Traveling is one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences you can have in life, broadening horizons and connecting cultures with each other. The farther you are from home, the more exciting it gets as you leave your footprint across the globe.
But this metaphorical mark is not the only footprint travelers leave behind; the carbon footprint is an important factor to consider when planning your next journey. Much of the scenery, nature, and other wonders that you enjoy are gradually disappearing as the effects of climate change take its toll. You may not notice it now, but traveling sustainably is the key to preserving the beauty of the world that makes your trip worthwhile.
Here is a summary of the seven key tips we’ll cover to travel sustainably.
Choose sustainable transportation
This is likely the most obvious way to reduce your carbon footprint but also the most important. Transportation is, by far, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – in fact, 97% of emissions originates from some form of transportation, and 74% originates from road vehicles alone. More than 60% of these road vehicles are passenger cars; the other 40% are trucks carrying freight.
Though passenger cars also include buses, taking public transportation can reduce carbon emissions by 45% compared to a world where everyone was driving their own cars. Buses that run on electricity, called zero-emission buses, are far cleaner for the environment, as are trams that run on designated tramlines powered by electricity.
The best option is to rent a bike or simply walk. Not only is it scenic and a breath of fresh air, it also leaves your real footprint instead of a carbon one. Experience the new world around you without barriers, interact with passersby and local shops, and truly learn what it means to live in the place you’re visiting.
If you have to fly, opt for non-stop flights, as takeoff and landing release the most pollution. Just because a plane says “direct flight” and you don’t change planes does not mean it will not stop in the middle. Some direct flight planes will have a middle destination where passengers can either stay onboard or get off. This is pretty much the same as changing planes because the aircraft has to land and take-off regardless, releasing loads of harmful emissions in the process.
Choose eco-friendly accommodations
The hotel sector accounts for 1% of global carbon emissions, but this number is growing and research shows that the average hotel needs to reduce its carbon footprint by 66% per room to meet net zero goals set for 2030. Many hotels are hopping on the sustainable-business trend by starting programs that work to reduce energy and water consumption, recycle waste, and source food locally. And yet, there is still a majority of the sector that needs to do more. Look for these efforts the next time you book a hotel.
Better yet, don’t choose a hotel at all! Staying in eco-lodges, hostels, camping, and homestays are all greener alternatives that add a flare of personalization and intimacy to your trip. They are also cheaper and place you in contact with local hostesses like our Globesisters who will assist you in your sustainable traveling efforts. We discuss all the pros and cons of many more accommodations in this article.
Reduce your energy and water consumption
This tip is really simple to do. So simple that people sometimes forget because they take it for granted. From turning off all the lights when you leave to go outside to taking quicker showers, sustainable travel starts with your own personal habits.
It may not seem like much for one person, but a study based on a whopping 6.5 million people in Britain who left their lights on during the day found an average of 37.4 million kilograms of carbon dioxide was emitted per day as a result. That’s 62 flights around the world.
Then we have showering, which takes up 17% of residential water usage. The longer you shower, the more freshwater (which is less than 1% of all the water in the world) you deplete and the more fossil fuels you burn to heat it up.
Roughly 20% of global carbon emissions comes from heating, cooling, and powering households. Making sustainable personal choices whether on the road or in your home has a great impact on the environment, all completely within your control!
Support local businesses
Contributing to the local economy not only keeps the mom-and-pop shops running in competition against giant corporations, it also reduces the carbon footprint associated with the production and transportation of goods from other regions that chain businesses use.
Choose locally-owned restaurants, souvenir shops, and tour operators that prioritize sustainable practices. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in authentic cuisines made by people who live in the neighborhood and purchase souvenirs that are locally-made. Avoid purchasing products made from endangered species or materials that harm the environment, such as coral or ivory.
The average American throws 4.5 pounds of trash each day, amounting to 268 million tons each year for the entire country. To avoid adding to these astounding numbers, using reusable resources is essential for sustainable travel.
Bring a reusable water bottle and refill it instead of purchasing single-use plastic bottles; keep in mind that people in the United States already throw away more than 60 million plastic bottles a day, each taking 450 years to decompose. Yes, you can throw them in the blue recycling bin, but only 5-6% of plastic waste actually gets recycled.
Bring a reusable bag for shopping and avoid extra packaging when you buy souvenirs. Not only will you avoid the ten cents for a bag (saving money is saving money!), you’ll help curb the 12 million barrels of oil that is required to manufacture the 100 million plastic bags that Americans use every year. Plus, cloth bags like tote bags are handy, cute, and fit a lot of stuff!
In addition to the reusable items mentioned above, also consider packing clothes that can be worn multiple times and in different combinations. This reduces the weight of your luggage, which in turn reduces the weight of the mode of transportation you choose. It increases fuel efficiency, resulting in lower fuel consumption and emissions.
For more ideas, GlobeSisters has some recommendations on what to pack on your solo trip.
Choose sustainable activities
Finally, the activities and destinations you choose for your trip make more of a difference than you realize. Opt for nature-based activities like hiking, snorkeling, or wildlife watching rather than activities that involve captive animals or cause noise/emissions pollution.
The unfortunate reality is that many recreational activities are in facilities whose construction has already stripped the land of its natural habitats. It’s important to appreciate the area in the form that it once was. Sometimes the solution may simply be to avoid exploring protected locations in case you disturb the wildlife there.
An incredibly helpful sustainable activity is volunteering and giving back to the community you are visiting! Even if you’re only staying for a brief time, any amount of effort from you is a step closer to maintaining the environment. Beach cleanups, planting trees, and growing community gardens are some of the most popular and sustainable volunteer works that you can participate in to leave the community the same or even better than when you arrived.
Sustainable travel maintains the beauties of the world that you’re able to enjoy on your trip and allows you to share it with the generations that will come after you. At Globesisters, our network of hostesses offer homestays where you can practice each of these tips and hone your sustainable traveling skills. We hope you’ll work with us to keep the earth clean, green, and a dream for other solo travelers to experience.