Effective Ways to Be a More Sustainable Traveler

A lot of people are focusing on how they play a role in climate change and what they can do to improve their sustainability and reduce their carbon footprint.

If you love to travel, that can create a conundrum. Travel is an amazing way to see and appreciate the world around you and expand your horizons. At the same time, travel is also incredibly impactful on the environment in a negative way.

One of the best things you can do if you want to be a sustainable traveler is to choose destinations closer to your home. For example, a road trip to somewhere like Branson will have a significantly reduced carbon footprint compared to a flight to Italy.

The following are some of the particular impacts travel can have on the environment, but also ways you can reduce them on an individual level.

The Growth of Tourism

Tourism has become increasingly accessible in terms of logistics and cost. In 1950, there were 25  billion international tourists. That number grew to 166 million by 1970. By 2030, the number is expected to reach 1.8 billion.

Some of the negative effects of this growth include:

  • Local pollution and waste
  • Depletion of local resources
  • Over-consumption is especially detrimental in places where resources are already limited
  • There’s a lot of stress on local land use that occurs because of tourism, leading to loss of natural habitats, soil erosion, and pressure on endangered species
  • Overuse of water can be problematic in tourist destinations. For example, a golf course located in a tropical country can use as much water as tens of thousands of rural villagers.
  • It’s estimated that tourism contributes to more than 5% of global greenhouse emissions. Transportation accounts for 90% of this.
  • An estimated 25% increase in CO2 is expected from tourism by 2030 compared to 2016.

Many people who love travel but also care about the environment face a problem when they think about how they might be contributing to issues like the ones above. One seat on a flight cross-country from New York to Los Angeles can add a months’ worth of carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

There’s not much that can be done with currently available technology to make flying much greener.

Taking a cruise may have even more of an impact on the climate even than flying. Even the most efficient cruise ships currently sailing emit three to four times more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than a jet.

That figure doesn’t include the air on cruise ships, which is estimated to be much dirtier than the air on the shore nearby.

Some cruise ships, rather than running on heavy fuel oil, have started using scrubbers. Scrubbers are meant to be a way to remove toxic sulfur oxides from the exhaust. However, the scrubber then mean the pollutants are instead released into the ocean. Several states now ban these in the U.S. and seven countries.

The reality is, no matter what the impact of our travels on the environment, people still want to get away and escape on vacation.

Traveling has a lot of benefits for us as individuals. Traveling and taking regular vacations helps us understand the world around us. It’s a good way to mentally and physically recharge and reset.

Research even shows us that people who take vacations regularly tend to be healthier, happier and more productive than those who don’t.

So what can you do?

You can be strategic in how you plan your vacations so that you’re able to reduce your carbon footprint. Not only is it good to be a conscientious traveler for the environment, but it’s also going to help you feel better when you do travel so you can truly be in the moment and enjoy yourself.

Choose Your Destination Carefully

Now is a perfect time to stay closer to home because COVID travel restrictions make it a challenge to travel internationally anyway. The shorter the distance you go from home, the lower your carbon footprint. That’s perhaps the number one rule of eco-friendly travel. Explore the cities, towns and natural beauty within a short drive from your own home.

If you are going to fly, staying close by even so is still going to be beneficial.

Taking small adventures can help you feel as if you’re in a completely different world.

If you are set on traveling internationally, some places are ideal but minimize your footprint outside of the air travel factor.

For example, sustainability organizations compile cities and towns worldwide where you can visit and minimize your footprint. There are towns in Spain and Slovenia if you want something more exotic.

Factors used to determine destinations where you can minimize your footprint include locations committed to protecting natural resources and reducing energy consumption.

If you do decide that you’re interested in a popular tourist destination and one that’s far from your home, try to go outside of the peak months, which are summer in most places.

You can also avoid tourist traps and choose to do activities and go to restaurants operated by locals.

Certain places may need support at any given time. For example. Puerto Rico became a good place to go and show support after a hurricane in 2017. Some travelers even decided they would give back when they traveled to the island as part of the recovery efforts.

If you’re going to a coastal destination, you can choose one with a Marine Protected Area.

If you are going to book flights, try to choose non-stop options. The primary impact of flights on the environment isn’t necessarily the flying itself. It’s the takeoff and landing that use the most fuel.

Packing for Sustainability

We often think about the bigger things we can do for the environment, but many of the things you can do to be an eco-minded traveler are small and simple. What you pack, for example, can make a difference in the type of traveler you are.

First, pack just what you need. This will simplify your travel experience, but it will also help reduce the amount of weight you’re adding to an aircraft. The heavier an airplane, the more fuel it burns. The more fuel the plane burns, the more impact on the emission of CO2.

When you’re packing, you should also bring your own water bottle that you can use for beverages along the way, rather than relying on plastic cups and straws. If you don’t bring your own bottle or tumbler, you’re likely going to end up going through dozens of water bottles and cups throughout your trip.

As you’re leaving home for your trip, unplug everything. Even if you’re not using the devices in your home, if you don’t unplug them, they’re going to be seeping energy. You’ll save electricity, reduce your overall footprint and save money.

When you’re at your destination, you should try to walk, bike, or use public transportation when possible, so pack comfortable shoes with that in mind.

Use An App

If you’re making eco-friendly travel a goal, there are some fantastic apps you can add to your phone that will help you achieve your goals.

For example, there’s an app called Oroeco. The developers of the app turn your eco-impact into a game. When traveling or just living your daily life, you can add what you buy and consume into the app. The app’s algorithm will show you the impact on the environment of your decisions.

Another app is called HopStop. HopStop adds up carbon emissions and helps you understand the impact of the transportation options you choose.

One of the most compelling apps on this list is Olio. Olio is based on the idea of food sharing. If you’re traveling and bought too much food, you can add it to the app and someone will come to pick it up. You can do it when you’re at home as well, and it also works in the other direction if you’re looking for food someone has to offer.

Be Conscious of Your Accommodations

It’s more eco-friendly in many cases to choose a home or apartment rental compared to a hotel. If you do opt for a hotel, there are still steps you can take. Act as if you’re at home when you’re at a hotel. For example, turn everything off before you leave, and don’t request new towels every time you use them.

Finally, if you’re traveling, be cautious of things like animal tourism. Make sure that you research anything involving animals beforehand and only support those tours and operators that do things in an ethically responsible way.

You can find plenty of information about eco-tourism and animal tourism online so that you’re making conscientious, thoughtful decisions.

Overall, while it can feel overwhelming and like there’s nothing you can do if your goal is to be more eco-minded, there’s actually a lot of small things that can add up a lot when it comes to traveling.