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How to Find a Low Carbon Holiday

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

It’s that time of year when lots of us really look forward to some sun and start planning for summer holidays. There are so many options, choices, places to visit, promises of eco travel and eco holidays, but which one do you choose? Jo Hand, founder of GIKI, guides us through the holiday finding process with a carbon friendly twist!

It can be hard to work out which options are best. So we have mapped out some of the most important decisions that influence the impact of holidays, to make it easier to decide how to opt for a lighter footprint holiday.

There are three key areas where your choices will have the biggest impact on the environmental footprint of your holiday:

1. How you get there

2. Type of accommodation you choose

3. How far you go

How you get there

Road, rail and air are the most frequently used forms of holiday transport.

Trains are the clear winners when it comes to a lighter footprint. They emit 80% less carbon than cars, so for a 100 mile journey, a petrol car pumps out over 30kg of carbon, for a train it’s just 4kg per person.

Cars are the second most carbon emitting holiday transport after air travel. But driving more efficiently, can make a surprising difference. If you take it at a gentler speed of 50mph, this is 25% more efficient than 70mph! In addition, having a full car in terms of people is much more efficient than driving alone. And the most carbon efficient form of all is an electric car.

Air travel is the option that has the heaviest footprint. It has higher emissions than many other forms of travel because on top of the large amounts of fuel burnt, the vapour trails that planes leave create a certain type of cloud that traps heat. The emissions from one return ticket from London to New York are roughly equivalent to that of heating a typical home in the EU for a whole year. So planes definitely ratchet up the footprint of your holidays and are frequently the largest component.

How far?

This one is often overlooked, but distance is key.

Basically the further you travel, the heavier the footprint.

So an economy return flight to New York will emit 5 times more carbon emissions compared to a short haul flight to Ibiza.

Equally, driving to southern Europe, will have a much higher impact than nipping down the motorway in the UK for a few hours.

Where to stay?

Camping is definitely the best option when it comes to light footprint holidays. If you choose a tent, your accommodation footprint will be 18 times less than if you stay the same period in a 5 star hotel. But if a tent does not appeal, self catered apartments can have a fairly light footprint too.

In contrast, a luxury hotel has one of the heaviest carbon footprints per person per night. This is due to the combination of electricity and power that enable all the luxury items to function. If you opt for a 3 star hotel instead, the footprint here is more than halved – and is around the same as a self-catered house.

But if you are a lover of luxury holidays, there is one option that is best to avoid for the benefit of the planet and this is cruises. Even the footprint of a five star hotel is dwarfed by that of a cruise holiday. This is because cruises combine transport and a hotel all in one, giving you big emissions and on top of that, they also emit pollutants into the sea that harm wildlife. Plus of course, you generally have to fly to get to the starting point!

Weighing up the options

With the choice of thousands of holiday options, there’s so much we can do to lighten our holiday footprint. We have mapped out the footprint for 3 types of holiday, each for a week, to show how huge the differences can be.

1. Camping in Cornwall. Travel by train from London to get there. 35 kilos per person.

2. Holiday Apartment in Malaga, southern Spain, with economy return flights, 548 kilos.

3. A visit to Disney World Florida, with return economy flights to Orlando and staying in a 5 star hotel. 2835 kilos. (Or if you took a private jet to Malaga, the footprint would be around the same!)

So if you are on the hunt for a super eco holiday this year, trains rule, try camping, or self catered apartments and don’t go too far! Thankfully the UK has so many beautiful spots and the trains in much of Europe work so well!

About the Author: Jo Hand is the co-founder of GIKI app, which allows you to get informed and learn the impact of your UK supermarket products for a more sustainable lifestyle. You can download the UK GIKI app here.

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