13 ways to travel better
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that predicting the future of travel is a fool’s game. Our world is not stable and travelers are particularly vulnerable to its upheavals.
But the future also looks bright, as advances in technology, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), promise to break down some of the obstacles we currently face, from lost luggage to endless waits at the registration.
Will trains be faster and cruises greener? Will biometric facial recognition make all immigration lines redundant? Will we be able to combine our work life with our travel life more seamlessly using technology? It’s quite likely.
The progress that urgently needs to be made to reduce the huge carbon footprint of travel, especially in aviation, is gaining momentum.
Which is the good news because there won’t be much of a future for travel if that doesn’t happen, and soon. As individual travelers, what we can do may seem small, but cumulatively it could have a major positive impact.
Here are some ways to travel like it’s the future right now.
TAKE A BIG STEP A SMALL JOURNEY
Despite aviation’s accelerated efforts to create more energy-efficient planes, the aspect of your travel that emits the most greenhouse gases will be flying and that’s not expected to change any time soon. The International Air Transport Association projects that the number of air passengers will reach 8.2 billion in 2037, doubling current emissions if nothing is done. The best thing we can do now is to drastically reduce the number of flights we take, especially international flights. This does not mean that vacations abroad are redundant. The idea is to fly less often. Try not to fly shorter distances at all (and if you have a Lear Jet, definitely not). Think local for most vacations and save for the biggest and best trip abroad, maybe every three years instead of shorter ones every year. Stay longer once there. Fly economy as it reduces your share of emissions.
LIGHT YOUR LOAD
Airports are a promising future technology that keeps track of your luggage every step of the way by tagging it with an identifier, which can be tracked by you through an app. But with the global baggage crisis showing no signs of abating (220,000 bags were lost, damaged and delayed by US airlines in just one month this year), passengers are likely to be vulnerable to lost baggage for some time to come. a few years. Some passengers regain minimal control by packing Apple AirTags and other GPS or Bluetooth trackers. But in the end, these devices only tell you roughly where your luggage is, not how to retrieve it. The easiest answer, now and in the future, is to travel only with hand luggage. The bonus is that the lighter your luggage, the lower your carbon footprint. Carry-on may not work for all trips, but once you take the plunge, you realize how convenient it is. You can do it.
OFF SEASON HOLIDAYS
Lower price. Skip the peak season crowds. Provide needed income to locals when there are fewer tourists. There are several reasons why traveling in low season is a good idea. And now there is the weather to consider. While warm weather has often been a major draw, the scorching heat waves we have experienced this European summer are not unique. This is a trend that will accelerate, according to climatologists. Travelers who avoid hot destinations in the summer may find they should also avoid cooler ones (Paris isn’t so wonderful at 40 degrees). And we all need to prepare for more storms, bushfires, floods and hurricanes that will disrupt travel with their unpredictability. Traveling outside of peak times means you’re fighting for rescheduled seats with fewer crowds.
AVOID PLACES SUFFERING FROM OVERTOURISM
Many communities have had enough already. Hawaii is begging tourists to stop visiting now that the state has seen what life is like without hordes of tourists clogging roads and beaches. Venice eventually banned larger cruise ships from entering the lagoon. The Amalfi Coast has restricted car traffic and Maya Beach in Thailand has even been closed to tourists indefinitely. A host of other popular countries and cities have started listening to their residents and imposing restrictions on visitor numbers. Expect more of this. We can do our part by choosing the road less traveled – destinations that welcome tourists and survive primarily on tourist dollars (Fiji rather than Hawaii for example.) And once there, don’t behave as if we were guests in someone’s house.
Traveling by train is a greener option than flying. Photo: iStock
Unfortunately we cannot take a train from Australia to London or New York – planes are involved – but we can ensure that the land component of our journeys is by rail. It emits only a fraction of the greenhouse gases of air travel. Not all trains are alike – diesel trains emit twice as much CO2 as electric trains, for example – but even these are a cleaner option than flying. Consider a long-distance train trip instead of a cruise, or add a shorter three- or five-day train trip to your itinerary and use it as a way to get from point A to point B. ( The West Highland Line or The Glacier Express through the Swiss Alps for example). If you have the time, it is possible to train it across Asia, and to connect in Europe. The increase in the number of high-speed trains in the future will mean that a “slow” mode of travel will also be the most efficient.
TAKE WHAT YOU NEED AND NOTHING MORE
As resources become scarce, this simple rule is one of the most important guiding principles for the good traveler. There is still a lot of “greenwashing” in the hospitality industry where hotels exaggerate their green credentials to better market themselves and it will get worse until it is constantly called out. But you don’t have to be part of it. If the bathroom still has those little plastic bottles of shampoo and shower gel, don’t remember them or they’ll get replenished and create more landfills. (An estimated 1.1 billion tons of plastic waste will pour into the oceans and landfills by 2040 if no action is taken.) Turn off the air conditioning or turn it up a degree or two – you won’t don’t need an arctic coin. Keep water usage to a minimum. Use towels and sheets sparingly. Eat everything on your plate if you’re at the buffet. Only open a plastic water bottle if it is unavoidable. Let the hotel know what you think if it doesn’t meet the standards it claims or you expect.
MORE SAFE CRUISE
The cruise industry is aiming for net carbon neutrality by 2050 (a topic covered in more detail in this special edition) but it will take a lot of engineering advances and a lot of regulatory oversight to get there. Smaller shipping lines such as Aurora and Hurtigruten are moving forward with carbon-neutral, hybrid-powered ships and Disney is switching to cleaner LPG, but the seas are still ruled by large conventional fossil-fuel ships, which will become more like floating islands, cities or skyscrapers at sea, creating even more emissions by powering all those restaurants, nightclubs and game rooms. The problem isn’t just pollution – it’s the effect thousands of tourists have on both local communities and ecosystems.
Embrace technology, don’t fight it
Travelers are already connecting to AI at every step of their journey, from chatbots answering questions (or driving us crazy for not answering questions) on airline homepages to smart gates with facial recognition. Robotic assistants help us check in at airports. Hotels are mostly paperless, offering room service menus via QR codes. Countries like Sweden are cashless. Cryptocurrencies are now accepted in many places. In our hands we have phones that contain a collection of applications and allow us to enter our hotel rooms with a digital door key. Destinations are starting to use augmented reality to provide graphic overlays that highlight key information on your phone. Virtual reality is becoming commonplace for visits to resort suites, airplane cabins, museums and attractions. Future travel will be all about “personalization” via algorithms, so travelers need to think now about what information they are willing to give and to whom.
Five more tips for traveling well now (and in the future)
CHOOSE HUMAN TRANSPORT WHEN YOU CAN
The pandemic has seen an increase in active travel, including biking, hiking and running, as travelers combine outdoor recreation and fitness with their vacations. The walking is free and good for you and the world is best viewed at a slower pace. There are bike paths and walking paths in each destination.
TRAVEL LIKE YESTERDAY
Take it slow and go wild. Think of the joys you had on vacation when you were a child. Limit devices. Immerse yourself in forests, deserts and wilderness. Connect with nature and understand why we must protect it at all costs.
GET INVOLVED IN SOCIAL ENTERPRISE
As someone wise once said, “The question isn’t ‘what am I going to do?’ The question is: “What does the world expect of me?”
HOLIDAYS AT HOME
So stays seem like 2020 but there are still plenty of places nearby that are worth a closer look or a return visit. Exploring your own backyard is one of the most sustainable ways to travel. And in Australia, we are lucky to have such a big garden.
TRY A LITTLE KINDNESS
And finally, travel with kindness. The pandemic has seen the establishment of new etiquettes around health and safety and brought about new types of bad behavior such as mask rage. The future of travel may test our patience and nerves even more. If someone is struggling, give them a break. You will get the kindness returned in buckets.