It’s hard being an eco-traveller—so many lavish vacations, too many excellent meals, and lots of overseas purchases to make mean that being eco-friendly can go right out the door, right?
Wrong. Being an eco-traveller is surprisingly easy if you’re willing to be a little conscious about your spending and your choices while abroad. True, sometimes it requires a little footwork (sometimes more literally than figuratively), but the outcomes are anything but ordinary and can really make the difference between keeping a community thriving and seeing it dissolve under the pressure of industrialisation over the next few years.
But to get around that fear and that guilt, it’s easy to make changes that can help create sustainable travel communities. It just requires a little bit of planning, out of the box thinking, and commitment to having an off the chart time. Are you ready?
Many of the places people pick for their holidays are filled with tourists. I’m not naming any names, but if you are dying to see Radio City Music Hall or the Eiffel Tower, there’s really no way around frequenting a particular city, country, or even neighbourhood these must-see sites come with big carbon emissions and often culture addicted to the traveller’s spending.
Try this instead: A nature inspired adventure. While no one is saying there’s a replacement for getting an apartment overlooking Central Park for a weekend romp in the city, I would suggest that there are equally wonderful vacations that are a little bit off the map and therefore, a little bit more eco-friendly. Getting away from the big metropolises and getting closer to nature through a visit to a National Park not only puts your money towards conservation efforts, but it can also be a breath of fresh air!
2. All-inclusive anything.
All those Sandals resorts are beautiful and very convenient for people wanting to spend their vacation on their back in the sun and sipping lots of beautiful frozen cocktails. But what most of them aren’t is eco-friendly. Many of them don’t have a recycling program, alternative energy resources or sustainable community enrichment programs – for me, it means no deal.
Try this instead: Eco-lodges. There are places all over the world that make staying in an eco-lodge something of a beautiful dream that doesn’t include all of things that you fear when you hear the word ‘eco-lodge’ (like bugs, no air conditioning, bathing in streams…wait, that last one doesn’t sound so bad). Not only are they conservation friendly, but they will also immerse you in an experience so luxurious you’ll forget you’re doing something fairly decent for the earth. Don’t just take my word for it though, you’ve got to see it to believe it!
3. Getting room service.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that getting housekeeping to come pick up after you every day is bad for the environment, but so is leaving your charger in the wall while you’re out for the day, disposing of trash that could be recycled, or taking the extra toiletries when you have your own soap.
Try this instead: Putting your “do not disturb” sign on the door. It’s easy, doesn’t waste the housekeepers’ time, and means you’re being a little more conscious all around. My golden rule when travelling is this: if I don’t need it at home (like sheets changed every day and fresh towels after one shower) then I can live without it while I’m abroad.
4. Global roaming fees.
It’s not just about the expense (although the expense is a really, really big deal) but it’s also about outsourcing. While it may seem small to you, the energy that it takes to ping back your signal across the world is significantly smaller than if you opt for something smarter than an international plan.
Try this instead: A local SIM card. Not only are you going to get data roaming fees at the local price (and it’s good for local business!) you’re also going to get better data roaming bars. My suggestion is to turn off your data roaming, stick to free wifi, and download Skype, that way you don’t even have to load a data card with that much money. Make it your first to-do after landing in a new city to make it to a cellphone kiosk to purchase one. Either you can get the service guy to do it or install it yourself (in 99% of cases, it works automatically, but if not, try unlocking your phone, and then you’re good to go!
5. Destinations far, far away.
Every time a plane lifts off the ground, there’s a lot of carbon emissions getting strapped to your name (sometimes seven times as much as ground travel). While it may seem bad for the environment for you to road trip around Europe, or finally discover the secrets of Route 6, the truth is, it’s actually much better for the environment than a flight.
Try this instead: A destination near you. Sure, it seems less exotic at the time to say you spent your vacation just 4 hours away from home, but what you save in travel time is more time spent on vacation!
6. Take out food.
Bags and styrofoam pile up at the end of the day and even if you’re one to recycle those plastic and paper containers for yourself at home, there’s sometimes no great way to do that while you’re travelling. Those extra things can really add up over a trip if you’re not careful.
Try this instead: While you’re travelling there are delicious snacks around every corner for you to taste test, so I suggest ordering a little less than you think you’ll eat at each place and snacking more frequently. Not only does it save on take-out packaging, but it also means you get to taste more of the local cuisine. Or, alternatively, eat street food. Doner kebabs come wrapped in a small amount of aluminum and chicken satay comes on wooden sticks, but they’re still mobile, more eco-friendly than styrofoam, and as delicious as anything you’ll eat at a table.
Some cities require taxis to get around – for example, from the airport to the medina in Marrakech you definitely need a taxi. But once you get to your destination, especially in Marrakech, there’s no reason to take a taxi.
Try this instead: Public transport, renting a bike, or walking. In Amsterdam, the real local experience comes with two wheels and a bike chain! In Marrakech, you discover so much once you’ve let go of wheels and allow yourself to wander on the ground. So don’t be afraid to get a little sweaty — I only know one person who ever suffered from a fatal melting!
8. Pamphlets handed out in the street.
I remember when I was in Stephansplatz in Vienna and I kept getting heckled to the point of actual tears in the square for operas and plays and musical offerings that I decided from then on I would just take whatever pass they were handing out and then be on my way. But taking every card that a promoter hands you may seem easier but is a waste of resources in the end.
Try this instead: Just say no. It gets easier each time you say it, I promise! Keep talking with your travel buddy, keep your head down, or just practice “no” in the mirror instead — it’s the only way to get better!
9. No imports.
It all comes down to the beer (more or less), and here’s my rule: drink like you’re at home. You’d never go to Germany and have a French wine at the bar, would you? When it comes to getting an authentic experience and also being good to the earth, you’ve got to sacrifice a little bit in the way of imported goods. My advice is just not to buy them unless it’s an emergency, and with lots of great brews around in Germany, the best is the one that’s brewed within the borders.
Try this instead: Eat at local places and shop at local markets. It’s great for the local economy if you buy their products, so purchase things that are made in-house. Apply this approach to your food, your souvenirs, your last-minute drugstore runs, and everything else.
10. Pick a carbon offset adventure.
This isn’t a thing to avoid actually, this is a really good thing! Carbon offset adventures take into account everything that you need to have a great adventure but then they supplement the spending with a little giving as well.
Try this: Companies like Intrepid Travel calculate exactly how much it’s going to take to get your where you’re going, and they let you know upfront, so that when you do things on your trip like take shared transport, or have a shared meal in a local house, or walk with a local guide through the mountains of Nepal, you know that you’re making an impact that goes beyond catching a plane ride and parking it on the beach. Because in the long run, it’s the things that we actively do, the things that we really care about, that are going to last for generations to come.
So pack your bags, remember your manners and refuse to get those noodles take out—it’s a tiny difference maybe, but with enough time can incite real change. And that’s what I’m all about. Bon voyage!
Photos: Creative Commons Zero from Unsplash.
About the Author – Meet Claire!
Claire is a self-confessed travel nut. She has been travelling around the world since her Mum farewelled her in a teary goodbye, and she hasn’t looked back since! You can read all about her adventures through 48 cities in 26 countries on 4 continents on her blog Traveltio.com.
Thanks again to Claire for the wonderful guest post. Make sure you check out her blog Traveltio, for more eco-inspiration!!