Green Your Vacation: Learn how to travel sustainably

These tips will allow you to vacation while helping the environment
By Rebecca Treon    Published on 01/22/2019 at 9:00 AM EDT
First: Pick where you want to go. Next: Figure out how you'll get there sustainably. Rawpixel

There’s no denying the toll travel takes on the environment, whether it’s the overuse of travel-size containers, carbon dioxide emissions, or daily washing of hotel linens. Yet travel is something we want to do and must do, for pleasure and exploration, to be close to family or instill the love of travel in our kids, or for work. So how can we travel smarter and more sustainably—lessening our impact on the planet and leaving it accessible for future generations—without skimping on what makes travel so great to begin with? Read on for some easy, big and small tips to green your trip.

Bring Your Reusables from Home
Single-use plastic bags and water bottles take hundreds of years to decompose and are overrunning landfills and destroying our oceans. Even if you’ve nixed them from your day-to-day life, you may forget to bring along your reusables on vacation.

Be sure to bring a canvas tote or shopping bag as well as a reusable water bottle. This will also help you save money in hotels, where water bottles are costly. Most hotels have filtered water and many European cities have water fountains in public places serving water that’s perfectly drinkable. If you think the water where you are going might be dodgy, bring along a small portable water filter that makes tap water potable.

Stay at Hotels With Green Practices
When researching a hotel, check to see if your B&B, ecolodge, or hotel participates in any certification programs such as Green Key Global, Green Seal, EcoRooms and EcoSuites, or Green Globe International. These groups make knowing a hotel’s environmental ethics easy. Cross-check the following on their website or with a quick call to ask: What recycling programs are being used in the hotel? What is the hotel doing to reduce energy consumption? Is the hotel ownership local? Is the hotel operated by staff that come from the area?

Take Care of Your Toiletries
Pack shampoo, soap, conditioner etc. in refillable travel-size containers. Purchasing sample- or travel-size toiletries might seem more convenient, but unless you find recycling bins on your trip, they’ll end up in the trash. Skip the unnecessary plastic waste. Plus, they add up in cost. If you do need to use one of the mini containers from the hotel, be sure to take it home with you to finish it up.

RELATED: These shampoo bars will help you ditch the bottle

Reuse Towels and Skip the Daily Linen Change
Many hotels already have signage in the room asking guests to hang towels that don’t need washing and leave a card out indicating sheets don’t need changing. But if that’s not the case, have a word with the hotel staff to skip linen changes during your stay.

Hotel towels
Skip the daily towel replacement when staying in a hotel. Rawpixel

Turn off A/C, Heat, Lights, and TV When You Leave the Room
This doesn’t need explaining—turn it off before going out to avoid unnecessary electric use. Just because you’re not footing the bill doesn’t mean you need to be wasteful.

Take Tours with Green Tour Companies
Research the tour company before booking an organized tour. Check to see if they have responsible tourism practices and that you won’t be harming the environment by participating. Plenty of operators out there are just trying to make a buck no matter the real cost, so instead of jumping on the first tour that pops up on a Google page, ask some questions. The only thing it costs you is a little time, and you could very well reduce the tourism impact for years to come.

Eat Local
Avoid the environmental cost of transporting food by eating local ingredients prepared in your destination. Plus, if you eat at a locally owned independent restaurant, you’ll be supporting the local economy, too.

Take Public Transit
Sure, it’s tempting to take taxis everywhere in a new place, but it’s important to brave public transportation if you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint. Buses, light rail, trains, subways, bicycles, and even walking are not only cheaper, easy to use, greener, and sometimes a good way to get your steps in, but you’ll be surrounded by locals and enhancing your travel experience.

Use a Carbon Offset Program
As we take to the skies on our journeys, let’s keep in mind a way to make them a little friendlier. Airplanes release a huge amount of carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change. But while you can’t avoid emissions while you fly, there are a number of organizations (many which partner with airlines such as CarbonFund.org) that can help you calculate how much CO2 you’ve released and will tell you the donation amount to offset it. The money goes to programs supporting recycling or reforesting. Many airlines have a preferred partner for carbon offsetting, so check with your airline if you don’t have a selection of your own.

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