Every traveler faces a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, travel is a way to connect with the world and all the richness of its cultural and natural diversity. At the same time, travelers have to face the reality that tourism can harm the places that they go so far to visit. Air travel adds to atmospheric pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, resorts have a large carbon footprint, and fragile natural environments like coral reefs and mountain valleys can be damaged by the presence of large numbers of tourists.
The answer is not to stop traveling altogether, but to find ways to travel that are more ecologically friendly. Fortunately, the travel industry is highly responsive these concerns, and there are now many choices for ecofriendly and sustainable travel. In fact, there are a whole range of things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint when traveling, from packing light to avoiding plastic water bottles to choosing ecofriendly destinations.
Here are seven things you can do to travel in a more ecologically friendly way, that will reduce the impact on the environment.
1. Travel Overland
There’s no escaping the fact that air travel has a significant carbon footprint. In fact, tourism alone is estimated to produce 5% of the world’s total emissions of greenhouse gases. There are alternatives to air travel when traveling overland. Taking the train and local bus services cuts down on your air travel and also gives you a close up view of the culture and the people.
Motorhomes, called RVs in the United States, are another ecologically friendly way to travel. They are not yet fuel-efficient, but even so motor homes have a much smaller carbon footprint than your home. Motorhome manufacturers are switching to electric and hybrid vehicles, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Motorhomes already come with features like solar panels and lighter construction with hybrid materials to reduce fuel consumption.
Many motorhome parks are also becoming more ecofriendly, stepping up their recycling and composing and use of solar panels. There are many different kinds of motorhomes, and once you’ve been bitten by the bug, you may want to buy one of your own. With both new and second hand motorhomes, it’s a good idea to do a test drive first to get a feel for how it will handle on the road.
2. Skip the Plastic
By now everyone is aware of the scale of plastic pollution and its impact on the natural environment. Plastics can take hundreds of years to biodegrade in landfills. When they find their way into water bodies, they are ingested by fish, birds and animals, with disastrous results. Plastic bags and plastic water bottles are convenient, but they contribute to this ongoing tragedy.
Substitute single use plastic bags with a reusable shopping bag and single use plastic water bottles with a reusable plastic, glass or steel one. Many hotels now have water filters that provide clean and safe drinking water for travelers. You can also get water bottles with built-in filters so that you don’t have to worry about water safety and quality when traveling.
3. Drink Local, Eat Local
Eating local foods and drinking local drinks including local beer can help to cut down on your carbon footprint. That’s because when food is transported long distances, the greenhouse gas emissions from fuel usage add up quickly. Buying local food also gives you a chance to visit local markets, which is an experience in itself.
4. Pack Light
Most airlines have weight restrictions for a reason, and they’re not just financial. Even a couple of extra pounds can add to the carbon footprint. By packing light, you can help reduce your share of the burden. Pack a limited number of clothes that can be washed easily, download books on your tablet or kindle instead of carrying paperbacks, and rely on local products as far as possible when you are traveling.
5. Use Public Transport
Instead of renting a car, try using local public transport. Not only does this reduce the carbon emissions due to your travel, you get a unique perspective on the place and the people. Trains, ferries, bikes and buses are also cheaper than taxis and rental cars.
6. Support Ecofriendly Tourism
Responsible and sustainable travel is becoming a reality. The travel industry has played its part, taking its cues from travelers’ concerns. Hotels and resorts pay more attention to recycling and composing, use alternative energy sources like solar and wind, and reuse grey water from the kitchens, laundry and showers. They may also use green cleaning products, energy-saving appliances and energy-efficient lighting.
Many resorts and hotels have green certifications from reliable agencies such as GSTC, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance and EarthCheck. You can go further and choose special tours that will give you a chance to participate in local conservation and environmental clean-up efforts.
7. Spread the Word
Share your ecologically friendly travel experiences with your family, friends and real-world and online communities. People may not know enough about the kinds of options for ecologically friendly travel that do exist.
The goal is for all travel to be sustainable, though it will take some time and effort to get there. But for now, you can do your bit in many different ways.