A Quick Guide to Sustainable Travel - Public Goods Blog

A Quick Guide to Sustainable Travel

Have you ever thought about how sustainably you travel?

view out of airplane window

Do you ever wonder about the impact your flight is having on the planet?

If so, you’re not alone. We mulled the issue over and decided to dig into the basics of how to travel and explore the world while taking care of it. Pull up this quick guide during your next eco-friendly trip.

1. Getting There: The Most Sustainable Travel Options

Actually getting to your destination is obviously a huge part of traveling. It’s easy to see this leg of the trip as utilitarian — just a gateway to get to the good stuff — but in truth this choice may be the most environmentally impactful decision of your voyage.

To Fly or Not to Fly?

Try to limit flights if you can. But if you must fly, book non-stop flights whenever possible.

This option can be more expensive. If you want to prioritize being green over saving a little money, however, consider the fact that takeoffs and landings are what create the majority of an airplane’s carbon emissions, according to this NASA report.

Another factor to note is who you fly with. All airlines are not created equal.

There are more than 30 International Air Transport Association [IATA] member airlines who offer carbon offset programs to neutralize the plane’s carbon emissions. The companies do this by investing in carbon reduction projects.

Some airlines offer the chance to buy carbon “credit” by donating to projects directly when you book a flight. Projects include renewable energy plants in Sri Lanka and clean water initiatives in Cambodia.

We’re not saying the solution is perfect, but it’s definitely a start. And by giving these companies our business over others, we’re sending the signal to other airlines to follow suit.

Other Transportation Options

If you plan on driving, don’t go it alone. Road tripping can definitely be the more eco-friendly route when traveling in a group, and it’s more fun.

But if you’re solo, feel free to fly. It’s actually the more sustainable way to go as a single person.

Your best bet, though? Train travel is the most eco-friendly way to reduce your carbon footprint and get where you need to go.

2. Staying There: How to Vet Your Hotel on Eco-Friendliness

You’re spending money here, inadvertently advertising it with your Instagram tags, and hanging at your hotel all the time. Better make sure the place you’re supporting is as eco-friendly as you are.

If you’re traveling in the states, an easy way to gage a hotel is to check for a LEED Certification. This label is designated by the U.S. Green Building Council, who judges hotels based on water savings, energy efficiency, innovation and a slew of other criteria. There are plenty of LEED-esque organizations overseas that serve the same purpose. Check out Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance and EarthCheck to get started.

It also doesn’t hurt to dig into how the hotel functions by asking if they utilize wind turbines, solar power or energy-efficient lighting. Aside from these initiatives, it’s also important to think about how the hotel runs its business.

Do they hire locals and help sustain the local economy? Do they buy food from local farmers or business owners or do they import?

Make sure the place is making a positive social and economic impact. Not only are you being a responsible traveler, but it will also be way more fun to immerse yourself in an authentic spot.

Do the work of figuring out which spots are really eco-friendly, and which are greenwashing their marketing strategy to stay on trend.

[Tip: Check out Kind Traveler, a site that works only with sustainable hotels. The site will give you significantly discounted room rates if you donate to a local charity each night of your stay.]

3. Living There: Tips for Everyday Sustainability in a Foreign Land

  • Use a reusable water bottle (of course!)
  • Bring a small portable water filtration system (like LifeStraw) in case the water is unhealthy so you don’t need to buy bottles
  • Have a tote bag on hand to use while shopping for food or checking out a local market
  • Shop local — utilize local coops and other small spots. Not only will you be supporting the local economy, the food will likely be cheaper.

4. The “Don’t” List

It’s great to be a sustainable travel guru, but let’s not forget that avoiding toxic and exploitative acts is number one when it comes to being eco-friendly.

  • Don’t buy anything from people who exploit local wildlife for a quick payday. This means things like walking with lions and riding elephants. This industry is notorious for illegally capturing and abusing animals. Refuse to take part!
  • Don’t purchase souvenirs that are made from endangered species or materials (like coral reefs). This also goes for knock-off artisan items made in China. When this happens, local artists who charge marginally more for their work don’t make sales and the crafts lose their cultural authenticity.

Here’s hoping you enjoyed our SparkNotes version of all there is to know about sustainable travel.

Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.

From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.

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