6 Ways to Travel More Sustainably
Get practical tips on reducing your carbon footprint and keeping the environment in mind while traveling.
Our planet is in danger. As a result of climate change, parts of the world are experiencing extreme temperatures and some places are even disappearing. Just this month, an iceberg nearly the size of Delaware broke off from Antarctica, according to Project MIDAS. Travel and tourism produces approximately five percent of all global carbon emissions. In 2015, the United Nations declared that 2017 would be the International Year of Sustainable Tourism.
Ever dream of skiing the high peaks and endless runs of the European Alps? Well, ski bunny, you better book your flight and hop on the gondola sooner rather than later. Because the Alps are at a lower altitude than many other mountain ranges, they are much more susceptible to the potential effects of global warming, and temperatures in the region are increasing at more than twice the global average. Some predictions give the glaciers only until 2050 before they disappear.
Encroaching development is just one of many threats to the Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the US. Since 1900 the Everglades have been cut in half, and 14 species of animals that call its cypress swamps, mangroves and sawgrass home are now on the brink of extinction.
The tiny Polynesian nation of Tuvalu, located halfway between Australia and Hawaii, could be completely swallowed by the Pacific Ocean if sea levels continue to rise. The highest point of the 9-island country (encompassing only 10 square miles) is only about 15 feet above sea level, and even a rise of a few inches could have devastating consequences for the tiny nation.
Better start stocking up on French wine. Temperature increases in traditional winemaking regions of France, such as Bordeaux, have caused winemakers to worry. Grapes are hyper-sensitive to climate change, and any increase in temperature could be detrimental to the vines … eliminating the production of varieties that have been a mainstay of the region for centuries.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska
The state of Alaska currently has more than 100,000 glaciers, but 95% of them are shrinking. The global rise in temperature is happening much faster at higher latitudes, and Alaska’s annual average temperature is increasing twice as fast as the rest of the US. As Glacier Bay gets warmer, snowy winter scenes like this one will be harder to come by.
Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica
The Monteverde cloud forest in the mountains of Costa Rica has become a major ecotourism destination because of its incredible biodiversity. Global warming, however, has scientists worried. Many have warned there will be a decline in the low-level clouds that this lush ecosystem is famous for, with the resulting rise in temperatures threatening many plants and animals.
Located southwest of India, this archipelago of 1,190 tiny islands and atolls is the lowest-lying country in the world, making it particularly susceptible to a rise in sea levels. Roughly 80% of the country is less than 4 feet above sea level, and many inhabitants live along the coast. If sea levels continue to rise, the Republic of Maldives will be the first nation to disappear into the ocean.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The world’s biggest structure made by living organisms, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. But the survival of the reef is threatened by rising ocean temperatures and mass coral bleaching, and it could be completely gone in our lifetime.
If you want to minimize your environmental impact as a traveler, here are some practical ways to travel more sustainably.
Research and ask.
When it comes to booking a hotel, tour company or any other business you might support while traveling, Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association and a board member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, says his number one piece of advice is to research and ask. Responsible companies will have information about their sustainability initiatives on their website. "Regardless, it's worth asking what makes them a responsible and sustainable company," Stowell says. "Answers should be fairly comprehensive around both environmental issues and respecting local culture. If the answers are vague or confusing, it may be that the company doesn't have a true focus on sustainability."
Look for certifications.
While many companies in the travel industry claim to be “green,” some certainly have environmental issues as a higher priority than others. While researching and asking a company about their sustainability initiatives is smart, certification programs are one of the most reliable ways to quickly decide in which hotels or tour companies to invest your money. Stowell says the Global Sustainable Tourism Council was formed to make sense of literally the hundreds of different certification programs around the world. Check out their list of certification groups that have agreed upon global standards.
Consider an ecotourism trip.
Ecotourism is defined as “tourism directed toward exotic, often threatened, natural environments, especially to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife.” If you take an ecotourism trip where you’re traveling primarily on the ground level by foot, you’ll cut down on carbon emissions from cars, buses, trains and planes you might use on other trips. Some argue that ecotourism is also a better way to truly immerse yourself in nature and get an authentic experience. If you’re new to ecotourism and don’t feel confident planning a trip on your own, consider booking tours with companies like G Adventures or Intrepid Travel.
Bring a reusable water bottle.
A very basic but practical way to travel more sustainably is to bring a BPA-free water bottle and refill it throughout your trip. Cut down on your plastic usage by bringing reusable bags, too. If you’re staying at a hotel, ask them about their recycling program for any waste you might produce during your stay.
Use transportation responsibly.
Book non-stop flights whenever possible. If you’re traveling with a group and can take a car to your destination, drive instead of fly. But if you’re traveling solo, it’s actually better to fly. After arriving at your destination, walk, bike or take public transportation like buses or trains. If you must rent a car, try to get a hybrid car.
Use carbon calculator.
No matter how responsible of a traveler you try be, some environmental impact is unavoidable. Use carbon calculators, like this one from Sustainable Travel International, to input your trip details like if you’re flying or driving, how many flight connections you’ll have and what type of lodging you’re staying in. The calculator will give you an estimated dollar amount equal to the carbon emissions you’ll produce on your trip. You can purchase carbon offsets through organizations like Sustainable Travel International or TerraPass, or you can simply calculate your carbon emissions for a specific trip and make a donation to any other environmental organization of your choice.
Hike Marked Trails
Don’t veer off marked trails when hiking, and maintain a safe distance from any animals you encounter. Deposit your trash in marked receptacles or take it with you when you leave. Light campfires only in areas where permitted and be sure they're completely extinguished before you leave.
Stay at Green Hotel
Las Vegas is actually at the forefront of green building, and the Palazzo Hotel Vegas is one of the largest hotels in the U.S. to receive LEED certification (along with the huge Aria and Vdara City Center hotels). Ninety-five percent of the building's structural steel and 26 percent of its concrete is recycled material. The swimming pools are heated by solar power, and the hotel claims to save enough energy annually to light a 100-watt light bulb for 12,100 years.