Travelling comes with so many positive benefits that sometimes we forget about the sizable carbon footprint it leaves on our planet. The good news is there are so many little ways you can be more eco conscious when you travel, and most of these practices are easy to employ.
The most important aspect of travelling green is educating yourself and changing your mindset about the impact you have as an individual, and as part of a collective when you go from destination to destination. From watching your bottled water consumption to reading about the tourist spots you plan to visit, making sure you are aware of how you can help the local people, land, economy and habitat is the biggest way you can begin to positively impact your surroundings.
More tangibly, you can also employ several of the following suggestions:
1) Choose a hotel with sustainable practices
Hotels use an incredible amount of resources, whether it’s the food they serve in their restaurants or the power they use to heat pools or cool rooms. It’s now common to see signs asking guests to reuse towels and refrain from excess water usage, which is great, but these days,with climate change increasing every year, it’s important to choose a hotel that goes the extra mile with their sustainability. For instance, Hotel El Ganzo in Los Cabos takes care of the environment and the community with sustainable practices such as using eco-friendly soap, a solar power system, locally grown ingredients and locally sourced amenities. It also has the El Ganzo Community Project which brings art and sustainability to the children and community around it.
Other hotels, like the Orchard Hotel in San Francisco hold LEED Gold and Green Seal Silver hotel certifications, which means that important elements like their construction practices and décor ensure energy efficiency and sustainability to the highest degree. They also use locally sourced and organic products, compost all waste materials and plant a tree for every review posted as part of the Plant a Billion Trees initiative.
2) Choose a destination that takes care of its popular landmarks, environment and species
There are many exotic places that beckon travellers from all corners of the earth, but not all destinations can handle the massive impact from tourism. For example, the Thailand government recently closed down KohKhaiNok, KohKhai Nui and KohKhaiNaiin—three popular islands in the coast of Phuket—because tourism was affecting their ecosystems.
Researching destinations and sites before you travel is a good way to ensure you choose a place that hasn’t been negatively affected by tourism. For example, many eco parks and official tourism boards have extensive information on how they keep their surrounding environments flourishing and healthy, while eco hotels often promote tours that they deem to be the most sustainable and responsible in the way they operate. Many operators also promote the use of ocean-friendly products, such as chemical-free sunscreens and reusable water bottles, so pay attention to these little details when planning and booking your visits to ensure the greenest journey possible.
3) Shop local and buy with the environment and people in mind
Local markets are not only a great way to experience tradition and culture, but they also promote and sell hand-made arts, crafts and food. Purchases here go directly back to the local people and economy, ensuring that their livelihood and community remains strong and healthy. So instead of visiting outlets, malls and buying souvenirs in airports, make an effort to see what local markets have to offer when shopping for goods. More often than not, you’ll find better quality products with priceless sentimental value.
4) Avoid drinking bottled water
The tremendous waste created by water bottles is astounding. In fact, according Huffington Post, globally we consume over 50 billion water bottles every year. Add to this the fact that it requires three times the volume of water in the bottle to actually make a single plastic bottle—and you begin to realise how unsustainable bottled water really is.Moreover, according the Ocean Conservatory, many of these bottles end up in the ocean, with approximately every square mile of the ocean having over 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it.
This means, as a traveller, you can make great strides for the planet by forgoing the complimentary water bottles in your room. Many countries have safe drinking water, and you can easily refill your reusable water bottle with tap water in most hotels or restaurants. If you’re concerned about the quality of tap water, it might help to know that up to 47.8 percent of bottled water is actually just repackaged tap water.
Of course, many countries do not have safe drinking water, but hotels in these places will usually happily provide filtered drinking water in their restaurants or even at communal water coolers in the lobby. If your hotel has a gym, you’ll often find large water coolers there too. If you are travelling off the beaten path, there are still options that are not only environmentally friendly, but convenient as well. For example, Steripen has battery-powered, re-usable water bottles and UV filters that treat water by the litre or by the glass, making safe drinking water available to you at all times.
5) Be conservative with complimentary toiletries
Complimentary toiletries are always a nice treat when you stay at hotels, but they also use a lot of packaging (much of which is plastic), and often are replenished when you haven’t finished using them. Help the environment by using what you need until it’s finished, and by kindly asking housekeeping to replenish toiletries only when you ask for them. Even better, bring your own toiletries from home, such as shampoo and body wash, and you’ll save tons of packaging from going in to the trash.
6) Walk or bike as much as you can
There is nothing more exciting or romantic than walking through a city and seeing all the sites on foot. More importantly, it’s better for the environment and saves you money too. Often tour operators will encourage you to take group cars or vans, when many of the sites are easily accessible by foot or bike. Do some research before you choose which landmarks to see, and try and plan most of your visits by foot. If where you want to go is not accessible by foot, try and take public transportation, such as trains, subways and public buses, as they have a much smaller carbon footprint than cars, taxis and vans.
It’s not uncommon for hotels to have bikes for rent or even for free during your stay as well.If they don’t, many cities such as Montreal, Barcelona and New York have bike share systems that let you rent a bike from point A to B at minimal costs.
Being a green traveller is easy, and it only requires a little planning and research to pull off. These minor efforts by you will help the environment and local communities tremendously, making your travels both exciting and good for the world at the same time!