Are cycling holidays eco-friendly?
I think there’s an assumption that cycling and eco-friendly go hand in hand; after all bicycles don’t emit greenhouse gases.
But in truth, often cycling holidays are pretty un eco-friendly (flights, support vehicles, convenience foods, one-night hotel stops – and the list goes on!).
This summer I went on a cycling holiday in south-east Asia and it got me thinking about this topic. As someone that loves nature and has done plenty of travel, I regretted that I hadn’t thought about our environmental footprint more in advance and done things differently.
Here are the things I think I could have done to make our cycling holiday more eco-friendly. I’m sure there are many things I’ve missed. Please share your strategies for eco-friendly cycling and reducing the environmental impact of cycling holidays in the comments below.
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1. What is an eco-friendly cycling holiday?
To be eco-friendly is to act in a way that doesn’t harm the natural environment. So an eco-friendly cycling holiday is one that doesn’t harm the environment. Ideally it should be carbon neutral or at least reduce your carbon emissions as much as possible.
While a bicycle is eco-friendly in itself – and thus an environmentally friendly way to get around – many other factors also come into play when you go on holiday.
How you reach your destination and where you stay can have a big impact on how environmentally conscious your choice really is. For example, there’s a huge difference in your carbon footprint between travelling with your bike on the train as opposed to taking it in the car or on a plane. Staying at sustainable hotels can also help make your trip lower impact.
Benefits of eco-friendly cycling holidays
The main benefit of taking an eco-friendly cycling break, is that if done properly, it should reduce your impact on the environment compared with other kinds of holidays.
Here are a few reasons why cycling is a good option for the eco-conscious. Cycling UK’s paper takes a deep dive, but at a high level:
- Cycling reduces air and noise pollution. Every kilometre travelled by bike, rather than by car, means less carbon released into the atmosphere. It also means less noise pollution, which can have a detrimental effect on wildlife.
- Using cars, vans and buses less means fewer need to be produced. This can in turn reduce the deforestation that can be part and parcel of mining for metals and other materials. Cutting carbon emissions can also help to reduce global warming.
- Travelling by bike also reduces the requirement for paved space and increases the need for traffic-free space. As bikes take up less space than cars, more green areas can be preserved. Again, this has a positive impact on local fauna and flora.
We can all understand the benefits, but the implementation is often harder.
So, how do you go about having an eco-friendly cycling holiday?
2. Choose an eco-friendly cycling destination
Flying is often the fastest way to reach your destination. It’s also often the easiest mode of transport, and sometimes even the cheapest. But we all know that it’s not the most eco-friendly choice (more info from the BBC here).
Before booking your break, it’s worth thinking about how much you want to go somewhere that requires a flight. It’s perfectly possible to take a cycling trip abroad without boarding a plane. Driving, or even better, taking the train, can often be cheaper and faster than flying, especially for shorter distances. Choosing no fly cycling holidays can also reduce the hassles around transporting your bike overseas into the bargain!
If you do have to fly, an eco-conscious option is to sign up for a carbon off-setting programme (make sure it’s legit first…).
There’s also a lot to be said for flying less often and staying for longer in a destination. Is that a possibility for you?
Getting around when you’re there
Whether you drive, fly or take a train trip to your destination, you’ll also need to think about getting around once you’re there. Cycling will of course be part of the deal, but you may also want to reach starting points or further-flung places.
If you can stay somewhere with great riding from the door, this reduces the need for transfers. Destinations with great public transport – and trains in particular since they usually have more flexible bike policies than buses – will also help to ensure you have an eco-friendly cycling break.
What about the destination itself?
You can find examples of the greenest nations here and here. The top eco-conscious countries to go include the Scandinavian destinations of Sweden, Copenhagen in Denmark and Finland. Other good choices are Austria, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Switzerland.
It’s worth noting that these countries are all in the wealthy parts of Europe!
Of course, there’s a lot to be said for the benefits to local economies of spreading the tourist dollar to less eco-conscious and less wealthy countries too. However, be aware that they might be less set up for an eco-friendly kind of a stay, so it’s even more important to do your research and think through your packing list before you go (more on that below).
Having a holiday in your own country has the major advantage that you don’t need to travel far to get to your destination. Depending on your home country, it may also be possible to travel largely by public transport.
For those of us who live in the UK, you can find cycling staycation inspiration in our guides to the top UK cycling destinations, the best long-distance bike routes in Britain and the main UK cycling sportives to mark on your calendar.
For those living elsewhere, see if we have guides to cycling holidays in your country, here.
3. Choose an eco-friendly cycling tour company
If you choose a tour company to organise your trip, then try to make sure that it’s one with sound eco-conscious credentials. Here are some factors to look for when selecting which tour operator to book with.
What to look for
Cycling tour companies with appropriate accreditations are a good place to start. BCorp certification and Travelife are two examples. If a company is BCorp certified it means that they meet a range of responsible standards, including their performance relating to the environment. The “Travelife Certified” award means an independent auditor has conducted an on-site assessment and evaluated the business as achieving excellence in sustainability.
The company you use may also sign up to carbon reduction or offsetting schemes, such as via the Gold Standard carbon neutral business scheme. Operators might also make financial contributions to environmental charities.
Another thing to bear in mind is where the ground team is based. If you want to make your cycling holiday eco-friendly, ask where your guides are based and how they’ll be getting to your destination. Whether your guides are locals or are flying in might affect your decision whether to book.
If in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask before you book.
You could query whether or not they use renewable energy, and enquire about their recycling policies – such as office supplies or bicycle components.
- What happens to the rubbish you generate while you’re away? Does it get dumped in the nearest bin or do they separate the waste and recycle whatever they can?
- When it comes to cleaning bikes, do they pick environmentally friendly options?
- Is there a carbon offsetting scheme in place?
- Will they help you to travel to your destination by train?
- If it’s a bespoke trip you have in mind, then you could ask yourself whether or not you really need a support car trailing you at all times. Could you make do with an emergency contact instead, for instance?
When you do choose a company due to their eco credentials, don’t be shy about feeding this back to them. Equally important is to speak up if you think they need to improve in this area.
Check out our dedicated article for more general pointers on what to look for in a cycling tour company.
4. Choose eco-friendly cycling accommodation
Benefits of camping
Camping is one of the most eco-conscious choices when it comes to accommodation. The impact on the environment is minimal (assuming you’re not wild camping and leaving the place a mess!). As well as campsites using fewer materials than hotels, less use of water and power also means this is kinder to the environment.
Not only that, but camping can save you some serious cash to boot! For more ways to cut costs, why not take a look at our guide to budget cycling holidays?
What to look for in your accommodation
If you opt to stay in a B&B or hotel, the place you stay at can also make a big impact on your carbon footprint.
If it has any relevant accreditations – such as the Green Accommodation Initiative – then this can help you make a good choice. If you reserve your room via booking.com, you can also look out for the Travel Sustainable label on the listing.
Again you can ask in advance about the hotel’s credentials. You can also enquire after arrival if matters are not clear – such as how to recycle during your stay.
Our favourite eco-friendly cycling hotels include:
- Hotel Ribno at Lake Bled in Slovenia. The lovely owners of this property are the proud holders of a Zero Waste Hotel certificate, and natural materials are used throughout. Find out more here.
- Hotel Mas Pelegri in the Girona region of Spain is also a recommended eco-conscious choice. Here, boutique-style rooms belie the fact that the property is completely sustainable. The hotel is also totally off-grid, and very cyclist-friendly too. Read all about it here.
Other things to think about
To reduce waste, do think about staying for more than one night in each place. Working out how much cleaning and laundry a one-night stay generates should easily explain why this is a good idea! One option could be to base yourself in a single place and ride each day from there. You’ll find a lot of our destination guides take this approach, which also works well if you’re on a family holiday or want to stay in a self-catered holiday home rather than a hotel.
Accessing self-catering facilities and making your own packed lunches can also be more environmentally friendly. Not least due to the fact that you can cut down on plastic packaging. Staying at serviced apartments and youth hostels is also ideal for this.
5. Choose eco-friendly routes
There are things to consider when picking the route you’ll take, too.
If you can cycle straight out from your accommodation, so much the better. When there’s no need for transfers, this clearly reduces your carbon footprint.
If you’re on a multi-day tour, where could you avoid transfers between stops? If you can cycle instead, this will have a positive impact on the local environment – and the world as a whole.
Would it be possible to carry your own luggage, rather than having it transported by car, van, bus or train?
Read our article on cycle route planning for more tips.
6. What to pack to make your holiday more eco-friendly
Take your own water bottles
Using an eco-friendly cycling water bottle is so much kinder to the environment than drinking from disposable plastic bottles. There are so many on the market now, even those that incorporate a water filter. If it’s safe to do so at your destination, drinking tap water is far better for the planet than opting for expensive, often plastic wrapped, mineral or spring water.
As well as being eco-friendly, look for a water bottle labelled as being free from BPA and non-toxic. Amazon offers a good selection in all sizes, styles and colours, and to suit all budgets.
Make sure you choose one that’s good quality; if you care about the environment, you don’t want to be chucking it away after a few uses. On that note, if you travel with a tour company, don’t feel you have to accept their freebie water bottle. Do you need another (possibly not high quality) bottle in your life?!
Patches for inner tubes
Rather than binning an inner tube that’s been punctured, you can patch repair it. Take along some bike patch repair kits with you.
Pack homemade snacks if possible
Taking your own homemade snacks along for the ride can help to cut waste. Particularly when the ready-made alternative uses a lot of packaging. Avoid using plastic bags and cling film for storage, opting for resealable tubs and containers instead.
Rechargeable bike lights
If your bike lights are rechargeable rather than using batteries, then this can be much more gentle on the environment. You can now buy many brands of USB rechargeable bike lights.
Eco-friendly cycle cleaning products
Choosing eco-conscious cleaning products for your bike can also help to reduce your environmental impact while increasing the longevity of your bike. You can buy cleaners like Muc-Off and Loam Foam as stand-alone products, or invest in a set to keep your wheels gleaming.
Buy from sustainable brands
Whatever you need to pack for your trip, purchasing it from a sustainable brand can also make a difference.
On that note, bringing your own eco-friendly toiletries rather than using the (possibly plastic encased) hotel products is one small thing you can do.
Every little helps, right?
Marine-safe sun protection for swimming
If your cycling trip will involve a cooling dip in the pool or the ocean, then selecting a reef-safe sun protection formula can go a long way. Sun Bum and Safe Sea are two of the most popular choices.
Maintain your bike to keep it running
A well-maintained bike will last for longer, which in turn reduces your environmental impact. Service it, clean it and lubricate it regularly, and every part should stand the test of time. This can also save you from breakdowns – or even an accident – and will reduce long-term costs too.
Eco-friendly cycling jersey and kit
Buying an eco-friendly cycling jersey might involve choosing one that’s made from sustainable materials. Equally, it might mean picking a product that will last for as long as possible.
One of our favourite suppliers, Stolen Goat, covers all of their cycling clothing with a lifetime guarantee. This means it’s built to last so you should need to replace it less often, again saving both your bank balance and the planet.
For more info on packing, do check out our packing list!
7. Think while you’re on the road
Don’t drop litter
It might seem like a no-brainer, but leaving a trail of litter behind you can be disastrous for the planet. Just don’t do it! It’s bad for the wildlife that it could injure or kill, as well as the world in general.
You can also help by picking up litter you see along the way.
Consider where you dispose of your own waste, too, and question whether this will be recycled. If not, you could hold onto it until you can dispose of it in a suitable recycling bin.
Use your water bottles
If you treat yourself to a shiny new water bottle in honour of your trip, then for goodness’ sake don’t forget to pack it. Or to go ahead and use it. Repeatedly.
Buy food from markets
When you are away and shopping for on-the-go snacks, picking them up at a local market can be a far more eco-conscious choice than a supermarket. Take your own reusable bags along and you can use far less packaging than by shopping at the average supermarket.
Use local, family-run restaurants
Dine out at a family-run restaurant where you’re staying and you might not only be supporting the local economy. Feasting on locally sourced food is much more likely at this type of establishment than it is at most chain eateries.
If you really want to reduce your carbon footprint, you could also carefully consider how much meat you’re eating. Meat free meals are often healthier and almost always cheaper. Growing the ingredients also involves production methods that are much gentler on the planet than the breeding, rearing and slaughter of livestock.
Both my recent cycling trip to south-east Asia and putting together this article have certainly made me think twice about how to truly have an eco-friendly cycling holiday. There have been some serious lessons learnt here, for me. As a result, I’m determined to try harder to be more sustainable going forward.
Just because bikes don’t emit greenhouse gases it doesn’t mean that every cycling holiday is as environmentally friendly as it could be. As you can see, there are so many things to think about – from how you get there and where you stay to what you eat, drink from and even your clothing.
Looking after your bike and buying the right kit when something needs replacing can also play their part when it comes to your environmental impact.
Do you have any tips and tricks to share with our readers when it comes to eco-conscious cycling? Is there anything you feel I’ve missed? If so, please do let us know in the comments below!
For more inspiration when planning your next cycling trip, check out our posts on the A to Z of planning a cycling holiday, our complete destinations library and the best destinations in Europe for a break with your bike.
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