Sustainable travel: 10 experts' tips on how to be a more eco-friendly tourist

You don't have to look hard to see that travel is changing, taking our attitudes and actions along for the ride. Increasingly, most of us are trying to balance our love of travel, our need to travel – for what kind of country would Australia be if we didn't venture beyond our own borders? – with doing the right thing. How can we ensure the positive impacts of our next trip outweigh the negatives? How can we do good while still having a good time?

For inspiration, and practical tips, we've consulted 10 of Australia's leading environmental advocates, people who regularly put themselves on the line for the sake of the planet (plus five more in the travel industry – see breakout). How do they align their values with their travelling lives? Where do they go when they need a break, how do they get there and what do they really think of flight-shaming? Covering everything from inflight meals to planting more trees, their answers are guiding lights, offering a glimpse of travel's sustainable future.

KELLY O'SHANASSY

CEO OF THE AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATION FOUNDATION, MELBOURNE

Kelly O'Shanassy, CEO Australian Conservation Foundation
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GREEN CREDENTIALS With ACF, and Environment Victoria before that, I've helped safeguard rivers from overuse and pollution, advised business leaders on climate action, stopped coal mines and kick-started renewable energy projects. I'm a firm believer in the power of people to demand and shape a better future.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY? Victoria's Otway Ranges where the forest meets the sea. My family has been visiting Victoria's rugged west coast since I was a little tacker and I feel at home there, even on holiday. Towering trees, wild surf, meandering rivers, pubs with ocean views – what's not to love?

HOW WILL YOU TRAVEL? Drive from Melbourne with my partner, Rich.

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR GREENER TRAVEL? Explore Australia. We have some of the world's most incredible landscapes and wildlife. If international travel beckons, try combining a work or family trip with a holiday to get the most from your flight.

FLIGHT-SHAMING - FAD OR FACT? Australia is enormous and a long way from everywhere, making flights hard to avoid. The trick is to fly only when you need to and buy carbon offsets to limit your impact.

WHAT'S THE ONE THING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEEDS TO FIX? Airlines need to go green and accelerate the development of pollution-free fuels. It's time for them to get serious. See acf.org.au

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RONNI KAHN, AO

FOUNDER AND CEO OF OZHARVEST, SYDNEY

Ronni Kahn - OzHarvest
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GREEN CREDENTIALS I've been fighting food waste for 15 years, starting with one van in Sydney. OzHarvest has now grown into a national organisation that has saved 41,000 tonnes of good food from landfill and delivered 127 million meals to help feed people in need.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY? To India, which I absolutely love. It's totally remote and I'll be staying at an ashram with people who share my vision for a better world, getting involved in community work focused on recycling, repurposing and reforesting. I love the simplicity of life there and of course the food is sensational, all organic and vegetarian.

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Jaipur, India. Photo: iStock

HOW WILL YOU TRAVEL? By plane, which is really the only way to get there. The flight is going anyway, so I might as well be on it.

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR GREENER TRAVEL? Always tick the box to offset your carbon emissions when you book your flight, travel with reusable cutlery and a water bottle and eat all your food on the plane so nothing goes to waste.

FLIGHT-SHAMING - FAD OR FACT? I'm always hoping there will be a more sustainable way to travel, but when you lead a busy life that requires constant travel, a plane is really the only option.

WHAT'S THE ONE THING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEEDS TO FIX? OzHarvest rescues 20,000 kilograms of food every month from airport partners across Australia. This figure could be vastly increased if quarantine laws were changed so we could rescue the surplus food from international flights. See ozharvest.org

TIM JARVIS

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTIST, AUTHOR AND ADVENTURER, ADELAIDE

GREEN CREDENTIALS Australia's Global Ambassador for the WWF, the Australian Geographic Society's Conservationist of the Year in 2016 and leader of the 25Zero project, using polar and climbing expeditions to communicate about climate change.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY? My environmental work takes me to some incredible and often very remote places, but my next holiday will be to spend Christmas with my parents and extended family in a cottage in the Cotswolds. Warm beer, good company and hopefully some snow.

HOW WILL YOU TRAVEL? I buy double the carbon offsets I need for each flight I take and this winter planted 3700 native trees on my property on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. The goal is more than 30,000 trees to recreate the original landscape of the area and offset 100 people's lifetime carbon emissions.

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR GREENER TRAVEL? Try to find amazing things close to home that don't require air travel and make your trip carbon neutral by buying offsets for your ground travel and the food you consume as well as your flights.

FLIGHT-SHAMING - FAD OR FACT? It's real and certainly having an effect, part of a growing awareness of the importance of doing something about climate change. I just wish it hadn't taken so long.

WHAT'S THE ONE THING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEEDS TO FIX? Aviation has a bigger carbon footprint than Australia. Carbon offsets therefore need to be part of the ticket price for all flights, and cruises, with costs split between the passenger and the airline or cruise operator. See 25zero.com

HEATHER CAMPBELL

CEO OF BUSH HERITAGE AUSTRALIA, MELBOURNE

Heather Campbell - Bush Heritage Australia
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GREEN CREDENTIALS Former Head of Health, Safety and the Environment at the CSIRO and CEO of Landcare Australia. Currently chair of Sustainability Victoria and director at Zoos Victoria.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY? To visit Oura Oura, in Tasmania, the birthplace of Bush Heritage. I think it's important for my kids to see the natural beauty of this place and Australia's amazing natural environment and to understand why it's so important to protect it.

HOW WILL YOU TRAVEL? We're planning to take the Spirit of Tasmania so we don't have to fly and can take our car and some of our own food for the trip. We'll either camp or stay in accommodation that supports our environmental focus.

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR GREENER TRAVEL? Always travel with your reusable water bottle and, if you have little ones, a reusable lunchbox of snacks.

FLIGHT-SHAMING - FAD OR FACT? It's important for all of us to think about our footprint but given the breadth of our country, flying is a necessity.

WHAT'S THE ONE THING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEEDS TO FIX? Reducing plastic waste. On a recent domestic flight I counted nine pieces of hard plastic, three pieces of soft plastic and an individual plastic water bottle. Some solutions could be to dispense water and milk from large cartons, as is already done with tea and coffee, and use cutlery made of plant-based materials. See bushheritage.org.au

BEN PEARSON

HEAD OF CAMPAIGNS, WORLD ANIMAL PROTECTION AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND, SYDNEY

GREEN CREDENTIALS Since 1992, I've worked on environment and social change issues in Australia and overseas.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY? The NSW south coast with my kids and friends. It's a beautiful environment and great for outdoor activities.

HOW WILL YOU TRAVEL? We'll drive there and spend most of our time swimming at the beach, going for walks and riding bikes.

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR GREENER TRAVEL? Think about taking a train instead of driving. Particularly with kids, it's much more fun.

FLIGHT-SHAMING - FAD OR FACT? If you can avoid an activity that contributes to global warming you should, and air travel is definitely a contributor. But we shouldn't just see things in isolation or focus on one particular activity. There are so many things we can do to reduce our impact: ride a bike, eat less meat, take shorter showers, etc.

WHAT'S THE ONE THING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEEDS TO FIX? The amount of wasted food and unnecessary plastic packaging on planes continues to shock me, along with the fact that you have to request vegetarian food before you fly. See worldanimalprotection.org.au

LISA VITARIS

DIRECTOR OF 10 PIECES, SYDNEY

GREEN CREDENTIALS Launched 10 Pieces in 2013 and partnered initially with World Expeditions to clean up a range of countries, including Nepal, Bhutan, Peru and Tanzania, and help change attitudes towards litter.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY? I'm currently on Socotra island, in Yemen, which has just reopened to tourism. There's an amazing amount of endemic fauna and flora here but the highlight has been meeting a local "cave man" who lives in a cave lined with fresh oysters on the shore of a lagoon rich in seafood, an incredible sustainable existence.

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Socotra, Yemen. Photo: iStock

HOW WILL YOU TRAVEL? Being passionate about litter collection, I clean up natural areas including beaches and the ocean when I'm diving. The litter in Yemen is mostly plastic water bottles and Pepsi cans, though I was fortunate enough to find 200 Yemeni rials (about a dollar)! I also find out what people need in the countries I visit and pack those things, such as English language school books.

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR GREENER TRAVEL? Leave the environment in a better state than when you arrived.

FLIGHT SHAMING - FAD OR FACT? I'm a big culprit having travelled to more than 110 countries. Most types of travel have an impact on the environment but any way you can minimise it will help, whether by offsetting your emissions or supporting the environment in other ways.

WHAT'S THE ONE THING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEEDS TO FIX? Many travel companies still have a long way to go in terms of sustainable tourism experiences.

See 10pieces.com.au

ANDY RIDLEY

FOUNDER AND CEO OF CITIZENS OF THE GREAT BARRIER REEF, CAIRNS

Andy Ridley - Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef
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GREEN CREDENTIALS Co-founder of Earth Hour and former CEO of Circle Economy in Amsterdam

WHERE ARE YOU GOING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY? To Rwanda with my two boys to join my wife, elephant researcher Dr Tammie Matson, on her latest elephant conservation project in Akagera National Park.

Hippos in the water in Akagera National Park sundec1cover
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Akagera National Park. Photo: iStock

HOW WILL YOU TRAVEL? Flying is the only option, but we always offset our travel. Tammie also operates ethical safari company Matson & Ridley Safaris, which supports local communities and offers real conservation outcomes through tourism, so we'll stay in camps that have the biggest impacts for conservation.

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR GREENER TRAVEL? Pick your travel providers carefully, from hotels to transport and tour operators; there are big differences in how they approach the planet and sustainability.

FLIGHT-SHAMING - FAD OR FACT? Good question. Our awareness of how we individually achieve net zero emissions and beyond must include how we travel and cutting out unnecessary flights is a great way to reduce emissions.

WHAT'S THE ONE THING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEEDS TO FIX? We see it on the Reef already, but embrace the challenges of climate change and use the environment as a point of inspiration for change. Travelling is a great way to inspire and motivate people to act, while they're having a great holiday. See citizensgbr.org

BOB BROWN

BOB BROWN FOUNDATION, TASMANIA

After over 5000km of driving from Hobart tom Clermont, Central Queensland and back to Canberra the Stop Adani Convoy has a final rally on the Lawns of Parliament House.
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GREEN CREDENTIALS I was in a crowded Brisbane courthouse on July 1, 1983, when the High Court judgment saved Tasmania's wild Franklin River from damming. Since then I've joined others in action-campaigning, including in parliaments, for the environment.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY? Partner Paul Thomas and I are headed for Frenchmans Cap, Australia's most majestic mountain, in the Tasmanian wilderness. I last climbed it from the Irenabyss gorge on the Franklin River in 1977; this time will be via the conventional walking track, which has stunner views along the way.

HOW WILL YOU TRAVEL? We'll drive from Hobart and where the Lyell Highway crosses the upper Franklin River I'll look at the rainforest and say, 'To think you'd be drowned [by the proposed dam] if 1500 people had not been arrested in the downstream forests'. All that carbon and wildlife saved because Australians cared. There are huts along the walking track but we'll have a tent and be planning our next protest against logging.

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR GREENER TRAVEL? See the local sights first. Do a lot of walking. Donate to a local green action group. Leave Antarctica to the penguins.

FLIGHT-SHAMING - FAD OR FACT? Fad if you then, as 90 per cent of Australians did last May, vote for parties pushing more coal mines like Adani, coal seam gas, oil wells in the Great Australian Bight and logging Australia's forests including the Tarkine.

WHAT'S THE ONE THING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEEDS TO FIX? The invasion of Australia's national parks and wilderness areas, from Kangaroo Island to Cradle Mountain and Hinchinbrook, by private profiteers pitching at high-end users only. Parks are for the people. See bobbrown.org.au

PAUL KLYMENKO

CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF PLANET ARK, SYDNEY

Paul Klymenko - Planet Ark
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GREEN CREDENTIALS I've been passionate about sustainability for more than 30 years. In 1986 I co-founded Australian Ethical, the first socially responsible fund manager, which now manages more than $3.5 billion. Six years later, I co-founded Planet Ark.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY? Our Christmas break will be spent at a beach house near Forster with family and friends. It's not too far [from Sydney] and is a perfect place to recharge the batteries near nature with enjoyable company and good food.

HOW WILL YOU TRAVEL? In our Prius packed with holiday activity gear from tennis racquets to fun outdoor games such as Finska [Finnish log-throwing].

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR GREENER TRAVEL? Pack light: every extra kilo of luggage burns more fuel.

FLIGHT-SHAMING - FAD OR FACT? There's no doubt all forms of travel have an environmental impact. The best approach is to use the lowest carbon means of travel per kilometre you can, and offset your emissions.

WHAT'S THE ONE THING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEEDS TO FIX? Reduce the carbon emissions of their operations and offset the balance, and reduce all forms of waste and use reusable or recycled products wherever possible. See planetark.org

KATE NELSON

PLASTIC FREE MERMAID AND WE QUIT PLASTICS, BYRON BAY

Kate Nelson - I Quit Plastics
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GREEN CREDENTIALS I haven't used single-use plastics for a decade.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY? I've had to travel a bit this year to attend conferences on how plastic packaging affects us and the planet, so I'm looking forward to a stay-cation in Byron this summer: surfing, free-diving and having friends travel to us.

HOW WILL YOU TRAVEL? Part of my plan to stay home this summer is to learn how to sail so that one day I can travel up and down the east coast with minimal emissions. It's all a dream now, but the guilt of flying is motivating.

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR GREENER TRAVEL? Travel with your reusables. I always pack a reusable coffee cup, a bottle, cutlery from home, a cloth napkin, my stainless steel lunchbox or glass jar. I keep all these in a picnic basket in the car or wrapped up in the napkin in my purse or bag. We can and should create new social norms around these Earth-friendly alternatives.

FLIGHT-SHAMING - FAD OR FACT? Fact, but shame is not a great way to invite change. I do my best to lead by example. I cancelled all my 2019 mermaid retreats in Hawaii, Fiji, Western Australia and Hervey Bay, a difficult decision but they would have required a lot of mermaids to fly around this magical planet of ours.

WHAT'S THE ONE THING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY NEEDS TO FIX? Airlines should pay for flights to be carbon neutral instead of leaving it up to the conscious flyers to pay extra. See iquitplastics.com

HOW I HELP THE PLANET

DONNA LAWRENCE, RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL MANAGER, WORLD EXPEDITIONS

"When travelling with my family, we try to stay off the main tourist routes to learn about other ways of life and immerse ourselves in nature. I teach my children to respect wildlife and local customs, and we avoid single-use plastics by packing our own reusables and toiletries in small reusable containers."

DARRELL WADE, INTREPID TRAVEL CO-FOUNDER

"Carbon emissions from flying are huge and dwarf all other aspects of travel so I offset all my flights and take trains where I can. I also use public transport a lot; in large cities like New York, London and Shanghai it's often quicker than a cab and the emissions are lower."

SUJATA RAMAN, REGIONAL MANAGING DIRECTOR, ABERCROMBIE & KENT

"Animal welfare is vitally important to me and I won't participate in activities that go beyond simply observing animals from a distance in their natural habitats. I also try to be better informed about the hugely positive impact that travel can have on local communities and the environment when done well and how destructive it can be when it's not".

JAMIE SWEETING, VICE-PRESIDENT FOR SUSTAINABILITY, G ADVENTURES

"The most important thing for me is to ask: where is my money going? So I choose locally owned accommodations and restaurants to ensure that it's staying in the places I'm visiting and benefiting the planet and the people who need it most. I also want to support brands that are acting responsibly and pushing the industry forward."

TESS WILCOX, CEO OF WORLD RESORTS OF DISTINCTION

"Besides offsetting my carbon emissions and choosing brands that offset so I can double up, I try to engage with local communities to understand the impact of my travels on them and the environment, both positively and negatively. I also don't geo-tag remote locations on Instagram, to help reduce overtourism, and try to turn off my phone to get back to the essence of travel: having real adventures."

TEN OF THE BEST GREEN TRAVEL MOVES THIS YEAR

1. BE POSITIVE

Intrepid Travel, carbon neutral since 2010, announced it will be "climate positive" by next year, working with The Climate Foundation and the University of Tasmania to develop Australia's first seaweed carbon-drawdown farm, in Tasmania. See intrepidtravel.com

2. CLEAN AIR TIME

After flying the world's first zero-waste flight in May, from Sydney to Adelaide, Qantas announced in November it would cap net emissions from 2020, another world first, and aim for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. See qantas.com

3. PLASTIC-FREE

IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) said in July it will replace tiny toiletries with refillable bulk dispensers in more than 5600 hotels worldwide by 2021 to reduce plastic waste. See ihg.com

4. SEA CHANGE

Hurtigruten launched the world's first hybrid-powered cruise ship in July, with two more to be added by 2021 and plans to refit its entire Norwegian fleet for zero shore-based emissions by 2021. See hurtigruten.com.au

5. CHECKED IN

World Resorts of Distinction created the travel industry's first Conscious Travel Checklist, which includes 15 actions such as "offsets guests' carbon footprint" to help travellers book holidays wisely. See wrd.com.au

6. MORE TREES

World Expeditions started carbon offsetting all its trips from November, directly supporting renewable energy and reforestation projects across the world. See worldexpeditions.com

7. CLIMATE FRIENDLY

Travel companies such as Intrepid and Abercrombie & Kent joined more than 3000 businesses worldwide to support employees attending the Global Climate Strikes in September. See notbusinessasusual.co

8. SAVE THE CETACEANS

In October TripAdvisor vowed to stop promoting "attractions" that use captive dolphins and whales for entertainment following the lead of Virgin Australia and other airlines earlier this year.

9. GREEN SEAS

Royal Caribbean Cruises announced a range of almost 1400 sustainable shore excursions, certified by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, a year ahead of schedule. See royalcaribbean.com

10. ZERO KIWI

New Zealand scored points on its quest to lead the world in sustainable tourism by passing a law in November to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

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