It’s a paradox of modern travel—in order to see and experience the natural wonders and beauty of the globe; you must contribute to the carbon emissions that are helping to destroy the planet. And, because many of the same people who love to travel are also environmentally conscious, traveling and seeing the world can pose a substantial moral dilemma. Travel and see the world and contribute to not only better global awareness of environmental risks, or stay at home and reduce your carbon footprint?
For those of us who love the planet, yet refuse to stay at home and not see it, there are several things you can do to minimize your impact on the environment without having to give up travel. By practicing a few of these green tips, you can pack your bags and set on your adventures with a whole lot less guilt about melting ice caps and disappearing polar bears.
1 – Offset your carbon emissions
Air travel is blamed for about 2% of the worldwide carbon dioxide emissions responsible for global warming, and with more and more people taking to the skies every year, this number is only going to increase. An easy way to cruise at 35,000 feet without feeling as bad about the jet fuel being used to power the airplane is to buy carbon offsets.
While buying these offsets won’t put any of the oil you used on that flight back into the ground or take any of the carbon dioxide out of the air (though wouldn’t that be nice), buying them will help fund renewable energy research and practice. Companies like Carbon Neutral and Terrapass allow you to counteract the damage you are doing by flying by helping to fund the taking away other forms of carbon emissions somewhere else. Although buying these offsets will do a bit of damage to your wallet, you can continue to fly the friendly skies guilt free.
2 – Pack Light
There are plenty of reasons to pack light besides trying to help the environment. Not only will it make getting from point A to point B a lot less of a hassle (not to mention avoiding those pesky checked bag fees airlines are now charging), but packing lighter means less weight on the plane, which in turn means a more fuel efficient aircraft. This way of traveling greener is not only simple, but also free. While offsetting your carbon emissions from the flight will set you back several dollars, bringing a few less pairs of shoes on your next vacation won’t cost you a dime.
Not sure how to pack light and still feel like you have everything you need on your next trip? Check out Rick Steve’s packing light suggestions before you zip up that suitcase for your next trip.
3 – Travel Slow
While there is a glamorous mystic involved in jet-setting the globe and bouncing from country to country on a plane, there is an entire travel movement based on the idea of traveling slower—and it has little to do with helping out the environment. In fact, Rolf Potts, travel writer and author of the popular book Vagabonding on the art of long term, advocates this type of travel as a way of having more meaningful and unique travel experiences. The bonus? Slowing down is a great way not only to enrich your travel experiences, but also help out all of those polar bears. By taking fewer, longer trips, you reduce your carbon footprint from all those flights and traveling overland (by bus, train or on foot) can dramatically reduce your environmental impact whilst traveling (and you’ll probably have a better time anyways).
4 – Reuse linens and towels more than once in hotels
Many hotels have programs where you can chose to use your towels more than once and sleep in your sheets more than one night. By alerting the hotel that you’d like to do this, you are not only saving the maid from a lot of work, but you are also saving a lot of energy that would have been used in washing and drying those sheets and towels. This is a great (and free!) way of helping out the environment without much effort or shelling out any cash. Plus, who only uses a towel once and sleeps on sheets one night anyways?
5 – Take the Train
While this next suggestion on the list certainly isn’t a practical solution in all cases (I mean, who has time or desire to spend 5 days on a train from New York to Los Angeles?), opting to take the train rather than flying or driving can be a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Especially in places like the northeastern United States, Europe and even parts of the west coast in the U.S. well connected train systems make for convenient and fast travel—meaning taking the train is not only the environmentally friendly mode of transit, but also a fast and easy way of getting from point A to point B. Because trains can carry so many people and use much less energy person, rather than driving alone in your car (and guzzling a whole bunch of gas) or burning through tons of jet fuel on a plane opt for taking to the rails the next time you travel.
6 – Rent a hybrid or compact car (or no car at all)
While you can buy carbon offsets for your flight that got you to your destination, renting a big vehicle to get you around once you get there will undo any of that good as soon as you get on the road. Car rental companies are sticking increasingly large numbers of hybrid cars, which can be a good option if you need to do a lot of driving and don’t want to guzzle gas. If you don’t want to shell out the dough on renting a hybrid, renting a compact car will not only save you money, but is also more environmentally friendly. Since you’ve already packed light to help the environment, fitting your luggage into the compact car shouldn’t be a problem, right? If you are going to place with good public transportation, you can also book a hotel close into town and opt out of renting a car altogether (an even cheaper option).
7 – Sail, don’t cruise
Environmentalists have a huge beef with cruise ships. These massive floating cities just seem to keep getting bigger and bigger and according to environmental group Bluewater Network, cruise ships dump an average of 5-7 gallons of sewage per person per day into the ocean. Plus, those big ships use a whole lot of fuel and energy to power them through the water. That means that while you are enjoying the beautiful scenery, wildlife and glaciers on that Alaskan cruise, you are also contributing to polluting and destroying it. A great way to still get out on the high seas without hurting the environment is to use wind to power your vessel and sail instead of cruising. There are many tour and adventure companies which offer sailing excursions everywhere from the Mediterranean to Iceland to the Caribbean. Not only will you be helping out the environment by sailing, you’ll also avoid the hoards of tourists descending on towns when cruise ships dock and you’ll probably have a much more unique, rewarding and fulfilling experience.
8 – Buy Local Products
While this suggestion is as easily applicable in your everyday life at home, it is also a great green travel tip. Buying locally made and produced products is not only a great way to experience a place and/or culture; it also is great for the environment. Buying local means food and other products spend a lot less time on trucks, ships and planes, meaning less energy is used to get them to you. Plus, the best way to experience the specialties of an area is to buy things made nearby—whether that be exotic fruits in Asia or locally made cheese in France.
9 – Stay at a Green Hotel
One of the biggest parts of any travel experience is where you stay, so it makes sense that picking an eco-friendly hotel is a great way to travel greener. Some hotels like the Kimpton chain have dedicated themselves to eco-friendly practices—using energy efficient devices and compact fluorescent bulbs, extensively recycling and using recycled products, using eco-friendly cleaning supplies, reducing waste and more. While “green washing” has been a recent marketing ploy to attract business and travelers should be skeptical of hotels that claim to be environmentally friendly, there are a growing number of hotels out there (like Kimpton) that are truly dedicated to eco-friendly practices and making sure you have as low of an environmental impact as possible during your stay. Because being eco-friendly can come with a steeper price tag, make sure to do you research and find out what ways the hotel seeks to protect the environment.
About the Author
BootsnAll staff writer Julie Blakley is slowing crossing places she wants to travel to on this planet off her list–though the number of places she still hasn’t been seems endless. When she’s not dreaming of her next adventure half way across the planet (and how to get there without killing too many polar bears), she’s sampling local cheeses in France and writing the France Travel Guide.