10 Eco Friendly Travel Tips

large bamboo hut on a river in a tropical forest

Every summer, millions of people world-wide travel far from home to enjoy holidays, vacations and family visits. All this moving around uses a lot of resources and generates a lot of pollution. Unfortunately, most travel today is far from environmentally friendly.

Here are some simple eco-friendly travel tips for how to have a great vacation with a smaller, more planet-friendly footprint…

Plan for Eco-Tourism

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines ecotourism as:

“Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

From a traveler’s standpoint, ecotourism includes sensitivity towards, and appreciation of, local cultures and biodiversity. Such travelers practice conscientious, low-impact behavior.

Most people forego even trying to plan an eco-friendly trip, because they are under the misconception that traveling green involves sacrificing too many “regular” activities—especially those that make holidays fun.

Here are some travel tips on how to have a great vacation with a smaller, more planet-friendly footprint...

However, there are many ecotourism companies all over the world offering fun tours and trips (sometimes to incredible places that can only be seen using low impact transport like walking, bicycle, canoe, or horseback)

Consider booking an ecotourism trip if you want to have a fun vacation with the least impact on the surrounding environment.

You can find more information about ecotourism and companies that offer eco-friendly tours and trips at the International Ecotourism Society.

Reduce Your Transportation Footprint

The increased, unnatural level of carbon in today’s atmosphere is causing climate change, which is indirectly responsible for severe weather phenomena and natural disasters. It is also making our oceans (that support all life) more acidic every year.

On a micro-level, the imbalanced levels of gases in the atmosphere is bad for our health and that of every living thing on the planet, creating a plethora of problems.

Green Your Air Travel

Although one might not think it, travel is one of the leading contributors of carbon emissions. A round-trip coach ticket from New York to San Francisco accounts for 2 metric tons of carbon dioxide—compare that with the average American, whose annual carbon footprint is roughly 19 metric tons.

In fact, the aviation industry alone accounts for 4-9% of the total climate change impact of human activity. The graph below shows a comparison of carbon dioxide intensity of passenger transport.

As you can see, traveling by air has an exponentially higher impact on the environment than other forms of passenger travel.

While it may not be possible to forego flying altogether, you can choose specific flight options to reduce your impact:

  • Take-offs and landings are what hurt the environment most, so if you can get one, choosing a non-stop flight is better for the environment (and your patience!).
  • Choose to fly economy, as more people per plane means fewer emissions per person.
  • Many airlines now have carbon offset programs, where they try to compensate for the airplane’s emissions by investing in carbon reduction projects and initiatives. Supporting these airlines is another good option.
  • If your airline doesn’t offer carbon offsets, ClimateCare.com and TerraPass.com will offset the carbon created by your travel (and other activities) by planting trees and other environmental projects.
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Choose More Efficient Vehicles

When possible, choose to use greener modes of transportation when traveling. Ships, trains, buses, and even cars (when there is more than one passenger) are more efficient than planes.

If you are renting a vehicle, try to get a hybrid or electric model. These will use less fuel, and won’t pollute the surroundings as much.

Take in the Scenery

The best option—especially for travel within a small vicinity—is walking or renting a bicycle. It’s relatively easy for governments to make cities amicable to cyclists, and the number of bike-friendly cities is rapidly increasing.

Walking, on the other hand, is quite enjoyable while traveling; it keeps off the holiday weight, and really allows you to closely interact with a particular place and culture.

Choose Eco-Friendly Accommodations

Thankfully, governments and private corporations have taken a renewed interest in ecotourism, and promoting greener accommodations for travelers. This comes as no surprise; according to Jos Schapp, a leading authority in hotel technology, energy conservation is one of the most important technologies to consider in 2017.

Greener Lodging

Credit: Nonette G. Vitug

There are many hotels, motels, inns, B&Bs, and resorts that offer eco-friendly accommodations. These are often denoted by a seal of approval.

For the U.S., seals include LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, which judges on sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design.

Green Globe and Green Seal offer other reputable U.S. certifications. International certifications include EarthCheck, Rainforest Alliance, Green Key and Green Tourism.

Staying at a hotel that is certified in this manner is a great way to ensure minimal impact to the environment.

During your stay, there are a few additional things you can do to minimize your environmental impact:

  • Request the hotel housekeeping to not change your linens on a daily basis, as this reduces water wastage and combats energy loss through laundry.
  • Avoid using plastic cups and bottles — drinking water and hot drinks from glassware reduces waste, and is also better for your health since glass is BPA free.
  • Whenever you leave the room, make sure your electricity is turned off.

Buy Local to Support Local People

As we all know, the “go local” movement has revolutionized the food industry, with a focus on consuming food grown by local farmers and ranchers. So, similarly, another thing to consider while on holiday is how “local” the lodging of your choice is—including food sourcing, infrastructure, and staff—as it will determine the impact it has on the community.

Spending your money on locally produced food, goods and services supports the local economy of the place you are visiting, and is also very energy efficient (due to negated shipping and transportation emissions).

By supporting locally owned businesses, you will be helping a local community sustain itself efficiently.

Choose Eco-Friendly Tour Groups and Sightseeing

Here are some travel tips on how to have a great vacation with a smaller, more planet-friendly footprint...

Every place has a unique set of activities for tourists and locals alike. Most people tend to choose the cheapest option without realizing the true cost of their choices.

Paying a little extra for an eco-friendly tour can be extremely beneficial to the environment, and will also leave you more educated about the locale. Finding an eco-friendly tour or tour guide is easy; they will usually openly advertise that their services are conducted in a sustainable manner.

But what does it mean to be more sustainable?

This could mean that the tour group is smaller, the transport used is energy-efficient, or that the tour will highlight conservation efforts, as well as unique local environmental concerns. Be it walking or cycling tours, I find that eco-friendly tours are more holistically satisfying than large commercial group tours.

Consider participating in activities that get you closer to nature, and educate you about local landscapes, customs and traditions.

Correctly Dispose of Garbage

This massive dump in Lebanon has partially collapsed into the Mediterranean Sea several times.

Disposing of your trash correctly is one of the simplest things you can do to make your travels greener; this is an especially important consideration in developing countries.

Since many developing countries might not have effective garbage disposal systems in place, going the extra mile to ensure our litter isn’t strewn about can make a world of a difference.

After tourists leave a country, it is the locals that have to deal with their waste, so it’s important to dispose of it in the right manner. Ask locals about recycling centers, or consult your hotel about their waste disposal techniques and try to follow best practices in terms of your garbage.

Whether traveling or not, proper and ethical waste disposal is one of the best and easiest ways to go green.

Respect Local Flora and Fauna

While ecotourism promotes traveling to natural places, it is important that tourists do so in a respectful manner.

While engaging in activities that involve being outdoors, such as hiking or birdwatching, you need to be sure you are not encroaching and endangering another species’ habitat.

Always avoid interactive animal experiences, as these stem from an industry that supports the unwarranted capture, displacement and torture of wild animals to make them compliant. These sorts of activities should be boycotted in favor of more natural ones, where animals aren’t forcefully domesticated just for the entertainment of humans.

Choose Low Impact Water Activities

Considering about 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water, it is likely that your travels will take you to new lakes, rivers, and beaches. As a scuba diver, I urge you to take up environmentally friendly practices while engaging in any sort of water activities.

There are many important eco-friendly tips to keep in mind when participating in water activities:

  • Most sunscreens contain chemicals that can harm coral and other reef life, as well as your health. Use only Ocean Safe or Reef Safe®, non-toxic sunscreens. (I like this one.)
  • Don’t touch coral while diving or snorkeling because oils from your skin can destroy entire coral colonies by destroying their protective mucous membranes.
  • Buy or rent eco-friendly and non invasive equipment for water sports like surfing.
  • Explore inland water using non-motorized boats—like kayaks and canoes, as opposed to speed boats.
  • Avoid deep sea fishing, as this often really harms the already fragile underwater world.
  • To take your conservation efforts up a notch, try and eat only locally and sustainably fished seafood when you travel, so as to mitigate the destruction of coral reefs and ocean ecosystems.

Simple Choices Make a Big Impact

At first, becoming an ecotourist may seem overwhelming—especially due to the high level of constant awareness it seems to require. However, trust me when I say that making environmentally friendly choices will become second nature (and even fun) to you after traveling responsibly the first few times.

Ultimately, simple choices, like the ones listed above, can have a huge impact in changing the way we travel—and, in turn, can help us improve and sustain our environment.