Traveling green takes a little extra effort at first, but it soon becomes second nature and those extra steps can enhance every trip you take. Not only will you feel better about your travels, but you’ll also leave a more positive impression on the place you visited and often have more meaningful experiences along the way.
We believe responsible travel is a force for good: it can open hearts and minds, give us a broader understanding of the world, and inspire us to make a difference; but when you consider the environmental impact of commercial aviation, the sometimes negative effects of tourism on other cultures, and the trail of strained resources travelers can leave behind, tourism doesn’t look so pretty.
Here are our tips for going green with ease and making travel better for everyone.
At the planning stage
Choose an ethical travel destination
Independent nonprofit organization Ethical Traveler ranks destinations each year by their environmental protection standards, social welfare and human rights record (https://ethicaltraveler.org/reports/destinations/worlds-best-ethical-destinations-2017). It's a good idea to check the “Addendum: Destinations of Interest” section as well to broaden your choices and see what countries made the top 10 in previous years (https://ethicaltraveler.org/reports/destinations/the-worlds-ten-best-ethical-destinations-2016/).
By visiting countries on these lists, your tourism dollar supports their efforts to create sustainable tourism industries, and encourages other destinations to follow suit.
Choose a green hotel
Look for certified green hotels that are in LEED Certified buildings (usgbc.org/leed), use renewable energy, recycle, use environmentally friendly cleaning products and offer options for guests to make an impact (such as not having the sheets changed daily).
There are several certification programs - the better-known ones include Green Key Global, Green Globe International, Green Seal and EcoRooms & EcoSuites. Staying in smaller, locally run hotels and B&Bs is often the greenest method around, making your stay environmentally and socially responsible as well as being a more direct boost to the local economy.
Choose a green tour company
Again, going with an independent local guide can often be the best way to ensure your money is doing the most for your destination’s economy.
When looking for a tour company look for the following:
- The company proudly promotes their ethical practices.
- They use green office products.
- You can tangibly see how they contribute to the community.
- They respect the local flora and fauna.
- They take destination-specific social and political issues into account.
While you're on the road
Use public transport, bike or walk
Using public transport or travelling under your own steam can cut your environmental impact, and also allow you to meet locals and experience a culture in a slower, more detailed way. Instead of renting a car, hop on a local bus; take a walking tour or view the countryside by bike. For long distances consider trains, which allow you to see the country out the windows while meeting locals at your seat, the cafeteria or lounge areas.
Don’t use plastic bottles
A small water filter such as a battery-powered Steripen (steripen.com) easily fits in a daypack or purse and can make tap water safe to drink. You can treat water by the liter if you carry a wide-mouth bottle, or you can dunk the device directly into your glass at restaurants, etc, to zap ice cubes and fruit juices. This allows you not only to reduce your plastic bottle consumption but also to feel safe drinking a wider variety of local beverages - including ice cold drinks on hot days.
Eat locally sourced food
Support the region's farmers, get a more authentic taste of the cuisine and cut your carbon footprint even more. Look out for restaurants advertising local produce or, if that’s not possible, eat local dishes at mom-and-pop-style places that will most likely use what’s produced nearby. Whatever you do, don’t eat endangered species like turtle or over-harvested shellfish.
Know when, and when not to volunteer
We all want to help, but take the example of Cambodia, where so many travelers wanted to volunteer at orphanages that fake ones were opened to make a healthy profit. For more detailed information on this issue, check out our article: Voluntourism tips: is it ethical to visit orphanages?
In general, places that involve animal welfare or the environment are the most likely volunteer opportunities to be legitimate. Of course there are all sorts of organizations doing incredible humanitarian work; just be sure to do your homework before donating your time and money.
Do your homework on any tour involving people or animals
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a close encounter with an indigenous tribe or exotic animals but stop for a minute, think logically and ask questions before you support a business that may be doing more harm than good. Just because an experience is offered, promoted and everyone else is doing it does not mean it’s the ethical choice.
Leave a light footprint
Take simple steps such as not getting your sheets changed daily at your hotel, taking short showers, keeping air-con use to a minimum and turning off lights when you don't need them. Research your destination by internet or ask around to find out if there are water shortages, how energy is produced, and if there are any resource issues to be aware of. And use your eyes. Seeing the giant, noisy, gas-guzzling generator that produces the electricity on that desert island will make you think about it every time you flick a switch.
Don’t dump your stuff
Many developing countries don’t have the means to dispose of bulky, man-made items like old electronics, polyester clothing or used batteries. If you leave them, they could remain in a landfill or worse for literally hundreds of years after you’re gone. Pack your trash and take it home. The exception is clothing and items that may be of use to local people – these should be donated to local charities or religious organizations so they can reach those most in need.
When you come back home
Calculate your carbon offset via this handy calculator at Sustainable Travel (sustainabletravel.org/utilities/carbon-calculator). While it's better to concentrate on shrinking your footprint in the first place, a contribution to carbon offset programs will help by funding reforestation and renewable energy projects.
Now that you’ve experienced a place, met its people and seen what is needed the most, why not make a donation to one of the region’s grass-roots organizations? Perhaps you found this on the road or researched it as an afterthought, but there’s always a way to give more back.