Summer travel provides us with the opportunity to relax and recharge; however, it can take a heavy environmental toll. Driving and flying release harmful carbon emissions into the air. Hotel chains use a ton of resources every day.
However, with a bit of education and planning, it is possible to make your summer travel more sustainable. From how you choose to reach your destination to where you stay and what you do while there, you can make choices which support the planet we share. Here are seven tips for making your vacation plans this season kinder to Mother Earth.
1. Fly Nonstop
Airplanes use the most fuel during takeoff, so take a pass on flights with a layover or multiple ones. If you need to move your body frequently, try to book a flight with extra legroom to give you space. Get up and walk to the restroom frequently when the seatbelt light goes out.
2. Rent an Eco-Friendly Vehicle
If you drive an older vehicle, rent an eco-friendlier newer one with better fuel efficiency for road trips. The kids will love the newer ride if you have them, and you may find you enjoy cruising in an updated ride so much, it inspires you to trade in your clunker for an electric car.
Also, investigate public transportation options. If you visit a city, use the light rail or subway to get around instead of renting a car.
3. Or Hike and Bike Everywhere
Whether you stroll leisurely along the boardwalk or hike a mountain, aim to keep your body moving in lieu of mechanical means to get around when possible. You’ll get to experience the true ambiance of the destination, and mingle with locals instead of looking in as a stranger.
Want to travel faster but still reduce your carbon footprint? Why not rent a bike instead of a car? You can rent a beach bike to pedal along the boardwalk in style or a mountain bike to go from trail to sidewalk easily. You can even rent a bike with a small motor, so you can switch to engine power on steep hills (it creates far fewer emissions than a vehicle).
4. Pass on Harmful Tours
When booking plans for things to do during the day, pay attention to the environmental cost of your choices. For example, renting a motor boat releases oil and emissions into the air and water, but a canoe or kayak poses no such problem. Likewise, exploring trails in an off-road vehicle can cause damage to fragile flora, whereas going for a hike proves far less destructive (be sure to pack out whatever you pack in with you).
If you do find a sustainable tour group, be aware of small ways you may impact the environment with your choices nevertheless. For example, many tour groups offer plastic water bottles — decrease demand by bringing your own. Whether you wander alone or in a group, take only photographs. Pass on picking flowers or disturbing wildlife.
5. Carry Certain Items with You
In addition to a reusable water bottles, schlep along cloth bags (plastic bags are so passé), silverware and a sustainable straw. It’s best to avoid shopping for a ton of souvenirs — all the ones labeled “Made in [Another Country]” cost the environment much to transport, and laden bags make you a target for thieves who prey on tourists anyway. If you get the urge for takeout or want to pop into a pub for a beverage, there’s no need to use plastic straws or silverware when you have your own in your luggage or purse.
6. Practice Sustainable Lodging Habits
Before finalizing a hotel reservation online, give them a call and ask about amenities like on-site recycling bins. Many locations still fail to provide this basic service. Check out their room service menu, too — restaurants serving locally-sourced meals create less waste and less need for transportation.
When you get to your destination, opt to use shampoo and soap in bulk containers and pass on taking tiny bottles home. Hang towels to indicate you will reuse them and refuse clean linens daily (do you change your sheets every day at home?). When leaving the room, turn off all lights and TVs and set the air conditioning a notch higher — things will cool down quickly enough when you return.
7. Leave the Environment Cleaner Than You Found It
Finally, do your part to demonstrate good environmental stewardship wherever you may roam. If you’re walking or hiking and see litter, stop and pick it up. Treat local people with respect and opt for their wares over trinkets produced in sweatshops.
If you have the chance and time, use part of your getaway to help the planet. Volunteer for a beach cleanup one morning or help locals plant trees one afternoon.
Making Travel More Green
Travel can damage the environment, but it need not do so. With a bit of planning and ingenuity, it’s easy to get away, relax and help (or at least avoid hurting) the planet while you do so.