Making Sustainable Choices While Traveling

Every time a scientific study makes headlines about the state of our environment, it increases our commitment to living our lives as sustainably as possible. And with this philosophy being increasingly extended to travel, sustainable travel is becoming more than a hot topic but a viable choice. Making your travel more eco-friendly is just one more way your actions can help make a difference.

Even the smallest changes can have an impact on our environment and the health of our planet. Making a few changes to the way your travel can help lower your carbon footprint and leave the planet in better shape for the next generation of travelers. The green travel tips below will help you make your travel more sustainable and just as enjoyable.

Plan a Getaway Close to Home

Local travel is a great option when you want to reduce your carbon footprint. Taking a trip to a local national park, beach, or landmark is a great way to learn more about your hometown and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time. Or there may be a museum, city, or event just a few hours away that you’d like to visit. A short trip can be rejuvenating, relaxing, and sustainable.

A short drive or train ride has less of an impact on the environment, and you get to admire the scenery as it goes by. If you are driving, you can take side trips as you find them, making the trip even more of an adventure. You can often learn more about different areas of the country and explore its history.

Choose Green Hotels

Hotels generate a lot of waste, from half-used bottles of water and toiletries to the tremendous amounts of laundry done on a daily basis. When you want to travel, start your sustainable travel by booking green hotels. These days, there are a plethora of eco-friendly hotels to choose from that minimize their impacts on the environment while providing a stellar guest experience.

Although the sustainable travel movement is growing, it is still in the beginning stages. Sometimes a hotel that is eco-friendly from the ground up – from the building to the furniture – is not an option. In some cases, you may need to choose a hotel that is not entirely green but is as green as you can find on that particular trip. Hotel chains are increasingly reviewing their impact on the environment and how they can reduce their carbon footprint, water usage, and waste production.

Many have started green initiatives such as encouraging guests to reuse towels, generating their sustainable energy, and replacing plastic with recycled paper products. Some have gone as far as to become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

Chose the Most Sustainable Transportation Option

How you get to your destination is just as important as where you go and where you stay. Transportation makes up a big portion of your travel carbon footprint. Here are some ways you can reduce your carbon footprint when you travel.

If You Travel by Car

If you are traveling by car and your vehicle doesn’t get good gas mileage, consider renting a hybrid or electric car for your trip. Find out ahead of time if your hotel has a free charging station or if you can easily find one at your destination.

If You Travel by Train

Traveling by train produces the least amount of emissions and pollutants, making it both efficient and eco-friendly. Compared to cars and planes, trains emit roughly 66-75% less carbon. They are also more sustainable in terms of energy use, noise level, and use of space. In addition, trains offer the opportunity to relax and enjoy the sights as you travel to your destination.

If You Travel by Plane

When it comes to traveling by plane, you are shooting for “as sustainable as possible” options. Planes emit about 2.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions – that’s about 850 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. While avoiding all air travel is almost impossible, there are ways to lower its carbon footprint. If you can, purchase a direct flight. Buying a ticket that includes a lot of stops increases the number of take-offs and landings, where a whopping 50% of the carbon emissions during air travel occur.

Choosing a more sustainable airline can also help reduce the impact of air travel. Some airlines use biofuel for certain routes or invest in environmental initiatives that offset their carbon dioxide emissions.

Offset Your Trip

If you can’t find a direct flight or an airline that is working towards sustainability, you can purchase carbon offsets for your trip. This a way to reduce the environmental costs of travel. When you offset your travel, you buy credits that fund CO2 sequestration projects to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and organization that help prevent greenhouse gas emissions.

Getting around When You Arrive

When you arrive at your destination, choose sustainable ways to get around. Walking, biking, ride-sharing, and public transportation are great, eco-friendly ways to get around. Not only does this reduce harmful emissions, but you also get some exercise. And some cities already use biodiesel or electric trains in their transport system, so you can easily get around without adding to your carbon footprint.

What to Pack for Your Trip

Waste when traveling is a big problem and is usually a direct result of what and how we pack. What you pack makes a difference, so when packing, make sure your choices make sense for you and the planet. If you are already thinking about sustainable travel, you should be looking for products from sustainable brands to take with you. Here are some things to pack that make your trip more sustainable.

Reusable Water Bottles

By now, most people know about the harm single-use plastic products such as water bottles do to the environment, especially the ocean. Seeing beaches littered with plastic bottles that have either washed up or been discarded by beachgoers really brings the message home. When you are traveling, don’t be that tourist. Bring your own water bottle that you can refill and leave a lighter footprint in the places you visit. If you’re in a place where you can’t drink the tap water, bring a water bottle with a filter.

Reef-Safe Sun Protection

Another way to protect our oceans is to use reef-safe sunscreen, or better yet, UPF clothing. Pack sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone and choose ones that contain zinc instead. A UPF shirt or even a t-shirt can help protect your skin and reefs, so include one or two just for swimming in your luggage.

Cloth Shopping Bag or Tote

Take a cloth shopping back with you to use when you shop for souvenirs and other items on your trip. Some places charge you for plastic bags, so having one of your own is budget-friendly as well as eco-friendly.

Reusable Straws

Plastic straws are banned in an increasing number of places due to the harm they cause to marine life, and we’re here for it. They have become almost as big a symbol of plastic in our oceans as plastic bottles dotting the shoreline. Pack your own reusable metal, silicone, or bamboo straws.

Tread Lightly When You Travel

One of the best things about travel is experiencing places in real life that you’ve only seen on TV, online, or in magazines. Climbing a mountain, hiking through the rainforest, and walking the ruins of a long-forgotten civilization, as well as experiencing new cultures and cuisines are wonderful experiences, but take care to do what you can to maintain their beauty for future travelers.

Purchase Locally Made

An easy way to reduce your carbon footprint is to buy less stuff when preparing for your trip. Take only what you need, and purchase locally made items when you get there. It’s tempting to buy a ton of souvenirs but pause for a minute to think about how sustainable your purchase is. Two things to consider: does it contain a lot of artificial materials, and will you use it when you get home?

Buying locally produced souvenirs is a great way to get something unique and support the local economy. But that’s not all. You also help conserve resources by not using goods that had to be brought in from hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away. This is costly and wasteful. Another sustainable option is to take some great travel photos as remembrances of your trip.

Make Sustainable Choices When Traveling

Sustainable traveling is a choice that involves many other choices to achieve. These choices can be as minor as switching your sunscreen or as huge as using your tourism dollars to support tourism businesses that work towards community impact and sustainability.

Whether big or small, your choices when traveling have an impact. So, the next time you go out adventuring, keep these tips in mind. Traveling sustainably may not always be the easy choice, but you can make sustainable choices if you know what steps to take.