Eco-Friendly Trips: Seeing the World Without Trashing It Your travel is only as green as you make it

Have you ever stopped to wonder what impact your travels have on the environment? Billions of people trek the globe daily by planes, trains and automobiles, and it creates a ton of waste as well as carbon emissions.

eco-friendly trips
Kayaks in the late afternoon at Reid Harbor, Stuart Island, San Juans, Washington. Credit: Roddy Scheer

But traveling can be sustainable when it’s done correctly. In fact, ecotourism has become a booming industry focused on minimizing the negative environmental impacts of travel and respecting our world as well as all the people and critters in it. While booking a trip to help restore part of the rainforest may not be everyone’s cup of tea, all travelers can take simple steps to make their trips more green.

Here are some simple tips that can help make your journey more eco-friendly —whether or not you’ve already planned your vacation.

Preparation While Packing

Traveling the eco-friendly way takes a bit of planning. While there’s little that can be done about emissions from airplanes, you can choose greener alternatives for almost every other slot on your itinerary.

Start with the hotel you book. Unfortunately, some hotels seeking to cash in on the eco-friendly trend use the word “green” in name only. Call ahead and inquire about the hotel’s practices. At booking, ask if the hotel has recycling bins. Sadly, many do not. Does the establishment encourage guests to reuse towels to save on water waste? What measures do they take to conserve electricity?

This strategy doesn’t necessarily mean staying in a yurt. Green practices can take the form of something as simple as a gentle reminder on the interior of room doors for guests to turn off lights and televisions prior to heading out.

Pack with sustainability in mind too. Take along a reusable cloth laundry bag versus opting for the plastic one many hotels provide. And don’t forget the water bottle! Packing a reusable container can prevent you from using the plastic bottles in the hotel fridge. Have cloth bags that you tote to the grocery store? Take a few along to use when souvenir shopping so that you don’t have to speak the local language to decline a plastic sack.

At Your Destination

Once you arrive, it’s time to get out and see the sights! Be selective with which activities you opt into. Some, such as off-road ATV driving, damage the environment greatly. Try to steer clear of activities that leave environmental scars. Look for travel and activity planning companies that give back to the area they serve. Some travel planning businesses make considerable donations to conservation efforts in the areas they serve, and such companies make giving back as simple as booking through their services.

No one says to shun that fancy restaurant you simply must try, but try to have the majority of your meals at locally owned restaurants versus chains. Strive to avoid food waste by ordering only what you know you can eat. Order an appetizer as an entree, or order off the kiddie menu if it’s allowed at restaurants known for gargantuan portions.

Instead of renting a car, utilize public transport to cut emissions. Many popular tourist destinations have excellent public transit systems. While it’s tempting, try to resist the urge to take home those mini bottles of shampoo and other products the hotels provide. That way, you can cut plastic waste. If space permits, bring your own toiletries from home.

Don’t overlook the value of exploring your destination by foot either. Walking releases no carbon emissions at all and permits you to truly explore the sights in detail. In addition, you’ll burn off that big dinner you had the night before! However, remember to tread lightly in nature areas. Stay on maintained and marked trails to avoid trampling native vegetation. You’ll protect the area’s flora this way and avoid getting lost as an added perk.

Going the Extra Mile

Sustainability involves giving back as much as you spend. Sometimes, it may take the form of volunteering to restore a local nature area or educating locals about sustainable practices. Other times, giving back may be as easy as reaching for your credit card. Calculate the carbon footprint of your travel, and donate an amount up to or equal to the amount of your trip to a group dedicated to protecting the environment if you can afford to do so.

Nobody wants to give up travel, and indeed, doing so would result in lost opportunities to explore our magnificent world and interact with different cultures. By planning ahead and choosing sustainable options when possible, you can still roam if you want to while protecting the one planet we all have to share.


EmilyFolk is the editor of Conservation Folks. She writes on topics of sustainability, conservation and green technology.