11 Smart Ways to Reduce Your Travel Footprint

A little thought and planning can make your vacation more environmentally friendly.

As the high-travel summer season kicks off, we’d like to refocus on the environment, particularly ways we can make our travels a little greener.

The United Nations designated 2017 as The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Even more traditional travelers can make a positive difference to the environment during their adventures. A little extra thought in planning and a little extra effort during your travels can mean reducing your carbon footprint and traveling more sustainably while not missing out on experiences. Technology can also help. Below, some of the best and easiest ways to stay green while traveling, no matter your destination.

1. Ecotourism

Travelers who are serious about seeing the world while remaining environmentally conscious can explore ecotourism, defined by the Nature Conservancy as “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas.” Ecotourism emphasizes conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation, and is a way to explore our world without stressing its resources. (The right credit card can help you manage your financial resources during your trip. Check out the best cards for international travel here. See where your credit stands before applying by checking two of your scores free on Credit.com.)

2. Traveling Long Distances: Know Your Impact

In many cases, airplane travel is indispensable, especially if your travels take you overseas or across long distances. But with regional travel, choosing a train, bus or car over an airplane can go a long way toward conservation.

The stats: Two people flying in an airplane from New York City to Washington, D.C. create a carbon footprint of 472 pounds, while those same two people driving the same distance reduces the carbon footprint by half, to 229 pounds. The Fly or Drive Calculator on the BeFrugal website can tell you whether plane travel or car travel is better for the environment, based on your trip particulars.

3. Consider Bus or Train Travel Instead of Flying

Traveling by bus — especially one that uses renewable energy — can mean 55% to 75% fewer emissions than flying, according to a study on green travel by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Trains are another environmentally friendly option, and with Amtrak, you can purchase a carbon offset along with your ticket.

4. Donate to Offset Your Carbon Footprint

If plane travel is a must, you can keep it environmentally friendly by calculating the carbon footprint of your travels. Delta and United both have carbon offset programs.

5. Let Technology Help You Be Greener

Technology (apps, websites, electronics and more) can help the conscientious person travel their greenest:

  • You can have a positive impact on the community to which you’re traveling by learning about its specific needs and bringing items that can help. Let charity Pack for a Purpose be your guide: Set aside space in your luggage for supplies you can donate to community projects around the world (all tax deductible).
  • Find sustainable flights and eco-friendly hotels (and compare prices) using Glooby. You can search in Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, North and South America and popular cities within.
  • Eating locally can mean a reduction in emissions that would be used to transport your produce and other perishables. But while you might know all the ins and outs of eating locally where you live, it can be more difficult while traveling. The folks at Locavore solve this particular dilemma with their app, which provides details about local seasonal produce and nearby farmer’s markets.
  • If you must take a car in a city (rather than taking advantage of public transit), rideshare carpooling options are a more earth-friendly choice.
  • Make smart decisions when booking your trips: “Many environmentally minded groups, including the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund, offer eco-trips and outings that strive not to harm natural resources, wildlife or people. Backroads and REI Adventures also offer tours that aim to be environmentally low-impact,” reports The New York Times.

6. Build Good Habits

For local or international travel, familiarize yourself with recycling processes and different types of waste bins. Some areas separate recycling for paper products, plastic and cans, and many also have public compost bins.

7. Reduce Water Waste

Bring your own reusable water bottle along for the flight, the road trip, the hiking and even all the sightseeing you’ll do. Using a reusable bottle will keep the several plastic bottles you might have used during your trip out of the landfill. If you’re traveling someplace where bottled water is important, try a bottle with a built-in filter. You can also bring a travel mug for coffee and tea on the go, and you might even get a discount on your beverage, depending on the establishment.

8. Take it Easy on Hotel Resources

By now those little cards hotels leave in bathrooms sharing how many gallons of water it takes to wash the sheets and towels each day are so familiar they can be easy to ignore. But in the interest of the environment, don’t. Laundry accounts for 16% of an average hotel’s water usage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Cut down on the laundry load, save water and other resources. Simple.

Another way to be greener away from home: Treat your vacation lodging like you would if you were paying the electric bill — turn off lights you’re not using, take shorter showers and keep the thermostat at a reasonable temperature.

9. Public Transportation

If you’re traveling to a city with reliable public transportation, the greenest option is a no-brainer. One subway train in New York City transports many people into the city, meaning many fewer individual cars on the road. Check out the public transport options in your destination city before departing — you might be surprised what you find.

10. Explore a City by Bike

Bicycles and motorized bikes are good options for travelers who want the freedom of individualized travel with the benefits of reducing their environmental impact.

11. Sign up for a Tour

Walking tours, bus tours, bike tours – heck, even Segway tours – are excellent ways to see the sights while remaining conscious of your environmental impact. For some inspiration, check out National Geographic’s picks for top walking tours and Travel and Leisure’s 43 favorite walking tours around the world.

There are plenty of ways to see and experience what the world has to offer while not ruining the planet.

How do you stay true to your environmental ideals while traveling? Let us know in the comments. 

Image: andresr 

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