Grab your travel gear and hit the road, because summer is the best time to travel. Whether you go abroad or take a short road trip, practicing respectful and sustainable travel practices is a great way to feel good about doing your part. Here's a few ways to make your trip better for you and those around you.
1. Keep Healthy
Preparing for wellness on trips can minimize negative effects on local communities and environments. Try your best to maintain good health during your whole trip, but especially in the weeks prior by getting your necessary immunizations. The enclosed cabin of an airline is a breeding ground of bacteria and pathogens; it's much easier to get sick on a plane than not. Maintaining health when arriving and departing your destination will prevent the spread of dangerous pathogens to others on the other side of the world. By maintaining your health before traveling, you can also minimize the negative effects your disposable wellness materials have on the environment.
2. Streamline your Transportation
So it's time to plan out your vacation transportation, but which method of travel is the most efficient? Depending on your circumstances, in most cases, the most sustainable method of traveling long distances is by plane, according to Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Sivak finds that unless you are driving a light, fuel-efficient hybrid (40mpg+) with more than 3 people in the car, an airline may be more fuel efficient. With that said take-offs and landings create most of an airplane's carbon footprint, so air travel is only more efficient if you are taking direct flights over long distances.
Travel Tip: Not all flights are created equal, so the best way to get that direct flight for the least amount of money is to open up an incognito/private window and purchase your tickets on a Monday or Thursday. There's a common misconception that Tuesday is the best day to get great ticket deals, but that's because flash sales were often run manually; nowadays all sales are automated. A statistical analysis showed that Tuesday was actually only cheaper than Sunday sales. As for the incognito/private window trick, these two browsing modes block cookies and the websites don't have access to your browser history, which means that airline price algorithms won't spike for you based on your previous online purchases. Try it out for yourself!
Once at your destination, it's time to figure out how you'll be getting around the city and to nearby areas. We've ranked the best options for intra-city and inter-city travel and these are the most sustainable forms of transportation that we recommend if available:
Local public transit
Long distance buses
Rideshare (check out Lyft)
Electric car (available from eGo CarShare)
Hydrogen fuel cell
Manual diesel car*+
Automatic diesel car*
3. Sleep Green
Finding green lodging can be difficult, but there are a handful of options you can generally choose from:
Most Sustainable Lodging
If you feel comfortable, apps like Couchsurfing can not only cut down on your lodging costs, but also your lodging carbon footprint. Couchsurfing connects you with locals who are interested in housing travelers. Hosts can really range, so look through their bios and reviews before contacting them. Hotels often waste electricity and water in all sorts of ways, but staying in a house allows utility use to be kept to a minimum.
Most Sustainable Way to Stay in an AirBnB
If you like the idea of Couchsurfing or avoiding hotels, but want a little more privacy and independence, you can book an AirBnB. While still much more sustainable than a hotel, the AirBnB market has begun contributing to the gentrification of low-income areas. If you're looking at renting an AirBnB, try to find one where you and the owner will be living on the same property. This not only prevents land loss in the community, but also gives you a more authentic local experience by keeping you out of touristy, higher-cost areas inhabited by vacationers and transplants.
Most Sustainable Way to Stay in a Hotel
On the other hand, if you plan on staying in a hotel, research its sustainability and local impact. One way that you can offset a hotel's carbon footprint is to hang towels after each use; it's the universal sign that you’d like to use them again. If you leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door for the duration of your stay, it will cut down on chemical cleansing agents, electricity used in vacuuming, and the washing of bed linens. At the end of your stay, take any leftover soap, shampoo, or toothpaste with you. Unused portions are often thrown away, and you can reuse the plastic bottles in the future. Also keep in mind that unlike staying with locals, hotels and resorts can contribute to gentrification and displacement of local communities, especially in low-income areas.
4. Support Local Communities
While exploring your destination, make sure that if you buy souvenirs, you buy locally made products. Imported items and souvenirs have a much larger carbon footprint, and their purchase financially discourages the creation of sustainable, indigenous local art and can lead to community displacement. When you buy directly from an artist, you're helping them pay their bills and sometimes preserve and share their culture and craft. Locally made goods are created with care and devotion, which coincidentally means that they are built to last, making their carbon footprint smaller than mass-produced items. It's good practice to respect the creator's hard work by paying the asking price and not haggling.
Even though you're traveling, it's still important to practice sustainability—it's actually more important. Protecting environments and communities that are not your own are cornerstones of respectful and responsible travel. Thank you for doing your part.
Next month we will break down how to sustainably travel in rural regions. Stay tuned!