For many of us, green travel may be associated with relinquishing the last few comforts we low-budget (that’s “cash impaired” to the rest of you, thank you very much) travelers enjoy. But contrary to popular belief, green travel is less about giving up and more about being conscious of what you do and where you stay. It may be easier than you think and often times you’ll find that going green will even help you save some green (or blue or yellow or whatever color your currency may be).
As travelers, we have the opportunity to experience many of this great planet’s wonders – from rich forests, to sprawling cities, to unique and beautiful cultures, to breathtaking wildlife. So it should be easy for us to develop a desire to preserve and care for all that we encounter and all that we know we have yet to encounter. And that, dear traveler, is what green travel is all about. Lucky for us, the green movement is picking up speed around the world and the travel industry is no exception, making it easier than ever to make your trip environmentally friendly. It’s up to you to really dive in and do the research, but if you don’t know where to start here are some easy tips to get you going.
GO GREEN: TRANSPORTATION
Ok, this may sound obvious but as travelers, we’re pretty dependent on various forms of transportation to get us from here to…well, there. Unless you plan on pulling a Forrest Gump, at some point you’re going to need more than your feet to carry you (and, uh, Forest never left the country…). But unfortunately, the transportation that we so depend on is also has the biggest environmental impact. According to USA Today, a flight from New York to Denver produces as much carbon dioxide per passenger as an SUV produces in a month. Whoa. But before you shove some extra guilt into your carry-on bag check out these great ways to help minimize your transportation impact!
- Before getting in a car to go short distances, see if you can go by public transportation, bike or foot.
- For longer distances, choose trains before planes (or cars). Many countries have amazing train systems that run frequently and inexpensively. Besides the green factor, you’ll have a much better view from the ground.
- If you have to rent a car, try to rent a hybrid. If that’s not available, get the smallest car you can (that will still safely fit you, your companions and your luggage of course). If you’re offered a free upgrade, turn it down and feel free to nicely let them know why.
- Avoid long cruises. Cruise ships emit three times the CO2 of planes, according to EnvironmentalLeader.com. Yikes.
- If you’re taking a road trip and you don’t have a hybrid or economy car, consider renting one.
- Offset the carbon emissions from your trip. Sounds expensive but it’s not. A 12,000 mile flight can be offset for about 22 U.S. dollars.
STAY GREEN: ACCOMODATIONS
Hotels and yes, even hostels, are now going green. Eco-friendly lodging can be found on every continent and some booking sites are now providing green ratings as well. The costs are the same as staying in a regular hotel or hostel and sometimes even cheaper because they use renewable energy. You can start by googling Green or Eco-Friendly hostels for your area or check out Ecotourismlogue.com’s list of Eco-friendly signs and sites to look out for.
BE GREEN: GREEN GUEST
It’s not just up to your accommodations to be green. Here are a couple of easy steps you can take to be a good steward during your stay at a hotel or hostel:
- Even though there are several thousand brochures at the hostel front desk, take only the brochures that you need. You can look at all of them but put back the ones that you know are just going to get lost at the bottom of your backpack…
- Ask the staff not to change your sheets and towels every day.
- Whenever you leave your room, turn off everything. Lights, fans, air conditioners, TV (you get the idea…)
- Plug in a night light instead of leaving a room light on all night.
- Find out if your hotel or hostel participates in any recycling programs and then participate!
- After a long day, an equally long shower may seem heavenly. But try to keep it short (and promise yourself a long bath when you get home).
- Speak up! If the place you’re staying at has good, green practices, be sure to let the managers and employees know that you noticed.
SEE GREEN: GREEN SIGHTSEEING
Green travel is about more than caring for nature. It’s about caring for the whole planet, which includes the people, cultures and economies that you encounter.
- Be respectful! Read up on customs (appropriate dress for ladies, table manners, public etiquette etc) and learn a few words in the native language.
- Support the economy by buying local. Try the local grocery stores, the local restaurants and the local souvenir shops.
- Don’t buy anything made from endangered species (you may have to do some research before hand to know what to watch out for).
- When hiking, stay on the trails and be sure to dispose of your trash in the proper receptacles.
- When out and about, don’t disturb the local flora and fauna. You may not know all the rules or dangers of the wildlife in that area.
- When snorkeling, don’t touch the coral. This can damage the reef’s fragile ecosystem.
- If you’re going to be taking a tour, seek out a green travel agent. Seek out guides that have small groups and give back to the community they tour.
- Consider voluntourism to give back directly to the place you’re visiting.