6 Ways to Travel More Sustainably

Get practical tips on reducing your carbon footprint and keeping the environment in mind while traveling.

Foss a Sidu

Foss a Sidu

Located in southern Iceland along Route 1, this small but unique waterfall drops down as a picturesque backdrop for a small group of houses at the base of the cliff.

Photo by: Alisha Bube

Alisha Bube

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.

Disappearing Places

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The Maldives are sinking into the ocean, and some scientists estimate Glacier National Park will not have any glaciers left by 2030. Visit these places while they still exist.

European Alps

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.

Photo By: Thinkstock

Florida Everglades

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.

Photo By: Thinkstock

Venice, Italy

The 118 small islands that make up the city of Venice have been sinking for centuries, but rising sea levels have caused many to wonder how much longer the Floating City will stay afloat.

Photo By: Getty

Tuvalu

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. 

Photo By: Getty

Sub-Saharan Africa

A change in rainfall patterns and an increase in land use have caused the Sahara desert to gradually advance southward. If the growth continues, it could drastically change the landscape of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Photo By: Thinkstock

Timbuktu, Mali

The 3 mosques of Timbuktu in Mali, built during a golden age between the 14th and 16th centuries, are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Their walls are mainly built of mud, and any increase in temperature or rainfall could spell disaster for these incredible pieces of history.

Photo By: Getty

Patagonia, Argentina

The pristine landscape of Patagonia in Argentina could look drastically different to future visitors. The awe-inspiring glaciers have already begun to shrink because of increases in temperatures and decreases in precipitation. 

Photo By: Getty

French Vineyards

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.

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Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Mount Kilimanjaro could look drastically different in our lifetime. The snow is rapidly melting, and scientists predict that it will only be white-capped for another 15 years.

Photo By: Getty

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.

Photo By: Getty

Tikal, Guatemala

The structures of Tikal, one of the largest archaeological sites of the Mayan civilization, are mostly made of soft limestone -- soft enough to erode when subjected to rain and wind. Tourists aren’t helping, either; many have been known to leave with small stone “souvenirs.”

Photo By: Thinkstock

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.

Photo By: Getty

Maldives

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.

Photo By: Getty

Zahara de la Sierra, Spain

This small town in the hills of Andalusia is famous for its green mountains, pastures and olive groves. The temperature in Andalusia, however, is expected to increase along with the average annual rainfall, which would wipe out the orchards and lush countryside.

Photo By: Getty

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park has already undergone a significant transformation. The Montana landscape was once home to 150 monstrous glaciers; now there are only 27. Some scientists predict that they will be gone by 2030.

Photo By: Trey Ratcliff through Flickr Creative Commons

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.

Photo By: Thinkstock

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.

Photo by: 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge

1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge

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.

Water Bottle

Water Bottle

Don't forget to pack a BPA-free water bottle like this S'ip by S'well one in your beach bag to stay hydrated.

Photo by: Laura James

Laura James

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.

More Green Travel Tips

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Get more tips for how to keep the environment in mind while traveling.

Go Biking

Reduce your carbon footprint and participate in Earth-friendly transportation options like biking, walking and taking public transit. These alternatives are often cheaper than taking a cab or renting a car.

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Reusable Bottles

A plastic bottle often travels thousands of miles before you buy it, so carry a reusable container or drink locally sourced water when you’re on the go.

Photo By: Thinkstock

Non-Stop Flights

Book non-stop flights whenever possible. A significant percentage of a plane’s carbon emissions come from takeoff and landing.

Photo By: Thinkstock

Buy Local

When and wherever you travel, buy local products whenever possible instead of buying products that have been flown or shipped in from overseas. However, do not buy souvenirs or other products made from endangered animals or plants. In most cases, you can't get them through customs anyway.

Photo By: Thinkstock

Working Farms

Stay at working farm that also functions as inn. This unique experience helps travelers connect with an area’s agricultural heritage -- and they cost less than hotels.

Photo By: Thinkstock

Recycle Trash

Staying at a hotel? Make sure you ask about the hotel’s recycling program, and sort your trash accordingly. If your hotel doesn't recycle, consider taking your empty bottles or other items home and recycle them there.

Photo By: Thinkstock

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.

Photo By: Getty Images

Rent Hybrid Car

Choose the smallest vehicle or a hybrid when renting a car for travel. Decline any "free" upgrades that can cost you more in gas. Consider renting an economy car if your personal vehicle is a large, gas guzzler. You'll save gas and avoid putting miles on your own vehicle.

Photo By: Robert Scoble, flickr

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.

Photo By: Oyster.com

Eat Local

Eating locally is one of the best ways to support a community. Try to shop at farmers’ markets and dine at restaurants with locally sourced ingredients.

Photo By: William Murphy, flickr

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