“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller
Traveling indeed uses natural resources, usually in the form of petroleum products. Movement requires fuel, and if you are going to set off on uncharted journeys, you will likely use more resources than if you stay at home. What is the conscious adventurer to do? Do you cancel your travel plans and resolve to a life lived at home? Hell no! It is easy to travel in a more sustainable manner and to offset your additional use of fossil fuels.
We’ve all heard stories about extreme sustainability methods such as the mom who won’t drive her kids to play at the lake in the summer because she doesn’t want to use the gasoline. While adopting a homebound mentality may work for some people in their quest to take care of the earth, for others of us, a stationary life is not an option.
If you’ve caught the travel bug – a sickness I sincerely wish upon you – refusing to explore our amazing global environment is just as big of a crime as using Styrofoam. Travel widens the perspective with a holistic education that you will never find in a book or a health food store, and trips often provide us with a profound sense of humanity’s connectedness and further incentive to conserve resources and protect the earth. Here are seven tips to help you along your bright green travel path.
1. Plan ahead to patronize green businesses. If you show up in Paris with no reservations and wander into the first hotel you see, your chances of finding a business that is committed to sustainable practices is low. Research websites like Green Lodging News, Ethical Traveler and National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations to find hotels and restaurants that have gone green. When possible, try to stay in hotels that have an established recycling program, energy-efficient lighting and plumbing, and are owned and operated by locals.
2. Don’t slip into a wasteful vacation mindset. At home, you’re always conscious of what resources you are using up, from laundry to lighting – because you pay the bills. When you’re on vacation and resources are included in the price of the hotel room, it might seem like a luxury to use a fresh bath towel every day, to leave the air conditioning on full blast or to take an hour-long shower. Resist the urge to slip into a devil-may-care attitude, and conserve resources when traveling as much as you do at home.
3. Bring your own water bottle. Plastic water bottles are an absolute scourge in many countries, especially those that are still developing – and much of the trash is tourist-produced. Travel with your own water bottle and filter or purification tabs and use wherever it’s safe to do so.
4. Offset your carbon emissions. Concerned about jet trails and global warming? Offset the carbon emissions that your selective travel produces through companies like The Conservation Fund, Carbonfund.org or Treeflights. It usually costs $10-40 per flight – a small price for a clear conscious.
5. Travel like the locals. Don’t be the obnoxious tourist that is cruising around in a private air-conditioned BMW when all the locals are riding donkeys. Walk, bike, hike and take public transportation as much as possible when you travel. You’ll use up fewer resources and have a more authentic experience.
6. Don’t use natural resources as souvenirs. While beautiful and free, seashells belong on the beach, not on your dresser. You don’t need a jar of white sand from Hawaii or a pretty rock from the Alps. Never touch coral and don’t purchase souvenirs made from endangered species – you can’t bring them back into the country anyway. These actions seem small, but if every traveler to Hawaii took home a bottle of the beach, the beaches would be gone.
7. Book with responsible companies. Taking a tour of the Amazon rainforest? Make sure that your tour operator is environmentally responsible by asking questions about tour size (small is better), lodging, transportation and whether or not they use local guides.