Travel can be one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences of your life. Seeing the world and how other people live helps build compassion and understanding for all the different cultures and environments of our planet. Unfortunately, travel can also be incredibly damaging to the world if not done right. If you want to lessen your carbon footprint and reduce the negative impact your traveling might have on the local environment, try following these eco-travel tips.
Before you even leave home, you can reduce the negative effects of your trip by packing right. Those little bottles of shampoo and sunscreen might be cute and fit the airline 3oz rule but in most cases, they will be tossed when you get home, adding to a local landfill. Instead, buy reusable travel toiletries bottles which you can fill using your regular shampoo over and over again, for trip after trip.
When it comes to your luggage follow this same rule and try and make sure most things are reusable. Pack rechargeable batteries instead of ones you might toss half way through your trip and instead of cheapy ziplock bags for your toiletries, opt for heavy duty bags that you can reuse a few times.
Finally, make sure you pack your own water bottle and if necessary a water filter. Buying bottled water is one of the worst things you can do while traveling. In most major cities around the world tap water is fine and if not, filter it before you consider bottled water.
Pick an Eco-Friendly Hotel
Deciding where to stay on your vacation is often a hard choice. One way to narrow your options is to only consider green hotels, eco-lodges, and properties that follow basic eco-friendly practices. Some places like Costa Rica offer their own “Certificate of Sustainable Tourism” rating for hotels while in other places you might have to do a bit more research to see if a hotel is a good green option.
Look for hotels that recycle, use solar panels, offer to change sheets and towels less often, source local foods for their restaurants, etc. While many resorts and five-star properties are now moving to eco-friendly practices, often the best option is to travel simply and stay where the locals might stay. If you are at a five-star hotel with hot running water, flushing toilets, and a heated pool while most locals are living in mud huts, it doesn’t really matter how “green” your hotel claims to be. It is still putting a great deal of stress on the local environment and on a local infrastructure (sewage, trash collection) that is probably not equipped to handle it.
Always Go Local
If you are in a region of the world where most people take the bus, take the bus. If you can avoid renting a car, do so and enjoy meeting locals on public transportation. In many places, walking or renting a bike is part of the charm of visiting and these options help you avoid contributing to local pollution.
When eating, go for local ingredients. Find the local market and shop what is in season. Avoid giving into your craving for a candy bar from back home. These imported products come with a huge carbon footprint as they had to be shipped or flown in from thousands of miles away. Also, consider the meat you eat and if possible cut back. If you are in Argentina, of course enjoy the famous steak but if you are on an island in the Caribbean, your hamburger was probably flown in from the mainland, with a major carbon impact.
When shopping, buy from local craftsman. Some items might look local but if they were made in China and you aren’t in China, skip them. Also make sure that the souvenirs you are buying don’t contain any parts from local endangered animals like horns, ivory, or skin.
With the right planning, any trip can be a bit more eco-friendly and if you really want to lessen your travel impact, consider buying carbon offsets for your whole trip.