Want To Be An Eco-Friendly Traveler? Here’s How To Be One
You’ve got the metal straw, eco-bag, and reusable tumbler. But have you thought of how your traveling ways can affect the environment? So how do you apply your eco-friendly lifestyle to your travel habits? Here’s what you need to know and how to lessen your carbon footprint as a globetrotter
As traveling becomes more accessible and more affordable, it isn’t any surprise that many people aspire to travel further and farther from home.
In 2019, 4.5 billion passengers flew around the world on a plane, and yet, only five percent of the world’s population have actually traveled in a plane. Nevertheless, statistics show that flights worldwide produced 915 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2019. Just imagine the socio-economic and environmental impact of traveling—and we’re just talking about taking a flight to our chosen destination.
The appeal and satisfaction of traveling won’t wane any time soon, thus it pays to be more aware of how our wanderlust and globetrotting ways can affect and impact our environment. If your 2020 resolution includes traveling more AND living a more eco-conscious lifestyle, you might worry that one cannot coexist with the other. (Want to know how much carbon footprint you left on your last or will leave on your upcoming trip? Check here.)
But fret not. There are still ways to minimize the impact of traveling on Mother Earth. While we all can’t travel on a catamaran powered by “solar panels, wind turbine, and hydro-generators” like Greta Thunberg, we can at least try our best to lessen our carbon footprint when we travel for business or pleasure. The key is to research and learn better alternatives for every aspect of travel.
Yes, really. A World Bank study published in 2013 points out that traveling business or first class has a higher carbon footprint than flying economy. It’s because that much coveted room in the higher classes means taking up more space in the plane, leaving room for less passengers in the flight, and thus, more fuel per passenger used by the aircraft. Now if you simply can’t take a long haul flight like the average Joe, then check if the airline you’re taking has a frequent flier program that gives you the option to offset your carbon footprint by donating to a worthy cause that advocates for ecological protection and climate change.
Did you know that an aircraft has the most carbon emissions during landing and takeoff? Therefore, it makes more sense to take a flight with less layovers than one which has several stops in between. While it’s true that the flight with the most stopovers can be the more economical option, it also means you will have the most carbon footprint if you take the flight with more than two stops. So take a direct flight if you can.
According to the Air Transport Action Group website, “The new Airbus A380 and A220, Boeing 787, ATR-600 and Embraer E2 aircraft use less than 3 litres of jet fuel per 100 passenger kilometres. This matches the efficiency of most modern compact cars.”
Hop on a bus, train or car instead of a plane.
Another option to minimize your carbon footprint is to reduce the flights you take. Instead of hopping on a plane, why not take a bus, train or boat ride to your destination? Aside from reducing your carbon footprint through lesser plane trips, it also allows you to enjoy the journey through different eyes. This way, you are able to immerse yourself more into local culture, get to know the people more intimately, and see the sights on land (or sea).
Explore on foot or take public transport like a local.
Once you reach your destination, explore the city by walking around or taking mass transit like everyone else. Unlike air travel which is responsible for 12 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, road transportation globally is still responsible for 74 percent of CO2 emissions. So rent a car only if you absolutely have to. Better yet, take a walk or utilize public transportation whenever you can. Another option is to rent a bike, which allows you to go farther than your feet can take you. Traveling this way gives you a better chance of having unique encounters with locals, as well as making you feel what it’s like to live in this new city you’re visiting. A big plus: You’ll also discover on your own things and experiences that no guidebook or travel website can offer. Major win!
Choose an eco-friendly hotel or resort.
Add a new category for choosing a hotel or resort to stay at: Pick one that has established sustainability programs such as those that recycle its resources or were built following stringent eco-standards and supports environmental practices. Research whether or not that hotel you’ve been eyeing uses solar power or if that resort has its own water recycling system. A tip: Establishments that support eco-friendly initiatives will usually have some sort of green certification for its sustainability efforts.
Do as the locals do.
Especially when it comes to local recycling programs. Many countries have established recycling programs that are as simple to learn as segregating different kinds of trash in color coded or labeled waste bins. Try to learn and understand the city’s waste disposal programs, and needless to say, don’t throw your trash wherever you feel like it. Simply put, don’t be a jerk.
Be a master packer.
Packing lightly means not only carrying a lighter suitcase, but also lessens the load for an aircraft. Take note that the lighter the aircraft is, the less fuel it will burn, hence, less carbon emissions. So plan your OOTDs well prior to packing for your trip.
Bring your own essentials.
Travel light, but take your own toiletries, hygiene kits, flip-flops, and the like. Bringing your own essentials means you’ll be refusing those little bottles of toiletries, soap bars, cheap single-use slippers and what-not at the hotel. Place enough shampoo, soap, etc. in a reusable bottle—no sachets!—for your personal toiletry kit, and simply refill the bottle for your next trip. And please! Don’t take home those extra toiletries from the hotel; you won’t use them anyway.
Pack the right pieces.
Packing light means packing right. Choose pieces of clothing that don’t need to be washed right away or may even be used several times without washing first, as this eliminates the need to use the hotel or resort’s laundry service which usually uses up too much water. If necessary, pack clothing that may be washed in the sink and dries quickly. Also choose clothing and accessories that are multipurpose, i.e. sarong may double as a shawl or scarf, a maillot may be used as a swimsuit and a top.
Take your own dining kit.
If you’ve been diligent about starting a zero-waste lifestyle, you may already have your own meal kit which contains a set of reusable utensils, straw, tumbler, and even food container. When traveling, choose a collapsible tumbler and food container, and a resealable silicon pouch. These will be handy for when you have leftovers or to bring snacks during the trip.
Rent sports gear at your destination.
This goes with packing light. Instead of buying (and bringing) your own, just rent sports equipment at your hotel or resort such as snorkeling gear, tennis racket, etc.
Use up the toilet paper roll to the end.
If you use toilet paper, use it up to the end before replacing with a new roll.
Refuse daily housekeeping.
If you’re not staying long at a hotel, refuse housekeeping to avoid unnecessary change of bed linens and towel. Hang up your used towels as well to dry them out for next use.
Don’t open complimentary bottled water, if you won’t finish them anyway.
Better yet, don’t open complimentary bottled water—period. Bring your own reusable tumbler and fill it up with water and ice from a nearby café or resto before heading back to your room. Some hotels have ice dispensers and drinking fountains, too. Just ask the Concierge for its location.
Choose locally made products as souvenirs.
If you’d like to bring home a little remembrance from your trip, be more conscious of what you’ll be taking with you. Avoid mass produced, cheap, plastic products. Instead, head to a shop that features local artisans and craftsmen. Your souvenir will be a unique, authentic and valuable piece of art.
One way of reducing carbon footprint is being aware of where the food on your plate has been sourced from. By choosing local produce and products, you are lessening carbon footprint caused by transportation of goods, and at the same time, you’re also supporting the local community’s businesses while trying out what’s in season.
Say no to printed maps and brochures.
Go digital instead. Instead of picking up countless brochures at the airport or hotel lobby, use your smartphone to research activities and tours. Or why not go old school and ask the Concierge for recommendations. They’re usually the best resource for what’s best in the city. If you need to use a printed map, borrow one from the hotel and return it after for other guests to use.
Do your research.
Before heading off to any destination and making arrangements for tour packages, make sure you do due diligence. Research if the tour you fancy isn’t harming local wildlife or indigenous communities. Some tour packages look very appealing and have enticing offers, but upon closer look, are actually disrupting the natural order of life or even exploiting them.
Being an eco-conscious traveler doesn’t stop at refusing, reusing, and recycling. It's also about being mindful and respectful of the people and culture of the destination you’re traveling to.
All images from Unsplash.com.