24 Practical Tips for Sustainable Travel
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Travel allows us to experience new cultures, explore interesting places, meet new people, try amazing food, and see the world. This would not be possible without the one thing we all share: the Earth. Inadvertently tourists can destroy the very thing they want to see. While traveling does result in negative by-products for our globe, like through carbon emissions from air travel, there are practical ways to lessen your impact and be more sustainable while you travel.
1. Fly Less
While of course, you need to take an airplane to make the large overseas trips, but reducing your shorter flights is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Planning a trip around Europe? Consider taking the train instead of the cheap Ryanair flights. Taking a train or other ground transportation is also a great way to see more of a country outside the main cities. In a place without an established train network? Try public buses or renting a car. There are always alternatives to flying. Or you can travel slower, spend more time fully experiencing a new place before jetting off to the next one.
You can also combine trips. Need to go to Los Angeles for work? Extend your trip and combine it with the Disneyland vacation you were going to take anyways. Instead of 3 small trips throughout the year, take one long amazing 2-week vacation.
2. Fly Direct or fly carbon-efficient carriers
Have an option between a non-stop flight and one with a layover? Choose the non-stop flight. Not only does this save time, but it also helps the environment. 50% of carbon emissions from air travel come from take-off and landing. Just a single layoff would mean nearly 2,000 lbs of extra jet fuel being burnt. So even if it costs a bit more, a non-stop flight is preferred.
If you are not able to get a non-stop flight, consider going with an airline known for their carbon efficiency. The 2017 atmosfair Airline Index ranks airlines for their carbon efficiencies. The best airline is TUI Airways (a charter airline). Other great larger net carriers include LATAM, Air Berlin, KLM, Alaska Airlines, and Virgin Australia. Take a quick look at the index if you are choosing between flights on different airlines.
3. Offset your carbon footprint
Consider calculating the amount your carbon footprint increases from your flights. Once you feel a bit guilty, look into ways you can offset your carbon emissions. Some airlines let you offset your carbon emissions with just a simple click when purchasing the tickets, adding an extra fee that will go directly to a climate charity.
Or you can find ways to reduce your carbon footprint in other ways in your daily life: take the bus to work or carpool, eat less meat, use energy efficient appliances, and eat locally.
4. Walk or Bike when you can
Once you arrive at your destination, explore by walking or biking. It is a great way to get some exercise in while on vacation and will reduce emissions from cars. Find accommodations closer to town or near your top attractions. If you need to take a car, use shared Lyfts or Ubers to ride with other travelers going in the same direction.
5. Use an Airbnb or Camp instead of a Hotel
Airbnb is a great way to occupy would-be empty apartments and houses. You will feel more like a local, likely have access to a kitchen, and it is often cheaper than staying in a hotel. You support the locals and usually other travelers. If you are a bit more adventurous, you can couch surf! If your destination is away from a big city, pitch a tent and camp.
Other sustainable accommodations include green or eco-hotels or locally run independent hotels. These support the local economy and are typically run with the surrounding environment in mind more than a national chain.
6. Do not have the Housekeeper clean every day
You don't thoroughly clean your house every day, so why have it done while you are traveling? You do not need brand new towels and sheets, freshly vacuumed carpets, and sanitized surfaces each day. Put on the "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door every other day to reduce the use of cleaning chemicals and electricity used to clean your room.
If you opened and used the free hotel toiletries, take them with you. They will just be thrown away if you don't.
7. Turn off A/C or Heat while you are out
Not all hotels have an auto-off feature when you leave the room and often times you forget to think about the A/C like you would if you were home. It is a small act but could make a big difference.
If you are planning a longer trip and need to do laundry while you are away, wait until you have a full load to save on water. The laundry service through the hotel will also likely wash your clothes separately to avoid mixing items between guests, which results in excess water use.
8. Shorter Showers
Just because you are not paying the water bill does not mean you can take a super long hot shower. Depending on where you go, hot water might be quite rare, especially for the locals. Save water and energy, and take short cooler showers. If you are near a beach, skip the shower and wash off in the ocean instead.
9. Use Toiletries with less packaging
Packaging makes up a quarter of landfill waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Beauty products and toiletries are a large part of that. Many people while traveling buy the small flight-compatible toiletries, which have higher packaging to product ratios than their full-sized counterparts.
Lush sells solid shampoos and shower gels that are completely packaging-free. These products have slightly different formulas to solidify them, but once lathered with a little bit of water they function the same. You can get a reusable metal tin to keep your shampoo bar in while traveling.
An added advantage to using "naked" toiletries is likely cheaper products, as packaging can make up a considerable price of a product.
10. Reusable Shampoo/Body Wash containers
If you are not quite ready to switch to naked products or want to keep using your favorite products, buy them your products bulk and fill up travel containers. These can fit shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, toothpaste, sunscreen, or all your other toiletries. I have taken these all over the world and have not leaked yet! I cannot say that about using original packaging. These are also easy to clean if you want to switch out products.
11. Buy high-quality long-lasting clothing
There is a new trend of fast fashion or clothing that is meant for the current fashion trend but will be outdated or fall apart by the next season. This is definitely not the most sustainable option for your wardrobe. Instead, go for clothing that is long-lasting and high quality. Get clothing that is lightweight for better travel and in colors that you can easily mix and match with the other pieces you have. Also, consider buying second-hand clothing to reduce waste.
12. Use Bamboo Cutlery
Traveling can mean a lot of eating out and grabbing street food. This means loads of plastic silverware and disposable chopsticks. Bringing your own reusable Bamboo cutlery can reduce your use of single-use plastics. Bamboo is a very sustainable material and is long lasting. These also come with a case, making it great for traveling!
13. Bring Collapsible Tupperware
Have leftovers after eating out? Going camping or a long hike? Having a set of Collapsible Tupperware is a great solution. Once again, it reduces the use of single-use plastics. When not full of food, they collapse down so they only take up minimal space in your luggage or day-pack.
14. Use electronic tickets, print out less paper
Most airports and tour companies now support electronic ticketing. Instead of getting your boarding pass printed out, pull it up on your phone instead. Just like a paper ticket, you can scan your phone at airport security and the gate. If you have a tour scheduled, pull up the email on your phone instead of printing out your confirmation code. This might only save a little bit of paper, but it all adds up in the long run.
15. Bring a Reusable Tote Bags
There are 100 uses for a tote bag. If you are staying in a place with a kitchen, go to the grocery store, skip the plastic bag, and use your tote. Most countries outside of the US charge you for using grocery bags, so bring your own! If you do not already have a reusable tote bag, buy one at a grocery store while you are abroad. It can double as a great souvenir that you can use when you get back home.
16. Reuse Plastic Bags
If you must get plastic grocery bags, reuse them! Plastic grocery bags work great at keeping your dirty shoes away from your other belongings in your suitcase. Or they can enclose your wet swimsuit from leaking water onto your clothes or leaking toiletry containers.
17. Switch to a Menstrual Cup
For the female travelers, it might be time to switch from tampons and pads to a menstrual cup. Menstrual cups are a great investment and reduce our use of disposable or single-use plastics. It is easier to get a hang of than you might imagine and not as gross as you might fear. They are also great to travel with due to its compact size.
There are many brands of menstrual cups, I personally use Lena and can highly recommend it. However, all of the brands work the same but with slightly different fits.
18. Reusable Water Bottle
Instead of buying single-use water bottles, bring a reusable water bottle. This is a pretty no-brainer tip. If you are in a country with good water – drink from the tap. This will likely encourage you to drink more and prevent dehydration if you are in a humid location or moving more than usual.
19. Water filtration Systems or SteriPen
Are you in an area with lower quality water? You still do need to buy the dreaded plastic water bottles. Water filtration systems and the SteriPen might be some of the best inventions for the environment. If you are going to a developing country, you MUST buy one of these. These will allow you to drink from the tap or freshwater streams without worrying about getting sick. Look into which product is best for you. Some only kill bacteria and leave a bad taste, but are more portable. Others filters are part of a water bottle and combine both of your water needs. The top filters or sterilizing systems include Sawyer Mini Water Filter System, the SteriPen, and Clearly Filtered Water Bottles.
Helping Local Economies
20. Buy Authentic souvenirs
Next time you are at a souvenir shop take a look at how many of the items say "Made in China." Most souvenirs are cheaply made knick-knacks that do not mean as much as the many photos you took on your journey. If you do want to buy souvenirs, buy from local vendors and ensure they are authentic. The best way to tell? If the seller is making it right in front of you. If you are in a place where haggling is common, think about what actually would be a fair price for the item. While it is always good to get a great deal, the person you are haggling with is trying to make a living.
21. Protect the wildlife
If you are going to be interacting with any animals while you are traveling be aware of how your actions might be affected them. Book tours that have a focus on animal conservation efforts. In Thailand? Refrain from riding elephants and go to an Elephant sanctuary instead. At the Great Barrier Reef? Snorkel but avoid touching the coral. In Iceland? Avoid stepping on the moss.
Do not take animals or shells out of their natural habitats. Stay on the trails while in natural parks and pick up after yourself.
Use common sense when picking tours or activities that involve animals. Ask questions of your guides if you are unsure if your interactions with animals are harmful.
22. Support Locals and be Mindful of Local Culture
Find and support local people, businesses, and cultures. Avoid American brands – McDonald's and Starbucks – in favor of local independent shops. Get food from street vendors and order locally brewed beers. The money you spend will have a lot more of an impact on supporting the area you are at. Also, it is probably better and more authentic food.
A great advantage of traveling is learning. Understanding and appreciating cultures different than your own is an important aspect of sustainable travel. There is a thin line between learning about different cultures and exploiting them. Be aware of tours and interactions with people that are degrading. Don't treat people as props to make you look worldly in photos. Research the customs of the area you are going. Make sure you dress appropriately when going to religious buildings or monuments, even if you don't believe in it.
Your Home While you are Gone
23. Use a Programmable Thermostat for your Home
Using a programmable thermostat in your own will not only save energy while you are home but also while you are away on vacation. We use the ecobee, but there are many other programmable thermostats on the market. You can set what days you are on vacation and change the desired temperature for that time. If you forget to change it before you leave, you can always use your smart phone to set it from anywhere. Additionally, most have sensors to detect if you are home or away and will automatically change the temperature if no one has crossed the sensor in an hour or so.
Contact your local electricity company as many give you refunds on your purchase of a smart thermostat, as it reduces the demand of electricity.
24. Reduce your energy expenditures
Outside of temperature control, you can reduce the energy use your house in other ways while you are away. Since you will not be opening the fridge, you can adjust it to a bit warmer of a temperature. You will likely not have much food in there that is in grave danger of spoiling (as you are gone anyways). You can also unplug appliances and other devices. Some devices, especially older ones, still draw energy from outlets even when not in use. In the summer, close your home's curtains to reduce your home heating up from the sun.
If you keep a light on in your home for security reasons, perhaps invest in a programmable light. You can set the light to turn on at sun set so it is not on the whole time you are away.