In your everyday life, you might already be an eco-superhero. You recycle. You bring your own mug to your fave coffee shop. You’ve got reusable bags in your briefcase/purse/car/bike basket. You take transit or carpool. So why does it all go out the window the second you leave for vacation? Because you’re human, of course — but it’s easy to be an even better human by keeping your green streak going when you travel.
After just a little bit of planning, sustainable, eco-friendly travel will become habit. Check out these tips to get started:
Bring your reusable water bottle and mug
It might seem like an annoying suggestion, but whether you’re doing the all-inclusive resort thing, the day trip thing, or the trek across unknown territory thing, a water bottle and travel mug are indispensable. Get hotel coffee to go (even if it’s just to the pool), come back from a swim and know which lounge chair-adjacent water is yours, and get multiple drinks at the bar without going through multiple plastic cups. You and the environment both win.
Pack a foldable tote bag
Whether you’re picking up a bunch of souvenirs, going on a snack run or heading down to the beach, a foldable tote will save you from juggling a bunch of tiny plastic bags — and all without taking up any room in your suitcase. Bonus: if you shop on your trip, you’ve got an extra bag to pack it in for the ride home.
Go easy at the buffet table
This just in: you can hit up a buffet table as many times as you want. And this multiple trip strategy, taking only as much as you know you can eat each time, is far less wasteful than filling your table with food and only eating half of it.
Turn down (or off!) the A/C
Do you plan on spending your vacation days holed up inside your hotel room? Didn’t think so. So there’s no need to leave the air conditioning blasting all day while you’re out. Close the blinds to keep the cool in and use the A/C for sleeping only.
Many hotels will ask you to hang the towels you can reuse on the towel bar and leave the dirty ones on the floor for housekeeping. Do this! You’re clean when you get out of the shower, right? Your towel can last more than one round.
Watch your water consumption
Skip the long showers, and don’t leave the tap running while you brush your teeth. Clean water is precious everywhere, but in many places, it’s far more scarce than it is at home.
Don’t raid the hotel bathroom
How many mini shampoo bottles can one person use? Take what you need and leave the untouched stuff for the next guest.
Support the community by purchasing authentic souvenirs made by local artisans — you may spend more than you would on a cheap, plastic keychain or fridge magnet manufactured abroad, but you’ll also appreciate it more — which means it’s less likely that the item will end up in a landfill in a year or two.
Skip international chains and support small businesses by dining out at local restaurants. Why travel if not to try food you can’t easily get at home? Also, recognize that those specialty items you always have on hand — gluten-free, white cheddar cheesies, anyone? — likely won’t be available abroad. You WILL survive.
Learn about your destination’s public transit system
Sometimes a taxi is the only way to go, but if you’re travelling to a more urban destination, make use of the transit system — it’ll definitely save you money. Don’t be intimidated by trying to navigate your bus or subway route: apps like Rome2Rio will tell you how to get just about anywhere while providing you with a variety of transit options. Feeling brave? Rent a bike!
Travel during the off-season
There are a LOT of upsides to skipping peak travel season (which differs depending on the destination). Less expensive flights and hotel costs are one; less crowded restaurants and tourist sites are another. But there’s also a benefit for the local economy and environment that comes from easing the strain on resources and spreading out the amount of tourist dollars being spent over the course of the year.
Support good causes
There are so many (super-easy) ways to make a difference when you travel. Tours with companies like National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures can include visits to an animal sanctuary, or other great experiences where your admission fee supports the work of locals.
“The local community groups and nonprofits we work with to develop these experiences… win because they receive funding, training, and a link to the market,” said Kelly Galaski, a program manager, for Planeterra, an organization that connects social enterprises to the tourism industry. “This creates jobs, increases access to education and improves quality of life for marginalized communities such as women, at-risk youth, and rural, indigenous communities that may never have had the opportunity to access the tourism economy before. This kind of travel promotes conservation, celebrates cultures, and lifts people up. Everyone wins.”