Save the planet, while traipsing the planet
Travelling the world expands our minds, creates unforgettable memories and gifts us with a kaleidoscope of amazing cultural experiences, but unfortunately it can also take its toll on Mother Earth. Embracing ‘green travel’ involves a couple of main areas – abiding by responsible travel practices that mirror social and environmental sustainability and supporting eco-tourism, which involves travelling responsibly to ‘natural’ areas in order to conserve the environment and the well-being of the locals. So hipster up and go green, fellow humans.
Watch the waste
When packing and travelling, go the triple R’s of environmentalism – re-use, reduce and recycle. Pack as light as you can – the more weight planes, trains and cars have to carry, the more fuel they use, which means more greenhouse gas emissions. Use rechargeable batteries, minimise your mini-toiletries (use travel-sized containers instead which you can refill once you’re over there) and invest in some packing cells or ‘dry cases’ rather than plastic bags, which will carry everything from underwear to electronics.
Forget buying bottled water (it’s hideous in terms of both landfills) and purchase a decent BPA-free bottle instead. And prep for those retail binges with a BYO shopping bag (non-plastic of course) that’ll scrunch up nicely in your hand luggage ready for a splurge or two on souvenirs or fresh market produce.
Rethink your transport
Of course air flight is the most economical and practical way to navigate the globe, however opting for a direct flight on a newer, more energy-efficient plane will help out the environment a little, as will choosing to offset carbon when flying (many airlines will offer you this when you book your ticket).
Once you’re there, minimise your carbon footprint by choosing green ways to get around. Public transport is a great traveller-friendly option and most wish list locations will have ample bus and train services. Europe, in particular, has a fantastic cross-country rail network that will enable you to visit pretty much the whole darn continent without catching a single internal flight. It’s also inexpensive and super-efficient. Ferries can offer a completely different travel perspective (as can cargo ships if you’re up for it) and walking and cycling are fantastic options in terms of exploration (you’ll discover back alleys and charming locals you’d never find on a bus).
If you’re dead-set on travelling by car, consider renting a hybrid model, which will be eco-friendly and consume less fuel and follow some green driving tips – avoid fast stops and starts, minimise idling and stick to the speed limit (probably wise anyway in order to avoid your local constabulary). Or buddy up with other like-minded adventurers via a spot of car pooling, which these days is affectionately referred to as ‘virtual hitchhiking’.
AirBnb continues to be a bit of a crowd favourite in terms of sourcing privately owned accommodation options (with over 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries), with Couchsurfing another popular option, particularly if you’re keen to shack up with a local (not literally of course). And there are even worldwide exchange sites out there for pedal-crazy types, where a bed, couch or place to camp out is only a click away.
Many hotels are recognising the importance of joining the environmental brigade with more and more becoming ‘accredited’ by a range of eco-friendly mobs that encourage the instigation of energy management systems, water-saving equipment and recycling programs.
But regardless of their greenness, you can easily still do your bit by keeping showers short, re-using towels and sheets and turning off the AC, lights and TV when you’re not using them.
And of course, there’s the fluoro-greeny option of staying in an eco hostel. These are super conscientious establishments that pride themselves on their uber-planet-hugging, low carbon existence. Many of them are built from environmentally sound materials, have innovative water filtration systems, rely purely on solar power and run kitchens that only use locally sourced produce (unless it’s grown on-site of course). Others employ only local residents, recycle grey water from the showers, have on-site composting systems and provide environmental education programs like guided tours and nature walks. Whatever floats your tree-hugging boat really!
Green up your touristy pursuits
Instead of jumping onboard a treadmill of tourist fleecing meccas, bypass some of the ‘must-do’ sites and ogle up some of the more ‘natural attractions’ in your destination of choice. There are currently over 1000 World Heritage Sites that encompass everything from temples and pyramids to national parks and coral reefs and many of them are free (although they’re worth their weight in gold).
Buy locally made souvenirs, go paper free with guides and maps (try the Citymapper and Fodor’s City Guides apps) and shop at local vendors and farmer’s markets rather than at the big supermarket chains. Sampling the local cuisine is also the greener way to go. You’ll not only be helping to reduce the pollution caused by transporting food, you can enjoy a warm ‘belly fuzzy’ knowing that you’ve contributed to the livelihood of a local business or hardworking farmer.
Be mindful about your destination
If you’re looking to dive into a bit of philanthropic travel, there are heaps of organisations around the world that are more than willing to take advantage of that volunteering spirit, helping out with building communities and assisting with organic farming and sustainable living projects.
But if you’re just keen to make a responsible choice in terms of where you travel, check out Ethical Traveller, an organisation that reviews the policies and practices of developing nations around the world and compiles a list of those that do the best job of promoting human rights, protecting the environment and supporting social and animal welfare. This year’s list includes locations like Cape Verde, Dominica, Grenada, Micronesia (Federated States), Mongolia, Panama, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Uruguay.
However, regardless of where you choose to place your travel ‘footprint’, it’s worth remembering that as travellers, we have enormous power. Travel is now one of the world’s largest industries, so our choices (especially if they’re mindful) have political and economic reverberations that reach far beyond our own personal experiences.
As Ethical Traveler maintains, “by … choosing our destinations well and cultivating our roles as citizen diplomats, we promote international goodwill and help change the world for the better.”