Key tips for infusing your travels with ample consideration for the environment + opportunities to help heal the planet.
One of the reasons we travel is because we want to explore the Great Barrier Reef, glaciers, the Amazon and other natural wonders before they’re unrecognizable. This awareness of the vast changes Mother Earth is experiencing makes us want to be super cognizant about not perpetuating the problem with our tourism. So, we’ve crafted eco-friendly travel to-dos we try to abide by as much as possible. If we’re missing one, please let us know in the comments :) Let’s work together to keep our planet a healthy and vibrant sphere, ripe with opportunities for adventure and expansion.
1. Selecting an eco-friendly hotel
Where you choose to rest your head has one of the biggest impacts on how your presence impacts the locale you’re visiting. Putting in the time to discern which hotels or vacation rentals are kind to the environment will help you put your money where your mouth is if you’re passionate about healing our planet (especially because eco-options tend to be a bit pricier than their non-eco-conscious counterparts.) Find out how to know when a hotel is eco-friendly here.
2. Using biodegradable toiletries
Depending on the water system used in the area you’re visiting, what you send down the pipes could have a direct impact on the health of the local ecosystem. Selecting products that won’t do harm if they end up being mixed with a local water supply, spread on a field of food, or infused into another aspect of the natural world will give you good travel karma and put you on Nature’s nice-list.
3. Requesting to not have your sheets and towels washed, unless necessary
Having your bedding and towels washed every day is usually unnecessary and uses a lot of water. Unless you sweat through your sheets, or a child (or too drunk adult) has an accident in bed, you’re probably good to go 3-5 days without the sheets being changed. In regards to towels, if you’re only using them when you’re already clean, they can go 5-7 days without a wash.
4. Unplugging appliances when they're not in use
As many appliances pull energy even when they're turned off, you can reduce your use by unplugging them when they're not needed. Clever countries like Australia make this even easier by having a switch above outlets, allowing you to flip them out of power-sucking mode.
5. Abstaining from using plastic straws
If you love baby sea turtles, dolphins and other such adorable sea creatures you’ll bring your cup up to your lips and say no to plastic straws. Those thin tubes of plastic significantly contribute to the 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals that die from ingested plastic each year, as 500,000 straws are used in the United States EVERY DAY. With that said, if you’re a die-hard straw devotee, invest in a few metal straws to travel with.
6. Drinking from a reusable water bottle
Just like plastic straws, plastic water bottles litter the ocean and other bodies of water, causing death to animals and contamination of ecosystems. In addition, toxins from the plastic can leak into the water it contains – toxins that could cause cancer and a disruption of the reproductive system. In America alone, about 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away daily.
To avoid being part of this statistic, travel with a metal reusable water bottle. If you’ll be in an area where the drinking water is iffy, bring a portable filter so you can fill a sink or bowl and pump filtered water into your bottle. This will also save you some coin.
7. Cooking your own meals
Instead of grabbing takeout that often comes with heaps of Styrofoam or plastic for one meal, pre-plan a majority of your meals and buy only what you’ll actually use from the store. Or even better, get your goods from a local farmer’s market, as we mention below. And added perk, this can save you big bucks.
8. Renting a fuel-efficient car
If you have to rent a car, call the rental company and ask what their most fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly car is. This will not only save you money on fuel, but your eco-tire-track will be smaller. And if you’re not certain you need a car, consider...
9. Taking public transport, biking or walking as much as possible
Getting creative with how you get around a metropolis, bucolic village or anything in between will not only help you pump fewer toxins into the air but will give you more opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture. Riding a train or bus offers opportunities to interact with locals, or just eavesdrop, and biking and walking offers exercise and the chance to see details of that historic structure, vibrant wall art, or other intriguing visuals you might have missed had you been whizzing by in a car. One of our favorite ways to get acclimated with a destination is jogging through it.
10. Purchasing locally made treasures, instead of “Made in China” souvenirs
Most areas have innovative craftsmen/women offering handmade goods that are one-of-a-kind and possess the spirit of the location where they were born. Opting for these goods, versus generic souvenirs that were probably made in China, might cost a bit more, but supports the local economy and artistic motivation, while minimizing the pollution created when cheap stuff has to be shipped all over the world.
11. Buying food at a farmer’s markets
Support local farmers trying to do right by the land by buying your fare from a farmer’s market. Check with the concierge or host at your accommodations about when and where the best farmer’s market is happening and check it out. Beyond buying fresh goods, farmer’s markets often attract locals, offering a glimpse into the lives of those who live in the locale you’re getting to know. To really soak it in, grab a drink, post up on a bench and people watch for awhile.
12. Bringing your own bags
When engaging in the shopping mentioned above, have your own reusable bags handy so the vendors don't have to burden you or the environment with plastic bags. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, around 500,000,000,000 to 1,000,000,000,000 disposable bags are used each year. This heavy use leads to the harming of plants and animals, increased risk of floods (as plastic bags can clog storm drains), and an escalation of the greenhouse effect.
13. Discovering what’s happening with the local ecosystem, and what you can do to help
Almost every location in the world has an issue with air pollution, water shortages, deforestation or other issues that require eco-conscious folks banding together to create change. So do some research about the area you’ll be visiting and find out if there’s local environmental protection organizations or clubs that can help inform you about struggles Mother Nature is facing on their home turf, and how you can be part of the solution. And then, make sure you spread the word through social media and word-of-mouth.
14. Using reef-safe sunscreen and bug spray if you’ll be swimming in an area with reefs
Sunscreen containing oxybenzone, octinoxate and parabens, and bug spray with DEET, damage reef systems, and can seriously harm your health.
To avoid these negative impacts, while also avoiding lobster skin, use non-nano zinc oxide or non-nano titanium dioxide based sunscreen. If you’re wondering what brands provide these reef-safe sunscreens, check out the Safe Sunscreen Council (we like the brands Badger and Raw Elements.) In addition, you can significantly minimize your need for sunscreen by wearing clothes with a high UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating.
Regarding bug spray, those that contain DEET are not only toxic to plants and animals, but humans as well. Skip the DEET and opt for a more natural (yet still effective) option like Badger or Deter spray, Babyganics insect repellent wipes, or DoTERRA Outdoor Essential Oil Blend.