Traveling is certainly one of life’s most fulfilling experiences. But whether it’s airplane fuel, paper boarding passes or air conditioning overuse, traveling rarely comes without its environmental consequences. Now, this does not mean that in order to save the world we should stop traveling altogether, far from it! It means that we should make better choices as we do and become more environmentally conscious travelers. We can start by doing small but meaningful things that will positively impact the earth, reduce our carbon footprint, and make our travel experience 100 percent more fulfilling. Here’s our comprehensive guide to becoming an eco-friendly traveler.
Walk, walk, walk.
According to Project Drawdown, if 5 percent of trips currently made by car were made by foot, 2.9 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions would be avoided from now to the year 2050.
For the environmentally-conscious traveler, this means ditching the rental car and start looking for alternatives. Walk from your hotel to local shops or restaurants, do walking tours when possible or, if some distances aren’t walkable, use public transportation or bicycles. Not only will you save money and reduce carbon emissions, but you’ll also see more of the city, immerse yourself in the local culture, get some fresh air, enjoy better photo opportunities, and as a bonus, you’ll get a bit of exercise done. It’s also important that you always seek out accommodations that provide the opportunity to walk or bike between the hotel and the surrounding sightseeing spots. Blue Apple Beach in Isla Tierra Bomba, Colombia, is an eco-friendly hotel that provides guests with the opportunity to enjoy colorful beach walks and it’s just a 15-minute boat ride away from Cartagena where you can walk or bike around the quaint neighborhoods and breathtaking shores.
Buy local produce and reduce food waste.
Processed, pre-packaged and mass-produced foods, especially beef, are the top contributors to food waste and are responsible for one fifth of global carbon emissions. A meaningful step towards eco-friendly traveling is always opting to eat in sustainable restaurants, avoid food products that come in plastic containers, go meat-free when possible, shop in markets with local suppliers and always buy organic fruits and vegetables from local farmers. During your stay, patronize sustainable hotels that serve local food and either support local farmers or grow their own products in-house. Destinations like Fivelements Retreat in Bali, and Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica, have created a decadent, waste-free menu around organic, plant-based meals that use whatever fruits and vegetables are in season and are either grown on the premises or purchased from local farmers and markets.
For the environmentally-conscious traveler, air travel is, more often than not, a necessary evil. Whether short or long haul, airplane traveling produces 2.5 percent of the world’s yearly global carbon emissions. Luckily, and even as counterintuitive as it sounds, sustainable flying is indeed possible with a few tweaks and changes you can easily make. Start by doing a more thorough search and be more aware of your choices when booking your flight. Lean towards non-stop flights, choose routes operated by the world’s most sustainable airlines, avoid flying first class and use e-tickets and electronic boarding passes instead of print outs. When booking, you can also use sites like Skyscanner, which lets you know which flights are more fuel-efficient and have lower carbon emissions and which airlines are the most eco-friendly and sustainable. Or, you can go one step further and use carbon offsetting, a win-win initiative that helps you balance out your airplane travel carbon emissions by funding planet-saving initiatives, education, food, and health projects across the planet.
Book eco-friendly accommodation.
Where you stay during your vacation is probably the most important and environmentally impactful decision of your entire trip. Some hotels, especially big chains, are gigantic contributors to carbon emissions and waste so avoid these when possible. Choose eco-friendly hotels that filter their own water, have meat-free and organic food options, use plastic-free containers, encourage recycling, or automatically turn on-off electronics in the room whit the use of electronic keycards. You can also incur on eco-friendly behaviors during your stay and act like you would if you were at home. Reuse your towels and linens for the entire duration of your stay, use as little air conditioning as possible or none at all, don’t waste shampoo, soap, lotions, or toothpaste just because they’re free, and don’t take overly long showers or baths. Be on the lookout for green certifications such as Green Key or Green Globe which recognize the greenest and most sustainable hotels in the world.
Places like Bio Habitat Hotel in Colombia or Las Flores Surf Club in El Salvador, have environmentally-conscious locations that connect with nature with minimal or no ecosystem alterations and will surely make any trip an unforgettable experience.
Being a smart traveler isn’t just about caring for the environment wherever you go, it’s about actively trying to improve it and make choices that have a real, tangible impact on our planet’s wellbeing. As you make your way through the world, make sure that the only thing you leave behind are footprints. And remember, every little thing counts, no matter how small.