First, we’ll get the bad news out of the way: traveling, wonderful as it is, can also be a little tough on the environment. As Travel + Leisure wrote, “Tourism produces 5 percent of the world's carbon emissions […] and contributes to the depletion of natural resources, the degradation of ecosystems, and the proliferation of the waste found from shorelines to trekking trails.”
Now, the good news: This doesn’t mean you have to sit at home and twiddle your thumbs forevermore. With the following eco travel tips under your belt, you can globetrot without the guilt—and make sure that even on your adventures, you’re still giving back to the planet.
Traveling with a conscience means you can see the world while still being kind to the planet.
GEAR AND PACKING TIPS
Want to keep your carbon footprint light? Pack light and throw in some recyclables so you can avoid plastics whilst on the go.
Staying green on the road begins before you even leave home. For starters, be sure to pack a good, reusable thermos—because buying water bottles is definitely not Mother Nature’s fave (and because, depending on your destination, recycling options might be few and far between). Throw in a few lightweight tote bags while you’re at it, to avoid using plastic wherever possible. And while hitting the road with gadgets in tow is the norm these days, a solar-powered charger always helps keep your carbon footprint down.
All that said: If you’re planning to fly, aim to pack as light as you can—every extra LB adds up to more emissions (plus, having less to schlep is never a bad thing). It’ll also mean you have extra space to bring back any recyclables you can’t dispose of during your trip.
TRANSPORTATION DOS & DON’TS
Help counter carbon emissions by traveling by train or public transport whenever possible.
Soaring above the clouds may be the ultimate realization of mankind’s ambitions, but unfortunately, it’s also a huge contributor to global carbon emissions. Keep these eco travel tips in mind when booking your next trip: Shorter flights are greener than long-haul journeys, but if you are traveling somewhere far, flying direct tends to be better than layovers (given that taxiing, take-off, and landing are when the most emissions are produced). In addition, when it’s possible, traveling by public transportation (or car sharing) is simply a greener method, as well.
Look out for hotels with eco credentials, such as a LEED certification.
It’s an obvious eco travel tip, but a good one: Staying at a hotel with green credentials is certainly one way to help out the environment. Look for stays with LEED certification or Energy Star rankings. Or—if a swanky retreat isn’t quite your style—book a local apartment rental, Airbnb, or good, old-fashioned bed-and-breakfast. What you want to avoid: Mega hotels that blast A/C day and night, have wasteful laundry programs, multiple pools, and other policies that add up to a dinosaur-sized carbon footprint.
Once you’re ensconced in your room, there’s still more you can do to keep things green. Opt to avoid daily towel and linen changes, keep all devices unplugged when not in use, and avoid running the air conditioning or heat when you’re out and about all day long. Keeping windows closed—and blinds down—will help regulate temps instead.
THE FUN STUFF
By exploring in original and unusual ways, eco travel can also be lots of fun.
Eco travel tips aren’t designed to curb your enjoyment—instead, see them as a set of guidelines that’ll encourage you to explore in slightly different ways. Never done a city tour by bike before? Now’s your chance. Ready to go on an off-the-grid camping trip? There’s never been a better time. Want to sign up for a local cooking course, complete with farmers market stop? Eating and drinking your destination’s specialties isn’t just good for you—it’s good for the planet, too. 2017 might have been the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development—but now that you’re inspired, 2018 is the time to put it all into practice.