We travel to relax, to experience different cultures, to meet new people, to find ourselves, to seek adventure or for some of us (or most of us?) to find a great background for our next selfie. Whatever our travel whys are, whether we are aware of it or not, we create an impact to the environment. Though we contribute positively to our destination’s economy, sadly, our impacts to the environment is quite the reverse.
Since the choices we make as travelers have implications to the environment, the good news is that we can do something to minimize our environmental impacts while still accomplishing our travel whys. Here are some of the hows of traveling green and the whys or what everyone (we, our hosting territory, our environment) can gain from this behavior.
Ways to Travel Green
Planning your trip
1. Your choice of mode of transportation greatly depends on cost, travel time, distance and the people you are traveling with (number, age, state of health/fitness). If we factor in the environment, then here are a few guidelines for making a green choice.
Traveling by bus or train
- Considering the carbon footprint calculations (based on full capacity load), traveling by bus and train appears to be the better options than taking an airplane or driving a car, especially when traveling solo or in a pair.
- For travel distances of 1,000 miles and above, bus is still the best option but flying in economy seats is the next best thing if you’re traveling solo or in a pair, while driving a typical car comes 2nd best option for a family of four for long distance travels.
Traveling by air
- If travelling by air cannot be avoided, choose an economy seat. It’s not just cheaper than business class, it has lesser environmental impacts.
- Choose a direct flight or the shortest route possible.
Driving/renting a car
- If driving or renting a car is your optimal choice, keep in mind that the more passengers there are, the less impact you will have.
- As much as possible, select routes and travel times where you can avoid traffic congestion and rush hour period.
- If renting a car, choose the smallest car possible or a hybrid car.
2. Avoid traveling during peak season.
Choosing your accommodation
1. Choose a hotel close to public transportation or near the places you plan to visit during your stay.
2. Choosing a “green” hotel is not easy mainly because of the lack of reliability of the sources and the lack of information per se. Most hotel review sites do not place environment-friendly practices as one of the standard criteria for guiding reviewers and users.
Here is a link which might help you check for certified green hotels: http://greentravelerguides.com/tips/green-certifiers/
You can also check the eco-labeling certification bodies in each country here: http://www.globalecolabelling.net/eco/green-certification-by-country/
However, the fact is that there is no standard certification process yet in most countries. And even if there does exist a certifying body, some small hotels do not apply for certifications because this could be costly for them.
Our environmental consulting company had the opportunity to work with the International Labor Organization in the Philippines and they had projects on Greener Business Asia in the Hotel Industry. You may check out their projects in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia.
Since resources are scarce at the moment for checking out green hotels (which I hope would change in the near future), it might be best to do your own research, get a sense of the hotel companies through website sources, reviews, or go out of your way to call them and ask politely to “fish” out information on their environmental practices and local community engagements.
Packing your things
1. Use recycled materials for your packing needs. Here are examples to give you some ideas:
- I re-use resealable plastic bags from products I buy and use them for my toiletries.
- Recycle bubble wraps from electronics packaging if you need to bring anything that needs a cushion
- Re-use shopping bags to pack your things (e.g. shoes)
- Some hotels have cute disposable containers of shampoos, liquid soaps and lotions. Take one set, which you can use as refillable containers of your toiletries on your next short travels.
2. Save e-copies of your plane tickets and hotel bookings on your phone and save on your cloud drive that you can access online to eliminate the need for printing. Check, however, the immigration procedures in your origin or destination countries. In the Philippines, for example, they sometimes ask Filipino nationals to show them printed copies of their return flight to the Philippines. I’m not sure why e-copies sometimes do not suffice but it’s best to be sure in your best interest.
3. If printing cannot be avoided, then print only the page that shows your booking reference number and itinerary.
4. Don’t bring your house with you when you travel. Pack light. Ask yourself a lot of times if you really need that item or not. Bear in mind that waste disposal systems in other countries are not as efficient as in developed countries. Save your destination’s environment from the added stress that tourism brings.
During your stay/ While traveling
At the hotel/ your accommodation
1. For those who have the mentality that you have all the right to maximize the resources of your host hotel because you paid for their services (such as, that you can change your towel every day, that you can ask for toiletry refill/replenishment even if you still have enough), I beg of you to erase that in your mindset. If we are to include the environmentally-induced costs resulting from that behavior, you’ll be surprised to find out that the service you paid might not actually be enough to cover the costs resulting from the environmental impacts of this behavior.
The better way to go is to participate in hotel initiatives that engage guests to save on resources. Here are some of the things that you can do:
- Reuse bed linens and towels instead of having them washed every day. Follow their instructions, if they have, to let them know that you want to reuse these. If none, you can neatly hang your towels and simply inform the front desk staff.
- Report water leaks – on the faucet, shower, water pipes, or toilet flush.
- Turn off lights, TV (turn off instead of leaving on stand-by mode) and heating or air-conditioning equipment when not in use or before leaving the hotel.
- Follow their waste segregation scheme, if they have.
2. Tourists on vacation tend to splurge themselves with the sights, smells, sound and feel of their new environment. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s not do the same with taking showers. If you’re using a hot shower, then more water equals more energy consumption.
Don’t equate water with forever. Water is a resource that takes time to be recharged. Besides, some places have really scarce water supply. This might also be the case when you’re in an island where freshwater supply may be even sourced and transported from the mainland.
3. Don’t imitate the weather in the North Pole. In your hotels, set the aircon thermostat to a comfortable temperature. Conserve energy. If you’re staying in a paradise island, there’s a chance that the island is not connected to the mainland’s electricity, and is running on a generator set.
While on the go
1. Bring your own sturdy tumbler for drinking water. You can refill this in hotels or if you’re staying for more than one night, buy larger volume of water and refill your tumbler instead of buying small volumes every day.
2. Do not throw garbage anywhere. This is a lesson often taught in elementary grade, yet the most difficult to instill. The garbage you throw can end up in canals, clog drains, reach surface water and choke aquatic life. They can also be an eye sore.
If you do not find a trash can at the point where you generated the waste, it won’t hurt to temporarily accommodate that trash in your bag, and dispose later when you see a garbage bin.
3. Take only maps and brochures that you need. Share with others when traveling with a group.
4. As much as possible, use public transport/ mass transport, ride a bike or walk to your destinations.
1. Bring reusable or eco-bags for your shopping spree.
2. If you wish to bring home souvenirs for yourself and your family and friends, choose items that are useful and will not otherwise, just end up as “excess” items. Well, there are those items that you collect because they have a special meaning for you, so that maybe can be an exception (Okay, I’m making an excuse for me buying small magnets from places I’ve been. Seeing them fill my “white board” is just happiness.)
3. Never buy items made from endangered or protected species or from wildlife.
4. Patronize locally produced goods. Local sourcing means least resources used to transport the goods. You’re also giving income to the locals.
1. Don’t put the entire farm in your plate. Order only the food that you can take.
2. Be aware of foods on menus that may be endangered or restricted, and avoid them.
Being with nature
1. Bringing home nature may be the best thing you want, but it should be the first thing you should NEVER do. Do not remove wildlife from their natural environment. Don’t pick flowers/ plants, collect pebbles, shells, corals.
It’s an overused quote, but I will tell a hundred times, “Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures. Keep nothing but memories. Kill nothing but time.”
2. Don’t walk on corals.
3. I have tried a banana boat ride once but after hearing from a resort owner that such activities as banana boat ride and jet skiing can disturb marine resources, cause noise pollution, and physical damage to marine life, I did not do it again.
4. When camping or hiking, stay on hiking trails. Aside from safety reasons, staying on marked paths will prevent damage to plants and animals who consider nature their home.
When leaving or when you get home
1. Send feedbacks or comments to tour operators, local guides and hotels you’ve stayed at. Highlight the positive points and include a review of their “green” practices. Offer points for improvement constructively.
2. If you can afford to be generous, donate to local programs that support responsible tourism.
This is not an exhaustive list for traveling green. There’s still so much we can do to define responsible tourism. It’s not always an easy task. I myself do not claim to completely put into practice everything I have written. But I’m taking as much effort as I can to improve my travel experience each time, while I learn what traveling green is all about and why being green is called for. Together, we can do something to put an ease to the pressure that tourism places on our environment. Remember, our environment is where we derive the social and economic benefits of tourism. It the same environment that we need to take care of for our own sake.
Get a handy e-book version of the"Hows and Whys of Traveling Green"
I would like to hear your thoughts on this. You are welcome to comment and send a feedback. 🙂