Dedication to protecting the planet shouldn’t take a vacation just because we do. Being a sustainable traveler or eco-tourist can seem daunting – you have to consider where and how to travel, and what to bring, do, take back or use – but it can be done.
Planning is already an essential step in preparing to travel. So take time to consider how Earth-friendly you’re being and incorporate a few of these sustainable travel guidelines into your travel practices.
Plan for the Planet
One of the best ways to travel sustainably is to visit places making genuine efforts to be green. They conserve water and electricity, eliminate or reduce use of plastics and preserve and respect the local people, environment and wildlife.
Be aware of “greenwashing.” This is when companies attempt to deceive potential consumers by making their activities, policies and/or products appear more environmentally-friendly than they actually are. You want to make sure they’ve been evaluated by a third party like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
Explore local transportation options. Choose a locale where you can walk or bike or use fuel-efficient/electric buses or trains. Try to stay in the general location you’re visiting. It’s the best way to make the most of your trip and keep your travel emissions to a minimum.
Pack responsibly. This means packing lightly and purposefully. The actual weight of your belongings matters when it comes to traveling sustainably, especially if you’re flying to your destination.
Avoid single-use plastics by bringing your own alternatives. Some basics include reusable bags, reusable bottles (BPA-free plastic, ceramic, glass and metal), collapsible containers, reusable straws (glass, silicone or stainless steel) utensils (bamboo, metal, wood) and multi-use items.
Ready, Set, Travel
Transportation accounts for nearly 30% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
High-occupancy buses or trains are sustainable travel options. Trains can carry thousands of passengers quickly and efficiently. In 2017, rail travel accounted for only 2% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.
Or you could take a road trip with family or friends, similar to carpooling. To be greener, drive (or rent) an electric car, hybrid, renewable-fuels vehicle or alternative green vehicles.
If you’re flying, look for daytime and/or nonstop flights. When it comes to planes and their effect on global warming/climate change, “night flights have the strongest warming impact, because during the daytime contrails actually reflect some sunlight away from the earth,” according to the David Suzuki Foundation. Additionally, planes are more fuel efficient during longer flights, due to high-altitude flying, while takeoffs and landings create more emissions. Research carriers and support those with sustainable travel options. Look for the most fuel-efficient airline, sit in economy over first class and consider carbon offset programs.
When you finally reach your destination, you can have amazing experiences while still acting sustainably.
Consider taking pictures instead of taking things home. They’re weightless and capture memorable moments perfectly. If you really want a souvenir, either for yourself or a loved one, purchase something that will benefit the local economy. Go for handmade trinkets, buy from resident artisans and steer clear of anything imported. Also avoid wildlife products like coral, fur, ivory, leather, turtle shells etc. for both moral and legal reasons.
It can be tough to ethically and sustainably navigate animal attractions. It’s best to see undisturbed wildlife in their natural habitats via nature hikes, safaris or tours. Avoid activities promising hands-on experiences or close encounters and never feed the animals. This could throw off their natural behaviors or possibly make them sick.
If you’re hiking or traveling on foot, stay on designated paths to avoid harming local flora, and refrain from picking. Transporting flowers or plants could introduce potentially invasive species to other locations. If you’re doing anything in/near an ocean, be especially mindful not to disturb habitats.
One way to be an ethical traveler is to leave a place better than you found it. This could be as simple as picking up any trash you see and recycling or disposing of it properly. Try acting like a local, respecting their customs and trying local cuisine. When sampling native food, try to finish it if you can or share with others to avoid food waste.
Finally, practice the same energy-saving actions you do at home. Turn off/unplug air conditioners, chargers, electronics, fans and lights when you go out. Watch your water consumption by taking short showers (not baths). Avoid hotel laundry by reusing towels. When leaving, return any printed tourist materials so they can be reused. Take any leftover toiletries with you; they might be thrown away otherwise. “The hospitality industry throws away billions of bars of gently used soap into landfills every single year,” according to Sundara, an organization that turns old soap bars into new ones and distributes them to communities in need. You can reuse, recycle or donate hotel toiletries and/or their containers to reduce waste and be more sustainable.
As consumers, our choices make an impact. Deciding to visit a sustainable destination is supporting efforts to save the planet. Being a sustainable traveler might sound difficult, but trying is a good start. It’s all about planning and choices, things already associated with traveling.
Be mindful of your carbon footprint and respect the environment, locals and wildlife. You’ll be able to relax that much easier knowing you’re on vacation and being sustainable.
For additional peace of mind, look into AAA travel insurance.
What sustainable destination would you like to visit? How do you travel responsibly?