How to be an Eco Minded Tourist
If you’re a traveler, you’re probably aware that tourism -- and long-range adventure tourism -- isn’t especially eco-friendly: travel generates thousands of pounds of carbon emissions, from the shuttle to the airport to the connecting flight to the hotel stay. While some countries are starting to take ecotourism seriously -- Costa Rica, for example, uses 95% renewable energy throughout the country and dedicates over 25% of their land to national parks and preserves, while New Zealand is committed to being 100% off of fossil fuels by the year 2025 -- these places are the exception rather than the rule.
Thankfully, some of the environmental impact of adventure tourism can be reduced or mitigated: there are simple steps you can take as a traveler to understand the environmental consequences of your activities, reduce the impact of your explorations, and even leave your destination better than you found it!
Every item adds up when you’re on the move -- just like running while carrying a 60-lb gear bag is more strenuous than without one, vehicles have to work harder to carry heavier loads. From the plane to the boat to the car (or bus, or tuktuk), every vessel you board will produce more or fewer carbon emissions based on the weight of your luggage. Less is more… the environment will thank you for squeezing into a carry-on instead of splurging on a large checked bag.
Bring a Bottle, Skip the Straw
Water… it’s one of our most abundant resources, but reliable access to clean water is still a problem for millions of people in many parts of the globe. You’ll need to be careful about consuming water in some places (something your pre-travel research should cover!), and many tourists resort to bottled water when what’s available isn’t potable. This strategy can be especially helpful in countries where the water is not safe to drink: buy a water bottle with a built-in filter, so that you can drink safely without purchasing dozens of plastic water bottles over the course of your trip. This step alone can help drastically reduce your environmental impact, but there’s another one that can further reduce your carbon footprint: plastic straws! Simply ask your waiter not to bring one when you order your drinks.
Take One Flight, Then Travel Overland
Did you know that the takeoff and landing is the most fuel-intensive part of any flight? Spending a little more for the direct flight (as opposed to a cheaper connecting flight) has a huge impact on the carbon emissions you generate as you travel. Skip just one five-hour flight, and your carbon footprint will be thousands of pounds lighter. As a bonus, you'll get to see more of the countryside on the way to your final destination, too!
Leave No Trace
Wherever you travel, the only thing you should leave behind is footprints. Many eco-travelers take this one step further, making an effort to leave the places they visit even better than when they found them. That means picking up a few pieces of trash on the beach or in the forest and tossing them in waste containers so they don’t sink into the ground or ocean, where they could harm local wildlife. If you see something that doesn’t belong, simply pick it up and stash it in your backpack until you can dispose of it properly.
Understand Your Impact
Traveling isn’t the eco-friendliest thing we can do — we use a lot of fossil fuels getting to our destination, consume internationally shipped goods, and create a lot of trash along the way. However, simple changes can have positive effects on the environment. In today’s digital age, there are tools we can use to make more environmentally friendly decisions. Your phone is already a key item when you travel, so why not use technology to your advantage? You can build a more eco-friendly travel plan from your smartphone through just a few apps.
Apps like Green Globe help you find the most eco-friendly hotels, ranking locations using a 40-item checklist to make choosing a sustainable hotel simple. HopStop will recommend the eco-friendliest travel options between two destinations, and if you bought too much food for your stay, Olio lets you post your extras and someone will come and pick them up. It also works in reverse: if you find yourself stuck in a city and tight on cash, log in and see if someone’s got something to offer! The biggest hurdle is awareness, once you’re aware, you can make better decisions and drastically reduce your impact.
Bonus Tip: Offset Your Footprint
Did you know you can actually offset your own emissions at home as well as abroad? Carbon offset schemes allow individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects around the world in order to balance out their own carbon footprints.