If you've committed yourself to caring for the planet, you're faced with the challenge of balancing your drive to live sustainably and your desire to explore all the incredible wonders our world has to offer. We have some tips on how to minimize the environmental impact of your travels to help you plan a truly green vacation.
1. Save Energy at Home
Prior to your trip, shut down your home. Take these steps for optimal conservation and waste reduction:
- Unplug all electronics including clocks, smart speakers, computers, game systems, and anything that passively uses electricity.
- Eat, share, or freeze extra food.
- Fill your nearly empty fridge with excess drinks since air takes more energy to cool than liquid.
- Adjust the thermostat and turn down your hot water tank.
2. Determine the Carbon Footprint of Your Transportation Options
The Earth-friendliest way to your vacation destination depends on how many people you're traveling with and how far you're going. Both National Geographic and The Union of Concerned Scientists have done studies to determine the carbon footprint of different transportation methods:
- Electric car: According to National Geographic, an electric car will give you the most miles per passenger and the fewest emissions per passenger. However, their use is not yet widespread, and you may not find plug-in locations for your entire route. If you are driving to your destination or during your stay, be sure to use gas-saving driving techniques.
- Mass transit: The Union of Concerned Scientists lists the bus as the best travel method for solo travelers, couples, and families of four. For one or two travelers, taking a train is the second-best option for trips within 500 miles. Either option can give you a window seat and a happy conscience.
- Plane: If you're traveling farther (1,000 miles or more), a plane is the most sensible—and often the only—option. Short flights are less efficient due to the fuel burn during takeoff and landing, as National Geographic explains, so save the plane rides for your longer-haul trips.
3. Choose an Eco-Friendly Hotel or Local Accommodation
The rise of ecotourism is driving the rise of eco-hotels, which is wonderful news! Eco-friendly hotels are becoming easier to find. Check out TripAdvisor's GreenLeaders Program, Wayaj, and the Green Hotels Association to start. Likewise, travel agents can point you to specific packages and locations for a green vacation. You can also seek out LEED-certified hotels, which means they were either built or renovated with the intention of being as green as possible.
However, hotels are meant to hold many people at once and contain lots of empty space. The most sustainable accommodation would actually be another home where there's no lobby to heat and illuminate, no empty rooms to cool down, and no huge hallways where the lights never turn off. House swapping or renting a cabin or Airbnb would give you and your travel mates plenty of space while using less energy. You'll be able to cook your own meals and maybe even do a load of laundry if you need to. No matter where you stay, continue your regular energy and water reduction habits.
4. Maintain Your Recycling and Reusing Practices
Before you head to your destination, do some research on how to recycle where you're going. Plastic recycling is changing worldwide, and glass is not currently accepted everywhere. I love the recycling mantra "know before you throw!"
Hotels, beaches, remote hiking trails, and theme parks are not always the easiest places to find a recycling bin, either. Accept that you may find yourself toting your recycling around for a while—or even bringing it home to discard properly, if needed.
Remember: those tiny travel bottles aren't really recyclable. They are usually too small to make it through the materials recovery facility. The best practice is to use small, reusable bottles of your shampoos, soaps, and lotions that you can refill at home before your trip and use over and over during future travels. Three-ounce bottles are usually enough for a week of soap and will make it through TSA!
Carry your reusable water bottle, stainless steel straw, and cloth tote bag to cut your single-use plastic consumption while exploring your destination.
5. Help the Local Community
Find a way to give back to the people where you're traveling. This may mean leaving generous tips, eating local food (both from farmers' markets and locally owned restaurants), and buying souvenirs from local artisans. You may also find a way to volunteer for your host city through a service project. This can give you a unique vantage of this new place.
6. Purchase Offsets
Purchasing carbon offsets is becoming more common for travelers. Some airlines even offer offsets during check out. Making a financial donation or donation of time to your favorite green nonprofit is a great way to offset the environmental impact of travel.
Where will you be traveling next? Will you make any changes to your plans to make it a greener trip? Check out our other green living tips on the Thinking Sustainably board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!
The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.
Why It's Good
It's true that traveling can contribute to carbon emissions, but with a few tweaks to your vacation plans, you can have a much more eco-friendly trip!