The ability to travel to new and exciting locations is one of the marvels of the modern era. It is not, however, without a cost (and not just to your bank account, either).
For every trek we make across the country or to the other side of the globe, we leave behind a carbon footprint in our wake. Transportation, accommodation, even common activities like hiking, scuba diving, or opting for daily room service can take a toll on the environment.
As we come to understand what the privilege of being able to travel for leisure and personal enjoyment truly means, green travel and ecotourism are gaining in popularity around the world. But what does that mean? And how do we do it?
For those of us who want to try and offset potential environmental damage we might, perhaps even unknowingly, leave behind, here are seven ways to mindfully travel.
1. Choose a ‘green’ destination
‘Green’ destinations are often called so because they allow the traveler to engage in sustainable tourism, while still enjoying a wide breadth of adventurous activities and luxurious locations. These cities, countries, and hotels find ways to minimize their footprint. For example: Soneva Fushi, Maldives has been carbon neutral since 2014 through efforts that include recycling 90% of waste, 100% of food waste, and relying on solar energy for daytime electricity.
2. Unplug at home
This is a step you can take before you even leave: Unplug everything. Lamps, coffee makers, computers, T.V.s, and yes, even your cell phone charger, continue to use power even when you aren’t using them. Make sure you turn off and unplug any running devices, and put your water heater on its lowest setting. Not only will this be less wasteful, your energy bill will thank you too.
3. Choose slow travel when possible
There is no way to get around it, any form of transportation that relies on fossil fuel is bad for the environment, the worst of all being travel by aircraft. When possible, it helps to opt for a train instead of an airplane, and a bus instead of a train. Slow travel has its own perks as well: You’ll quite possibly see more places, meet more people, and have a chance to practice your new language(s) before arriving to your destination. Consider the capacity of the mode of travel as well, and use public transport or car-shares instead of individual cars. Got a bike? Even better.
If you must fly, remember that much of an airplane’s fuel is used during take off and landing, so purchase a direct flight if you can. Certain airlines even offer carbon offset options. The way these work is you pay an extra fee along with your ticket that goes toward renewable energy resources, energy efficiency, or reforestation projects.
4. Respect the environment
Due to the rise of influencer culture, the spotlight has been put on just how far people will go for that perfect photo op. But while that Instagram shot of the serene, freckle-faced, wild-haired blonde in a field of poppies or on top of a mountain might speak to our innate instinct to throw off the shackles of conformity, hop on a plane to somewhere in Scandinavia, and discover ourselves alongside mother nature — the truth is that photo might be of someone destroying the environment, rather than appreciating it. Do your research, heed warning signs, and follow the rules. And always be very, very wary of any tourism involving animals.
5. Enjoy local food and drink
Opting to eat regionally sourced food and drink is not only a delicious way to get to know the local culture and cuisine of a new country, it’s also an important way to give back to the community you’re visiting. Food from individually owned restaurants is often fresher, tastes better, and benefits the environment. For every locally brewed beer you drink, you’ll be getting a heavy dose of authenticity while cutting down on your carbon footprint as well.
6. Treat your hotel like home
If you’re here to learn how to be a more environmentally friendly traveler, you’re probably already taking steps to be more green at home. Basic steps like reduce, reuse, and recycle remain relevant everywhere you go. (Every country recycles a little differently, so make sure you research the rules beforehand.) Turn off the lights when you leave your lodging, avoid wasting water, and avoid single-use plastics. Do you really need new towels and sheets on the daily? Opt out of room service to use less water and detergents.
7. Mindfully shop for souvenirs
Avoiding gift shops and choosing instead to frequent local businesses helps support the local economy. Plus, it creates less of a demand for mass-produced, imported souvenirs geared toward tourists that often have much larger carbon footprints. Reconsider buying any products possibly made from an endangered species. This could include materials like animal hide, horns or tusks, tortoise-shell, or coral, just to name a few. To do the world one better, buy souvenirs that are useful and won’t end up at the back of a closet or in a trash bin — the earth and your loved ones will thank you.