When you’re on vacation, you might be inclined to let all of your eco-friendly habits slide. But just because you’re going on a getaway doesn’t mean you have to leave your environmentally responsible practices behind.
Of course, you should be able to get some much-deserved rest and relaxation on your trip. But you might not realize how easy it is to travel with eco-friendly and socially responsible practices in mind. By putting in a bit of extra effort up front, you’ll be able to create a plan to reduce your carbon footprint and support the local community during your stay. Here are some tips you’ll want to keep in mind if you want to go green and give back.
Try for Green Transportation
If you’re flying, try to book with a carrier that’s a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Carriers who are members of this association offer carbon offset programs, which aim to neutralize their carbon emissions by investing in projects to reduce carbon in the environment. If you can, use green airports (like Boston Logan, the San Francisco International Airport, O’Hare in Chicago, the Denver International Airport, or the Seattle-Tacoma Airport) to support sustainable practices.
In general, book a non-stop flight on a large plane with a full flight and focus on fleets that are fuel-efficient. Reducing your connecting flights and layovers will reduce the number of takeoffs and landings you’ll be a part of. Fly coach whenever possible, as cushier accommodations come with a greater environmental impact. In fact, a World Bank study found that the carbon footprint of a business class passenger can be up to three times greater than that of a passenger in economy class. First class is even worse, as these passengers can have a carbon footprint up to nine times greater than those who fly coach.
Once you arrive or if you don’t need to fly at all, seek out eco-friendly land transportation. According to Vacations by Rail, trains can be quite eco-friendly, as they use 30% less energy per passenger mile than cars and 20% less than planes. Vacations by Rail also emphasizes that rail operators around the world have made commitments to increased sustainability. For example, America’s Amtrak has reduced fuel consumption by utilizing green technology and adopting energy conservation practices such as lighter cars, better braking and operating systems, and the use of diesel fuels. In Europe, the train system is slower, which actually makes it more sustainable due to its decreased fuel consumption. And because European train stations are more centrally located, passengers are able to get to their final destination without using a second mode of transportation. Shinkansen, Japan’s high-speed rail, recently cut its energy consumption by 40% by changing the shape, length, and weight to be more aerodynamic. And because it’s so often utilized by the public at-large, it’s inherently more environmentally friendly.
Of course, trains aren’t the only way to travel by land. Hybrid buses that carry a large number of passengers are great, as are fuel-efficient (i.e., hybrid or electric-powered) cars. And if you need to travel by water, opt for a sailboat or catamaran instead of a large vessel or cruise ship. While some cruise lines have made great strides in terms of sustainability, most still have a long way to go.
But in terms of eco-friendly transport, you really can’t beat biking or walking. Assuming your destination is safe enough for you to sightsee on foot, you should opt for that whenever possible. Many municipalities offer bike sharing systems or offer private bicycle rentals that can allow you to take in the surroundings at very little cost (to you or the environment).
Look for Eco-friendly Lodgings
Fortunately, many boutique hotels and even large chains have embraced more eco-friendly operations to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers. But it’s important to note you can’t necessarily take these establishments at their word; some talk the talk without walking the walk. You’ll need to do your research to ensure that the place you’re staying is actually making sustainable efforts rather than simply using green marketing to attract guests.
Green hotels based in the United States may have a LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council to designate they’ve made a commitment to indoor environmental quality, sustainable site development, energy and water efficiency, use of materials, and design innovation. There are also other programs that certify hotel sustainability in other countries, such as Green Tourism Business Scheme, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance, and EarthCheck.
Keep in mind that if a hotel has spent a lot of time and effort on improving their sustainability, they’ll probably have information about it displayed proudly on their website. If all else fails, contact the hotel front desk and ask directly about the causes that matter most to you. You should also inquire about how many of their resources they acquire locally. For example, if a large portion of their staff is native to the area and they source most of their foods from local farmers, they’re supporting their community and keeping carbon emissions lower by reducing transportation.
If you’d rather not book a hotel at all, keep in mind that there are plenty of online rental sites that can help you to book an affordable room (or even an entire house!) owned by someone who prioritizes eco-friendly practices. Not only will you be supporting a local resident, you may also have an easier time of sticking to your own eco-conscious routine outside of a hotel environment.
Make Changes in Your Travel Routine
As much as possible, try to save water, energy, and other natural resources during your stay by taking short showers, turning off the lights and air conditioning when you leave, and reusing your towels and other linens. Rather than doing laundry on-site, try to wear outfits more than once (packing versatile items really helps here!). In addition, be sure to bring along refillable water containers, rather than relying on plastic bottles of water.
During your hotel stay, you might want to consider giving up maid services whenever possible. By keeping up the “do not disturb sign” throughout the entire time you’re there, you’ll ensure no cleaning staff will enter the room and use any harmful cleaning agents or waste electricity on vacuuming. If you enjoy any meals at the hotel, avoid using plastic utensils or cups; ask for the real deal, which can then be washed and reused. If you’re given tiny toiletries to use during your stay, you can leave them for the next guest or bring them home with you to donate to a charitable organization.
If you make souvenir purchases during your trip, ensure that your choices support local artisans and their economy (i.e., goods that are made within the community, rather than being imported). Instead of buying an item in a tourist trap gift shop, head to a local craft market and support small businesses there. Make sure to bring along reusable bags for any purchases you make to cut down on plastic bag usage!
Examine Your Activities
There’s no doubt you’ll get to experience once-in-a-lifetime views and amazing activities while you’re on your trip. But really give these services some thought before you sign up.
Take tours, for example. Although a guided tour can be an excellent way to get an insider’s view into a new location, you should be choosy about which tours you partake in. In general, you should opt for tours that involve smaller groups and a distinct focus on preservation and sustainability. Before you book, find out whether the guides are local and/or if the group gives back to the local community.
Remember the mantra: leave only footprints and take only photographs. Stick to marked trails when hiking and keep a safe distance from wild animals. When going underwater, be careful not to step on fragile coral or even disturb the sediment. Ask your snorkel operators in advance if their practice is to “chum” the water; since this can be a health detriment to marine species. With any tour or other activity you do, inquire as to whether the organizers give back a portion of their proceeds to local charities, conservation groups, or non-profit entities.
Tasting the local cuisine is one of the best ways to experience the true culture. It’s also a great way to support local businesses and agricultural enterprises. It encourages native crops to remain in the area and allows farmers, small businesses, and the economy in general to thrive.
Eating Americanized food during your trip will just translate into higher prices, imported goods, and less money being put back into the economy there. In general, steer clear of tourist trap eateries. Instead, patronize small restaurants and visit food markets to save money, support locals, and get an authentic experience.
Eat as much fresh, local produce as possible; your food will be delicious and in-season, thereby supporting local farmers. It also takes fewer resources to grow fresh fruits and vegetables than it does to produce meat and dairy products. Avoid pre-packaged meals or snacks at all costs, as this not only encourages importing of non-local goods but also increases carbon emissions due to increased transportation and unnecessary packaging that’s harmful to the environment.
And speaking of packaging, avoid getting take-out, delivery, or anything to-go during your trip. These options may be convenient, but most travel containers end up in the garbage. Be sure to put aside time in your itinerary to actually enjoy meals and even your first cup of coffee at a leisurely pace (and in reusable dishware).
Green travel does require a bit more planning, but it’s certainly not impossible. By making the effort upfront to view the preservation of the planet as your top priority, you’ll be in a better position to look for travel accommodations, transportation, activities, and eateries that support that mission.