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8 ways to be a more eco-conscious traveler

April 06, 2020
7 min read
The suspension bridge in the forest
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In theory, being an environmentally responsible traveler is simple. In practice, it requires a purposeful effort to reduce your carbon footprint and to abide by responsible travel pledges put forth by destinations.

In 2019, found in its annual Sustainable Travel Report that 73% of travelers worldwide intend to stay at least once in an eco-friendly or green accommodation in the year ahead. This represents the fourth consecutive year in which’s research has seen this figure rise.

If you're wondering how you can become a more eco-conscious traveler, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Unplug at home before leaving

Before leaving on a trip, start the green movement by unplugging home appliances and adjusting your thermostat to make sure your house isn’t draining energy while you're gone. Besides turning off all lights in the home, shut off your water heater as well. This conserves electricity and also saves money on your utility bill.

Pack what you need

When traveling by airplane, the amount of luggage you bring on a flight contributes to the overall weight of the plane. The heavier the aircraft, the more fuel it burns -- which in turn has an impact on the amount of CO2 emitted.

(Photo by Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images)
Packing light saves fuel. (Photo by Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Pack your bag lightly, especially for a weekend destination, and leave room for souvenirs to bring back home. Consider using packing cubes that create space in your luggage and are ideal for people who over pack or for carry-on only travelers.

Travel by train

My favorite way to travel -- and it's fast becoming a travel trend -- is by train. Train travel is the most efficient and lowest carbon-emitting mode of transportation, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In Europe, the epicenter of rail travel, you can opt to reduce your carbon footprint significantly and many times arrive door-to-door at your destination faster by train than by plane. For example, taking the popular Eurostar route from London to Paris and back by rail, travelers can cut CO2 emissions by a staggering 90% versus flying.

(Photo by Owen Franken/Getty Images)
(Photo by Owen Franken/Getty Images)

For those of us without an efficient inter-connected rail network, flying will have to do. Traveling to countries with strong rail systems is not only more efficient (train stations are usually located in a central, downtown area) and comfortable but also more eco-friendly as well.

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Bring a reusable water bottle

Nearly everywhere you travel, you're bound to see a plastic bottle on the ground, in the water or on the beach. This not only pollutes our earth but also creates a health hazard to living beings, particularly marine life.

(Photo by Karl Tapales/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karl Tapales/Getty Images)

Bring your own reusable water bottle on your next trip, so you can stay hydrated for a long day of sightseeing or exploring. The Guardian reported in June 2017 that 1 million plastic water bottles are purchased across the globe every minute -- with that number expected to increase 20% by 2021.

Your environmental footprint can be reduced greatly by simply using a refillable water bottle on your next trip (or at home).

Say no to straws

Many airlines, cruise lines, hotels and restaurants have already eliminated the use of plastic straws. Some have replaced plastic straws with paper ones that are considered biodegradable and better for the environment. By refusing a straw with your next adult beverage while on vacation, you are making sure that one less piece of plastic ends up in our oceans or in the landfill.

Treat hotels like home or stay at a home share

Besides booking and staying at a sustainable hotel, you can also take measures within your lodging to maintain an eco-conscious mindset. Before leaving your hotel room, turn off all the lights -- just as you would at home. Take shorter showers and turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth. Reuse hotel towels to conserve water by reducing the hotel's laundry loads.

(Photo courtesy of Airbnb)
(Photo courtesy of Airbnb)

A good way to be a more eco-conscious traveler is using home-share services like Airbnb for your lodging, instead of traditional hotels. Hotels consume water by laundering large quantities of sheets and towels daily and plastics through the use of single-use toiletries -- although some are becoming more eco-conscious.

A 2018 Cleantech Group study found that when guests use Airbnb, significantly less energy and water are used, fewer greenhouse gases are emitted and waste is drastically reduced. By opting for Airbnb listings rather than hotels in 2017, Airbnb guests in Europe achieved energy savings equal to that of 826,000 homes and reduced water usage equal to 13,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

If a sustainable hotel is your pick, look for labels such as Energy Star, TripAdvisor GreenLeaders and LEED, that indicate that the hotel meets stringent green requirements.

Eat and shop local

One of the most important ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to eat and shop local when traveling.

(Photo by Linka A Odom/Getty Images)
(Photo by Linka A Odom/Getty Images)

For example, many foods purchased at the local grocery store may have traveled thousands of miles to arrive on the shelves. Conversely, you can buy your food from local farmers markets or shop local artisans. By cutting down on those shipment miles, you are reducing the environmental impact of your food and other purchases. The result is less fuel consumption and less air pollution.

Be wary of animal tourism

Whether you're visiting an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, shark-diving in Australia or embarking on an African safari in Kenya, it is critically important that you do your homework and support only ethically responsible tours and operators.

Today, travelers who want ethical and sustainable eco-tourism can find an overwhelming amount of information on the web. Many wildlife tours claim to be ethically sound to lure tourists, but generally speaking, tours and attractions that involve bathing, riding or swimming with wildlife should be avoided. Spend time researching wildlife tours to find operators who are committed to operating ethically.

Bottom line

Travel is a passion for millions of people worldwide and if we all make a concerted effort to become more eco-conscious travelers, we can have a positive impact on the environment. There are plenty of other ways to become more green-aware but adopting some of these suggestions on your next trip may be good first steps in reducing our environmental footprint.

Featured image by Getty Images