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I love traveling, for so many reasons. And I feel strongly about taking care of the planet, for so many reasons as well.
Often, these two desires wage war with each other, as travel can impact the earth economically, socially and environmentally. Some of those impacts are positive. And some, not so much. Approximately 1.2 BILLION people travel internationally every year…when we are not in a global pandemic. And while travel and tourism contribute to the global economy, it often comes at the expense of the environment and local communities.
For me, part of embracing a more sustainable lifestyle includes adopting eco-friendly travel practices.
What is Eco-Friendly Travel?
Eco-friendly, or sustainable, travel encompasses more than just minimizing the impact on the environment. Sustainable travel seeks to create a balance between economic growth, environmental health and the wellbeing of people and communities.
It’s a dance of reducing the negative impact of tourism while maximizing the positive benefits for cultures, communities, the ecology and ultimately, the planet.
After more than a year of decreased travel, due to COVID, we have fresh opportunities, as travelers, to make a difference and choose more sustainable ways of seeing the world. As we look to explore again, put these eco-friendly travel practices in place.
Skip the Touristy Places
Before COVID halted travel, some popular tourist destinations experienced “overtourism”. Continual streams of visitors caused damage to historic sites, beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, nature areas and cities.
When travel opens again fully, try visiting places less well known. And I get it. We all have places on our travel bucket lists and we long to visit them. See them if you must, perhaps during the off season. However, consider avoiding the crowds and seeking out smaller cities, little known villages and other more rural areas.
The benefits of tourism are shared with more communities that way, without overburdening and actually harming the tourist hot spots.
Support the Local Economy
Wherever you go, be there, as the saying goes, and really experience the place. Immerse yourself in the culture. Learn a few words of the language. Get to know the people. And support the local economy.
Shop there, in locally owned stores. Eat meals in quaint cafes, prepared from regionally sourced foods. Visit the city market and enjoy wares made by community artisans. Book excursions led by tour guides native to the area. They know the rich stories behind the historic sites.
Support Eco-Friendly Tour Companies
When desiring a tour, while visiting a community, look for eco-friendly tour companies. Often the money spent with these companies goes back into the community or into local conservation and environmental projects.
Local tour companies arrange smaller travel groups, set up local accommodations and hire people from the community to lead the tours. It’s a win/win all the way around. It helps to keep tourism money in the town and with the people, where it is most needed.
Among modes of transportation, flying produces the most carbon emissions per passenger. Often, however, flying is the only way to reach a destination. Try these tips to lessen the impact:
- use non stop flights when you can, rather than breaking the flight up. Direct flights are more fuel efficient.
- travel light. The more luggage loaded onto a plane, the heavier it is, and the more carbon emissions produced.
- take advantage of carbon offset programs (see next tip)
- look for airlines that use renewable biofuels
When you can, travel by train or bus. It saves fuel and it’s a great way to see the countryside. And ride together, or carpool, when driving a car.
While in a city, walk as much as possible, to save fuel and really get to know the community. It’s great exercise for the visitor too. Use the hop on/hop off buses to get an overview of the city or rent bicycles and explore that way.
Offset Carbon Emissions
One way to reduce the impact of flying is to use a carbon offset program.
These programs give airline passengers the option of investing in carbon reduction projects to help reduce or neutralize the carbon footprint caused by their travel.
Currently, there are 30+ international airlines participating in carbon offset programs. Select this option when purchasing tickets through the airline website. It costs a few extra dollars. However, those funds go toward reducing carbon and greenhouse gases. One project may protect rainforests while another builds wind farms.
Check out the best Carbon Offset Programs HERE.
Carry Your Own Water Container
I stress this tip often, and for good reason. Every year, 8 MILLION metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans. Imagine one garbage truck full of plastics dumping into the ocean every single minute of every day. And one of the leading culprits is the plastic water bottle.
Plastic, whether dumped into the ocean or buried in a landfill, takes HUNDREDS of years to break down. It’s causing great harm to the earth and its inhabitants.
It’s such an easy switch to carry a metal water container rather than a plastic water bottle. In my home we fill our metal water containers from a filtered water pitcher in the fridge. Or you can use your refrigerator’s filtered water system.
Wherever you go, take your water container. Mine accompanies me everywhere, even on international trips. Security allows an empty container through. Then you can fill it while in the airport and carry it onto the plane. Another simple way to eliminate plastic? Refuse straws at restaurants.
Eco-Friendly Hotel Tips
When possible, stay at accommodations that are certified “eco-friendly”. Then use this tips:
- treat your accommodations like home, saving energy as you would there
- turn off lights and electronics when leaving or sleeping
- lower heat or raise air conditioning while away or sleeping
- take showers rather than baths
- bring your own toiletries from home
- in countries where weather is mild, opt to open a window if possible, rather than using air conditioning
- hang up towels to dry and reuse…AND…
- hang the “do not disturb” sign on door to prevent housekeeping from changing sheets daily, cutting down on energy used to wash towels and sheets
- stay in an Airbnb or a self serve apartment, so you can prep meals and wash your own laundry
- in a hotel, wash out clothes in the sink and hang to dry
- purchase a multi-purpose electrical plug for use in international countries
Eco-Friendly Travel Hacks
- when traveling, carry liquids in a reusable ziplock bag
- carry snacks in small metal canisters
- pack cloth totes and bags, for use while shopping, to eliminate use of plastic shopping bags
- shop for food in local markets to prepare in apartment or Airbnb kitchen
- travel with a capsule wardrobe, to travel light
- “shop” for travel clothes from your own closet
- carry reusable eating utensils
- use bar soaps and bar shampoo and conditioners, to travel light and to eliminate plastic bottles
- bring your own earbuds on the plane and pass on the airline ones
- carry on your own wrap or jacket to double as a blanket and your own travel pillow on flights
- eat in a restaurant, when possible, rather than ordering carryout, to eliminate plasticware and foam containers
Which Eco-Friendly Travel Practices Will You Adopt?
I hope you discovered eco-friendly tips to try out during your next trip. I’m putting these practices in place in my life. Not only do I want to enjoy travel and lessen my negative impact on the world, I want my children and grandchildren to get to travel as well. By my example, I’m teaching them to travel sustainably. As I learn new practices and discover new eco-friendly companies to partner with, I’ll share them.
Which of these practices will you embrace?
And if you have other eco-friendly travel tips, please share them in the comments!
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