20 Simple Ways You Can Help the Environment While Traveling

Maybe you aren’t the greenest family on the block. And nobody would ever peg you as a tree-hugger. But eco-travel isn’t just for environmentalists. It’s a fundamental shift in how we think about traveling.  

The unfortunate truth is, travel itself is a part of the problem. Planes and cars both are major culprits behind the carbon emissions that are slowly warming our planet. Natural wonders are being overrun by too much tourism. But through simple steps, we can each help reduce our impact on the planet—and still get a chance to see it.

Here are 20 ways you can see the world and help save it at the same time.

1. Green travel starts before you even leave your own home. Unplug unused appliances and adjust the thermostat to make sure your house isn’t an energy-drain. Conserve paper by pausing your newspaper service. Instead of leaving lights on, put them on a timer or ask a neighbor to come by and check on the house everyday.

2. Stay at an energy-efficient hotel. Look for hotels that are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, or Energy Star certification by the EPA. Try using a search website like istaygreen.org to search for green lodging options.

3. Find the most efficient way to get from point A to point B. Direct, non-stop flights use the least amount of energy. And really, does it make sense to fly thousands of miles out of your way to save a few bucks?

4. Forgo the rental car and opt for public transportation or bike rentals. You’ll save two kinds of green.

5. Find restaurants that use local ingredients. Not only will you get a better taste of local cuisine, you’ll also help support local agriculture and avoid foods that have to be flown or shipped in, a major energy waste.

6. Bring reusable water bottles and fill them up at the hotel. If you’re going somewhere without potable water, be sure to recycle your plastic water bottles.

7. Heading to a popular national park or heritage site? Schedule your trip during the off-season. Big crowds generally have a negative impact on natural settings, due to erosion and waste left behind. Bonus: you’ll get the area all to yourself.

8. Consider purchasing carbon offsets. Calculate the carbon footprint of your trip (whether by car or plane) on terrapass.com and then purchase offset certificates, each equal to one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions. Be sure to brag to friends (or fellow travelers!) that you are carbon neutral.

9. Take a train. It may take a bit longer, but train travel is both more economical and energy-efficient than both planes and cars.

10. Be picky about your destination. Mass tourism has had a detrimental effect on many of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Make a point of visiting and supporting only destinations that are focused on preservation. Many places in Costa Rica, Kenya, Hawaii, and Belize are famous for their focus on the environment and eco-tourism.  

11. Save water. Many popular travel destinations have serious shortages of clean water. Make an effort to take short showers, and hang up your bathroom towels instead of having them washed everyday.

12. Put some effort into recycling. Not every place you visit will have a conveniently located recycle bin. You may have to ask someone, walk an extra block, or save it for your return trip home.

13. Give feedback. Wherever you travel, suggest green options to management. If your hotel doesn’t recycle, ask them why. The more people that ask, the more likely they’ll make the right decisions in the future.

14. Rent a hybrid car, or a fuel-efficient economy sized car.

15. Reduce energy use in your hotel. You may not be paying the electricity bill, but you can help reduce wasted energy by turning off the lights and TV, and turning down the heat or AC while you’re away.

16. Vet your tour operators before booking, and look for guides who specialize in eco-travel. These guides will be more respectful of the environment, and often host only small groups.

17. Leave nothing behind. If you’re hiking or camping, make a point of leaving everything you come across exactly as it was when you arrived, much like you would do as a guest in someone’s home.

18. If you like to volunteer at home, why not volunteer while away? Volunteer tourism is an excellent way to give back to communities all around the world in a tangible way. You could help restore hiking trails in a forgotten nature preserve, teach language at a small village in Africa, or work with scientists to find ways to protect endangered species.

19. Pack things you can wear more than once without washing. This will help save space in the suitcase, and also avoid wasting water on washing clothes while on vacation.

20. Have fun. The whole point of travel is entertainment and enrichment. Helping the environment should enhance that experience, not take away from it. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself!