In the short time I’ve been on this planet, the world has seen natural disasters of biblical proportions–devastating hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and storms, with threats of many more on the horizon.
And just in the past month, record-high temperatures in D.C. and around the world have been yet another reminder of the rapidly-changing climate. As much as we work to live eco-friendly lives at home (eating local, bringing our own cups to Starbucks, recycling, walking to work), it’s easy to forget how destructive just one person’s travel habits can be on the environment.
Here are a few ways we can all work to reduce our carbon footprints while traversing the globe:
We pack our clothes for vacation in luggage that we use over and over again, so why not do the same for our on-the-go snacks? Instead of buying a plastic water bottle at the airport or gas station, bring your own–just make sure it’s empty before you reach the airport security checkpoint. Most airports in the U.S., and a growing number internationally, have drinking fountains and water-refill stations once you get through security. And instead of stocking up on overpriced single-serve trail mix or chocolate, bring your own from home in reusable snack bags. Bonus: These can be used to hold anything from jewelry to dirty laundry when you’re packing to go home.
Some other things you can bring from home to reduce waste while traveling:
- Reusable grocery bags
- Stainless steel straw
- Shampoo/conditioner in reusable travel-size bottles
- Digital boarding pass
If you must buy souvenirs while abroad, make an effort to patronize local shops. Not only will you be supporting the local economy by purchasing from the artists and businesses in the community you’re visiting, you won’t be contributing to the waste produced by factory-manufactured souvenir t-shirts that have to travel thousands of miles to reach the gift shop. Think about making purchases that have a low cost-per-use, or that actually serve a “green” purpose themselves – a canvas bag screen-printed by a local artist is a chic accessory that reminds you of your trip, in addition to being a reusable grocery bag.
Stay off the road:
Taxis and Uber can often be the most convenient way to get around a city, but try to avoid them if possible. Renting bikes, taking public transportation and of course, walking, are not only environmentally friendly, but can be one of the easiest ways to “live like a local” and experience the streetscape.
Buy carbon offsets for your plane travel:
Flying is, without a doubt, the most environmentally-destructive actions an individual can perform. As early as 2013, the New York Times dubbed it the “biggest carbon sin.” Of course, most international travel (and domestic here in the U.S.) can’t be accomplished without flying. So if a road trip is out of the question, think about purchasing carbon offsets to mitigate the damage of your air travel. Some airlines, like Delta and United Airlines, offer an option to purchase the offsets when booking your flight, but you can also buy them separately from companies like Terrapass.
Eat locally, vegetarian if possible:
Cutting out meat is known to be one of the most effective ways for an individual to cut down on their own carbon footprint. Even if you’re an omnivore at home, prioritizing vegetables in your meals abroad is an easy way to reduce waste and get to know the local produce. But even if you can’t cut out meat, make an effort to eat locally by visiting farmers’ markets and restaurants that use products from regional farms and producers.
Look into eco-travel:
If you really want to up your green-travel game, it might be worth exploring an eco-excursion. Hundreds of tour companies and even entire resorts now focus primarily on supporting local economies with minimal environmental impact. The International Ecotourism Society maintains a database where you can easily search for companies in your destination that fit their standards of conservation and sustainable travel.
Stay somewhere green:
Governments globally are making it easier to recognize when buildings are constructed with the environment in mind. In the U.S., you can look for LEED-certified hotels, which have been approved by the United States Green Building Council, and there are countless websites that purport to compile lists of environmentally-friendly hotels. When in doubt, call the hotel you’re interested in, ask about how they work to reduce their environmental impact, and make the judgement yourself.
How do you take care of the Earth when you travel?