Being a responsible traveler sounds simple in theory: Just go green. Take care of the environment. But when it comes time to actually taking action, it can get a bit overwhelming. Where to start? And what to pack?
With this in mind, we’ve compiled 26 actually doable steps to be an eco-friendly traveler. Some—like ditching single-use plastics—will have an effect on the environment, while others—like bringing a journal—will help hold you accountable and contribute to a culture of awareness. Others will require you to spend more, but many cost nothing at all. Don’t sweat it if you can’t tackle all 26 on the next trip, or the next, or the next. Even a few small changes to your travel lifestyle will lead to a better trip for you and Mother Earth, whether you’re heading to Senegal or Sweden.
A is for avoiding the buffet
Put down that spoonful of soggy eggs in the hotel buffet line and order à la carte instead. Though there have been improvements in recent years, buffets are still incredibly wasteful. The U.S. alone generates 63 million tons of food waste annually, with an estimated 40 percent of that from consumer-serving businesses like hotels and restaurants, reports the New York Times. Only 10 to 15 percent of that food can be donated or repurposed because of food safety regulations. It comes down to this: Hotels are worried about seeming like they don’t have enough food, so they overcompensate—and waste. By avoiding the buffet, you’re casting your vote—one bite at a time.
B is for bringing your own amenities
All those little toiletries tubes? Yep, they’re terrible for the environment because they generally aren’t biodegradable, which is why you’ll see more and more hotels adopting containers secured to the wall instead of ones that are largely useless after one wash (hey, we’ve got a lot of hair). Bring your own shampoo, conditioner, and lotion in reusable bottles, and better yet, take the unused samples, donate them to your local homeless shelter, domestic violence shelter, or community non-profit. Then encourage the hotel to adopt more eco-friendly policies.
C is for choosing a green destination
Supporting places that are working to combat climate change and preserve their local ecosystems is a big step in protecting the planet. Just a few of these destinations? Slovenia, Portugal, Lake Tahoe, and Sani Isla, Ecuador, all of whom were singled out at the 2018 Sustainable Top 100 Destination Awards for their focus on going green, whether it be showing innovation in sustainable tourism (Portugal) or protecting their natural habitats (Sani Isla).
D is for dropping pounds
Packing efficiently for a flight not only helps you narrow down what you truly need, it also reduces an aircraft’s carbon emissions. To lighten your load, cut out clothes that aren’t multipurpose and get rid of paper weight by downloading books on an iPad or e-reader. The next time you feel that familiar urge to complain about baggage rules and fees, remember that the lighter the aircraft, the less fuel it burns. The airline matters, too: A 2017 study from the International Council on Clean Transportation shows that Alaska Airlines continues to be a fuel-efficient leader; Frontier, Spirit, Southwest, and Hawaiian rounded out the top five.
E is for employing e-tickets
Scan your smartphone, save a tree (not really, but almost).
F is for flicking off the lights
Sure, some bulbs are more affected by the number of times they’re switched on and off than by the length of time they’re left on, but a good rule of thumb is to turn off the lights you don’t need. Reducing energy use = decreasing power plant emissions = protecting the air = preventing climate change.
G is for getting by without a car
Using Uber Pool and Lyft Line to share a ride may make you feel a little better, but the reality is that cars in general are still not ideal: they pollute the environment, lead to congestion, and compete with public transportation for the affection of travelers. Public transportation is good; walking is even better.