Travel is a way of life for some, and an essential component of a successful vacation for many people. As all human activities, travel uses resources and thus engenders concerns about its ecological impact. Amid the concerns about greenhouse emissions and water shortages, "green travel" or "responsible travel" might sound like an attempt at green-wash and might seem that the greenest thing would be not to travel at all. Greener travel is, however, possible, and the green way to travel might be the best way to travel altogether.
1) Reduce CO2 (and other pollutant) emissions while getting there and traveling around. There are several ways of accomplishing this task.
– Go closer rather than further. Consider taking a vacation in your home country or at least on the same continent. Limit long-haul trips.
- Go for longer but less often. Modern trend for short breaks and cheap airfares means that people are jetting off for a weekend every month and frequently take several few-days long holidays every year. It's greener (and better for you) to go once but for a few weeks rather than four times for a few days.
- Don't drive if you can. Take a train or a coach instead.
- Locally, use public transport or taxis if you have to rather than hiring a car. This is usually cheaper and more interesting as well. You can also walk or cycle, which will not only keep you in touch with the locals but get you fit. Consider ride-share for internal journeys at destination: green, cheap, sociable and possible even for family groups.
- Don't fly if you can. Consider taking a train, a boat or a coach for a short-haul destination. The main problem is the price, but if you are going for longer, consider the journey part of the experience.
- If you have to fly, consider carbon offsetting scheme.
2) Conserve resources when at the destination
- Avoid using air-conditioning unless you have to. Only keep the air-conditioning on when you are in the room. Don't open the windows when the air-conditioner is running. Use fans if you can cope.
- Limit heating to what is necessary (the same rules as for air-conditioning apply).
- Conserve water, especially when in areas that suffer from water shortage (this is an acute problem in much of the world).
- If staying in a hotel, ask for your bed linen to be changed every three or four days. Keep unused or once-used towels for the next time instead of having them all changed and washed every day. If the hotel doesn't have sucha system, simply hand "do not disturb" sign on the door all day.
3) Support local businesses and be green about what you demand
- Don't participate in activities that use excessive amounts of resources. Maintaining golf courses in arid regions uses incredible amounts of water. Maintaining ski hills in hot areas does the same. If you want golfing, go to Scotland; if you want skiing go to the Rockies or the Alps.
- Don't demand imported goods that need to be transported by air. One of the reasons for travel is to experience other places, customs and yes, even beer. Eat and drink what the locals eat and drink (taking into account requirements of the hygiene, of course – so don't drink tap water where it's unsafe for example).
- Avoid chain restaurants, shops, services. If you can, eat, shop and stay at places run by locals, using local supplies and linking to other local businesses. This is not only greener but promotes sustainability and supports communities.
- Hire a local guide and try to learn something about the local culture, language and specific issues. Consider contributing to local community projects with positive ecological impact.
- Don't vacation in "gated community" types of a resort: let the locals benefit from your holiday spend more directly than just through wages they earn as waiters and chambermaids.
- Use the lowest impact (read: most basic and usually cheapest) accommodation and transport possible.
4) Protect local environment
- Carry reusable water bottles. In most developed countries, tap water is perfectly safe to drink and buying water in plastic bottles is unnecessary. You will save money as well as be green.
- Don't litter, even if locals do.
- Observe signs and notices regarding wildlife and vegetation protection. Don't enter areas protected for conservation reasons, don't camp wild where it's not allowed for conservation reasons, don't collect plants or animals when forbidden, don't live litter or human waste behind.
- Don't buy products from endangered species.
5) Buy from responsible operators and providers with green credentials
- If buying a package holiday, considering one bought from an organization with ecological certification. Ask regular operators what greener travel options they offer.
- If choosing a hotel independently, consider one with green credentials. Ask them when booking.
Responsible travel maximizes the benefits and minimizes the negative impact of travel and tourism, and you don't have to follow all of the tips to make a difference. Greener, more responsible travel is possible with some consideration and forethought.