Guide to Green Holidaying | Julia Muller
Green Guide to Holidaying | Summer 2017
by Julia Muller
To us, European millenials, the world is at our feet; we are globetrotters, we want to discover places far beyond French camp sites and Italian lakes. Europe seems to have become a dull place, maybe because it’s always right there, right in front of our noses. I am pledging for a rediscovery of our continent as a tourist destination, which is equally interesting as exotic far-away locations. The close-to-home, slow-travel nature of ecological travelling enables our green activist selves to crawl into our tents at night with a clear consciousness.
On the wall of my old student room I hung a so-called scratch map; a map of the world that allows you to scratch away it’s golden upper layer as soon as you’ve visited a country, in order to uncover the country’s bright color. Scratching the map has become a sport – every year I want to reveal at least three new places. Looking at the map for some time made me realize something: we, young Europeans, are constantly stimulated to leave our continent. Whether it is to go on a classic southeast Asia trip – with full-moon parties, sex on the beach and Thai cooking classes –, road tripping through the US in an old Volkswagen van, or travelling Latin America south to north, learning Spanish on the way; the sky is the limit. I wonder about the carbon footprint I myself am creating, just by scratching my way through this world. Our childhood vacations have gotten us familiar with picturesque French camp sites and Italian grand Lago’s, while our study-abroad experiences have brought us friends to visit all over Europe and the rest of the world. Add some cheap flights and our fluency in English to that cocktail and there you have it; the ultimate world traveler. Admittedly, yours sincerely is the embodiment of this development and thus it is with some self-reflection that I am writing this.
Yes, I could whine about our carbon footprint all week. Pressuring you to become a vegetarian, or even vegan, harassing your choice of fast fashion and critiquing your yearly Ryanair quota. In 2012, aviation emissions accounted for 3% of Europe’s total greenhouse gas emissions, yet they came with an increase of 87% since 1990. According to this 2016 European Commission report, aviation emissions currently comprise 14% of all EU transport NOX emissions and 7% of the total. If, like me, you are actually worried about the ecological marks you are leaving on this planet while exploring it, you might want to look into destinations that are much closer to home than your average millennial-discovers-the-world-and-myself-far-far-away travels and, while we’re at it, some alternative modes of travel within the endlessly diverse corners of Europe.
With summer 2017 in full swing, let’s rediscover our continent. What does Europe still have to offer to feed our hungry adventurer hearts? And what is our role in the development of responsible, green tourism? The United Nations World Tourism Organization has proclaimed 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development (UNWTO). The aim of these 12 months is to celebrate and promote the contribution of the tourism sector to building a better world. The UNWTO Secretary General mentions tourism’s immense potential to stimulate economic prosperity, social inclusion, peace, understanding, cultural and environmental preservation. So how does that tap into us, Europeans millennials, and our holiday plans? It almost seems to good to be true; exploring the world, while making it a better place at the same time.
I’m sure you’ve heard of InterRail, Couchsurfing and WorkAway; all three initiatives that promote conscious, slow travelling that connects tourists to local communities, while allowing for a low-cost holiday experience. Recently, the proposal of granting every European 18-year-old a free interrail-pass has been discussed in the European Parliament. According to Manfred Weber, Chairman of the EPP Group, “such a program would give the opportunity to all young people regardless of their social and educational background to discover Europe’s diversity and promote Interrail travel as a pragmatic way to reduce carbon foot print". Travelling our continent might create a sense of belonging and attachment to places many of us are not completely familiar with. In addition, moving by train creates a consciousness of the geographical distances, changes in landscapes and weather conditions. Instead of hopping on a plane in Düsseldorf, to set foot in Athens only three hours later, slow-travel allows tourists to really ‘feel’ the places they visit, and this includes getting there and back.
In a report published by the UNWTO, ‘The Power of Youth Travel’, youth travellers are said to be the leading positive change in the tourism sector. Young travellers generally spend more time at their destination, they are more likely to return in the future and they are less likely to abstain from going to places because of political and civil unrest or natural disasters. By using new technologies, such as the aforementioned online initiatives, and contributing to the places they visit, young travellers are in fact pioneers in the tourism sector.
In turn, travelling contributes to young people’s personal development in a multiplicity of ways. It’s a form of learning, a way of meeting new people and other cultures. It’s a source of career development, a means of self-development and, eventually, will become part of their identity. “Gathering together and sharing intense experiences creates the conditions for young people to develop tolerance, cultural awareness and a better understanding of international relations", the report states.
There you have it; if we connect our different European origins with the opportunities travelling offers us, and add a little bit of ‘green’ to this sustainable-travel-cocktail, we can only conclude that rediscovering our continent through tourism is one of the most constructive ways to explore our European identities. Concretely though, what are the alternatives to good-old city trips to Europe’s beautiful capitals or tanning-the-time-away at the Mediterranean coast?
I did a little pre-exploration for you and emerged myself into the wonders of the worldwide web. Beware; after reading this, you might never want to leave Europe again!
1. Hike ‘n Bike.
If you’re into history, but also enjoy using your muscles while on holidays, the Iron Curtain Trail might be just your perfect destination. Stretching over 6800 km of cycling routes, the trail connects the Barents Sea on the Norwegian-Russian border, all the way down to the Black Sea, following the traces of the Iron Curtain. Biking the trail, cyclists get to experience Europe’s history, its cultural borders and politics in a unique way. All while traversing the continent from north to south and passing through areas that are not traditionally thought of as tourist destinations. For busy millennials that don’t have time to cover the entire 6800 km, there is the Berlin Wall Trail, which is a 155 km long wall along Berlin’s political heritage, cultural landmarks and natural beauty. Find the official website, route of the trail and brochure here.
Even if you’re not much of an active traveler, there is a lot more on offer than the standard Mediterranean beaches or city trips. Europe has a multiplicity of islands that you have probably never heard of, but that easily satisfy your needs. The delight of the vicinity of water and the lack of a sunburn is enough reason to check out this list. For example, the Scottish beaches of the Outer Hebrides have an almost Caribbean feel to them because of the fine white sand and turquoise water. My personal favorite is a little island located in the middle of Lake Bled, in Slovenia. The lake is known for its fresh mountain water and the international rowing competitions held there, but if you are more of a recreational rower, you can rent a small boat to get to the island. Additionally, the train ride coming from Italy, Austria or Croatia is one of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever taken. The old-fashioned red train covered in graffiti and with wooden 4-person benches passes by rivers and valleys. Insider’s tip: stick out your head through the window and let the wind blow away your lips.
As opposed to visiting Europe’s capitals - which most of us twenty-something’s might have probably covered extensively by now - why not explore some of the smallest villages? Villages usually allow you to connect to local people much easier and often have not been influenced by globalization and gentrification too much. Especially in some of the less prosperous regions, such as southern Italy, former East-Germany and many of the Balkan countries, you can enjoy village life to its fullest, while contributing to the local economy by being there. Leave your Lonely Planet for what it is and let the next interesting looking highway exit guide you. Find some more suggestions here and plan the rest of your trip around the expertise and suggestions of locals.
4. Having no destination at all.
For the courageous hearts out there; why plan a holiday if you can let the circumstances lead you somewhere?! With a map, hiking boots, a tent and a smile on your face, you’d be surprised as to how far you will get. Ken Welsh’s ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe’, written in the early seventies, is still relevant today and a true must-read! At nightfall, you can either set up camp or find a local to crash with on Couchsurfing. If you have a lot of time on your hands, you can even find last-minute hosts on workaway.com and exchange food and board for labor.
Of course, we cannot and will not abstain from exploring places far away in terms of distance and cultural overlap. My bucket list is still overflowing with destinations that require me to get on a plane for at least 8 hours. But, if every once in a while, we take the time to try and find some golden patches on Europe’s surface that we haven’t scratched away, we might not always feel the need to find pleasure elsewhere. It could be right around the corner.