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How to Minimize Your Environmental Footprint While Traveling

posted on April 22, 2020 | by Kelley Matney

How to Minimize Your Environmental Footprint While Traveling

Travel has and always will be an integral part of the way I live my life. There is something magical about exploring faraway destinations and meeting new people. I know travel isn’t a possibility right now due to COVID-19, however, I’m taking this time off from travel to take stock of the impacts of my actions and I am pledging to make more responsible choices especially when it comes to the environment.

Travel has become more accessible than ever before. While that is amazing, this increase in tourism is having negative environmental effects on many popular tourist destinations worldwide. Places like Boracay Island in the Philippines, which had to close for 6 months due to extreme pollution, Maya Bay in Thailand, which has closed indefinitely due to devastation of the natural environment by the sheer number of people and boats, and Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in Iceland, which rose in popularity with tourists after its use in a Justin Bieber video, had to close as well so that it can recover from hoards of visitors.

Here is what you can do to ensure this devastating trend doesn’t continue.

Choose Transportation Wisely

Taking fewer flights is the obvious decision. The aviation industry accounts for 2% of greenhouse gas emissions. If flight travel can’t be avoided, choose airlines that have a reputation for being eco-friendly (like Alaska Airlines or Delta) and more sustainable and take direct flights when possible. Shorter flights are less efficient as planes expend a significant amount of fuel ascending and descending. When traveling shorter distances, consider taking other means of transportation, like cars, buses or trains. Finally, you can make a donation to help offset your carbon footprint. There are many organizations whose mission it is to offset the world’s carbon footprint. A personal favorite is the NRDC.

Oh, and don’t forget about local transportation once you’ve arrived at your destination. Again, it’s important to try and choose the most eco-friendly options. Walking is always your best bet–great for the environment, free, and good for your health. You can also rent a bike, as many cities offer bike-share programs now. Public transportation like metros and buses are both low carbon emission options and great ways to explore new cities like a local

Choose Destinations Wisely

You can do this by choosing to travel to locations that have taken sustainability and environmental regulations seriously. Many of the Nordic countries, including Finland, Sweden, and Denmark rank as some of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world according to the Environmental Performance Index. Costa Rica has been at the forefront of ecotourism for years. They use 95% renewable energy and are striving to be carbon-neutral by 2021. Do your research—there are many destinations out there working hard to reverse the damage humans are doing to this planet.

This also includes researching your accommodations and choosing sustainable options. Check to see if your lodging uses renewable energy, if they have dedicated conservation programs, and respect their local environment.  Also, I promise that just because a place is eco-friendly doesn’t mean you need to skimp on luxury. Check out this hotel I’m dreaming of visiting in Cambodia.  

Keep it Local

An important aspect of sustainable travel is supporting the local community and its economy. You can do this by eating at locally-owned restaurants and staying in locally-owned accommodations. Buy locally made products and souvenirs, not generic ones manufactured in China. Also, this should go without saying but never buy items made from endangered animals. Use local tour guides and locally owned tour companies. It’s important to do research into the companies you use too—what are their eco-friendly practices? Do they employ locals? How do their activities support local cultural heritage or protect wildlife?

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Often while traveling, many of the good habits we practice in our daily life go out the window. It is just as important while traveling to remember the 3Rs: Reduce, reuse, recycle. As always, watch your water and electricity usage, bring recyclable bags with you when making purchases, limit your plastic consumption, and don’t leave home without your refillable water bottle.