How to travel green: 9 sustainable practices for the conscious traveler

Green travel seeks to minimize the negative impact we have on the world while we explore. It keeps in mind the environmental, socio-cultural and economic sustainability of the places to which we travel.

Why is sustainable travel important?

Travel expands our minds, makes us more empathetic to the experiences of others and simply creates joy. But tourism–transportation services, restaurants, accommodations, shops, etc.–contributes 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, 80 cents of every tourism dollar spent in a country leaves that country. With international travel on the rise, these negative effects are expected to rise as well.

“Traveling Green” and making sustainable choices when you travel helps manage these and other negative impacts so we can experience the world with less guilt. Here are some sustainable practices you can adopt for your next trip, domestic or abroad.

1. Spend more time in one place

Instead of visiting five countries in one week, spend more time in one place. This reduces the amount of carbon energy needed for your transit and the amount of resources needed to clean your hotel room and wash your sheets. More time in a location also means you’re more likely to venture outside the tourist mecca and experience the more authentic side of where you are, thus spreading the reach of your tourist-dollar to locally owned restaurants and shops.

2. Take public transit or rent a bike

When you’re in a foreign place, public transit can be difficult and even dirty. Calling an Uber is an easy solution. But public transit is amazing for several reasons. It’s a cultural experience; this is how people get around their own city and you get to see how that day-in and day-out commute works. You’re also not contributing any extra carbon to the environment when you take public transit. And, as more tourists opt for public transit, local governments will see the benefits of investing in their transit infrastructure, which helps the locals and, hopefully, makes public transit a cleaner experience (both for humans and for the environment!). 

Riding a bike is also an option, one that provides you exercise and an experience without harming the planet.

3. Continue your green-habits abroad

The same habits you are hopefully cultivating at home will benefit your host country while you travel:

  • bring a reusable water bottle and travel coffee mug 
  • carry your own shopping bags 
  • lose the straws or bring your own reusable one
  • turn the lights off when you leave a room
  • unplug your chargers when they aren’t being used
  • take shorter showers

Your green-habits may even benefit a foreign country more depending on their infrastructure and recycling practices. For the same reason, you should also remove all extra plastic packaging before you leave home and carry plastic containers home with you to recycle there.

4. Travel during off season

In addition to finding better rates, traveling during off season means less crowds and less strain on the local resources.

5. Stick to local cuisine

Traveling and trying new things can be unnerving. We’ve all had that moment when we just crave something familiar, and lots of times that familiar is a hamburger. But eating beef is the most water-consumptive action taken by travelers. It is better to eat things that are produced locally. Not only is it culturally educational, it’s less strenuous on the environment.

6. Seek-out local and sustainability-minded companies 

As nice as the Marriots are and as much as we all love Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts, most of the money spent at these companies bleeds right out of the country you’re visiting. International companies consume a lot of imported resources, so on top of being more expensive, it also costs more in carbon. By finding locally owned hotels and restaurants, you’re finding a community with local solutions and providers. By finding local artists for your souvenirs, you’re not buying crap made in and shipped from China. You are also supporting the local community, making sure that the money you spend enjoying a culture and country, benefits it. 

Moreover, find accommodations–hotels, lodges, hostels–that have adopted sustainability practices such as composting, recycling and providing water stations for your reusable water bottles. And make note: does the restaurant offer paper or reusable straws? 

According to recent studies, buying-local alone could achieve a 4-to-5% reduction in CO2 emissions. 

This is no easy undertaking because so many companies use terms like “Eco,” “Green” and “Sustainable” as marketing ploys when they have nothing to substantiate those claims. Be mindful of this green-wash and invest some time in researching these companies before you invest your money and your travel. 

7. Respect the People

Thanks to Instagram and travel bloggers, getting “that shot” that includes local flare is more popular than it’s ever been before. We want places to be as we’ve seen online, and we want to capture it for our online presence. But Thanks to Instagram and travel bloggers, getting “that shot” that includes local flare is more popular than it’s ever been before. We want places to be as we’ve seen online, and we want to capture it for our online presence. But a responsible traveler educates themselves about a place before they visit; they respect cultural differences and learn from them. So be respectful, listen and learn before you judge and object. And ask before you take photographs of people and their property. If someone says no, respect their wishes and move on.

8. Make donations that matter

Though it seems charitable, don’t give pens, candy or other gifts to local children; it encourages a begging economy. If you wish to bestow charity on a local community while you travel, get in contact with a local leader or perhaps a tour operator to see what would be appropriate and fair.

9. Don’t participate in illegal activities

It should go without saying, but don’t do anything illegal while you travel. Buying illegal drug, participating in the sex trade, purchasing or eating endangered species, taking a selfie with a Galapagos sea lion–these actions abroad harm the environment, the community and individuals. Your trip may be a time you’ve relegated to relax and have fun, but the places you visit and the things you encounter are everyday for some. When you participate at any level, you are encouraging that reality to continue.

Galapagos Alternative is a local, sustainable company helping you book a green trip to the Galapagos, Ecuador and Peru

The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador are some of the most protected lands in the world. Based on necessity, the islands have adopted progressive recycling habits and actively protect the famous ecosystem that tourists come to see. While the rest of the world manages to keep only 20% of the tourist revenue local, the Galapagos keeps about 40% of every dollar spent. Galapagos Alternative keeps near-on 100%. We live in the Galapagos and we work with local businesses, farmers, scientists and tour guides.

"Just got back from a 12-day trip to the Galapagos arranged thru Galapagos Alternative and everything was exceptional. From the tours, to the transfers, flights, and most importantly the people... everything was smooth. Highly recommend it!"
- Alex G.
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