Eco-conscious traveling begins with respect for the environment, culture, and people of a chosen destination. Travelers with this mindset make eco-friendly choices on where to visit, how to get there, where to stay, and what to do while on vacation.
“Sustainable travel is all about creating a positive effect on the communities you visit,” said Jon Bruno, executive director of the International Ecotourism Society.
Planning an eco-friendly vacation is easier than you might think. With a few additional considerations, almost any adventure can become more environmentally conscious, whether it’s a beach getaway, metropolitan sightseeing, or a quiet retreat in the countryside. Sustainable travel agencies like Responsible Travel can do most of the legwork for you, but it’s also possible to go green on your own.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that traveling responsibly somehow puts a damper on your trip or is difficult,” says Samantha Bray, managing director of the Center for Responsible Travel. “Traveling responsibly doesn’t mean giving something up. It means appreciating the place you are visiting and acting in a way that ensures it is taken care of for the community that lives there and future generations.”
It starts with the destination. Some locales are greener than others, and to help you make sense of your options, Green Destinations compiles an annual list of the top 100 sustainable destinations. These are places with stellar sustainability practices, and this year’s list includes two beautiful cities in Colorado—Breckenridge, and Vail—as well as Transylvania County in North Carolina.
How you get where you’re going also makes a difference. Transportation is the biggest cause of CO2 in the tourism industry, and the majority of that comes from airplanes. The current moment may provide the perfect opportunity to embrace greener modes of transportation. With far-flung locales less accessible than in years past, staying closer to home is practically a requirement. But the good news is traveling by car, or, even better, by train or bus, will result in a lower carbon footprint than jet travel. If air travel is unavoidable, opt for fuel-efficient airlines. A 2017 study placed Alaska Airlines at the top of the fuel-efficiency list, followed by Frontier, Spirit, Southwest, and Hawaiian.
Consider local bed and breakfasts or guesthouses over sprawling chain hotels. Not only will you support local business owners, but smaller venues typically produce less waste.
“We always recommend staying in locally-owned establishments,” says Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel. “This ensures your money is more likely to stay in the community and do good there. Locals will also have a vested interest in looking after their home.”
When searching for lodging, Ecobnb is a great resource. Accommodations are vetted based on ten sustainable criteria including the use of renewable energy, recycling of waste products, and serving local and/or organic food. And you can employ the same energy-saving habits you may already use at home: turn off the lights when heading out for the day, reuse your bath towels and forgo single-use plastics when possible.
If you’re planning any excursions, whether on land or sea, be sure to work with a reputable tour operator, preferably one with a green certification. Certification will ensure that the tour is conducted according to environmental standards. If your plans involve hiking, respect the local terrain by following marked trails – you’ll protect local plants and wildlife as well as yourself.
As with accommodations, it’s best to keep things local when you’re out and about on your travels. Dine-in local restaurants when possible, and if you’re relaxing by the shore, choose seafood that’s locally caught. You can also support the local economy and area artisans by shopping in local boutiques.
Bruno has a suggestion that may serve as a helpful mantra when in doubt: “Leave the place better than you found it,” he says.