Let’s face it, traveling isn’t always the most eco-friendly practice in the world. First, you’re most likely going to be boarding gas-guzzling, carbon dioxide-spewing round trip flights that are going to take you far far away, to a destination where you’ll probably contribute to more waste. But don’t worry; you don’t have to feel too guilty. While you’re on the go, take these positive steps to become a more sustainable traveler.
Choose Your Destination Wisely
If you’re a hardcore environmentalist, your first choice would be not to travel anywhere, as any form of travel is going to somehow end up dumping certain dangerous elements into the environment. But where’s the fun in that? We believe travel is important to becoming a better human being, and we think there are responsible ways in which to do it. What you can do is take cheap international flights to destinations that are working hard to restore the balance between pollution and preservation. For example, countries like Costa Rica focus a lot on green tourism and safeguarding their rainforests, while Namibia’s stance on pairing eco-tourism with wildlife preservation has been lauded by conservationists. Traveling to places like these means you’ll be spending your money in the right place.
Offset Your Carbon Footprint
There are plenty of websites out there that help you calculate your carbon emissions and then let you donate to help offset your footprint. Sites like Terrapass allow you to calculate how much carbon dioxide your journey will end up dumping into the atmosphere and shows you how many offsets you need to buy to diminish the effect of these greenhouse gasses. Myclimate is another company that can help direct your funds toward various global eco-friendly projects. Your contributions will support waste management on farms, clean energy generation, and reforestation efforts across the world.
Fly/Drive with the Environment in Mind
Today, many airlines have embraced using biofuels mixed with traditional jet fuel to reduce carbon emissions and have less of an adverse effect on the environment, albeit on certain routes only. But until this becomes widespread, there are some simple things you can do. You can always dish out a bit extra to fly nonstop (a more efficient use of the aircraft’s fuel), say no to that upgrade to first class (yep – coach takes up less space and is more eco-friendly), and pack light (a heavier aircraft = more fuel burned). Looking for a car rental at your destination? Why not resist the urge for that fancy gas-guzzling SUV and opt for a hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicle instead?
Plant a Few Trees Wherever You Go
This ain’t rocket science. As simple as it sounds, whether planting it yourself or purchasing a tree for planting through another organization, you can make an immense contribution to expanding Mother Nature’s greenery. The cool thing is that there are so many sites out there that are country or region-specific, which will help you customize and focus your contribution. Want to keep Ecuador beautifully green? You can plant native trees at Treedom. Want to help end hunger and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa by helping people grow trees? Trees for the Future has you covered. Planting a tree is the perfect and easy way to branch out into a global-scale conservation effort.
Stay Green at Your Destination
You can also make a difference by choosing hotels that are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified. Wherever you end up staying, heating and cooling are important things to control. Try turning down the thermostat and just layering up, and remember to always switch off electrical items and heaters/air conditioners when you go out. Use towels and water as needed and never wastefully. Also, eating vegetarian once in a while during your holiday also makes an impact on the environment. In general, the main thing is to just clean up after yourself. If you’re going camping or hanging out on a pristine beach, make sure you take all trash and waste with you when you leave those places, and ALWAYS recycle everything you can. Remember — the only thing you should leave in places you travel to are your footprints!
Buy Local Products and Support Local Businesses
Tempted to hop into a major chain restaurant when in Paris? Why not check out the local cafe and enjoy their local produce instead? One way you can make a positive impact on a community is to visit small local establishments, which in turn helps support local entrepreneurs who are engaged in sustainable businesses. While you may fancy your bargaining skills, don’t haggle too much with street market artisans who try to sell handmade products that are made in a sustainable manner. These artists need to be rewarded, so count off that measly difference as a donation for the environment.
Volunteer to Help Out When You Can
Volunteering to engage in eco-friendly ventures when you travel can be a great way to contribute to a community. A good way to start is by searching out an organization that is grassroots and led by locals. Volunteer Match is a great website that can pair you with a cause that’s close to your heart; so if you’re itching to put your green finger to good use, then you’ll be able to find a wide range of efforts in a host of countries. If you want to volunteer with a larger organization with a wider international presence, make sure it’s a member of the International Volunteer Programs Association, a nonprofit that certifies and accredits volunteer-abroad programs.
Do you have any more tips on how to be a sustainable traveler? Let us know in the comments.