Almost one billion tourists traverse the earth yearly, exploring, relaxing, partying, and, most detrimental, leaving behind heavy imprints of their visits. We’re all guilty of it, and odds are we aren’t going to give up traveling - that would be sacrilege. Rather than stop vacationing cold turkey, we can open our eyes and figure out how to lessen our impact on the planet, while saving a buck or two, when we step out for an adventure.
In North America, most people in the work force have limited vacation days (when will this continent catch on to the 6 weeks of vacation bliss in Europe and Australia?), and we can’t waste one second of that time getting to our holiday destination. Flying is the obvious choice and is also the biggest travel burden on the planet. To minimize the negative effects, pay the few dollars to offset those filthy carbon emissions, and fly direct where possible as landing and takeoff emit the most pollution.
But my biggest advice: take a train when traveling shorter distances – it’s more eco-friendly and most often it’s cheaper. Have you ever been lulled to sleep by the clickety-clack of a train? I’m telling you, it’s the most peaceful, and quite often a romantic, way to travel. Who needs a book when watching the countryside zoom by is just as compelling?
At the hotel
A few of the great joys of staying in a hotel are the room service, the bathroom amenities, and the bed – I’m about to ruin all of these delights for you.
It can take two gallons of water to launder just one pound of linens. Imagine all of the pounds of sheets that get laundered on a daily basis in hotels and the huge amount of water wasted. Ask to have your bed made up without a clean set of sheets during your stay. Your sheets at home are good enough to sleep in for more than one night so why aren’t hotel sheets?
The bathroom is a den of despair for eco-lovers. I used to go through towels as though they were disposable, collecting fluffy white mounds on the bathroom floor. Just as sheets can be used again, towels can be hung up for another round. The cute miniature free toiletries we all love so dearly are another eco trap and will likely end up in crowded landfills. Pack your own reusable bottles with shampoo and such from home to use every time you travel.
A late night raiding of the mini-bar and breakfast in bed from room service were common occurrences in my storied hotel past. Besides a price tag suggesting the goodies were made on the moon, room service produces a huge pile of waste. Mini jam jars, uneaten food, and stacks of dirty dishes are just a few of the enemies of the environment. It is far better, on your wallet and the planet, to stock your room with food from a local market or grocery store.
Wherever you stay, check the hotel’s sustainability policies; most are proud to note how they are contributing to saving the earth.
Extra thrifty and green travel tips:
- Keep all booking information in your phone. There’s no need to print out sheets of confirmations anymore.
- If you drive a lot at home, odds are you won’t want to when you’re away. Walk, bike, take the bus – the best ways to really explore a new city.
- When you leave your room, turn off the A/C, heat and lights, and close the curtains.
- Take a re-usable water bottle and fill it up with tap water where safe to do so. Most Westernized cities have drinkable water.
- When buying souvenirs make sure they are local and not imported from far far away. You’ll never again wear that “I heart Rome” t-shirt, but the handmade necklace will likely become a favourite for years to come.
At the end of the day, remember, “Take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints.”