Travel is easier and cheaper than ever, and in response, almost two billion people around the world are vacationing each year. While this poses great benefits for the travel industry and local economies, it can also take a big toll on the environment.
For me, the thought of "green travel" once conjured images of roughing it in the wilderness. But after interviewing some of my more eco-minded colleagues at Vacasa, I learned that it’s quite possible to enjoy a comfortable vacation — even a luxury vacation — and help preserve the planet with an environmentally friendly approach. Here are some green travel tips I picked up from our conversations.
Before You Travel
Bring Reusable Items
Often, my green habits at home (think recycling or always carrying a water bottle) go right out the window when I’m traveling. That’s why it’s important to think ahead. If you already have a reusable shopping bag, water bottle, or coffee mug, bring it with you. If you don't like the idea of using valuable real estate in your suitcase, it’s easy to get a couple of carabiners and attach them to your carry-on bag. You might look a little silly, but hey — those morning cups of coffee add up, and when you think about all of the paper you’ll save over the course of your trip, it’s totally worth a few hours of clanging your way through the airport!
If you're flying, you'll save yourself some cash by avoiding checking a bag and bringing a light carry on that can fit in the overhead compartment instead. It may not sound like a big deal, but you'll do your part not to overweigh the plane, which ultimately cuts down on the use of fossil fuels.
Don't Print Your Tickets
Go electronic, and rather than using ink and paper to print a paper ticket, download an e-ticket on your phone.
Turn Off the Power
When you leave home, adjust the heating and air conditioning systems and make sure electronics and small appliances are unplugged. If you're concerned about break-ins, put lights on a timer so they’ll turn on at night without constantly using electricity.
Choose Energy-Efficient Lodging
Look for a place to stay that has energy efficient heating and cooling systems, utilizes solar panels, or employs other methods of sustainable living. Location is important, too: Walking everywhere instead of having to drive is one of the best choices you can make for the environment. Plus, it’s worth spending a little bit extra for a great location to save on gas.
Getting to Your Destination
Consider Taking the Train
Embrace all of the best parts of “slow travel” (stopping in multiple destinations, for example) when you take the train. You’ll enjoy beautiful scenery along the way, spot attractions you wouldn't otherwise know about, and start your vacation with a fresh perspective.
Choose a Nonstop Flight
Sometimes, booking a flight is inevitable, especially when you’re traveling overseas. However, there are more environmentally friendly choices you can make, even if you need to fly. The carbon emissions from takeoff and landing are higher than those during flight, so if budget allows it, choose a nonstop itinerary. You’ll get to your destination more quickly and use fewer fossil fuels in the process.
While You're Traveling
Bus, Bike, or Walk to See the Sights
With a little forethought, you can still experience everything you want and be a bit kinder to the environment. Of all the gas-powered modes of transportation, buses are the least harmful to our lungs and the ozone. If you stay in an area where biking is predominant (like my hometown of Portland,) considering hopping on the bandwagon and two-wheeling it to see the sights. Of course, walking is always the best transportation choice you can make for the environment, and it's great for your health!
Rent an Electric or Hybrid Car
If driving is necessary, rent a vehicle that keeps carbon emissions to a minimum — good for the environment and your wallet. If a hybrid isn't a possibility, steer away from a gas guzzler and rent a compact car with great mileage before you hit the road.
Conserve Resources on the Go
Turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth, take short showers, and reuse sheets and towels. And just like at home, when you leave, adjust the heating or air conditioning and turn off all lights and electronic devices.
That mass-produced magnet might be alluring at first glance, but give some thought to where a product is made before you hand over your cash. Instead, pick up something made by a local artisan. You’ll bring a little piece of your vacation back with you and support the local economy.
After Your Vacation
Make a Donation
Once you're back home safe and sound, consider making a donation to a cause or organization that supports sustainable practices and environmental health, like the Sierra Club or the NRDC. You can even go a step further and donate your time as a volunteer.
Plant a Few Trees
By planting trees, you can counterbalance your carbon footprint (which is inevitable even when you travel green). Get outside and make it a family activity. Going on an adventure together might even make it feel like you’re still on vacation!
Little by little, you can lessen your personal environmental impact with these green travel tips. If each of us puts in the effort to make a few small changes every time we travel, we can make the planet a greener, more sustainable place for not only our own travels, but also for future generations to come.