Beyond Borders is TEDxLondon’s exploration of different topics and ideas that inspire and intrigue us. In this edition, we ask whether the pandemic will lead to a travel revolution…
There is a distinct chill in the air in London. It’s the time of year when you find yourself reaching for a jumper, swapping your iced black for a warming cup of tea and – if you’re anything like the TEDxLondon team – you start to daydream about new notebooks and freshly-sharpened pencils. As August draws to a close, usually we would have a reliable bank of quintessential summer memories to ease us into September: the smell of suncream, the shock of plunging into a cold ocean, the taste of fresh pasta washed down with white wine in a darkening piazza. This year, however, everything looks different.
As discussions of a second wave of COVID-19 loom large and quarantine rules continue to change, booking a holiday carries a distinct risk. Even if you decide to head to the airport, the mandatory masks and temperature screenings mean that travel is no longer the carefree activity it once was. The weight of fear and indecision hanging over our travel choices is having a significant impact beyond our nostalgia for sun, sea and sand.
One of the world’s most important economic sectors – the tourism industry -supports the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world, including women, young people and indigenous communities. Data from the UN World Tourism Organisation shows that 100-120 million tourism jobs are at risk, while the UN Conference on Trade and Development has forecast a loss of up to 2.8% of global GDP. It’s not just our economies that are losing out; travel also promotes greater tolerance and understanding between individuals and communities from all corners of the world. When empathy seems in short supply, meaningful travel could be part of the solution.
On the other hand, there’s a high environmental cost to our travel habits. Pre-pandemic, the global aviation industry was responsible for around 2% of all human-induced CO2. The tourism sector as a whole requires heavy energy and fuel consumption and places stress on land systems, threatening the existence of some of the world’s most beautiful, natural and untouched places. Many of these locations are home to communities who themselves create minimum impact but who nonetheless pay the price for our environmental privilege: taking one return flight generates more CO2 than citizens of some countries produce in a year.
As planes are grounded and we are forced into reassessing every aspect of our usual way of life, is now the time to rethink our approach to travelling and embrace a more conscious way of moving about the world?
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
How to be a conscious traveller
- Embrace technology: In order to reduce your carbon footprint, you first have to know what you’re working with. New apps like Lytely can help you track your carbon footprint when you travel and even offer handy ways to offset your impact.
- Organise a staycation:
After months of Zoom calls, we’re craving fresh air, open spaces,
beautiful surroundings, perhaps a country pub or two – all of those
things exist right here in the UK! There are so many places to discover
that are a simple train ride away. Speaking of which…
- Plan a train journey:
There are few travel experiences more relaxing than a quiet train
carriage, a pile of snacks and a great book. As well as being a more
sustainable option for discovering new destinations, trains carry a
certain romance (when they’re not packed with angry commuters). To get
in the mood, check out the train-themed Sleep stories on the Calm app and allow yourself to be transported.
- If you must fly, fly smart: When
planning your flights, take the most direct route possible and avoid
changes or layovers if you can. If you’re going further afield, embrace
‘slow travel’ – take fewer flights and stay there for longer. It’s also
more carbon efficient to fly economy – first class seats can result in a
5x larger carbon footprint. Save your money, save the planet.
- Explore cities on two wheels:
Many cities across the world have taken the quiet lockdown period as an
opportunity to become more bike-friendly, making them an ideal choice
for a weekend of eco-exploring.
- Book green: When
booking your accommodation, as well any tours or tourist experiences,
look for places with green accreditations like Green Globe and Green
Key. Try to avoid large, all-inclusive resorts that tend to generate a
lot of waste.
- Pack your eco essentials: Make
space in your bag for your water bottle or reusable coffee cup to save
on single-use plastic while you’re away, and decant your usual
toiletries into small, reusable bottles rather than stocking up on
travel-sized minis at the airport.
- Spend wisely and locally: Rather than getting carried away in the typical tourist shops, try to spend your hard-earned holiday money in places that benefit the local communities.
What is sustainable tourism?
As defined by the World Tourism Organisation: “Sustainable tourism is development [which] meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support system.”
Close your eyes and image yourself here…
L-R: Yorkshire Dales, Isle of Skye, Anglesey, The New Forest
Further Reading: The road less travelled
- Do you agree with this ranking of London’s railway stations?
- 10 of the world’s most sustainable cities
- The UN’s official statement on tourism post-COVID 19
- Consumers want tech that can protect the planet, not take them to space
- Britain’s 10 best rail journeys
- Should I fly? Coronavirus and #BlackLivesMatter showed me the answer.
- What is greenwashing?