February 16th, 2015

Become a More Eco-Conscious Traveler

Have you resolved to travel more sustainably and ethically in 2015? Take note of some tips on greener globetrotting.

Is your New Year’s resolution to become a greener traveler? Even small changes made in the name of eco-friendliness can have a huge impact on our environment. By making a few mindful tweaks to your travel planning and on-the-road routine, you can help reduce your carbon footprint and preserve the planet for generations to come.

Book Green Hotels

Start your eco-conscious travel plans by choosing “green” (or, at least, greener) accommodations. For those who value sustainability and environmental ethics, big chain hotels probably won’t cut it. But do your research, and you will find a wealth of eco-friendly options that minimize negative impacts to the surrounding land, while maximizing your customer experience. From sustainable wooden tree houses to big, flashy LEED-certified skyscrapers, the options for creative and eco-friendly lodging are plentiful, and you’ll almost certainly find one where you want to be.

Use Eco-Friendly Forms of Transportation

Whenever possible, opt for more sustainable ways of getting where you need to go. If you can walk or bike somewhere instead of renting a car, do it! Not only will you do your part to reduce harmful emissions, but you’ll also get some exercise while you’re at it (plus, what a way to see the sights in a new place)! If you’re going a longer distance, electric trains or biodiesel busses are fantastic ways to get around when they are available options.

Buy Local

Purchasing in-season foods and locallymade souvenirs are positive ways to support local economies, but the benefits don’t stop there. You’ll also help conserve resources by not consuming goods that had to be transported in from hundreds or even thousands of miles away at great expense. While you’re shopping, also be sure to avoid buying goods that come partially or entirely from endangered species.

Respect the Sights

One of the great joys of travel is seeing places you’ve only previously glimpsed in magazines. Whether you’re trekking through the rainforest, climbing a mountain, or traipsing through the ruins of a great, long-gone civilization, be sure to do your part to maintain the beauty for future visitors. Avoid stepping on fragile landscapes, like wetlands or the tundra. If you happen to be camping, be sure to utilize best practices in “leaving no trace,” and use designated campsites if they exist. On a guided tour? Make sure that you stay on the assigned path, following any directions or signs you encounter.

Go Green While You’re Gone

Part of being a green traveler is making sure that you conserve resources at home while you are away. Before you leave, be sure to unplug unnecessary appliances like your TV, desktop computer, microwave, kitchen appliances, and other electronics. These can still draw energy while plugged in, even if they’re turned off. Set your hot water heater and thermostat to a low temperature in the winter, and a higher temperature in the summer. If you get any regular deliveries, like magazines or newspapers, be sure to have the subscriptions suspended while you’re gone.

Stay Green While You’re There

If your hotel participates in any sort of environmental program, join in during your stay. Recycle when you can, and avoid ordering room service—the disposable containers produce lots of waste. Watch your use of water, especially in places where it is a scarce resource. If you’re in a warm climate, help reduce the need for air conditioning by closing the drapes during the day. Rather than take things like seashells or flowers from your environment, just take pictures. Remember: Leave no trace.

No matter what your destination, always be on the lookout for things you can do—large or small—to help reduce your footprint and increase sustainability. Will you become a more eco-conscious traveler in 2015?

Shannon O’Donnell is a long-term traveler on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She wrote The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook and founded GrassrootsVolunteering.org to help travelers connect with ethical volunteering and travel opportunities on their round the world travels.

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by Shannon ODonnell

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She is an acclaimed travel speaker and works with universities and businesses all over the U.S. to talk about supporting developing countries.

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