a more sustainable way to travel.

Holiday At Home 

One way of travelling more sustainably is obviously to travel shorter distances: the closer to home you are, the fewer emissions. As many companies have discovered, more people can work from home than they thought was possible before. Business meetings can be held over platforms such as Zoom and Google Meeting. Deals can be made over the phone. Even conferences can rely on technology more and have evolved into hybrid events. We simply do not need to travel as much.

As with work, the pandemic has also led to an increase of “staycations” in terms of travelling for pleasure. With lockdowns and travelling abroad restricted, holidaymakers had to rediscover their own backyard once again. Holidaying in nearby villages or driving up and down the country in campervans and motorhomes, stopping at different towns and locations along the way became the new normal. More people opted for sustainable alternatives for accommodation, like camping outdoors. 

Not only does this reduce greenhouse emissions, but it also creates a positive impact on a country’s economy. People are discovering beautiful beaches and coves lost amongst the coastline; cycling to and from nearby destinations in their own counties; walkways in deserted woods; and a fondness for home and the familiar in the local restaurants and cafes. 

Off-Peak Travel 

Over tourism has been an enormous problem for spotlight destinations such as Barcelona, Bali, Boracay and Venice. Cruise ships and visitors on cheap flights and weekend package deals leave a pathway of destruction behind them: pollution, environmental damage and overcrowding.

Though we cannot expect travellers to completely stay away from these in-demand destinations, experts have suggested travelling to them in off-peak seasons might help. Whilst we are there, it is important to be more conscious of our actions, like choosing local activities that give back to residents. Reducing the number of people in these areas at any one time also helps to preserve them. 

There’s An App For That!

Most people may want to travel more sustainably but are unsure how. Websites like bookdifferent.com can help when planning trips away. They focus on helping you to choose environmentally friendly accommodation, travel as eco-friendly as possible and help organise local activities to help the economy and local communities.

Travel agencies like Lokal share trips that have social and environmental impacts in mind. Cat Jones founded Byway in March 2020, a no-fly travel company based on the fact that people were grounded. As more and more people are interested in sustainable travel options, more apps will appear. 

Travel Further For Longer 

Airplanes produce a significant amount of fuel just reaching altitude and touching back down, so the shorter distance you fly, the less efficient you are. If we are travelling shorter distances, we can reduce our carbon footprint by using other means of travel. Trains emit the least harmful gases. And once we are on the ground opting for electric cars, bicycles, and public transport can all assist in reducing those emissions.

We can also reduce our carbon footprint by staying longer at our destination, so you’re flying less frequently. (Any excuse for an extra few days out of the office, eh?)

If lockdowns have taught us anything, it is to appreciate the smaller things like our local communities and activities; slowing down in this hectic world we live in and relishing our own back gardens as much and as often as we can.

For many of us, travelling abroad is usually for holidays, breaks away, and a devil-may-care attitude can ensue. Still, it is high time we embrace smarter travel, more eco-friendly excursions, and remember that we are responsible no matter whose locality we are in! Thanks, COVID!