How to Travel More Sustainably

The best way to appreciate the world is to explore it. And if you’re like many of us, you have spring and summer trips on the horizon. But even well-intentioned travelers can create consequences for the environment. “Traveling responsibly means being thoughtful about the impacts our travel makes on the communities we visit and the world in general—and acting in ways that protect and preserve the environment,” says Dr. Jonathon Day, director of the Sustainable Tourism and Responsible Travel Lab at Purdue University. 

Thankfully, protecting the planet doesn’t have to come at the cost of curbing your wanderlust. We asked sustainable travel experts for their insights on easy tips for minimizing your impact. Here are nine simple ways to make your getaways greener.

1. Consider the Options

Before you book your trip, decide if taking to the skies is the only option. “Flights tend to be the most carbon-intensive mode of transportation,” says Kaitlyn Brajcich of Sustainable Travel International, a non-profit organization dedicated to minimizing the impacts of tourism. She recommends buses or trains for shorter trips. 

But direct flights are better for reducing emissions if you have to take a plane. “Taking off and landing are actually the most intensive parts of the flight. Booking nonstop can help eliminate those emissions and reduce the overall distance traveled,” she adds. When you arrive, seek out public transportation or bike rentals rather than renting a car whenever possible.

2. Do Your Homework

It used to be somewhat challenging to find the emissions for your trip, but a relatively recent feature of Google Flights presents options when you’re searching different itineraries, says Dr. Day. Other platforms, like Skyscanner highlight greener options as well.

3. Fly Economy

While an upgrade might do wonders for your comfort, enjoying that extra space has consequences for your carbon footprint, which increases with the amount of space you occupy. “Selecting an economy class seat will reduce your footprint by a factor of two to four versus a business class or a first class seat,” says Brajcich.

4. Pack Lighter or Less

The heavier the plane, the higher the emissions since more energy is required to move, says Brajcich. So streamline your packing with lightweight layers or versatile clothes that can be worn for more than one activity. We recommend these styles you can wear comfortably all day long.

5. Offset Your Emissions

Since some plane travel is unavoidable, help neutralize your trip with carbon offset projects. Many programs, like the one at Sustainable Travel International, Brajcich’s organization, will help travelers actually calculate their carbon footprints for flights, vehicles, cruises, and other types of boat trips. “Whatever organization you choose, Brajcich suggests they are verified, like The Gold Standard, and Plan Vivo.

6. Stay Local When Possible

Sustainability also comprises sociocultural aspects, says Brajcich. For example, avoiding larger chain hotels in favor of smaller ones benefits local economies. “I typically advise people to stay away from all-inclusive resorts that provide all your meals and entertainment because it results in a lot of economic leakage,” she says. “The money from tourism doesn't actually stay and benefit the local economy, but the bigger international owners.” If you opt for a larger resort, look for ones with water conservation, waste policies, and other environmentally friendly practices.

7. Bring Your Best Habits From Home

“If you are environmentally conscious at home – recycling, avoiding single-use plastics and using refillable water bottles, conserving energy by turning off lights – make sure you do them when traveling,” says Dr. Day. Turn off the air conditioning and TV in your hotel room and power down your computer when you leave for the day. Close the blinds to keep the sunshine out and cooler air in.

8. Limit Water Consumption

While you should keep your body hydrated, try to use less water while you’re there. “Some popular destinations, such as small islands, have water scarcity issues,” explains Brajcich. She suggests taking shorter showers to preserve hot water and asking for your towels to be washed every few days rather than everyday.

9. Share Your Experience

Raise consciousness by sharing your responsible approach to travel. “Post it on social media to raise awareness,” suggests Dr. Day. “Write to the companies when you see they are doing something positive – and call them out if you see something that needs to improve. The companies in the tourism industry—airlines, hotels etc, and policy makers— need to hear sustainability is important to you and that you expect them to change the system to make it better.”


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