More and more of us are making eco and ethical choices on the road and finding our travels are all the richer for it. Follow these tips to get your next trip off to the greenest start possible, and learn how to look after the people and wildlife you encounter along the way.
Lighter luggage isn’t just easier to lug around, it’s the first step to reducing your travel footprint. If you’re flying, travel with just hand luggage if you can. Pack quick-dry, washable items that you can mix and match, layer and wear on repeat. The lighter your luggage, the less greenhouse gas will be generated on your flight. Pack a reusable water bottle (with filter), a shopping bag and a soap bar that doubles as shampoo/conditioner. Don’t forget to take a large scarf or sarong – this multipurpose item will come in handy throughout your travels.
Book eco-minded, locally-owned accommodation and you’re already doing the planet a big favor. Beware the hotel chain that claims to be green but does little more than ask guests to reuse towels and bed linen. At the very least, the place you stay should avoid single-use plastics and disposable toiletries. There should also be transparency around efforts to reduce energy and water use, along with their contribution to conservation and local communities. If they’re striving to become carbon neutral (or already are) and have signed the Glasgow Declaration, so much the better.
Some destinations are too popular for their own good, but there are so many beautiful places to visit in the world beyond these overcrowded hotspots. Choose a lesser-known city in the same country, visit an alternative national park, or venture out into smaller towns in the countryside – getting off the beaten track far from the t-shirt shops will give you a far more rewarding experience.
Flights are the worst when it comes to causing harmful emissions, but if you can’t avoid flying to get to your destination, pay a few dollars extra to offset the carbon generated by your flight when you book your ticket. Once you’re on the ground, get around under your own steam if you can by walking or biking, or catching public transport. Train travel is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as more people embrace this green mode of transport, and it’s a great way to take in the scenery. If you can’t avoid hiring a car, choose an electric one.
Taking the pace down a notch when you travel is a simple but effective way to reduce your carbon footprint. Why not stay a little longer and really get to know a place? Take a cooking, language or dance class, start up a conversation, and find out where the locals like to eat and drink. Get around using public transport, book a homestay, and explore some days without a plan. The unexpected people and places you stumble upon are what tend to make slow travel so special – and it’s often far less expensive.
Whether you’re off on a day trip or joining a group for a week-long adventure, select a tour operator with a strong track record of doing the right thing. Check that they have a sound animal-welfare policy, contribute to the prosperity and well-being of communities they visit, and can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability in tangible ways. A tick of approval from a well-known organization such as B Corp is a very good sign, as is an operator that follows Leave No Trace principles or is a member of 1% for the Planet.
Visiting another country is a chance to build bridges between cultures, and learn about different points of view. Go gently and respectfully, especially at spiritual sites, and be kind to those who help you on your travels. A tip or thank you and a smile can brighten the day of the people that help you carry your bags, check you in, clean your room or serve your meals. Share those good vibes around! Be sure to learn a little about a country’s customs before you leave home to avoid causing offense. Giving a thumbs up, crossing your chopsticks or showing the soles of your feet are social gaffes in some countries.
Spend your travel dollars in ways that benefit locals when you can. Supporting social enterprises that provide training and employment to people in need are especially worth seeking out. Show your support to a social enterprise cafe, handicraft shop or hostel and you’ll walk away with more than a warm, fuzzy feeling that you’ve given back in a meaningful way. You’re also likely to feel grateful for the memory you just made connecting with local people.
It’s fun to try new things when you travel – food is one of the best things about it – but there are things you shouldn’t eat and drink if you want to be a responsible traveler. There are the obvious ones to avoid (cat, dog, whale, seal, shark and sea turtle), but also avoid ‘cat poo’ coffee, puffin, pangolin and ‘bushmeat’. Support zero-waste and eco-friendly eateries where you can.
Social media can take a beautiful destination from heavenly to horrible in no time when shared images and videos draw crowds from around the world. National parks and other ecosystems have suffered as a result, and an influx of travelers can be a burden to locals and infrastructure. Turn off location access on your phone and avoid sharing the location in social media captions. AI still makes it possible to identify a location, but it will be less visible to all who see it. Be respectful when taking photos of people (never sharing images of children), and leave the drone at home – they can be disruptive to wildlife and invasive to people’s privacy.
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