Lonely Planet Writer

Earth Day: 7 easy tips for eco-friendly travel on a budget

Earth Day is here again and, for nearly 50 years, it has inspired people all over the world to go green. They believe that small eco-friendly decisions can add up to a huge difference to our planet and estimate they’ve prompted more than 2.5 billion green acts since their inception.

With leaders in the travel industry taking major steps to reduce their carbon footprint, there has never been a better time to get involved. But how to start, especially when you’re watching your pennies? Rest assured, being a budget traveller doesn’t need to cost the earth and being eco-friendly doesn’t need to empty your wallet. Here are seven easy tips to make a real difference on your next holiday.

A water filter could make you this happy too (probably). Photo by Hero Images

1. Where to get your water

There are still lots of places where it’s unsafe to drink tap water but constantly buying plastic bottles in the shop is a big no-no. Investing in a water filter is the perfect way to always have clean water to hand and you can re-use it on any future adventures. Water purification tablets are also a budget-friendly option or you could research some local solutions. In Southeast Asia for example you can use an app to find water refill stations in more than ten countries.

2. Eat and drink locally

The real happy meal. Photo by Denzel9/Shutterstock

Step away from the Starbucks and McDonalds and seek out the best in local produce. Jonathan Engels from Green Global Travel recommends seeking out traditional dishes which tend to use local ingredients. “The beauty of ethical eating while we’re traveling”, he says “is that it encourages us to try what’s on the menu rather than eating stuff imported to recreate the same unhealthy food we try to avoid at home.” Street food is always a cheap way to experience the best a region has to offer and if you opt for vegetarian, even better. At night, choose local craft brews or wines.

3. Airplane tips for saving carbon and money

Believe it or not, there are ways to make flights a little greener. Did you know flying first class can be more than five times as heavy on carbon per person according to a 2013 study by the World Bank? So squish into economy and feel a bit more virtuous. You can also help by taking direct flights and packing as light as possible to cut down on the weight of the airplane, thus saving fuel and baggage charges. Choosing the right airport can also make an impact. The Center for Responsible Travel recommends Seattle-Tacoma, Baltimore-Washington and San Francisco International as green airports who are doing their bit.

4. Slow down your travels

Slow travel doesn’t just benefit the environment, it’s more relaxing too. Photo by Martin Steinthaler

The ‘travel’ part of holidays is where even the most eco-conscious travellers can fall down. Where possible, opt for the train instead of a flight. In a comprehensive analysis, the Union of Concerned Scientists said “those seeking a carbon bargain should seriously consider rail and motor coach travel” , with rail especially suitable for long distances. When you need to get a flight for a trip, aim to stay for longer; you’ll save on all those pesky airline taxes and charges and keep your weekend trips for staycations.

5. Do not disturb

One of simplest ways travellers can help the environment is by hanging up a ‘Do Not Disturb sign on their door, according to Bret Love and Mary Gabbett of Green Travel Media. “You’re saving the electricity needed to vacuum, the water needed to wash linens and clean bathrooms, not to mention the harsh chemicals used in the cleaning process” they said. “Best of all, some hotel chains will now reward you for choosing not to have your room cleaned.”

6. Interact ethically with animals

Tigers may be adorable but tourists should always keep their distance. Photo by dickysingh/Getty Images

Sadly, there are plenty of unethical animal attractions and otherwise well-meaning tourists can be charmed by the prospect of an amazing image. World Animal Protection even created a Wildlife Selfie Code to help travellers make the right choices. “Only take photos if you’re a safe distance from an animal, they can move freely, and they’re in their natural home” they advice.  Always do your research before booking on any animal-related tour or attraction; just because it has ‘sanctuary’ in its name doesn’t mean they’re animal-friendly.

7. Ask for eco-friendly options

Continuing the trend for more sustainable, eco-friendly travel is really in your hands. The World Travel and Tourism Council says “providing tour operators and destinations with feedback is the number one way travellers can ask for the change they would like to see.” They recommend leaving positive reviews when something is done right or contacting places via social media beforehand to check out their eco-credentials. “If a travel provider is not providing you with sustainable options” they say, “demand to know why.”