4 Ways to Be an Eco-Friendly Traveler


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Written by Guest | Last Updated February 24th, 2020
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Guest Post by Morgen Henderson

People often think environmental responsibility stops at their front door. After we’ve weatherized our homes or created an eco-friendly kitchen, we’re usually satisfied with doing our part. But being "green" takes examining other parts of our lives too, including how and where we travel. Although they may not seem like it, vacations present plenty of opportunities to shrink our carbon footprints. Humans are major contributors to climate change, so we all need to do our part. Here are four ways to travel on a small carbon budget:

1. Plan green before you leave

Being an eco-friendly traveler takes planning. Before you reserve a hotel room or use your travel rewards points, take a few preliminary steps. For one, reconsider your destination. From an environmental perspective, a vacation closer to home means lighter bags, fewer miles, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Maybe a staycation or road trip could scratch your travel itch, rather than a 17-hour flight for a two-week stay in Europe.

But if a shorter, closer trip won’t do the trick, you can still pack light to cut down on travel costs and waste. Find ways to travel light. Avoid takeaway containers, plastic bags, paper cups, or other single-use items. Cut out waste by bringing items most hotels provide, like a razor, shower cap, or toothbrush. Pack some reusable shopping bags and water bottles. Buy your laundry and bath products at your destination instead of bringing them with you.

And before you take off, make sure you’ve buttoned things up at home. Adjust your thermostat higher or lower. There’s no need to keep things at a perfect temp if your home or apartment will be empty. Same goes for your hot water tank. Put it on vacation mode or turn the thermostat down a few degrees. Also, remember to turn off your lights or put them on a timer. Unplug small appliances and electronics. They often use electricity even when you’re not using them.

2. Cut out air travel

If possible, cut out air travel altogether. On average, a plane produces more CO2 emissions than other travel options. Consider traveling by boat, bus, or vehicle instead. But if you have to go by air, try to book a non-stop flight. Most of a jet’s fuel is spent during take-off and landing. Adding a layover creates more emissions. But if direct flights aren't available, book the straightest route to your destination.

Even if you can’t do without air travel, there are still ways to balance your carbon emissions. Book a flight with a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Its members offer carbon offset programs that let air passengers pay to support environmental projects that reduce carbon emissions. Essentially, the extra ticket cost is your “carbon credit”, which goes to help fund certified carbon offsetting projects. So, the amount of carbon emissions you cause from your flight is “offset” by your support of an environmental project. They cancel each other out, resulting in zero net emissions. And if your airline isn’t an IATA member, simply calculate the carbon emission cost and then donate to a certified project yourself.

3. Treat your hotel room like home

On vacation, it’s easy to be wasteful. Away from home, we tend to view resources as bottomless luxury items. Big baths, disposable cups, clean sheets every night — these are things we would never take for granted at home. Yet they become part of the regular vacation experience, something almost expected. But an eco-friendly traveler dispenses with those wasteful ways of thinking. Instead, they treat their hotel, hostel or cabin like it’s their own home.

Even if your hotel offers baths, opt for a short shower. While baths use up to 70 gallons of water, showers only use 10 to 25 gallons. If possible, take shorter showers and take them together. And when you get out of the shower, dry off with the same towel. Reuse your provided towels and hang them up. The cleaning service won’t wash your body and hand towels if you hang them up. The same goes for your room. Keep the “Do Not Disturb” sign up until you need the room changed. Once per day cleaning is overkill.

Turn off your room lights and adjust the thermostat before you leave your hotel for the day. Your room may be a little warm when you get back, but it’s not worth wasting large quantities of electricity to cool an empty space.

4. Eat and drink local fare

While vacationing in another culture, immerse yourself in local food and drink. Try out local beers and wines. Order seafood and vegetables sourced locally. Farm-to-market items like these take fewer resources to deliver to your plate than imported fare. Food imported from other countries take more ship and airplane fuel to transport. Drinks require more electricity to refrigerate for longer periods. And local food and drink require less packaging materials since their travel distance is shorter.

Eating and drinking local products has other benefits too. You’ll be supporting local businesses that depend on tourism dollars to survive. And your travel experiences will be more authentic.


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