by Emmaline Phol with Greenheart Travel
Traveling is a wonderful experience, but unfortunately it can also be very harmful to the natural environment. Airplanes emit an enormous amount of greenhouse gases. Hotels consume valuable resources like water and energy while creating thousands of pounds of waste. Travelers who choose to explore rural, natural regions can degrade the beautiful ecosystems that drew them there in the first place.
The great news is there are actions you can take before, during and after your trip to minimize travel’s harmful affect on the environment and encourage sustainable practices as you go. This is the first article in a three-part series on how you can stay green while traveling abroad.
Before You Go
Only pack clothes and supplies you know you will use. The more your belongings weigh, the more fossil fuel it will take to transport them around. Packing light will also prevent the burden of outside garbage on the places you visit if you decide to lighten your suitcase later. Plus, it will free up room in your suitcase for local, fair trade products to bring home!
Bring a reusable water bottle and water purifier
If you are traveling outside of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, there is a high chance most of your water will be found in a plastic bottle. To be environmentally friendly, purchase a high quality water filter and sturdy reusable water bottle (made of either metal or BPA-free plastic) to carry with you.
Find lodging that uses sustainable practices Although for most Greenheart Travel programs, you will be living in one place (either in a dorm or homestay), you will also occasionally have the opportunity to travel independently. When searching for environmentally conscious lodging, try to find hotels, bed and breakfasts, and hostels which incorporate sustainable practices into their operations. Examples of eco-friendly lodging practices include: use of CFLs, low-flow shower heads, dual-flush toilets, alternative energy systems (solar panels) or waste systems (compost eco-toilets), and easy access to recycling and public transportation. When possible, stay in establishments run and owned by locals.
You may find that in less developed countries, these types of amenities are not common. In this case, again, try to stay in smaller, locally-owned hotels and communicate to the staff how important sustainability is to you.
Book long distance travel by train or bus
Instead of traveling between landlocked countries by air, go by ground transport. Though these modes of transportation are slower than airplanes, trains and buses emit much less carbon dioxide and pollutants. Traveling in this manner is typically cheaper (especially if you take overnight trains) and also allows you to enjoy the landscape of the places you are journeying through.
If traveling by air, choose eco-conscious airlines
If you do have to fly, book with airlines that are more environmentally responsible. Top airlines taking progressive action on the environmental front include Nature Air (a carbon-neutral airline only found in Costa Rica), Lufthansa, Easy Jet, Continental, and Virgin. Others include British Airways, which has a strong environmental agenda, Southwest Airlines, which recycles all of its cabin waste, and American Airlines, which began flying a more efficient fleet that burns 28% less fuel.
Find a “green” guidebook
Green guides collect all the information on environmentally sustainable hotels, restaurants, transportation options, and tours, making it easy to plan your trip abroad. Matador Network Notebook, for example, has Green Guides for destinations around the world.
Avoid destinations that are tourist hotspots
Try to avoid extremely touristy areas; these regions usually are over-developed with resource-guzzling resorts, hotels, and restaurants. Local cultural practices are slowly eroded and the natural environment suffers as well. Instead, go to more off-the-beaten-path places where you can engage with local residents and travel in a more sustainable way.
Purchase carbon offsets
Carbon dioxide is the single, greatest contributor to global climate change and the amount emitted in even a single airplane ride is enormous. An air traveler generates about 2,500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions on a seven hour round-trip flight from New York to London. By contrast, the average automobile produces 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually.
To offset the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by your air travel, you can contribute to an organization that works to counteract the effects of carbon dioxide on the earth. There are many such organizations to choose from, but it is very important to find a veritable one whose projects actually do reduce the amount of carbon dioxide.
Greenheart Travel and Center for Cultural Interchange participants have the opportunity to lessen the impact of their air travel on the atmosphere by making a travel offset donation to ecological projects supported by the Fundacion por el Futuro.