6 easy ways to travel green
Words— Eve Thomas
Eco-luxury is no longer a contradiction in terms. The top players in the tourism industry, from state governments to hotel chains, are coming round to the idea that most of today’s travellers no longer want to recreate all the comforts of home abroad – they’re looking for a taste of life as a local, and to leave the sites they visit untouched or even better than when they found them (especially when the landscape is part of the appeal). Luckily for them, lessening your eco-footprint doesn’t have to mean sacrificing pleasure or even comfort. Sometimes it’s as easy as choosing one shop or hotel over another or packing with the environment in mind. Check out these simple green travel tips to make your next journey just a little more mindful.
1. Book a sustainable stay
Photo courtesy Fogo Island Inn
We’ve all seen those now-ubiquitous cards on the hotel nightstand about skipping laundry services in the name of Mother Earth. And, truly, who among us hasn’t felt a swell of pride at keeping our beds unmade and towels unwashed? But some hotels, both boutique and big chain, go above and beyond when it comes to creating green stays – and their efforts don’t always come with a flashy prize or certification symbol. Do some research before you book a room to discover cool initiatives from devoting beachfront property to nesting turtles to planting trees on behalf of guests, recycling soap to reinvesting in the entire community. You might even want to factor in green standards when you choose your destination – for example, Costa Rica is working towards being the first carbon-neutral country in the world, and Slovenia was named the world’s greenest country in 2017. (Oh and PS just because you don’t want your towels washed doesn’t mean you can skip the housekeeping tip, people!)
Photo courtesy of Lex Sirikiat
On your next trip, try packing a sturdy but subtle tote bag in your suitcase. It’s a small but simple gesture that will not only keep you from asking for plastic bags when you shop (assuming you’re not visiting somewhere with a plastic bag ban) but might even help you feel – and look – less like a tourist. Bonus: At the end of your trip, you can use it as a laundry bag, or to carry home extra stuff if you end up leaving with more than you brought (see: the next tip on souvenirs).
3. Shop thoughtfully
A souvenir stand in Venice, Italy
Ever heard of the “sombrero effect”? It’s that feeling some people get while on vacation, the one that convinces you that yes absolutely this is your new look and lifestyle, that yes you will wear that beaded caftan to your office job and that that oversized fertility statue will work great in your tiny, minimalist apartment. (If you’re from Mexico and vacationing in Canada, feel free to call it the “Anne of Green Gables braid-hat effect,” or the “Of course I’ll consume all this maple syrup once I’m home” effect.) To avoid lugging back goods you might not really want, audit that souvenir before you buy it. That means: visiting shops and co-ops where the money goes directly to the makers, whenever possible. Checking for a made in China sticker (unless, of course, you’re in China). Buying products made of renewable materials (just because you’re on the beach and it’s made of shells doesn’t mean it’s sustainable). Really, if you want to bring home something beyond memories and/or selfies and/or duty-free booze, try to commit yourself to spring for that one special, original item over a bagful of tchotchkes.
4. Plan how you’ll get around
Rental bikes in Santiago, Chile
Grabbing a bike or walking everywhere doesn’t have to be a plan B – taking things slow can be the best way to create unexpected adventures and photo ops, plus it’s usually way more affordable. And when it comes to public transportation, sometimes the commute is half the fun (see: taking a bus in Barbados, or a city bike in Scottsdale). If you have to rent a car, see if there are electric models available, and plan your day trips ahead of time so you do a few activities in one area on the same day rather than crisscrossing a city or island.
5. Eat local
Well duh, right? But, actually. Because, depending on where you’re going, meals made with local ingredients can be hard to come by, especially in high-end restaurants or those around tourist spots aka the “pizza/pasta” joints. And if you’re having trouble eating as the locals do, you can probably thank the travellers who came before you for insisting they get a burger or certain brand of beer, wherever they go. To make the most of your meals, find out what’s bountiful and in season wherever you’re travelling, and what makes up citizens’ everyday meals (not just the delicacies). It also helps to get out of your comfort zone, even if you’re happy playing tourist otherwise. For example, if you’re at a Caribbean resort, head outside the gates and hit the food trucks or feast on roadside BBQ. If you’re spending the day sightseeing in a European capital, go to a grocery store or farmers’ market first to put together a picnic lunch.
6. Skip the bottled water
Photo courtesy of Thom Holmes
There’s nothing quite like buying a plastic bottle of water while abroad, checking the label, and noticing it was sourced closer to your hometown than your vacation destination. If you’re going somewhere where the tap water isn’t safe to drink, try to locate safe spots to fill up a reusable canteen – perhaps right in your hotel, or at major museums, schools and cultural centres. (Check out the app We Tap, which helps users find water fountains when they travel.) And if you’re somewhere where the drinking water is a legitimate treat – Iceland and Switzerland come to mind – go nuts on that faucet and don’t let any waiters upsell you on Evian.
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