By Anastacia Mott Austin
The recent rage in ‘eco-tourism’, or traveling in ways that support the natural environment and local people, has made some folks nervous. They think they need to go to Costa Rica and save the sea turtles in order to qualify as ‘green’ travelers. Not true. While the more labor-intensive volunteer excursions are wonderful experiences for some, they’re not for everyone. Many people take vacations to relax and get away from the stresses of everyday life, and they don’t want to have to worry about the environment while they’re gone.
But lessening one’s environmental impact while traveling doesn’t have to involve a lot of exertion or self-sacrifice, and doing so can make you feel that you’re doing something to help while simultaneously kicking back on the beach. A report from the Green Hotels Association quotes a US Travel Data Center survey stating that 43 million American travelers are ‘ecologically concerned’. People care, they just don’t know what to do about it.
Green travel essentially means travel that is concerned with protecting the environment and the culture of the places one visits. This can be achieved in many ways, from the simple to the more complex. Some of the ways we can be greener travelers are mentioned below.
Before You Leave on Your Trip
- Turn off or unplug all appliances in your home; some appliances can pull up to 40 watts per hour even if turned off.
- Turn down the temperature of the thermostat and water heaters.
- Temporarily interrupt your newspaper service or donate it to a local school.
- Turn off your water connection.
- Use electronic tickets for your airline flights.
- Buy carbon emissions offsets from an organization like Sustainable Travel International. By paying a small extra fee when you travel by air, for example, the amount of carbons emissions caused by your flight (which can be equivalent to one person’s fuel use of an SUV for an entire month) can be offset with the organization’s contributing to sustainable energy in other areas, such as solar heating or wind power.
- Opt for a hybrid rental car.
- Choose a ‘green’ hotel or ecolodge. These are accommodations whose goals are to preserve the environment and reduce waste. Some of the best of these use 100% solar power for their hotels, automatically turn off lights and appliances when guests leave the rooms, have low-flow toilets and recycling bins in the rooms, use local organic products in their restaurants, and employ staff from the local community. The Independent Traveler website lists a ‘Top 10 Ecolodges and Green Hotels’.
While At Your Destination
- Tell hotel staff you don’t need your linens changed every day. Many hotels employ a system to only replace used towels in guest rooms to avoid excessive laundry.
- Re-use the plastic cups in hotel rooms, or bring your own re-usable cups and utensils.
- When leaving the room, turn off all lights and appliances, and turn down the heat or A/C.
- Bring and use your own toiletries during your trip, reducing the need for excessive packaging of small lotions, shampoos, etc.
- Take short showers and turn off the water when brushing teeth.
- Take public transportation or walk whenever possible―many local sightseeing tours are walking tours.
- When hiking, stay on marked trails, and follow any posted rules about campfires, trash receptacles, and interaction with local animals.
- Whenever possible, buy local and locally grown products.
- Avoid buying anything made of endangered species, such as tortoise shells, ivory, rare animal skins, etc. Many of these are made only for the tourist trade, and if not supported, won’t be sustained.
- Avoid disposable cameras, which contribute to waste.
- Respect local wildlife and local native culture.
These efforts to reduce environmental impact are not overly disruptive to a vacation routine, and can help greatly in reducing pollution and interference with the local environment.
Most people are concerned with the condition of the earth, and can continue to help even when on vacation. As the old saying goes, take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints. Small, environmentally responsible footprints.