Planning a trip is always exciting: where you’ll go, how you’ll get there, what you’ll stuff your face with once you arrive. Something that may not be at the forefront of your mind is how you’ll practice sustainable travel. If the state of the environment is any concern to you, then trip-planning is no place to skimp when considering the earth. As of 2018, tourism was responsible for 8 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and that number is on the rise. Below, find six ways to be more mindful of your sustainability while on the road.
The idea of traveling immediately conjures one image: jetting off to your destination by plane. But air travel is a huge contributor to carbon emissions. For example, just one passenger’s emissions on a flight from New York to LA is enough to melt 32 square feet of Arctic sea ice. Minimize your harmful impact on the earth by choosing slow travel methods like a bus or train. You’ll get the added benefit of feeling super immersed in the culture and landscape that you’re driving through. For an even smaller footprint, consider self-propelled modes of transport as often as you can. Why drive around the city you’re visiting when you could bike or walk? You’ll get in some cardio and take in the sights at the same time.
Eat Like a Local
One of the best parts of traveling is getting to try all the delicious foods your destination has to offer. Lobsters in Maine, tacos in Mexico, sushi in Japan, the list goes on. It’s important to be mindful of a few things to make sure your eating habits are in line with your goal of sustainable travel. The Slow Food Movement can be done anywhere, as long as you’re willing to support locals and eat in season. Try to frequent mom-and-pop restaurants rather than large chains. In countries where it’s safe, indulge in street food. If you’re tired of local fare, grab fresh produce and grains from the neighborhood market and see what you can cook up.
Cut Down On Waste
It’s easy to slip into living a life of convenience when away from home. But just because you’re far away doesn’t mean your reusables can’t come with you! More than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away every day in the US. Do your part by bringing sustainable versions of the things you dispose of most: think water bottles, grocery bags, and maybe a travel mug. Bonus points if they’re made of sustainable materials like glass or recycled cotton. We’re big fans of the Que water bottle—it’s plastic-free and collapses to half its size. Even better, they donate 10 percent of each sale to The Rainforest Trust.
Take Tours Thoughtfully
There are some places that we visit with bucket-list-worthy experiences on our minds. Maybe it’s playing with elephants in Thailand or embarking on a whale-watching tour in the Pacific Northwest. It’s important to be careful when researching tours and paid experiences. For example, while many elephant parks call themselves ‘sanctuaries,’ they’re anything but. In Thailand, some parks force elephants into shows or to perform tricks. Worse yet, some even allow these gentle creatures to be ridden by guests, meaning they were abused into subordination. Read up on tours and experiences thoroughly before you book anything. Consider the organization receiving your money and whether they’re worthy of it. Are they part of the local economy, or outsourced from a foreign country? Do they give back to the community, and treat their employees (and/or animals) fairly? Read reviews from other travelers and consider alternatives that are more in line with sustainable travel.
Buy Authentic Souvenirs
While it’s great to try and minimize how much you consume, sometimes you’ll want to take home a reminder of your trip to treasure forever. If you’re certain you’re in the market for tchotchkes, make sure to buy from a local craft person. It’s super common for people to buy up a bunch of souvenirs as gifts in airport terminals or big box stores. Instead, seek out small businesses to support the local economy. Maybe you’re looking to bring home some mezcal from your trip to Mexico. Sure, duty-free is alluring, but you can find better quality spirits if you’re willing to look for them. We’re partial to El Jolgorio, which has been made in small batches by the Cortes family since 1887.
Avoid the Quick Fix
It can be tempting to pat ourselves on the back for three days worth of volunteering in a foreign country. However, some causes are not as beneficial as they may seem. It’s been dubbed voluntourism, and it often does more harm than good. Voluntourism often drains local resources, disrupts the economy, and uses volunteers who don’t have the necessary experience to do the work. Before you sign up to teach at an orphanage for a week or spend time rehabilitating monkeys in the jungle, read up on the organization. As a general rule of thumb, you should spend at least a few weeks (if not longer) on-site, and the organization should be focused on revitalizing the local economy, not profiting off of it.
Whether you’re spending a few nights in a neighboring town or jet setting off to Fiji, remember that your carbon footprint doesn’t take a vacation. Be mindful of how you spend your money and time to ensure you’re taking care of the earth. Support the local economy so that the places you venture through remain that way for a long time to come.