7 Ways to be a More Conscious Traveler
Ah, travel. A time to relax on sparkling, pristine beaches, hike white-capped majestic mountains, and get lost in evergreen forests.
While you’re jet setting around the world seeing the sights, as a Global Citizen, you’ll want to make sure that those sights remain pristine and majestic. This can sometimes seem like a daunting task.
While it is nearly impossible to travel the globe without tracking around a few carbon footprints, there are certainly a number of things we can do to wipe our boots on the welcome mat of our host country and make for a cleaner trail as we trek the globe.
So, while you’re thinking about which bikinis will give you the least awkward tan lines, and practicing your Dirty Dancing moves for when you meet Rico Suave, start thinking about how you’ll plan to travel with a conscience toward the environment as well. We’ve put a few tips together to get you started!
Unfortunately, many times getting from one place to another means stamping your carbon footprints all over the place. So, while traveling, keep in mind that there are a number of methods for setting down fewer footprints.
- “I really love long layovers,” said no one ever. Luckily for you, you now have an environmental excuse to avoid bash-your-head-against-the-wall boring layovers: a significant amount of carbon emissions come from take-off and landing. Instead, choose a direct flight to not only avoiding long hours staring at Cinnabon in the airport, but to help save the planet too.
- If your destination is a tad closer (because let’s all admit right now that 40-hour bus rides are not the business) then traveling by land is always a better option. Take a bus or a train for distances that don’t require a flight so there are less vehicles on the road letting out carbon emissions.
- If you plan on doing some local sight-seeing, take a bike or walk there. This uses no carbon emissions at all and ensures that you get in some cardio to combat all the irresistible local foods that you know you can’t say no to.
If you’re the type to worry about the eco-footprint of the hotel you’re staying at, you probably already try to book eco-friendly lodging and set your mind at ease.
- Before you book, you’re totally within your rights to ask what the hotel does to reduce their eco-footprint. Ask questions like what their recycling and composting programs look like. Do they have energy efficient lighting? Do they use solar panels? What about low-flow faucets and shower heads? The more people ask, the more hotels will change their practices based on the perceived demand.
- Other good marks of a green hotel or resort are the materials they use to build the actual buildings. Are they from local or reused materials? What else is local? Do they hire local employees, or fly in seasonal workers from around the globe? Is the food they prepare from local sources?
- It’s also important to treat your stay abroad like you would treat your home environment. For example, see if you can opt out of fresh towels and sheets every day. It’s not like you change your towels and sheets every day at home, so why would you do it abroad and waste precious energy and water?
- To find green hotels, check out Green Hotels Association, or see if the hotel has a Green Globe International certification. But remember to ask questions anyways. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for hotels or resorts to call themselves eco-friendly, but still mix the composting with the recyclable water bottles. Ug.
Depending on where you’re traveling, finding reusable items can sometimes be a tad difficult, so try to bring along reusable items before you arrive at your destination.
- Bring reuseable shopping bags. There are a few countries out there that are not on the up-and-up about the environmental dangers of plastic bags. In fact, in many places in Central or South America and Asia, cashiers or market vendors go buck-wild with the plastic bags, putting each separate type of fruit or vegetable in a bag of its own. Remember that plastic bags can take up to 500 years to biodegrade, so bring along your own reusable shopping bag so you won’t be bringing home thousands of years of garbage along with your dinner.
- Water bottles are also public enemy number one when it comes to the environment. This can be a little tricky, since it’s unadvisable to drink the water in many countries abroad. To combat this, try to stay at a hotel or resort that has a water filtration system. If this is not an option, bring along a portable filtration system, potable water tablets, or even a UV water purifier to fill up your reusable water bottle.
Volunteer at an environmental organization
Volunteering abroad is one of the best ways to save money and have a local experience. It’s also one of the most hands-on ways to care for the environment.
- One of the best programs for volunteering abroad is Workaway. They have listings in nearly every country around the world and their membership is more than affordable. Many volunteer programs will charge you an arm and a leg to work for free, but Workaway only costs $29 per year for solo travelers and $38 per year for couples/two friends.
- To find volunteer projects specific to environmental work, create an account on Workaway and click on “Host List” at the top of the page where you’ll be able to search by continent, country, and region. More importantly, you can search for projects by typing in a keyword such as “environment.” If you want to narrow it down even further, click on “More search options” and choose things like farm, sustainable project, or animal welfare. Easy peasy.
- Read more about volunteering while on vacation in our article about the best voluntourism experiences.
Do your research on animal habitats
It may be super tempting to snuggle up with a tiger cub or ride an elephant, but it’s extremely important to know that these things are not going to earn you your conscientious traveler badge. Sadly, there are too many animal sanctuaries out there that say they’re responsible with their animals, while being the exact opposite.
- Before you decide to visit or volunteer in an animal sanctuary, do your research. If the sanctuary allows the keepers, or even worse, the visitors, to handle wild animals, this is a big red flag. There’s nothing wrong with interacting with domesticated animals like cows or sheep, but if a sanctuary allows close contact with wild or dangerous animals, this means either that the sanctuary has taken the animal away from its mother when it was young, or that the sanctuary has no intention of rehabilitating and releasing the animal in the future.
- If the sanctuary offers spectacular tricks performed by the animals, or if you can do activities like riding elephants, this is a really bad sign.
- On the other hand, it’s a very good omen if the sanctuary offers conservation information or educational opportunities, or if there is evidence that it supports conservation programs.
- If you’re still uncertain, check to see if the sanctuary is recognized by organizations that monitor the activity of legitimate wildlife facilities such as World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
Shop and eat local
Buying and eating local has a number of benefits. First of all, if you buy local or eat at restaurants that source locally, you know that you’re helping reduce carbon emissions by avoiding long journeys via air, sea, or land. Remember, you’re the traveler, not your food.
If you want to be even more eco-friendly, eat vegan food to dramatically reduce your carbon, pollution and water footprints.
- Buying local also helps support the resident economy and the people who live there. If you’re a responsible traveler, you want to know that your travels are not negatively impacting the community that you’re visiting. Remember your travel manners and help support your hosts.
Local buying doesn’t stop at the food.
- If you’re in the mood to get a little tipsy (and who wouldn’t be on their travels?) then drink responsibly by buying local brew, liquor, or vino. Not only will you get a taste of the local festive culture by trying new alcoholic beverages, you’ll be reducing carbon emissions by avoiding “beer mileage.”
While it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid leaving a carbon footprint when traveling (or, um, just living in general) you can promise to give the planet – and the people who live there – your best shot by following these seven tips.