If you're excited for your next vacation, being environmentally friendly may be the last thing on your mind as you prep. However, when you travel, you can create a heckton of waste in the process. From plastic waste to renting cars, your wanderlust can leave a large environmental footprint. In fact, the
Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance reported a survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Data Center found 43 million Americans were “ecologically concerned" when traveling. But if you're wondering how you can travel in an eco-friendly way, there are some tips you should keep in your back pocket before you go.
"I’m a big believer that travel is essential to expanding your global perspective, and helps to expose you to new experiences, new cultures, and even to make new friends,"
Emma Riley, the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Lonely Whale, an ocean health nonprofit, tells Bustle. "But for all its benefits, traveling can also be a massive strain on our planet when you consider your environmental footprint from flights, airports, hotels, and more. Traveling throws off our habits — especially when we’re stuck in the airport or in the air — which makes it that much more challenging to be sustainable while on-the-go."
If you are concerned about being eco-friendly while traveling, there are simple, low-effort switches you can make that have a hugely positive impact. Riley shares with Bustle seven pro-tips on how to be more green when you travel, with sustainability in mind.
1 Choose An Eco-Friendly Transportation Method
You can start your mission to be a more eco-friendly traveler before you even hit the terminal. Riley suggests when booking your flights, check out
airline sustainability reports to choose the most environmentally friendly airline headed to your destination. "I’m a diehard Alaska Airlines girl," she explains. "They’ve drastically increased their capture of recyclable materials from flights, run a massive composting program, have shifted to sustainable aviation biofuel in select locations, and are consistently ranked number one in fuel efficiency for U.S. airlines." You can also consider planning your trip around other sustainable travel options, such as high speed rail or even a biking trip, if that's your jam. 2 Pack Your Meals
The airport may have many tempting food options, but Riley says explains plastic food packaging can
wreak havoc on the environment. "To avoid buying items at the airport, or on the plane that come in single-use plastic and/or styrofoam, I pack meals at home before flying, and store them in beeswax wrapping — which is a sustainable, reusable alternative to plastic, says Riley. You can buy beeswax wrapping online, or, you can always opt to pack non-messy food items in a reusable lunchbox. 3 Ditch Plastic Straws
While we're on the topic of plastic waste, make an effort to limit your use of plastic straws while vacaying or traveling for work — yes, even in a poolside piña colada. According to the U.S. Department of Interior's National Park Service,
500 million plastic drinking straws are used every day — just in the U.S. alone. "Most of us don’t need a straw, but if you can’t imagine parting ways with sucking, invest in a marine-friendly alternative like a glass or metal straw that you can take with you everywhere you go," says Riley. "Whenever I go to a restaurant, bar or coffee shop, I ask that they leave out the straw. It not only prevents me from adding one more single-use plastic straw to our ocean, but it also opens up a window for a moment to educate them about the effect plastic has on our environment."
If you can go straw-less to be more eco-friendly when you travel, that's great! It's worth being mindful, though, that many disabled people (with invisible and visible disabilities) may
need to use plastic straws, and can't use alternatives. 4 Use Public Transportation
Next time you travel, skip the rent-a-car center at the airport (if you can), and instead utilize public transportation options at your destination. "The best way to discover a new place is usually by foot, and it’s obviously also the most sustainable. Save an image of a map on your phone to prevent having to print or use data. If you’re in an area with public transportation, always take a train, or subway in lieu of a taxi," explains Riley.
However, if exploring by foot, bike, or train isn't an option for you, you can still be concious of your impact on the environment. Riley says that when renting a car, "try to choose a smaller, more eco-friendly vehicle to keep your impact down."
5 Bring Your Own Water Bottle
Staying hydrated is an important component to
maintaining your physical and mental health while traveling. But, instead of going through a ton of plastic water bottles, try to bring your own. "Always carry a reusable water bottle," says Riley. "These days, a lot of airports, hotels, and cities offer drinking fountains or even water purifiers that are great replacements for purchasing plastic water bottles, which can be incredibly harmful to our environment."
The Guardian reported in Jun. 2017 that
one million plastic water bottles are purchased across the world every minute (yes, a single minute), so there's no better time than now to reduce your environmental footprint by using a refillable water bottle. 6 Stay With A Friend Or In A Homeshare
It may surprise you, but staying at someone's home is the most sustainable way to travel. Think about it: Hotels are constantly laundering sheets and towels, plus replacing those mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner, not to mention air conditioning or heating the entire complex.
But, if you prefer the glitz and glamor of hotel living while traveling (ahem, hi), she says, "Do your research and choose an eco-friendly hotel that considers sustainability — recycling and composting, low-flush toilets, energy-efficient lighting, etc." Check out these
hotels around the world focused on sustainability for even more eco-friendly travel inspo. 7 Eat and Drink Locally
"By choosing to support local chefs, farmers, and brewers, you’re supporting the local economy, and learning something along the way," says Riley. The fact that eating locally is eco-friendly is just a plus —who doesn't want to eat delicious local food anyways?
Though it's super important to consider your impact on the environment while traveling, Riley says, "We should all make an effort to mindful about our consumption. [Sustainability] applies to all aspects of life — beyond just travel!" So, while these tips can definitely be helpful for the world traveler, many of them can be applied right at home. Packing your own food or bringing a water bottle may be a barely notable change to you, but Mother Earth will thank you.