Traveling can be exhausting – especially for the planet. Hotel housekeeping devours water and electricity, tour groups trample and pollute, and unless you’re camping in your backyard, even getting to your destination will cough and hack emissions into the ever-warming atmosphere. But after two years of pandemic-induced “staycations,” what’s a pent-up but ecologically conscious traveler to do? With summer vacation season upon us, here are five tips for managing your carbon footprint — wherever your feet might take you.
1. Pick an eco-friendly vacation spot
Choosing a country, region, or city that supports sustainability and conservation will make for both a happier planet – and a more relaxed getaway. For one thing, it will probably have the green-minded infrastructure any eco-conscious traveler wants – from bike lanes to easy-to-hop public transportation. Plus, you’ll know the money you fork out is helping to support those same pro-planet policies. An online search of eco-friendly destinations will turn up no shortage of travel options – many of which probably wouldn’t have occurred to you otherwise. However, adventure-adverse travelers who want to leave the smallest carbon trace possible should consider staying somewhere close to home so they can drive or take the train. Speaking of which …
2. Think green while getting there
If you can, stay grounded since wheels are always preferable to wings. Cars, trains, and buses are the most sustainable ways to travel. Planes? Not so much. However, if you do need to take to the skies, be sure to book a non-stop economy flight since aircraft consume the most fuel during take-off and landing. And first class? What seems like a luxurious amount of space to unfurl in at the time just translates to less efficiency — and greater energy consumption. You’ll have plenty of time to stretch when you get to where you’re going.
3. Seek out environmentally minded lodging
Many hotels have programs dedicated to recycling and maximizing energy efficiency, but once you’re there, your own choices will make the most difference. Small measures — such as opting out of daily housekeeping services and remembering to switch off the lights and TV when you head out — add up. Want to cut down on waste? Steer clear of the items the room comes stocked with – from the plastic water bottles to the bite-sized dispensers of shampoo. Instead, shop around for supplies with your reusable water receptacle in tow.
4. Keep it local
As a traveler, you’re taking advantage of a community’s hospitality – as well as its particular slice of the Earth. The least you can do is give back to the same people who are hosting you. And the best way to do that? As always, it’s to be mindful of where your money is going. Is it supporting the local economy? Not only is spending your cash on local vendors and businesses good for the place you’re exploring – seek out the resident farmer's market if you can – it’s also friendlier to the environment considering the emissions produced by shipping goods around the globe.
5. Explore and play — respectfully
Nobody expects you to hunker down indoors during your vacation. But you don’t have to trudge on the local ecosystem either. To get around, rent a bike rather than hopping a hotel shuttle. If you’re going on a tour, research local operators to find the ones with decent eco-cred; some might even be involved in local conservation efforts. Whether you’re hiking or birdwatching, don’t stray from the beaten paths — otherwise, you risk harming countless species of plants as well as disturbing the local wildlife and their habitats. If you’re venturing onto the water to swim or sail, grab a paddle instead of boarding a motorboat. And if you do plunge in, respect how tenuous the world beneath the waves is. For example, a thoughtless diver who reaches out to touch coral — which is an animal species distantly related to jellyfish — can easily end up killing it by damaging the mucus membrane that shields it from harm.