When it comes to travel, there's sometime a tendency to step away from our normal practices: to use more disposable items, to forget about recycling, to leave a bit larger footprint behind. And yet while we're traveling we're spending time in someone else's backyard and so should take extra care to tread lightly.
Below please find a few simple tips on how to reduce your environmental impact while traveling.
1. Before you leave home, unplug appliance you won't be using. Even when on standby, most appliances - like TVs and microwaves - still draw power. According to the Department of Energy, this wasted power accounts for 5% of annual energy use in the US!
2. It's a well-known fact that air travel is the last environmentally-sound way to travel. Yet, in many cases it's by far the most practical option. If your destination involves a flight, look for direct ones. Taking off and landing requires a tremendous amount of fuel, so flying direct is greener than making stop-overs.
3. At your destination, try to walk, bike and take public transit rather than relying on a car. These are great ways to explore a new city and you don't have to worry about hassles like parking. Many cities (Vancouver and Paris for example) have excellent public transportation from the airport into the city centre that is faster and cheaper than a taxi.
4. If renting a car is a necessity to get around your destination, ask the car rental company about eco-friendly models. Many companies now include hybrids as part of their rental fleet. If that's not a possibility, stick with a smaller, more fuel-economical model, rather than taking the SUV upgrade at the counter.
5. Bring a reusable water bottle with you. Staying hydrated while walking around is important, and if you bring a bottle with you, you won't be constantly purchasing one-time use containers.
6. Same thing goes for toiletries. Instead of always buying one-time use travel size toiletries, purchase small containers that you can fill out of larger bottles for every trip.
7. Hotel laundry uses a huge amount of energy. Many hotels these days are encouraging their guests to "go green" by reusing their towels. It's a simple step to hang up your towel to dry, rather than requesting freshly laundered ones every day. And turn off the lights when you leave your room - for some reason many of us we aren't as careful about this when on vacation.
8. When traveling through Europe, the proliferation of cheap flights makes it tempting to fly between cities. But a train journey is far more environmentally friendly. Plus it's a lot more fun and fast too! Trains almost always leave from and arrive in the city centre and never involve long security lines or early check-ins. You can enjoy watching the countryside roll by out of a large picture window, and leg room is never an issue.
9. Seek out organizations, hotels and destinations that promote sustainable tourism and provide eco-tourism options. Many ToursByLocals guides are passionate about eco-tourism initiatives and are eager to help travelers enjoy their country in an environmentally respectful way.
10. Focus on activities that benefit the local culture and economy. Eating at a small local restaurant is going to be more impactful (in a positive way) than heading to a chain like McDonalds or Starbucks. A local guide is a great resource to help you access cultural treasures that are unique to the places you are visiting.
If you'd like to delve further into environmentally sound travel practices, the New York Times recently published an insightful article called "How to Travel the Earth and Protect it Too".