Being a global citizen comes with a lot of responsibility, but if taking action now means securing a plentiful future, we’re more than happy to oblige. Clean living starts at home, but you shouldn’t change your conservation habits just because you’re on someone else’s turf. In fact, sustainable travel is the perfect opportunity to show Mother Earth and fellow inhabitants how much you care.
Green travel can take many forms, from responsible and ethical practices to the increasing popularity of ecotourism. Here are some of our favorite ways to see the world while ensuring the same right for future generations.
1. Begin before you leave
Ready your home for a guilt-free vacation of its own by making sure it’s not bleeding unneeded energy while you’re away.
- Turn off and unplug. Your house won’t know the difference if the AC isn’t blasting to save it from the scorching summer. Lamps and electronics use energy while asleep, so make sure everything is off and detached from outlets. If property safety is a concern, invest in solar-powered motion lights.
- Pause deliveries. Those piled up newspapers and magazines sure to greet you on your return aren’t going to read themselves. Suspend daily or weekly periodicals and mail service to save your mailperson some gas and shoe leather while decreasing waste.
- Minimize new travel products. We know, those travel-size shampoos are super cute, but it’s smart to invest in reusable containers you can fill up from your home supply. Buy second-hand or sustainable goods, and recycle all packaging from necessary new provisions.
Viewfinder Tip: Avoid plastic straws; they account for a lot of the waste found in our oceans.
2. Bring your reusables
Water and snacks are essential to any traveler’s kit, and shopping for souvenirs is a must, but the potential for waste is great. Whenever you see an opportunity to bypass packaging, take it.
- Skip bottled water. Fill your reusable vessel at water fountains (if you’re concerned about quality, pick up a travel filter or purifier). Is public water scarce? Buy one big bottle of locally sourced water, and top off your refillable portable as needed.
- Bring your own bags. For any kind of shopping, from food to souvenirs, forgo plastic or paper, and bring canvas or mesh instead. Beyond the bag, always shop wisely—don’t buy anything made from endangered plants or animals or from high-polluting industries, and shop for local goods and food.
- Buy package-free. Snacks from bulk bins or farmers markets are often fresh and local, while goods from flea or street markets usually lack excess packaging. Bring along a few multi-use containers to store snacks on the go or to carry goods from market to hotel.
- Reduce energy use. Rely on natural light, and keep the lamps low after dark. You’re on vacation, so don’t think about turning on the TV, and keep electronic device use to an as-needed basis.
- Work with the hotel. Inquire about their recycling program and contribute how you can. Decline daily maid service with the Do Not Disturb sign, minimize water use, and reuse your towels.
- If you open it, use it. Only dig into the products you plan to use, and skip any that aren’t essential or have excessive packaging. Ask if the hotel donates unused amenities to organizations like Clean the World.
4. Bike and walk
To practice the most environmentally friendly travel, walk or bike when possible. Public transportation is a good third resort, and some cities have great eco-friendly options–Copenhagen’s electric buses or the amazingly efficient public transport in Singapore come to mind.
- Borrow from your digs. Many hotels, like the Indian Springs Resort & Spa in Napa Valley, offer bike rentals to their guests, which you can use within the grounds or around the city.
- Take it and leave it. Bike share programs are on the rise, which allow you to pick up and drop off at kiosks around town.
- Bring comfortable shoes. Walking is one of the absolute best ways to take in new surroundings, so download a good walking map, or let yourself wander free.
5. Opt for eco-friendly tours
Explore beyond the city to see the nature we’re trying to preserve. But remember one of the most important eco-friendly travel tips: Tours that pay attention to environmental concerns are the best way to see the great outdoors with minimal impact.
- Choose the right vendor. Look for tour companies that have good ratings, employ local people, pay fair wages, and do not exploit animals. International Ecotourism Society is a good place to start your research.
- Be mindful of group size. Smaller numbers of people mean fewer harmful eco-consequences. Tours of no more than 15 people at a time keep the human-to-nature ratio at manageable levels and allow your guides to keep the group on the right track.
6. Be informed
Educate yourself on local issues and do your best not to contribute to specific problems of the region, be they cultural or environmental.
- Pick your destination with care. Some cities are further ahead when it comes to green practices. Vancouver, BC, and Oslo, Norway, for instance, make it easy for travelers to follow all the best green travel tips. If you know you’re visiting a less-advanced place, go the extra mile to reduce your personal effect.
- Understand social impacts. Locals know what the specific needs of the area are, and it’s wise to understand people’s relationship with their environment. You may learn something you’ve never considered before, or at least see the best ways to incorporate your practices with the culture you’re visiting.
- Stay on the beaten path. If you choose to go it alone into the wilderness, do your research. Acquaint yourself with weather patterns, trails, and terrain. Stick to marked routes to avoid harming plant life, and do not feed or engage with wild animals.
There you have it, our guide to traveling the world’s cities and surrounds while staying true to your ecological convictions. If you’re curious which cities are great eco-conscious destinations, check out our list of the greenest U.S. cities.
What are some of your favorite tips for green travel?