As a family, we travel a lot. It is a major component of how we educate our children. As we explore our world – whether on a short hike along the Oregon Coast Trail near our home or on the ancient foot paths leading to Machu Picchu, we try to keep in mind how we are impacting the earth.
Responsible travel, in our mind, should do more than merely leave no trace. When we travel, we make an effort to consciously make a positive impact. Below you will find 5 green travel tips – simple things we do to help minimize our negative impact when we travel:
5 Green Travel Tips
Airlines today are charging more than ever for baggage fees and heavy bags also reduce the plane’s fuel economy. We pack lighter by planning out our wardrobe prior to departure – just one pair of hiking shoes and a pair of flip-flops, for example.
We also pack moisture-wicking clothes that can be washed in the sink and line-dried in just a few hours. Between the four of us, we generally take just two-three checked bags. We carry-on only a small backpack. With each successive trip, we’ve learned what we really need and continue to make small improvements.
Conserve Natural Resources
Around the world, water shortages are becoming increasingly big problems. Reducing our usage of water is a goal both at home and as we travel. We re-use our towels during extended stays and we turn off the water while shaving and brushing our teeth. We each carry a refillable BPA-free bottle with us.
I now take a digital photo of the brochures and maps, returning them to reception when we’ve finished with them so another may use it. Though it has proven difficult in some countries, we also try to recycle whenever possible.
We typically leave a “Do Not Disturb” sign on our hotel room door for the duration of our stay. Why waste energy and harsh chemical cleansers when we wouldn’t clean our living spaces daily at home. We are also mindful to never leave the lights, AC/heat, or television on when we are out of the room.
Buy Local & Responsibly
You have undoubtedly seen the identical assembly line-style souvenirs at shops and road-side stands. Chances are these kitschy souvenirs weren’t locally made. It’s worth taking the time to seek out local artisans and craftsmen from whom you can buy directly. It also gives you an opportunity to ask them about their craft, learn about their culture, and engage on a deeper personal level.
There are unscrupulous people who have no problem selling ancient artifacts or products made from endangered species and precious hardwoods. When we shop, we read labels and ask questions, such as “What is this item made of?” and “Do I need special documents to take this home?”
It may not be against the law in their country to sell these items, but you can vote with your wallet by refusing to buy them. Take time to familiarize yourself with WWF’s Buyer Beware Guide.
Leave No Trace
National parks all around the world are reporting more and more damage caused by careless tourists. Just yesterday I read of a local natural hot springs that has been closed off to public use due to vandals and careless visitors who have left rubbish and human waste.
In places such as the Galapagos Islands, there are well-marked trails and naturalist guides who ensure that visitors stick to them. If you go hiking, it’s crucial to adhere to the established trails to avoid harming native flora. Also, consider taking an empty bag and picking up any trash you spot along the way.
Embrace the Culture
One of the greatest rewards of travel is meeting other people. Take time to immerse yourself in the music, art and cuisine of the native culture. Accept and embrace the differences that make it unique and take time to learn about their traditions. Get to know the locals and how they view life.
Whenever we travel to a new destination, we take a piece of that experience with us for the rest of our lives. You might be surprised what you discover when you open up your mind to new ideas
Many of the world’s developing nations have people desperately in need of basic necessities that we often take for granted. Non-profit organizations can help you make a big difference simply by packing school or medical supplies. Here are a few to get you started:
- Adopt-A-School Promotes world literacy and donations to libraries and schools in the U.S. and around the world.
- Cross-Cultural Solutions A nonprofit with well-thought-out projects based on community needs in 11 countries.
- Earthwatch Sets the gold standard for voluntourism, with projects that often focus on scientific research and wildlife conservation and emphasize education for the traveler.
- Global Vision International Runs 100 programs, partnering with local groups in 25 countries, ranging from the Jane Goodall Institute to Rainforest Concern.
- Pack For A Purpose A nonprofit whose mission is to positively impact communities around the world by assisting travelers who want to take meaningful contributions to the destinations they visit.
You might also be interested in my post, 10 Steps to More Sustainable Living.