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Whilst we can’t control things like the carbon footprint of flying or the water and chemicals hotels use to launder your sheets, there are many things we can do on a personal level to be an eco-friendly traveller.
Sustainable, eco-friendly tourism means you’re making choices that benefit the planet. By being a conscious, eco-friendly traveller, you do your best to leave the places you visit a better place.
What is eco-friendly travel?
Eco-friendly tourism is about making simple, ethical choices to reduce your footprint in the places you travel. We also consider sustainable eco-friendly tourism to mean your choices benefit the social and economic wellbeing of the local people, too.
There are unintended consequences of our actions, including travelling. Even having the best and most generous intentions, our actions have unintended impacts, including:
- Building a community’s economic reliance on tourism by paying overinflated tourist prices
- Make it difficult for local people outside of tourism to live due to overinflated prices and local discrimination
- Affecting how susceptible an economy is to a collapse by relying too much on tourism
Choosing ethical, eco-friendly travel can support the community’s efforts to create a thriving community beyond your trip.
As you do make your eco-friendly travel decisions, watch out for greenwashing.
What is greenwashing?
Some companies use words like “eco” or “green” as marketing material, without the actions to back themselves up. This is referred to as “greenwashing.”
Greenwashing misdirects well-intentioned consumers from the actual impacts of their decisions. As you decide where to spend your dollar, it’s important to be conscious that companies might spend more money on marketing themselves as a green, ethical company versus actually taking concrete steps to run an ethical and eco-friendly business.
What is the carbon footprint of flying?
Humans added 32.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere in 2017. Air travel contributes about 1 gigaton of that CO2 added to the atmosphere each year. Based on that, you can estimate that about 3% of our CO2 emissions come from flying.
Whilst global air travel declined in 2020, flying is an incredibly fossil-based activity.
Jet fuel is the biggest source of carbon emissions related to air travel. And 85% of jet fuel is used to power the commercial flights we take.
You might not want to cut yourself off from flying completely. But you can make small changes, like flying less often, to reduce your carbon footprint whilst flying.
1. Reduce your carbon footprint whilst flying
When you travel, there are a few small changes you can make to reduce your personal carbon footprint.
- Fly less often. Cruising requires less fuel than other stages of flying – so the more you take off, the more fuel you use.
- Take longer flights or nonstop flights. The longer the distance you fly, the more efficient flying becomes.
- Bring your reusable items on the flight (so you can reach for and use them mid-flight).
- Instead of using a Ziploc bag, use a TSA-approved, reusable toiletry pouch to carry your liquids.
- Keep your shades down on the airplane – especially when the airline requests it! When the sun beats onto the airplane, our windows being open heats up the inside of the plane. The heat forces aircrafts to use more energy to cool down – so when you keep your shades down, aircrafts use less fuel.
2. Pack consciously – bring eco-friendly travel products
As you pack, only pack the essentials. Over time, this will require less energy to carry your luggage around – on your back, on the plane, and in the car!
Imagine the amount of waste that comes as a result of all the single-use cutlery, bottles, and bags travellers use.
Instead, bring eco-friendly travel products with you, including:
- Bamboo cutlery
- Bamboo or glass straw
- Reusable water bottle, coffee mug
If you order your eco-friendly travel products online, do your research! Support companies that choose plastic-free packaging.
Related Reading: Digital Nomad Travel Packing List
3. Regulate your temperature
In the US, a majority of electricity at hotels and motels is from air conditioning and heating. Here are a few eco-friendly ways to regulate your temperature and use less electricity from air conditioning or heating:
- Use shared working or lounging spaces to either cool down or warm up
- In the summertime, leave your windows open to cool down
- Use a fan instead of an air conditioner
- Always turn off your air conditioner or heater when you leave
Be on the lookout for ways you can compromise in order to use less electricity.
4. Choose locally owned & operated accommodations
Your accommodation will typically be the largest part of your spending. How can you funnel that money towards the communities you visit?
Whilst convenient, companies like Airbnb take a percentage of your booking when you purchase through their platform.
- Book locally-owned accommodations! When you choose a local homestay over the Sheraton, you support local families running their business.
- Stay at eco-hotels and homestays who make eco-friendly business decisions like sustainably designed buildings and offering shampoo and conditioner in bulk containers.
It is worth considering how inflated the rate you pay as a traveller is versus the average cost of accommodation at the places you visit. Even though you may think that paying an inflated rate diverts money towards the local communities, you might actually be participating in gentrification.
When renting to foreigners is much more profitable, local people can get driven out of their neighborhoods by simply not being able to afford new inflated prices.
5. Choose the eco-conscious transportation option
In Southeast Asia, tuk tuks transport passengers with two-stroke engines that spew clouds of smoke. These two-stroke engines emit high amounts of greenhouse gases and contribute to local pollution problems.
The UN found that CO2 emissions could be reduced by 20% in 2030 with new clean air measures in Asia and the Pacific, including a shift towards better emission standards.
On a personal level, taking a low-efficiency tuk-tuk can be one of the most pollutive transportation options. Skip the tuk-tuk ride when possible.
Taxis are convenient, but always be conscious of alternative options:
- Public transportation (buses, trains)
If you do take a car, sharing the ride by carpooling is an efficient way to reduce your carbon footprint.
6. Shop, eat, and drink locally
Eating and shopping locally reduces the carbon footprint of that activity (the goods don’t use as much fuel to be transported). This also keeps more of your money in the community you visit and supports their local economy.
- Eat at restaurants who source seasonal, local produce
- Choose family-owned restaurants over chains
- Drink local beer, wine or kombucha from local breweries
- Buy handmade souvenirs made locally with sustainable products
7. Choose locally owned & operated eco-conscious tours
When you go on a tour, where does your dollar go?
Choose eco and environmentally conscious tours! Although these normally come at an extra cost, you pay for the research and effort businesses pay to take care of their local communities.
Some tour companies support the local economy by contributing a certain percentage of your fee to local schools, funding beach cleanups, etc.
8. Let solar power your travels
Solar is considered the most abundant energy resource on earth. Residential solar panels are well-known today – but have you considered travelling with solar to reduce your carbon footprint?
Regions like Southeast Asia rely on a mix of coal and oil for electricity. Worldwide, the energy sector contributes to a majority of global greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. You can reduce your carbon footprint by charging your electronics with solar.
When you charge things like your laptop and devices using a solar panel, you pull from the energy of the sun instead of the electrical grid!
- Bring a solar battery with you for your road trip or to go camping
- Travel with a solar-power battery pack
- Choose a lightweight solar battery for long-term or far-distance travel
9. Vote with your dollar
As you travel, be conscious of where your money goes.
- Where does your money go when you stay at an accommodation?
- How about when you eat?
- When you take tours, book transportation, etc.
Your dollar makes an immeasurable impact. Every time you spend, think about how your money might travel within a community.
10. Practice good daily habits
In addition to the above, practice good daily habits. Some of our small actions might not feel like they make a huge impact, but
- Pack only what you need
- Turn off the light when you leave a room
- Unplug your devices when not in use
- Bring a biodegradable reusable bag when you travel
- Reduce your plastic waste as much as possible
Spread the word about ethical and eco-friendly ways to travel
Imagine just changing the actions of one person. A big part of why people will do things like leave their air-conditioning on in an empty room, or take the plastic bag every time, is because they do not know any better.
A part of the change relies on educating others about the more eco-friendly ways they can act. Do your part by sharing this post with a fellow traveller, or sharing what you learnt here whilst you are on the road!