How to Be an Eco-Conscious Traveler
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Part of the joy of traveling around the world is seeing what different ecological and climate zones have to offer. To ensure these special, travel-worthy places are preserved for future generations, however, we must do our part to protect them. Reducing our individual impact while traveling is an act we can take to preserve our natural environment.
There are many ways to become an eco-conscious traveler without taking away any of the pleasures of going abroad. Assessing your carbon footprint while traveling will empower you to understand where your actions are having the most impact. Once you have identified where you can offset your emissions, you can make the needed adjustments to make a positive change in the ways you travel.
Get a Clean Bill of Health
Your health and the health of the environment are more linked than you might realize. Although laying in bed sick may seem more consequential to you than anything else, being ill indirectly affects the environment in negative ways. This is due to the way medicine is manufactured and disposed of.
One way or another, pharmaceutical drugs find their way into the environment, contaminating the water supply and causing adverse side effects to the wildlife that come in contact with it. To combat this, make sure you not only live a healthy lifestyle, but get regular checkups as well.
It’s also important to note to get tested for STDs on a regular basis as well since even people who are not sexually active can still contract these diseases. If you are currently taking medication for any condition, research it and see if there are greener alternatives to treat it.
Traveling lightly — meaning only bringing the bare essentials — will reduce your carbon footprint. The excess weight of over-packing weighs down cars, trains, and planes, causing them to use more fossil fuels.
Additionally, when traveling to another region or country, determine the most eco-friendly way to get to your destination. When possible, choose trains over planes, public transportation over single-passenger vehicles, and self-propelled travel over options that use fossil fuels. When flying is the only rational choice, purchase your ticket from airlines with the highest fuel efficiency and take action to offset your carbon emissions.
Choose to participate in eco-conscious activities when exploring new cultures and countries. There are always a number of guided trips and tours to choose from. Weigh your options and make your decisions based on the environmental impact the available companies might have.
For example, if you are visiting the capital of New Zealand and have the option to go on a hike or to go on an open-water fishing trip, opt for the hike. The carbon emissions of traveling by boat and the ecological disturbance you could cause while fishing can be avoided by going on a self-propelled hike. If there is an opportunity to bike or walk to the trailhead, do so to avoid getting a fossil-fueled ride to the trailhead.
Some other zero-emission adventuring options include:
- Walking on the beach
When researching places to stay during your travels, run your query through a “green filter.” There are many sites online that highlight eco-conscious hostels, hotels, and Airbnb. You can choose for yourself what offerings are most important to you based on what part of the world you are staying in — whether that means saving water, reducing electricity use, or vegan meal offerings.
If you are making decisions on-the-go and don’t have time to research, look for seals of approval in windows and on brochures. Buildings in the United States can be LEED certified; the Rainforest Alliance assess properties in the Caribbean and Latin America; Green Tourism does so in the United Kingdom; and likewise, EarthCheck does in Australia.
If you are purchasing a guided trip, hire a guide who has environmental ethics at the forefront of their minds. You can hire a surf guide from any of the rental shops you will find on a beach. However, not all of them will know to tell you to make sure to not step on the coral. They may also inform you about appropriate surfing gear, as well as lotions or products that can hurt marine ecosystems.
A guide who can provide small, actionable advice like this can help reduce your environmental impact in a major way. Be sure you don’t go out with the wrong guide. Your presence has the potential to further harm an already threatened and delicate ecosystem.
If you are eco-conscious in your daily life back home, you have likely already removed all single-use plastic items from your home. However, when you are on the road, this can be difficult to do. Most souvenirs, snacks, and bottled beverages handed to you are wrapped in plastic.
In an attempt to deter yourself from using plastic bags, carry around a reusable bag that you can use time and time again. Don’t forget your reusable water bottle to avoid having to purchase a single-use plastic alternative. If you do, make sure to hold on to the plastic or glass bottle you purchase for the remainder of the trip or recycle it.
Become a Locavore
One of the greatest things about traveling to new places is trying local foods and beverages. However, be sure to do your diligence and be an educated consumer when dining out. Many restaurants offer a broad selection, but it is more eco-friendly to eat and drink local products.
Ask your server before you order about the source of their offerings. Order beers and wines you know were brewed and bottled locally to reduce the number of miles they traveled to arrive at your table. When possible, support local farmers and growers by purchasing fruit and vegetables directly from producers. By being a locavore, you can reduce your carbon footprint while traveling.
When traveling, being eco-focused not only benefits the environment, but it shows you respect the lands and the people who live there. It is easy to become unaware of your environmental impact while on vacation. Focus on creating a green itinerary — on having as sustainable a travel experience as possible.