How to Travel Like an Eco-Warrior
I recently graduated from University of Phoenix with a degree in Environmental Science. It was a long time coming for me and although I was on the 4+ year plan I smashed my goal while we were living temporarily in Barcelona, Spain. At the time we had just begun traveling full time, making our way through Europe by plane, train and automobile.
One of my final projects for my degree was to evaluate my own carbon footprint and compare the generated number to the suggested individual number to see just how much energy we truly use.
I’ll go ahead and shamefully tell you that my carbon footprint was 3-4x larger than the suggested average and as a prospective environmental scientist I felt like I wasn’t being as authentic as I should be. How can I claim to serve and protect the environment when the flights from our travels alone put me in environmental detention (at best)?
Luckily I stumbled across a fantastic blog post from Girl Vs Globe where the author and owner of the site Sabina talks about changing her traveling perspective from globetrotting to eco-conscious exploration. Sabina’s writing was truly inspirational to me, especially since I: 1) have an unwavering thirst for travel and 2) have vowed to become as sustainable as possible.
So the question is, where do I start becoming a more eco-conscious explorer?
I’ve developed a short list below that are both goals for my own future travels and suggestions that can help the weary traveler who wants to keep exploring but also wants to keep the planet healthy.
1. Reduce your flights
How bad are airplane emissions for the planet? Pretty bad. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that Airplanes could generate 43 gigatonnes of planet-warming pollution through 2050 (yikes!). The United States is responsible for roughly half the globe’s airplane CO2 emissions, and that number continues to rise.
If a plane ride is your only option try and opt in for non-stop flights. You’ll save in take off and landing emissions… plus you’ll get to your destination faster (we like that!).
Once you’ve reached your international destination, limit your country to country flight use by opting for a train or a bus when you can. This is the #1 “mistake” we made in the very beginning of our travels. Had we cut down on the number of flights from country to country in Europe, our number would have been much smaller.
2. Pack light and air dry
The heavier your bags the more weight it brings to the aircraft which means more emissions. Additionally, fewer bags means less waste! When traveling long term air dry your clothes instead of using a dryer. Not only will your laundry load be smaller but you’ll use less water and energy in the process. It was an easy decision for us to line dry abroad since most of our AirBnB homes weren’t equipped with a dryer.
3. Choose local
This seems to be easier abroad, but if you run into a grocery store, eat out or want to buy a souvenir choose local food, locally sourced ingredients and buy products that support the community you’re traveling within. Not only are you supporting the environment by choosing products that have traveled a short distance to the market, but you’re supporting local communities by purchasing their goods.
What about beverages? Drinking a near beer or local wine cuts down on travel emissions AND in my opinion is cheaper and tastier! Trust me, I drank a lot of wine in Europe… I’m pretty much an expert.
4. Skip the bag, bring the bottle
Plastic waste amounts to over 32 million tons in landfills in the U.S. per year. When you go out shopping or tour a new city skip the plastic bag and bring your own reusable water bottle. Instead bring a small backpack or purse to stuff your goodies into alongside your snacks. Now more than ever cities are implementing more water fountains and refill stations to help reduce their own landfill waste.
5. Stay responsibly
If you are a traveler particularly keen on staying in a hotel, treat it like you would your own home. Use your towel more than once, don’t leave the faucet running and be mindful of the waste you generate. Ask the hotel about their recycling program and go out of your way to find the bin.
For the more adventurous tourist look into staying at a working farm or an AirBnB owned by a local. Working farms can be a great way to integrate into the community while familiarizing yourself with the area’s agricultural history. AirBnB (especially in our experience) allows you to get to know the area like a local. Upon our arrival we would immediately ask where their favorite restaurant was and how to get to public transit. Sometimes they even came with us to hang out and tour the city!
6. Choose an eco-friendly tour
We live in a wonderful digital age where a quick google search can bring about instant results. When you start planning your next trip choose an eco-friendly tour. These tours normally hire local tour guides, operate within small numbers and integrate community involvement which is great for the local environment and community.
Here are a few websites dedicated to eco-friendly travel to help you plan for your next trip:
7. Go vegetarian / vegan
Okay, so I’m mildly pushing my own agenda here, but choosing vegetarian more often is truly better for the environment. Cows and sheep are responsible for 37% of the total methane (23 times as warming as CO2) generated by human activity and almost 65% of ammonia excretion (livestock). Agriculture remains one of the major causes of environmental destruction, and livestock remain a big part of the problem. Not only is a vegetarian or vegan diet cheaper, but it helps keep our soil, water and air clean.
Plus, how cute is this guy?
8. Rent a hybrid or electric car
If you need to rent a car to get from point A to point B choose an electric or hybrid option. Alternatively, companies like Zip Car, Turo and Drivy offer easy to use apps for you to browse cars nearby open to car sharing or peer to peer renting should you need a car. We used Drivy in France and had an amazing experience!
9. Stay on the trail!
I can’t emphasize this enough. Nothing irritates me more on a hike than seeing someone wandering off the trail to pose in a field of flowers or to get the perfect InstaPic. Just don’t do it! Trails and walking paths are there for a reason and they’ve likely been planned and executed by a team of experts who gauge minimal impact paths for surrounding wildlife and/or historic sites.
10. Get involved
Whether you are traveling long or short term, get involved in the community. Support their businesses, be respectful of the environment and research how to be environmentally friendly in the community you are in or traveling to. Chances are you’ll meet some awesome people AND feel better about your personal contribution to our planet.
*and stay on the trail