We are constantly preached all the wonderful things that travel can do for us – it can expand our minds by promoting intercultural understanding and showing us the interconnectedness of humanity (oh and provide great content for Instagram of course…). What is often swept under the rug however, is the not so wonderful things that travel can do for Mother Earth. Did you know that the tourism and travel sector, especially the transport of tourists, is one of the key sources of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide?
By adopting an eco-friendly mindset on your travels, you will be working to protect the very places that you visit; not only for yourself and future travelers but also for those who continue to live there long after you are back snuggled up in your own bed on the other side of the world. As if this isn’t reason enough to make the change, sustainable travel also boasts the added benefits of providing you with a more authentic travel experience by encouraging you to forge deeper connections with the places you visit and the people you meet along the way.
So next time you travel, put these top 10 tips into action to reduce your environmental impact without having to cancel your travel plans!
10 Ways to Minimize Your Environment Impact Whilst Travelling
Take the road less travelled
Every year, tens of thousands (or millions depending on the place) of tourists wander along exactly the same tourist paths, wearing down the natural environment at a rate faster than it is able to recuperate from. Take the Golden Circle in Iceland for example. Last year, tourist numbers in Iceland grew by 40% and totaled almost 1.8 million visitors (that’s six times the population of the entire country!). At least 90% of these tourists visited the Golden Circle during their stay – the most popular tourist track in Iceland that includes the waterfall Gulfoss, the famous Geyser and the natural wonderland that is Thingvellir National Park. It doesn’t take much imagination to comprehend how this influx of tourists is degrading the already fragile environment. Having spent 2 weeks visiting all corners of the continent, I can safely say that Iceland is full of equally or exceedingly amazing landscapes and sights to those featured on the Golden Circle tourist track. That said, wouldn’t it be better (and far more exciting) for tourists to spread out to allow the environments time to recuperate from the impacts of tourism? So next time you’re off exploring, look further than the top tourist attractions as you never know what you’ll find and you’ll be doing Mother Nature a great service.
Bring a re-usable water bottle and shopping bag
If you only take on board one tip from this list make it this one. Given the fact that one plastic bottle/bag takes hundreds of years to decompose – filling up our landfills in the meantime – the simple act of packing a re-usable water bottle and shopping bag on your travels is pivotal to ensuring an eco-friendly travel experience. Having visited 35 countries and never had an issue myself, I can safely say that unless you are visiting a third world country where the water isn’t safe to drink, you will have no problem finding a place to fill your bottle up. These days many developed cities feature plenty of public drinking fountains/taps (in some Italian cities you can even find sparkling water taps!). Moreover, if you happen to be out hiking in places like New Zealand and Iceland, your fortunes are even greater as it is here that you can find some of the purest drinking water on Earth in the streams and waterfalls that you pass. Going somewhere where the water isn’t safe to drink? No problem – all you need to do is also bring along a small water filter that easily fits in your daypack and can quickly and easily make tap water safe to drink.
Make like a local and take bus, bike or walk to get around town
The benefits of taking public transport or making good use of those legs that were made for walking are twofold. First and foremost, it is the surest way to minimise your environmental impact by reducing your emissions footprint. Secondly, trading in a private car for a local bus or bike will allow you added opportunities to mix with locals and experience the culture in a slower and more intimate nature. It’s a win-win.
Take the shortcut
Did you know that a plane expends the most fuel when taking off and landing? This means that every stop-over on your flight path is resulting in a multiplication of your carbon footprint. Therefore, for the most eco-friendly travel experience be sure to choose the most direct flight whenever possible. As a side note, newer plane models (such as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner) are designed to consume up to 20 percent less fuel. Choosing to fly on one of these more fuel-efficient planes is another simple and quick way to reduce your environmental impact whilst traveling.
Stay at green hotels
As the changing climate becomes an increasing concern worldwide, more and more hotels are adopting environmentally friendly initiatives to minimize their environmental impact. When choosing a hotel it’s best to get a sense of the company’s environmental ethics by emailing them to ask a few questions. Example questions include: What recycling programs does the hotel currently have in place? Is the hotel locally owned and operated and/or staffed by local employees? What programs does the hotel currently have to reduce its energy consumption? It’s also a good idea to visit the hotel’s website to see if it is associated with any certification programs such as the Green Key Global, Green Globe International, Green Seal and EcoRooms & EcoSuites.
Stick to designated paths when exploring national parks
Governments doesn’t spend money and time building boardwalks and putting up ropes for the fun of it. Boardwalks in park lands serve a number of vital purposes. First and foremost, they provide safe and easy access to otherwise inaccessible points of interests, such as geothermal areas and swamps. Secondly, they are vital tools for enforcing conservation measures as they confine visitors to a set path making them less likely to go off-trail and cause potential damage to fragile ecosystems. Besides, who can resist the allure of a deceivingly-endless planked walkway winding through a thicket of trees or across a vast marshland leading the way to new adventures?
Remember the simple things
It’s often too easy to forget the importance of minimising everyday energy use whilst traveling. However, remembering the simple things whilst traveling is just as important as when you are in your own house, especially in megacities where every added emission is furthering the ever increasing health issues related to air pollution. Before leaving for your travels, be sure to research your destination online to identify any water or resource shortages and to find out how energy is produced. Some simple practices to remember when traveling include: not taking long showers, switching off the tap whilst brushing your teeth and washing your face; turning off electronics, lights, and air-conditioning whenever you leave the room; reusing sheets & towels instead of having them washed and changed every day.
Explore with green tour companies
Similar to green hotels, an increasing number of tour companies are adopting an eco-friendly, sustainable approach to tourism. Before booking a tour, it is best to pay a visit to the company’s website to research their environmental ethics. From experience, if a company is environmentally conscious it will boast about its relevant policies and practices on its site. Particular things to take note of is how they contribute to the local community, how they respect the local flora and fauna and whether they are mindful of social and political issues related to the destination.
Take care of your treasures AND your trash
In most developed countries, we can recycle practically anything. However, this is not the case in developing countries where most items marked as trash are merely taken to live out the rest of their days as landfill. A particular concern in these developing countries is the disposal of bulky, man-made items (e.g. old electronics, used batteries and polyester clothing) of which many developing counties are unable to properly dispose of. To prevent this, wait until you return home (or to a country with more eco-conscious disposal practices) to throw out these unwanted item. The exception to this is when the items could be of use to the local people, in which case they should be donated to local charities so that they can become someone else’s treasure.
Say ‘yes’ to carbon offset programs
Whether it was 2, 10 or 50 years ago, I’m sure you remember learning about photosynthesis back in your school days and how trees convert carbon dioxide from within our atmosphere into oxygen which is not only good for us (apparently we need it to survive…) but also good for the planet (because it removes the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere). With this in mind, many organisations offer carbon offset programs that work to offset the carbon used to produce the product you are purchasing by funding reforestation and renewable energy projects. While it is of course better to concentrate your eco-efforts on shrinking your emissions footprint in the first place, contributing to carbon offset programs is a great plan B especially when booking flights.
Go on and share the love for Mother Nature below and let me know how you minimize your environmental impact whilst traveling!
Elle is a world-wanderer, star-gazer, dog-lover and meteorologist in the making. When she’s not busy studying the Earth’s climate, she’s off experiencing it first hand all around the world. Over the past 3 years, Elle has traveled to 31 countries across Europe, Asia, Oceania and the United States and has no plans of stopping anytime soon. You can follow her colorful adventures on her Instagram, Facebook and at thisisyugen.com.