Whether you travel full-time or are saving up for your big annual getaway, traveling is a big part of most people’s lives. And with more people traveling now than ever before, it’s becoming increasingly important for us to make conscious decisions with our money and time while abroad.
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This year, we decided that we were going to fully align ourselves with the United Nations’ Sustainable Travel initiatives and commit to eco-traveling.
You may be thinking: what does sustainable, eco-friendly travel look like?
At the heart of it, sustainability is explained by the UN as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable travel follows the same principle: making conscious environmental, cultural and economic decisions wherever you go!
You might also be thinking: I only get two weeks off each year, I have no desire to spend that time trekking or camping or “living off the land.” Can I still participate in eco-friendly travel?
The answer is YES! There are a million simple changes you can make to your lifestyle while traveling that improve not only your experience but the experience of the local population wherever you go.
We’ve put together a list of …
21 easy ways to incorporate eco travel practices into your travels
1. Go off the beaten track. Not only will this provide you with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but you’re also contributing to a tourism sector that will benefit more from your presence than a bustling popular tourist destination would.
2. If your travels are contained to your continent, try not to fly. Buses, trains, boats, and cars all have lower carbon emissions than planes.
3. If you are traveling overseas, buy carbon offsets equivalent to the impact your flight is going to make on greenhouse gas emissions. The money you invest in offsets goes to sustainability projects all over the world.
4. Fly green. While this may sound counterintuitive, but there are a growing number of airlines who incorporate sustainability into their business models.
5. Bring only what’s important. The lighter your bag is, the fewer carbon emissions a plane is going to create. (And if you’re traveling by car, motor vehicles get better gas mileage the lighter they are)
6. When renting a car, rent a hybrid or electric car. A gas-guzzler pollutes the air twice as much as either of those options do.
7. Rely on public transportation when you can. More people using public transportation around the world lessens pollution caused by cars. Hopping on a city bus will also give you a feel for the local lifestyle!
8. Most major cities around the world have a public bicycle system that is little or no cost to its users. Use a bike when you can – not only do you get a workout in and save money, but you are also eliminating the carbon emissions you would’ve been creating in a vehicle.
9. Walking is the greenest mode of transportation. Get out there and explore the city on your own two feet.
11. Follow up with your accommodation! Ask what sustainability projects they’re involved in. (Do they recycle? Have they considered solar energy?) Starting a dialogue with them about it might even push them to get involved if they aren’t already.
12. Go remote. Do some online research on wilderness lodging, eco-lodging, and eco-glamping and make sure that the lodging that you choose is locally run. That way, you’ll be immersed in local culture and in the thick of the country’s natural beauty WITHOUT harming the surrounding environment or customs.
13. We don’t need a new towel and fresh linens every day. Let reception know you don’t need your room cleaned during your stay.
15. If you’re traveling abroad, know that the culture of your destination is likely going to be drastically different from yours. Do a little bit of research before you embark on your trip. Look into the local customs, traditions, dishes, and a few key phrases to help you get around. Knowing how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ warms up locals to your presence faster than anything else.
16. Eat local. Choose restaurants that source all (or most) of their ingredients from the region you are visiting. You can even visit a local market and pick up a few items for a picnic or just for snacks.
17. Support the local community. Local markets, artisans, and small businesses will benefit much more from your patronage than a tourist sight ever would!
18. Paper or plastic? Neither! Bring your own bag when shopping and say no to disposable shopping bags.
19. If you’re going to do a guided tour of the region, choose a local tour guide/operator. While it may be easier to book through a travel agency at home, choosing a guide indigenous to the area once you arrive is actually cheaper and more flexible. Plus, they know the region better than anyone, and you’re creating work for the local community.
20. Do not – under any circumstances – support animals in captivity. Riding a dolphin, holding a sea turtle, and swimming with sharks can all be extremely detrimental to the animals themselves. Think of it simply: if the animal is forced to do something in captivity they wouldn’t be doing on their own in the wild, don’t pay to see it!
21. Respect the environment you are in. “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.” This takes many forms: pick up trash you see on hikes, stay on designated trails as to avoid destroying foliage, respect local wildlife (meaning don’t get too close to them, and don’t feed them!), and don’t forget to truly enjoy the beauty of wherever you are!