2019 is the year that sustainable travel went mainstream.
This year is the year that “going green” turned from an in vogue philosophy to an actionable lifestyle. We got the Green New Deal, and Greta Thunberg. The cause championed by these two were pretty similar: bringing awareness to the crisis level of climate change. The monumental efforts of these movements raised attention and directed public discourse on climate change in a big way.
Now that we’re hyper-aware of the problem, the search for a path through it has started. However, it won’t be government and industry that carry us over the mountain. We have to travel there ourselves, if we want to make it.
Becoming a Green Traveler
As travelers, we pride ourselves on being independent. We are explorers, and adventurers. We’re chance-takers, working hard to immerse ourselves in worldly experiences, and a life that is aligned with genuine values. But in the explosiveness of worldwide travel, there is an underside. Sometimes, the “best” places to see are not the most reasonable to visit.
The impact of visiting some destinations can outweigh the benefits of the memories we make there. The troubling effects of travel are being widely documented, from Venice to Hanoi to the Great Barrier Reef. If traveling is a lifestyle that frees us, but we are leaving behind a negative environmental impact, then what we are doing as travelers becomes disingenuous. As a group that places importance on authenticity, it’s on travelers to lead the way for sustainability, in this lifestyle and the world beyond. It’s on us to become green travelers.
Examples of this cultural change are popping up everywhere. The Swedish recently coined the term flygskam. It means “flight-shame” and it is the sentiment behind a new commitment to Slow Travel. The hotel industry is on a rapid change as well. Lodgings all over the world are shifting to more environmentally-conscious business models.
Green travel is growing, so read on for some great examples of how travelers are living this trend, and how you can too, this holiday season.
1. Bring Your Own Green Traveler Gear
Being a green traveler starts with being conscious of your individual impact. For example, few changes are as simple and easy to make as traveling with personal reusable food items. Bringing your own gear will help reduce your dependency on single-use products. The most common substitutions to make are with water bottles, straws, and eating utensils.
However, there are loads of other ways to swap out single-use products with items that can be used over and over again. 16 billion coffee cups wind up as garbage every year, do you want your peppermint mocha to leave that sort of a legacy?
Family blogger Travel Mad Mum suggests thinking about the little things that are often missed. In a recent post about traveling eco-consciously during holidays, TMM recommends finding hygiene products packaged in tin, rather than plastic. This way, the packaging can become a high-quality recyclable, rather than a potentially contaminated plastic that would likely end up as trash.
On your next trip over the holidays, bring your own shampoo, soap, and toothpaste in a reusable package (like tin) for a better alternative to using the single-use hotel products, which will get tossed after your stay is over. Additionally, getting toothbrushes made with bamboo allows for a biodegradable option. Other things to include in your reusable gear list are cloth shopping bags and metal lunch-boxes for leftovers.
2. Power Your Travels with Portable Solar Panels
One reusable item that is commonly overlooked? Energy! Consider replacing your oil-powered electric needs with the power of the sun. Portable solar panels are a great travel accessory that can keep your devices and adventures running in a sustainable way.
With this in mind, blogger couple No Footprint Nomads share how they use portable solar panels to power their travels. There are options for all walks of traveling life, differing in size, charge speed, and power retention. Get off the grid anywhere you go.
3. Travel Slow, and with Intention
Whether flygskam became a thing of Swedish culture before or after Greta Thunberg traveled by boat to the UN is debatable. What’s not, is that the move was a power play. Critics talked for ages about the activist’s travel choice… and raised the awareness of airline carbon emissions drastically in the process.
Now, a lot of us don’t have the time or flexibility to completely cut out air travel. Once, on short notice, a captain had to fly to Chile in order to help Greta sail a catamaran to Madrid for a UN Climate Conference. It just shows that sometimes airline travel is crucial to meeting our needs. But, we should use the right tools for the right job.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to balance the effects of airline emissions on your carbon footprint this holiday season. One example–that sustainable-living blogger My Green Closet recommends–is carbon offsets. Essentially, these are carbon neutralizing projects that you and your airline can invest in.
Organizations like the Stockholm Environmental Institute provide resources on carbon offsets you can purchase. But, make sure to do your research thoroughly. Sometimes, businesses acting in bad faith can present themselves as a sustainable operation through branding, marketing, and public persona. When a company does this without actually performing eco-conscious work, its called greenwashing. Don’t let your well-intentioned spend benefit someone trying to flip a dishonest buck.
Carbon offsets are a tangible way to put your money where your heart is. But what if you’re traveling on a budget? As a green traveler, you still have eco-conscious options.
For example, you can pick your airline by efficiency, in order to travel with the lowest emissions per passenger. Or, as the New York Times suggests, fly on planes that use biofuels, such as United Airlines. Additionally, when at all possible, be a green traveler by renting an electric car or taking the train. Use your new-found travel time to turn your attention towards your accommodations.
4. Find Eco-Conscious Lodgings
An aspect of journeying that is becoming easier for green travelers is finding eco-conscious lodgings, as tourists and nomads alike are shifting the market to match their needs. For this reason, hotels all over the world are being constructed from recycled material, crafted in vegan styles, and outfitted with sustainable utilities like toilets, showers, and sinks.
For instance, an article from the New York Times cites one thing a Green Traveler should look for is sustainable building certifications while researching accommodations.
An organization called the Global Sustainable Tourism Council maintains a standard for sustainable accreditation, measuring things like energy use and sustainability of building materials. Certifications like LEED verify the green chops of how a building utilizes resources like waste, water, and solar power. Getting into the nitty-gritty of a hotel’s sustainability practice can help you put weight behind the positive trend of eco-conscious building.
And at the end of the day, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If the answers are less than transparent, reconsider where you’re staying.
Additionally, vegan hotels are a fast-growing trends in environmentally-conscious traveling these days. A report from Research and Markets clocks the number of US consumers identifying as vegans at 6%. This trend is taking hold in the travel industry: In June, The Hilton London Bankside opened an entirely vegan-suite.
If you can’t find a vegan hotel to rest your head, focus on eco-conscious meals. For example, The Nomadic Vegan aims to share tips and locations to make your travel meals earth-friendly, like looking for meals with ingredients that have low food miles and restaurants that employ locals rather than seasonal employees.
5. Avoid Greenwashing
Despite good intentions, green travelers can be fooled. Greenwashing is when a company or business paints their concern for the environment, but when you dig deeper, their products or services are not actually environmentally friendly. If you’re unable to get answers on sustainability policies and practices, chances are the company hasn’t placed much importance on this matter.
When booking tours, excursions, and travels, be sure to first look at the fine prints. Are the guides local and/or indigenous residents? Do animal excursions promise “hands-on experience” that actually interfere with wildlife? As Global Green Travel lists, looking for partnerships between travel businesses and organizations like the Nature Conservancy can ensure your adventure is not leaving a negative impact on the environment.
Additionally, shop for your things at local markets, where you can interact and purchase from individual vendors and merchants. If you’re traveling this season and need to send gift homes, leave room in your return suitcase to pack presents, instead of shipping them.
And, if you’re mailing gifts to loved ones far away, take a minute to consider if you truly need two-day shipping. Its much more green to opt your packages into traveling as you are: slow and steady! Two-day shipping is convenient, but costly in terms of environmental impact.
Making the Choices of a Green Traveler
Eco-conscious choices come in many different shapes and sizes. Some require a commitment to institutional change, while some ask us to become more conscious individuals. As travelers, we are on a mission to become more aware of the world around us. Doing so also opens our eyes to the impact that traveling can have on us, and the world. Being a green traveler can allow you to appreciate the best life on Earth with the clearest eco-conscious.
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