Traveling isn’t the most environmentally friendly activity. However, for some of us, the desire to travel is irresistible. The good news is: it’s easy to minimize our carbon footprints, and make this environmentally unfriendly activity greener and more sustainable. Keep in mind that a lot of these tips can be used outside of travel as well.
Here are 9 tips and tricks to being a more environmentally focused and green traveler.
1. Pick the right destination
Picking the right destination is probably the most difficult, yet most important aspect of beginning an eco-friendly travel journey. Here are some questions to consider and research:
- Is there a system in place to support local products and services and empower the local economy?
- Seek out local tour guides (they are typically the most knowledgeable as well!). Buy handmade products and produce from street markets instead of supermarkets to support the local economy. Buying local produce will reduce your "food mileage," too!
- Is it possible to support socio-cultural preservation?
- UNESCO defines culture-tourism as “a discerning type of tourism that takes account of other people’s cultures” (UNESCO, 2005). Consider locations that preserve local cultures, communities, and religions rather than destroying them. Here is an interesting academic study done by three German professors that examines this topic more in depth.
- Does the country or city have proper environmental impact management standards?
- Look for destinations that have proper waste management systems, energy consumption monitoring, water contamination and consumption monitoring, recycling programs, and commit themselves to conserving the natural biodiversity.
- A great example of this is Costa Rica. The Costa Rican government set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2021 and dramatically changed their deforestation policies. Adventure tourism and ecotourism generates 50% of Costa Rica's GDP, so by supporting sustainable tourism you can help ensure a decreased economic need for deforestation.
- Here's another example: a study published a few years ago proves that shark ecotourism is more economically viable than the shark finning industry. Save sharks by swimming with them, it's that simple!
These are three important questions think about when finding the best place to go on your next trip! For a good list of eco-friendly and green destinations, click here.
2. Pick a sustainable method of travel
If you have to fly to your destination, try to reduce or offset the carbon emissions of your flight. Flying is probably the most unsustainable part of every trip, but there are some ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Try to book direct flights whenever possible. Take-off and landing consume the most fuel, so limiting the number of flights is a good first step to reducing your trip’s harm on the environment. You can calculate and offset the emissions of your trip with Carbon Footprint, an online tool that allows you to donate the cost of your CO2 emissions to sustainability projects.
Traveling over land is also a good alternative to flying. A cross-country drive from Boston to San Francisco in a medium-sized, 5-passenger vehicle emits about 850kg of CO2. A one-way flight in a coach seat emits about 980kg of CO2 (a first class ticket more than triples the CO2 emissions to 3,520kg). The difference between flying and driving may seem small, but split those emissions into fifths by road-tripping with 4 friends, and you can make a significant impact.
If you’re trying to travel more green, there is no better time to take that long-dreamt about road trip with a few friends. For some inspiration, check out Jubel’s guide to an amazing Baja road trip on our travel blog!
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3. Pick the right place to stay
Do a little research before you pick where you’ll be staying. Understandably, you may want a relaxing vacation where you don’t have to camp or stay in ultra-eco-friendly accommodations. But, there are still ways to have a luxurious and relaxing vacation while also being green.
Pick a hotel that is committed to eco-friendly initiatives. Generally, Marriott, Starwood and Wyndham are leaders in the field of chain hotels committed to green-initiatives. Look for hotels that are LEED Certified, or show on their website that they are committed to sustainability, offer local tours, have bikes available for rent, and solar panels, etc. It’s difficult to control large hotel chains’ carbon emissions, and “green” standards can differ depending on the country or region, so you can make the largest impact!
4. Be a “green” hotel guest
- Try to limit your use of air-conditioning and heat! Most hotels will be happy to provide you with a more electricity efficient portable fan or more blankets during your stay.
- Wash your clothes yourself. Most hotels do every guest’s laundry separately, wasting a lot of water.
- Reuse your towels. Most hotels nowadays know that if you hang up your towel you want to reuse it. But, if you find that they are washing your towel everyday, tell them you don’t mind using it multiple times.
- Avoid using the small bottles of soap hotels give you and bring your own reusable, travel size, TSA approved, BPA free bottles. Treating a hotel room like your own home is always a good rule of thumb.
- Take shorter showers, turn off the lights and TV, and don’t unreasonably dirty your room; cleaning chemicals can be toxic for the environment, too.
These few, small changes can dramatically alter your environmental impact during hotel stays!
5. Pack light
Do you find yourself trying to bring your entire closet on a trip? If so, try to pack lighter to be more environmentally friendly! The extra weight in the cargo-hold of airplanes dramatically increases fuel consumption.
Extra bags or more weight can also make it more difficult to walk, bike, or take public transportation. If you’re looking for some new, eco-friendly luggage, check out LightGear, a company devoted to making sustainable, high quality travel gear.
6. Walk, bike, or use public transportation
Skip the taxis and Ubers! Private transportation uses more gas, and likely costs more than taking the metro, walking or biking. Most major cities now have bike sharing systems that are either free or cost just a few dollars. You can also see so much more of a city by traveling on foot or by bike, making your trip more rewarding and memorable.
7. Avoid non-biodegradable plastics whenever possible
This is probably the most difficult. Plastics are everywhere, and they are polluting the world’s oceans and landfills. There is an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone, a mass of ocean plastics accumulating between California and the Hawaiian Islands about twice the size of Texas. This is only one of five masses of plastic floating in the world’s oceans that is killing marine life and altering the trajectory of ocean ecology. For more information about ocean plastics and a cleanup project click here. Now, you may be asking, what can you do to help? Here are some things you can do:
- Avoid plastic bottled water. This is difficult when traveling to places without clean water, but here is a water bottle that claims to filter out 99.99% of all contaminants and chemicals. It is $50, but will save you a lot of money in the long run!
- Avoid plastic bags and bring your own reusable ones. Here's a list of some of the best in 2018.
- Avoid plastic utensils and use biodegradable or reusable ones instead.
- Replace your straws and toothbrushes with these biodegradable, natural, bamboo alternatives.
This is also a good rule to follow outside of traveling. Reducing your use of plastics in daily life by following these tips will make a positive environmental impact. Some organizations and individuals are joining the challenge to ‘Choose to Refuse’ single use plastics with a non-profit called Plastic Free July. Check out their page to learn more about how you can get involved.
8. Choose sustainable tours
This is as simple as picking one tour company over another. Do your best to find tours that are committed to preserving the environment as much as they are committed to showing it to you. It’s also best to choose tours with fewer people to lessen your ecological impact.
Opting for local tour operators that know about the natural habitats can aid in preservation efforts, and lessen ecological disruption. Even better, help the environment by doing a dive trip to hunt lionfish, an invasive species in the Gulf that is threatening native fish species and coral. Or, find a company like Ilha Blue in Mozambique which is committed to responsible whale watching. Ecotourism has become a massive world-wide movement and there are tours everywhere that commit themselves to green travel and supporting the ecological systems they explore.
9. Volunteering (Voluntouring)
“Voluntourism” is a growing market for travel companies. It’s important to consider different programs and regions of the world, to ensure that what you’ll be doing makes a real impact. For some more valuable information, check out Projects Abroad’s Voluntourism page.
Not only can you travel more eco-friendly and guilt free, but often times, these tips will save you money. By traveling with no checked bags, you’ll avoid those expensive airline bag-checking fees. Traveling in coach will have less of a negative environmental impact than that expensive business-class seat. Walking, biking, and taking public transportation is much cheaper than renting a car, or using taxis and rideshares. Buying from local merchants and street vendors will save you money not to mention the meaningful value of a handmade souvenir. Avoid those expensive shopping malls. These small changes will dramatically alter your impact on the environment, and your wallet, allowing you to travel the beautiful world we live in without harming it in your wake.
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