When it comes to environmentally friendly activities, many of our travel habits aren’t one of them. From the emissions created by the mode of transportation to the many plastic containers, there’s a great deal of waste involved in travel.
We want to be eco-conscious, but what does that mean? Maybe you picture someone walking across the country while camping along the way.
We want to dispel the idea that being an eco-conscious traveler requires you to camp wherever you travel (not that there’s anything wrong with camping) and only packing one pair of socks.
What does it mean to be an eco-conscious traveler?
Before we get into how you can be more green while traveling, let’s explain what it means to be eco-conscious while traveling. First of all, it doesn’t necessarily require drastic changes in your current mode of transportation. As Green Global Travel explains, “The truth is that sustainable travel (a.k.a. ecotourism) is all about making simple choices in order to lessen your negative impact on a given destination.”
Some people are extreme in their definition of green travel. But as long as you try your best to be more environmentally conscious during your travels, you’re doing your part. The best way to become a more eco-conscious traveler is to leave no trace behind.
10 top ways to travel without waste
Now that we know what it means to be a more eco-conscious traveler, let’s cover 10 simple ways you travel with less waste.
1. Pack light
Your sustainable traveling starts before your trip begins. Pack only the essentials because your lighter luggage has a direct environmental impact. Whether it’s a plane or automobile, the more a mode of transportation weighs, the more carbon emissions it produces.
But there’s one thing you should always pack: a reusable spill-proof tumbler or aluminum water bottle. Instead of rushing to get a bottle of water after security, find the nearest water filling station rather than buying a plastic bottle that will end up in the landfill.
2. Unplug your home
After your bags are packed and before you walk out the door, make sure to unplug everything in your home. Even if it’s not being used, just having it plugged in can take energy from the grid. This simple act saves not only saves electricity but it will also save you money.
3. Travel more sustainably
There are a couple of ways you can arrive at your destination more eco-consciously:
First, if your destination and time will allow, traveling overland can shrink your carbon footprint. In fact, if you eliminate just one five-hour flight your carbon footprint will be a tonne lighter.
But traveling by car is not always possible. So, if you need to fly, look for non-stop flights: The biggest impact of flight isn’t the flying, but rather the takeoff and landing that require the most amount of fuel. You can calculate the total carbon footprint of your flights by going to carbonfootprint.com. Check your flight’s footprint before you book your next flight to help you make a more eco-friendly decision.
4. Treat your hotel as your home
For some reason, many of us adopt some bad habits during hotel stays. Instead of using one towel as we do at home, we use three or four just because someone else is doing the laundry. Instead, act like you’re at home: avoid using unneeded clean towels, take normal length showers, and turn everything off before you leave your room.
5. Use public transportation or walk
Taking the bus or mass transit is an easy way to travel greener when getting around the city. And if you can, go one step further and walk. It’s one of the best ways to experience the culture and get some exercise at the same time!
6. Eat and shop local
Consuming local products is a good practice whether you’re traveling or at home. Nobody has to deliver local products from across the country (or world). In addition to supporting local businesses, eating local is also much fresher.
So whether you’re looking for souvenirs to bring home, enjoying fresh produce, or quenching your thirst with a beer, look for a local source.
7. Stick to the path
If you’re traveling through a city, it may not be as important, but it’s especially important to follow the trail when hiking. Walking off the beaten path can damage protected or endangered plants and wildlife.
8. Travel in (smaller) numbers
If you will be traveling in a group, try to find smaller groups. Smaller groups tend to have less of an environmental impact. If you will be joining a group, ask the travel operator the size of the group before you book your travel.
9. Choose a carbon-offset adventure
We get it – it’s impossible to avoid all carbon emissions while traveling. For your next trip consider a carbon-neutral trip to offset your previous trip. Intrepid Travel calculated the carbon emissions for a variety of different adventures. The emissions from transport, accommodation, activities, and waste have already been accounted for. The cost of offsetting is included in the listed price of the trip.
10. Leave no trace
We should all leave the place we stay as we found it. But an eco-conscious traveler takes an additional step to leave it better than they found it. That means picking up a few pieces of trash you find along the beach and making sure it ends up in the appropriate waste container. It’s a simple step to ensure it doesn’t end up in the ocean or somewhere else it doesn’t belong.
From transportation emissions to plastic waste, travel can have a large environmental footprint. As Emma Riley, the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Lonely Whale, explains, "(...) for all its benefits, traveling can also be a massive strain on our planet when you consider your environmental footprint from flights, airports, hotels, and more."
In fact, the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance reported a survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Data Center found 43 million Americans were “ecologically concerned" when traveling. But with these 10 simple tips and a little effort, you can still fulfill your wanderlust while maintaining your eco-conscious lifestyle.