Being born of nomadic ancestors, it’s little wonder so many of us have been struck by wanderlust. Travelling has the ability to make us feel connected and displaced. Experiencing life in another culture or place expands your understanding of yourself just as much as it does your understanding of others. But, can we really travel eco-friendly? How can we reduce our carbon footprint while still exploring the great unknown? Are there easy ways to be a green globetrotter? This guide to sustainable travel has some ideas we can put to use without much effort. Let’s look at some ways we can exercise respect for the environment as well as the local people while abroad.
By now we’re all aware that air travel is not the most eco-friendly way to go, however in some cases it’s the only way to get from A to B. Luckily for us, there are many ways in which we can ease the burden we place on the planet and make our travels as sustainable as possible. The first rule of sustainable travel is finding ways to move about the local area that are as low-impact as possible. The best method of travel for the environment is two feet and a heartbeat. Walking does not require any carbon emissions, gasoline, or manufacturing.
Modern Solutions for a Modern Problem
Not everyone is able to walk long distances and some people may have a disability that does not allow them to walk safely or even at all. While walking is certainly the cleanest method of travel from an environmental standpoint, there are other methods that still minimize greenhouse gasses and other damage to the planet. Renting a bicycle, scooter, or segway is one option for those who may not be able to walk. Many big cities now have access to pay-per-use transportation, meaning you can hop on a bike, pay for your time spent riding and then leave the bike for the next person who needs it. Find a bike that has a place to store your stuff while you travel. In the city I just use an old plastic milk crate, but you might want a sleek front bike rack which is a more secure option if you are travelling in an unknown city. This option is great if you’re in an area that has this infrastructure built and is small enough in a geographical location that you can move about the places you wish to see using your own power.
Classic Options with a Green Update
When it comes to longer trips that are too far to cycle or are over terrain that is unsafe for foot travel, public transit options like coach busses or trains are surprisingly eco-friendly nowadays. Busses and trains are capable of moving large groups of passengers and minimizing the number of individual vehicles on the road. They’re also designed to be more fuel efficient and release fewer emissions as a result. Not only is it often more cost effective to travel by bus or train, but there is also the added benefit of being able to enjoy the scenery and company without having to focus on driving.
When public transportation is not a viable option, carpooling or rideshares are the next best thing. Planning group trips or joining tours will again minimize the number of vehicles on the road. It is also important to try to select a vehicle that is low emissions if possible. When using rideshare, opt for eco-friendlier options than SUVs and try to plan your trips to avoid unnecessary mileage. All of these small decisions add up to a much greener trip.
Beyond getting around for your sight-seeing, choosing a place to stay can also have major impacts on the environment.
Although tempting, luxury hotels can be some of the worst offenders when it comes to environmental impact. Opting for greener lodging such as a hostel or guest-home will not only provide you with the unique experience of how the locals live, it is also a great way to meet new people and lower your carbon footprint. There are booking companies that focus on finding safe and green options for lodging so travellers can relax and enjoy their trip knowing they’ve made a better choice. If you do decide to stay in a luxury hotel, opt to reuse your towels instead of daily towel service and use your own shampoos and soaps instead of the single-use plastic bottles. Also, don’t be afraid to leave comments or feedback for the hotel management on how they can be more eco-friendly. The more we advocate for change the more likely we are to get it!
Home Away From Home
Regardless of where you stay, treat it the same way you treat your own home. Don’t forget to turn off the lights and be mindful of your water usage as well. Adjust the thermostat so it’s not overworking and take advantage of the climate you’re visiting. If you’ll be on an all-day adventure, pack your own snacks and beverages in eco-friendly containers to avoid littering and purchasing items with excessive packaging. The same eco-friendly principles you use at home should be used abroad as much as possible.
Eco-Tourism and Tourist Traps
Before spending your money on a tourist activity consider these important questions: Does it involve local wildlife? Does it rely on single-use items that pollute the area? Am I exploiting a local community population or endangering a local guide? Who does the money benefit? Try sourcing out local museums and attractions that directly benefit the culture’s history and community. Environmental journalist Aaron ‘Bertie’ Gekoski has worked tirelessly on bringing the dark underbelly of wildlife tourism to light. It’s up to us as tourists to stop funding activities that harm local wildlife and people. Additionally, avoid damaging environmental areas or sacred grounds for a selfie moment. Most importantly, when exploring natural areas, be respectful of the signs and rules posted. As a general rule, always leave the area better than you found it.
Pack Your Bags
Finally, being green in your daily life can have great effects on your travel as well. How to Pack Like a Sustainable Traveller suggests packing items that you can use abroad to minimize your individual waste like refillable shampoo and body wash containers. For those who menstruate, try reusable napkins or menstrual cups to avoid any issues with plumbing and to eliminate landfill waste. Avoid products that contain harmful chemicals or things like microplastics that can easily disrupt the local environment and cause damage. Not only will packing green save the environment, but it will also save you money! Lighter luggage will allow you to avoid any additional costs at the airport and prevent you from overspending on items once you arrive.
It’s nearly impossible to travel at net-zero, however, there are tonnes of small and thoughtful steps we can take to minimize our impact and travel in a sustainable way. A small amount of research ahead of time can make all the difference in the world when it comes to eco-friendly travel. We might not be able to travel completely green, but we can travel in a safer and more sustainable way that will ensure future generations can travel the world and see its wonders for years to come.