How to Travel Like an Eco-Warrior

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.

Iโ€™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 wasnโ€™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. Sabinaโ€™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.ย  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:

www.responsibletravel.com

http://www.ecotourdirectory.com/

http://www.tours4fun.com/eco-friendly-tours/

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.

Happy trails*!!

 

*and stay on the trail

 

30 Comments

  1. These are excellent tips!!! Love that you are promoting eco friendly travel!

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    • Thanks so much!

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  2. As a fellow environmental science major, i love this post. And congrats on your graduation. Its so hard to look at your own carbon foot print. I think my favorite suggestion is eliminating plastic to reduce the platospheres in our oceans. I also think its so to respect the environment you’re visiting by staying on the trail. We never know how our actiobs may deserve a delicately balanced exosystem. So trruw with corals and people who don’t realize they are destroying them. Thanks for the share.

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    • Hi Kelly! Thanks so much for reading. I agree with reducing of not eliminating plastic in our daily lives, although plastic packaging is the WORST and sometimes unavoidable for products like yogurt, cheese, etc. As an avid hiker I always want the best picture but understand that even the slightest misstep can result in the loss of habitat for one or more species.

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  3. I LOVE this! I’m a sustainable architect by day and I also had to chart my carbon footprint in school. It wasn’t so large then (no money) but it’s grown since then :(. I ALWAYS travel with a reusable grocery bag. They are so handy! Lots of countries charge for plastic anyway, but it’s easy to stow in your daily bag and if you need to bust it out – voila you’ve got yourself a bag you can keep a spare layer in, lunch, whatever! Good thought on the plastic bottles too.

    I am headed to Nepal in a month. I’m an avid backpacker and I’ve had a steri-pen for years. I plan on bringing that and a squeeze filter for a backup. I think it’s a great idea to filter your water all the time when you travel to areas that don’t have clean water.

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    • We learned the hard way in Europe that you have to pay for bags. It was an excellent motivator because over the course of six months we carried three reusable bags around with us EVERYWHERE. The Germans were particularly strict with bags, as were some of the French. I’m all about the idea! Very cool that you are a sustainable architect! I’d love to see some of your work. Thanks for reading!

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  4. I always try to be eco friendly when I travel (I had an environmental sustainability minor in college), but I hadn’t thought of some of these! I definitely try to eat and buy local as much as I can though!

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    • Hi Julia! I’m an environmental studies major too (conservation biology and ecological sustainability). Glad you are working some of these tips in your life.

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  5. When I read the title of your post, I immediately got excited: this is right up my alley as a wannabe eco-warrior! I was glad to find out that we already implement most of your tips, except for the occasional Belgian beer abroad and the fact we like meat too much to give up entirely (sue me).

    Things we did do right: we went on a 1 year trip around the world instead of doing all those trips separately, saving lots of airplane flights. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We pack light (although that’s mostly for convenience and cost saving reasons, God I’m too honest) and air dry whenever possible. We have reusable shopping bags and take our reusable water bottle everywhere. Too bad Belgium doesn’t have that much (free) water refill stations like most countries we visited on our trip around the world. Recycling is one of my favourite things to do, and I get annoyed when someone doesn’t do it (right). It’s such a small effort for such a big help!

    Let’s spread the word a keep living and traveling responsibly!

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    • Preach! I’m totally with you and glad you found so many of these eco-tips already being implemented in your travels. I don’t think everyone needs to go vegetarian, I certainly wasn’t one until 9 years ago, BUT I do know animals are generally kept in better conditions almost everywhere else aside from the US. Often in France we were told the meat came from right up the street at a farm where the animals were free to roam. It is all about perspective, right?? I’m surprised Belgium doesn’t have more refill stations, though! Keep doing what you are doing and THANKS for reading… ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. I’m not always the most environmentally conscious, but it’s good to know I’m doing most of these little things to help. Great tips for exploring the world and trying to leave it better than you found it!

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    • Thank you Patrice! Even being conscious about being a better global minded adventurer is the first step toward positive change! I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

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  7. YES to all of these things! I live in Hawaii and there is a statewide ban on all plastic bags – it’s the best thing ever!

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    • I think California has the same ban, I wish more states would pass similar laws. Plastic bag litter is one of the biggest problems in the street, oceans and landfills!

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  8. Terrific article and points that need to be shared more and more often! Living in Utah near amazing National Parks, it’s sad to see what happens when people don’t STAY ON THE TRAIL! And it’s nice to see more hotels/condos offering recycling and reusing of towels.

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    • It is great that so many hotels recycle, I just wish there were more obvious ways to recycle as opposed to going out of your way and asking. Still, its a small inconvenience to pay for a good cause!

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  9. These are all great tips! I look forward to using them next time I travel!

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    • Glad to hear it! Thanks for reading <3

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  10. This post was so great! I learned so much. I wish I could afford to travel. I love traveling.
    Andrea Snow
    snowbyheart.com

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  11. What a great topic to write about! Love eco-friendly things!

    Thank you for sharing! <3

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    • Thank you!

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  12. What a cool post! I try to always have a reusable bag on hand and we each have our own reusable water bottles to travel with. I can’t wait to visit Europe someday.

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    • Both great ways to reduce waste! Germany and France particularly charged for bags. We quickly learned to bring our own!

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  13. Brilliant post!!

    Having visited nearly 30 countries it’s dawned on me how little attention I’ve paid to be environmentally friendly. This is definitely a goal of 2017 and this is an amazing post with lots of brilliant tips. Thanks so much!

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  14. Excellent tips! I am always trying to find ways to be more environmentally conscious when I travel! Thanks for some new ideas!

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  15. Loved it..especially point 7 ๐Ÿ˜€ And even we are planning to get a hybrid vehicle soon. Great tips. Makes me happy that many are moving in the right direction ๐Ÿ™‚

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  16. I love this post so much, particularly because I’ve recently reevaluated my life and travel habits and have made significant changes to both. The primary goal of my travel company and blog is to encourage travel that is more aligned with the environment, so seeing other travelers moving in a similar direction is so encouraging. Thank you for what you’re doing!

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  17. Really interesting read! I’m super into the food system and it’s impact on human and environmental health, and #7 is huge! I was reading an article recently that said that the carbon footprint of a beef-eater is just over double that of a vegetarian (though that is likely considering the whole process from birth to plate). Have you read Omnivore’s Dilema? I’m reading it right now… very interesting read about some of the biggest staples in the US diet. I also love the point about the trails… not all places fence off delicate conservation areas and some people don’t really get that the trail serves more of a function than just being an easier path.

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    • Katie – Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! We are vegetarians and it is true , meat eaters have a higher carbon footprint on the environment because of the livestock conditions and, of course, their gas (specifically cows). I definitely don’t think everyone needs to be a vegetarian BUT it would help if meateaters only bought from local, grass fed farms. Aiii, off my soap box now! But seriously, thank you for your insight! I have read Omnivores Dilemma and I would suggest for your next read you take up Forks Over Knives ๐Ÿ™‚

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  18. I’m super environmentally friendly at home but can totally be less conscious when I’m abroad. Loved this post – will help me to be more mindful during upcoming travels ๐Ÿ™‚

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