Travel Sustainably: Advice from our Experts

Submitted by Mary Meade on August 5, 2019
Element5 Digital

While vacations are meant to be relaxing, discovering the environmental cost of travel is not. Airplanes have a large carbon footprint, traditional rental cars use gas, and “travel size” typically means lots of single-use packaging. Whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, consider these tactics recommended by our travel experts at the Green Business Network to ensure your relaxing vacation is also kind to people and the planet.

Eat Plant-Based

In most countries around the world, meat is a luxury product, and the general population consumes a higher ratio of plant-based foods compared to meat-based. The quickest way to reducing your footprint is eating plant-based diets—a vegetarian diet has almost half the carbon impact of a meat lover’s diet. This is easier in some countries like Italy, where local dishes are centered around local, seasonal produce.

“When you’re on an airline, you can either put it in the system yourself when you check-in or when you do it with a travel agent—let them know you want a vegan meal, which is VGML,” says Donna of Green Earth Travels, a vegan and vegetarian travel agency.

Purchase Carbon Offsets

Airplanes, cars, and boats are carbon-intensive, but you can counteract your footprint by purchasing a carbon offset. Carbon offsets are available at terrapass.com along with RECs (renewable energy certificates). If you plan on traveling domestically or traversing a country, opt for less carbon-intensive options like public transport, if possible. Trains are a great alternative that tends to be roomier than airplanes—and you can watch the landscape change right outside your window.

If you must rent a car at your destination, Hertz now offers a Green Collection of hybrid vehicles. Hybrid vehicles use less gas overtime than conventional gas vehicles, so you’ll get more miles for your money as well as a lower overall footprint.

Stay at Green Lodgings

Collectively, hotels use an excessive amount of energy and resources. In the US alone, hotels spend over $7.5 billion on energy and create 1.9 billion pounds of waste each year, according to a study from 2012. Green hotels take a nuanced approach to reducing this environmental impact. Installing renewable energy, switching to energy-efficient lighting, and utilizing water conservation tactics can thwart wasteful resource consumption and save money. Our Green Business Network is home to green hotels around the US, including Montfair Resort Farm in Virginia, Pinehurst Inn in Wisconsin, and The Ruby of Crested Butte in Colorado. Find a certified green lodging for your vacation at greenpages.org.

Go Low Waste

Bring your own reusables! If the water in the country you are visiting is potable, bring a reusable bottle. It prevents plastic bottles from entering the waste stream and saves you money. Additionally, carrying your own utensils and to-go containers will eliminate your consumption of this single-use waste, like Bambu utensils and Eco-Ditty lunch bags.

Opting for local ways to stay hydrated are also great options. Drinking loose-leaf teas, coconut water, and purified rainwater are alternatives that will keep thirst at bay as well as keep trash out of the waste stream. In some locations where locals eat food with their hands, join them—it will be a more authentic experience and avoid single-use cutlery.

Don’t Buy Wildlife

While purchasing from a local artisan at the market is supporting the local economy, it can be detrimental to the local ecology depending on what that purchase is. Purchasing tokens and amulets made from wildlife can encourage poaching. Likewise, organizations that use wildlife—such as elephant rides—are harmful practices that encourage animal trafficking. The least harmful way to enjoy the local flora and fauna is where you can watch them from afar in their natural habitats, such as safaris in regulated National Parks and Reserves and conservatories for creatures that can never be released into the wild again.

Interact the Right Way

Well-intentioned travelers who bring gifts to villagers in developing nations can promote a culture of dependency and begging. Handing out sweets, used clothing, and other items typically have unintended consequences that are invisible to the traveler such as internal community conflict.

Instead, give money or goods to reputable organizations that have a vested interest in the long-term empowerment of their community. Many local organizations will accept volunteers alongside donations. Long-term volunteering with a trustworthy organization is another way to get to know the community while having a positive impact. The Peace Corps is the most well-known version of long-term volunteering; however, there are shorter stays out there via organizations that vet non-profits like Omprakash. Asking a few questions about how the nonprofit spends money and uses resources will determine its legitimacy.

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