Photo: Château De Cruix, a 16th-century Contiki property in the vineyards of Beaujolais, France

With travel picking back up again, we need to make sure we are reentering the world sustainably and consciously

With terms like "carbon neutral" and "carbon footprint" frequently being thrown around, travellers may be lost as to how to ensure they are truly minimizing their impact when travelling—or exactly what these terms even mean.

One of the leading companies for youth travel, Contiki is amplifying its commitment to sustainability by investing in two new carbon removal projects and committing to a Climate Action Plan to achieve carbon neutrality by January 1, 2022—at no extra cost to travellers.

We caught up with Tasha Hayes, Contiki’s global sustainability officer, to discuss the true meaning of these environmental buzzwords and ways to travel more sustainably.

“Essentially, 'carbon neutral' is a state of balance,” explains Hayes. “The primary component of becoming carbon neutral is reducing your carbon emissions—or greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) as much as possible. The next step is to balance the unavoidable emissions emitted by reducing the same amount of emissions elsewhere. The result is zero—or carbon neutrality.”

Since climate change is directly linked to greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, it is imperative that we collectively work towards a low carbon economy. Hayes shares that Contiki measures the emissions its trips produce, and invests in projects that have reduced the same amount of GHG emissions.

"Carbon footprint" is another word that travellers may need clarified. Hayes explains, "Your carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere because of your lifestyle and activities, measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tonnes CO2e)."

To support the transition to a low-carbon future, Contiki is investing in two carbon removal solutions to help manage its footprints. One is GreenWave, a regenerative ocean farming organization that is studying how kelp can be added to soil to increase its carbon storage potential, while decreasing harmful nitrous oxide emissions on regenerative farms.

The other is Project Vesta, which aims to harness the power of the oceans to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere by placing olivine, a readily available green volcanic mineral, on the beach. Here, wave action will speed up the carbon dioxide capture process and de-acidify the ocean.

But carbon offsets aren’t Contiki’s only strategy for addressing climate change. The company's Climate Action Plan aims to achieve carbon neutrality by way of investing in the development of carbon removal solutions and setting GHG reduction targets. The Plan consists of the following five points:

  1. Measure: Measure the emissions from doing business and trips.
  2. Reduce: Build on reduction efforts and set ambitious reduction targets by mid-2022.
  3. Remove: Through theTreadRight Foundation, invest in new technologies and nature-based solutions to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere.
  4. Offset: Purchase carbon credits to offset unavoidable emissions, including phasing in carbon neutral trips between 2022 and 2030.
  5. Evolve: Continue to learn from others, invest in new technologies and support strategic alliances that enable the company and the industry to move to a low carbon economy.

Contiki bikeContikiSo as we are all dreaming of and planning our next trip, how can we minimize our impact on the environment? Here are six tips for more sustainable travel.

  1. Travel by coach: Coaches (aka buses) are proven to emit fewer GHGs, per passenger, than trains or cars. Particularly, Contiki’s fleet across Europe use Euro6 engines—the cleanest available on the market— and sometimes the air leaving them is cleaner than the air that goes in.
  2. Go plastic-free with reusable items: Plastic is the biggest threat to our marine environments and over 70 percent of plastic water bottles end up in landfill. Packing a refillable water bottle and coffee cup, metal straws and a washable set of travel cutlery can go a long way and are simple—and frankly more convenient—alternatives to single-use plastics.
  3. Use public transport: Research public transport or shuttle availability in advance to help you get from the airport to your accommodation. Fewer cars on the road means fewer GHGs, plus your wallet will thank you. An even greener solution is walking or renting a bike where possible, and some hotels and hostels will even have them on-site.
  4. Eat more veggies: Meat production is the primary source of methane emissions—a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. When you’re travelling, opt for a new vegetarian or vegan dish and expand your palette, or even try working ‘meatless Mondays’ into your diet at home.
  5. Travel with a company that’s taken care of the details: It can be stressful to plan a vacation—and figuring out how to do it sustainably can add even more pressure. For a guilt and hassle-free holiday, travel with a company that’s already got it worked out like Contiki, on a mission to MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® guided by its not-for-profit, the TreadRight Foundation.
  6. Offset your carbon use: Being carbon neutral is the first step towards a low carbon economy, and is one way to ensure your vacations are having a minimal impact. You can offset your travels by investing in environmental projects that prevent or reduce emissions—and tools like South Pole, a partner of Contiki and TreadRight, help travellers measure impact while providing the option to purchase verified carbon credits to offset.

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Travel brings joy, purpose and fulfillment to those who are privileged enough to experience it, and although it isn't the most sustainable endeavour, it simply isn’t going away, so it’s critical we find ways to carve out a more eco-friendly future for the travel industry.