The Beginner's Guide To Sustainable Travel

Written by C.J. Quinn

Photo by Stocksy

You make promises and resolutions to yourself every January—why not extend them to the planet?

Pledging to reduce your emissions while away from home this year may help you feel better about leaving. These five tips will help you become a smart, sustainable jet-setter:

1. Choose transportation wisely.

Believe it or not, buses are an extremely ecological mode of transport. Yet many of us can't take the time for long distances that the bus requires, so trains are the next best way to go. You can travel from state to state on Amtrak in America, or through European countries using the Euro-Rail.

Both of these are easier on the environment than plane travel: One round-trip flight from New York City to Europe or San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10. If you need to use air travel, fly direct to save fuel and look out for airlines converting over to cleaner biofuels.

You can compare the carbon footprint of various transportation options you're considering using TripCarbon or the Carbon Footprint Calculator.

2. Pack only the essentials.

Large suitcases are cumbersome and encourage a culture of consumerism, so consider packing light for your next trip. Be sure to bring reusable water bottles so you're not tempted to buy plastic ones and cloth bags for shopping excursions.

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3. Do your research on accommodations.

Staying as a guest with someone is always going to be the more sustainable option, but chances are you don't know people in every place you travel. The next best choice would be to stay at an inn, bed and breakfast, a condominium, or VRBO (vacation rental by owner). If your only option is to stay at a hotel, do some research before booking your accommodations. There are some gorgeous off-the-grid resorts out there, as well as LEED-certified hotels that harness renewable energy, recycle, and use environmentally friendly cleaning practices. Green Key Global, Green Globe International, Green Seal, and EcoRooms & EcoSuites are all certifications that denote more environmentally conscious hotels.

4. Plan eco-friendly activities.

If you're looking into tour companies, see if there are any eco-tours available—ones that promote sustainable practices such as supporting the restoration or protection of local flora and fauna. Or, use a green travel agency like TripZero, which calculates the carbon footprint of your upcoming trip and offsets it by funding alternative energy projects.

Once you arrive at your destination, support stores that sell local arts and crafts and don't purchase things made from ivory or other harmful animal products. When eating out, go with restaurants that serve local ingredients from surrounding farms.

5. Adjust your habits.

In order to keep your carbon footprint to a minimum on the road, small steps like taking shorter showers, reusing your linens and towels, and turning off TVs, lights, and air conditioners when they're not in use make a big difference. Get to know the area more by taking public transportation, shuttles, or rental bikes to get from sight to sight. If you do need to rent a car, rent an economical one with good gas mileage.

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