Tourism accounts for around 8% of the world’s yearly greenhouse gases, according to a study published by Natural Climate Change. With the travel industry continuing to grow some 5% per year, how we choose to travel could have a significant impact on the future of the planet in the years ahead.
The good news is that there are ways to see the world without causing long-lasting damage to the environment.
From skipping the hotel laundry service to traveling with friends, there are several ways for an Indie Traveler to stay as green as possible while exploring the hidden corners of the world.
Take a minimalist approach to travel to begin with. Bring with you only what you’ll really need – we have a take on ultra-lightweight travel with a sample packing list that will help you get started.
In reality, most of us have a few outfits we rely on over and over again. Bring those along, and forget the stuffed suitcases. New travelers tend to forget that they’ll be able to buy common things anywhere in the world – no need to bring an extra tube of toothpaste or all of your toiletries. The less you bring, the less you’ll have to lug around on foot, and the less you’ll have to find new homes for on the road. You may surprise yourself with how little you actually need!
Once you’re on the road, it’s easier to limit yourself to what fits in your backpack. On that note…
Give Away Items You Don’t Need
Even when traveling light, it’s not uncommon to find yourself with leftover items at the end of a trip. You may have brought too much food or one too many souvenirs.
Rather than throwing unwanted items in the trash, think about whether they could go to good use at a local hostel or charity store instead.
Most hostels will have a food donation shelf where you can leave any edible items another hungry traveler might need. Still not sure what to do with an item? When in doubt, ask your AirBnB landlord or the hostel manager directly.
Or, sell them on:
Source: Gumtree Australia
Backpackers regularly sell on second-hand vehicles such as campervans and motorcycles at the end of a road trip, using sites like Gumtree to find available vehicles. While it might not seem like it, this is actually a huge plus for the environment. The resources involved in manufacturing new vehicles and disposing of old ones is substantial. Buying instead of renting may also save you money in the long run, while giving you the freedom to go where you want, when you want, for as long as you want.
Avoid Flying When Possible
A single flight produces around three tons of carbon dioxide per person, according to the National Geographic Green Guide. That figure is cut in half when you travel via train or bus.
Need to cross an ocean? There are still options to get you from point A to point B without ever leaving the Earth’s surface.
Hitching a ride on a cargo ship is becoming ever more trendy. It’s the indie travel experience of a lifetime – getting off the beaten path and offline, circumnavigating the globe the old-fashioned way, and saving your carbon footprint simultaneously. Everybody wins.
Unfortunately, cargo ship travel is still not as cheap as flying, but it’s actually not that much more expensive, either. GoNomad quotes cargo ship travel at $65-$125 per day. Keep in mind that this fee includes your food, lodging, and transport. A Trans-Atlantic trip can take anywhere from 10 days to a month. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re planning on traveling slowly, it’s the best bet for the environment and a great adventure to write home about.
Another option is to hitch a ride on the RMS Queen Mary II, the world’s last true ocean liner, which makes a biweekly trip to the UK from NYC.
If you play your cards right and are willing to be flexible with departure dates, you can score discount tickets for as little as $600-$800 and travel in style. The voyage across the Atlantic takes about a week.
If you can’t travel slowly, try saving up your vacation days and traveling less often, for longer periods. Make those flights count!
Hire a Bicycle Rather Than a Car
Bicycles are cheaper to hire than cars, allow you to travel off-road, and reduce your carbon footprint. They also give you much-needed exercise when on vacation. Trust us, you’ll feel ready to tuck into some delicious local food after a five-mile bike ride.
Bikes can also be an important part of local culture and a great way to connect. If you’re a hardcore cyclist, look into bike tours and routes around the world to explore, or think about planning an all-in cross-continental adventure! If it’s your first time biking internationally, think about signing up for a group travel experience.
Travel With a Group
Group travel may not seem like the most indie travel method at first glance, but give it a chance. Whether you’re planning a trip across the country or to the local supermarket, sharing the same ride will help you to cut down on carbon emissions and costs.
There are more varied group travel companies than ever before. Odds are, there’s one catered to your specific interests. For travelers who don’t like having to plan every single detail of their trip, this could be the way to go.
One independent traveler named Laura spent a ten-month trip going on nine organized tours with Intrepid Travel. If you want to learn more about how to do group travel the indie way, check out her story.
Alternatively, stay completely independent and opt to rideshare or hitchhike the world. Rideshare programs are popping up globally, particularly in Europe and Australia. Research the best options for your destination in advance.
Forget tuk-tuks and taxis. The best way to see most locations is on foot. Being free to explore every side alley and footpath is what travel is all about. Look up the best walking routes for your destination and stay safe. Some cities also offer city bike rentals – a great way to get a feel for the soul of the city without losing hours to the subway system.
Pack A Reusable Water Bottle
Buying bottled water when vacationing abroad has become a part of a traveler’s routine for decades. It’s a sensible choice too, due to the differing sanitation standards of each country.
The invention of water bottles with built-in filters, however, has changed things. Now you can brush your teeth without the fear of getting a rumbling tummy. On top of this, you’ll also be reducing the amount of plastic you bring into the environment at the same time.
There are other space-friendly packables that can also keep your plastic consumption to a minimum on the road, from reusable utensils and foldable tupperware to market bags.
These will come in handy on trips of any length. Bring your own silicone or glass tupperware (or buy on arrival) to avoid the barrage of plastic plates and utensils you’ll encounter at street food stations. Most vendors have no problem with dishing your freshly-cooked meal directly into your own container.
Cook for Yourself
Take advantage of the global popularity of practical open-air markets where vegetables, fruit, and even meat can be bought locally and plastic free. Be sure to pack a reusable bag (a light multi-purpose day pack will do) to carry your groceries in.
Stay in hostels, Airbnbs, or short-term rentals with access to a kitchen. Cooking your own meals saves money and can keep you from getting “tourista,” the bane of every wanderer’s existence. Of course you’ll sample local foods, but there’s something comfortable and familiar about being able to stay in for dinner once in a while.
Camping isn’t always an option, but if you do get the choice between sleeping in a hotel room or under the stars, always try to choose the latter. You’ll use less water and less electricity. You also won’t have to worry about checking out by a certain time. Of course, camping does require a little extra preparation, so be sure to research your particular destination thoroughly in advance.
If you can’t camp, but would like an eco-friendly alternative to hotels and resorts, Google farm stays where you’re headed. Farm stays are an opportunity to trade a few hours of work per day for room and board. The advantages are endless: local connections, farm-fresh meals, hands-on cultural interaction, free lodging, and an off-the-beaten-path experience.
Choose Slow Travel
Most importantly, travel less! There’s nothing we can individually do to reduce the carbon impact of flying, but some of us can choose to travel slowly.
Plan to travel overland first and fly second. What else is there to see in your corner of the world? Stay local for up to six months at a time and invest in deep, lasting connections with your destination’s culture when possible. Look for opportunities near you before flying halfway around the globe.
Transformative travel doesn’t always need to take the form of jet setting.
As Indie Travelers, environmental consciousness is our responsibility. There’s a big, beautiful world out there. Let’s take care of it and travel mindfully.