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How to Travel Greener

January 16, 2020

As we start the new decade many of us are planning trips for 2020 and beyond. Tourism accounts for 10% of the global GDP and as such has an impact on the places we visit and the people living in those communities. 

In an effort to support sustainable travel, we thought we'd provide some key tips on making your travel as green as possible.  Many travelers want to leave no trace when they take off to places near and far - others want to support countries and communities that work to preserve ecosystems and are balancing people, profit, and planet.  Here are some tips to make a greener choice on your next trip:

Are Certain Destinations Greener than Others?  Yes

A great reference for understanding what destinations may be more ethical and greener than others is from The Ethical Traveler.   Ethical Traveler reviews the policies and practices of nearly 200 nations in the developing world. They then select the ten that have improved the most by promoting human rights, preserving the environment, and supporting social welfare—all while creating a lively, community-based tourism industry. When you visit these countries, you use your economic leverage to reward good works and support best practices. 

Another great tool is the The World Travel Guide.  They list 20 top cities/countries, and give great reasons why these places where chosen. Sweden, Singapore, Vancouver are some example destinations.  

Looking to stay in the US? A guide to Green US destinations is here.  This list highlights cities that are leading the way in terms of sustainable living, which includes best use of alternative energy, carbon reduction initiatives, public transportation and cycling lanes, recycling and compost use, and support of locally grown and made goods. Visiting these places is a great way to see what it means to go Green.

Of course any national park destination or other nature preserve is a great way to get immersed in amazing natural ecosystems and help fund their preservation.  

These are just a few examples. We recommend doing some digging to make sure your travel dollars are going to destinations that are doing their part to help protect our planet.

Where to Stay and How to be Green While There

A few things to look for to ensure a hotel is incorporating Green practices - look for ISO 14001, Green Key, Green Globe, LEED building certifications, and Green Seal certified cleaning solutions.  A call or email to the hotel to ask which of these certifications the hotel is affiliated is a good way to confirm if the place is truly green. For more information on finding green hotels Smarter Travel has some good references.   

Another element to check with hotels is their use of plastics and their recycling use.  Eliminating single use plastics during your trip is a key element of green travel.  Skipping the room cleaning and re-use of towels is another star on your green scorecard.  

Travel like a Local

My wife and I always like to check out the local trains, buses, subways, or sidewalks when traveling.  It may take a bit more time to figure things out, but adds to the cultural immersion of really being out there.  And most people are extremely helpful if you do get a bit turned around.  Plan ahead to make the best use of your route and add in time to explore.  Public transport is the greenest option out there.


Find the Right Tour Guide

If you are using a tour guide at your destination, check out their certifications in terms of sustainable practices and their contribution to the local community.  Many tour companies are foreign owned and do little to support the local area, so ask around and do the homework.  One of the best tour companies we used on a recent trip was a well regarded local company - smaller than most but so much more knowledgeable on where to go -  which really made a difference in our experience.  

Most tour companies will have certifications for fair trade and environmental preservation on their website, take the time to check them out. 

Some Activities are Greener than Others

Be aware of the activity you are doing and its impact on the environment.  This sounds obvious but jet skis, snowmobiles, boats, and buses during an activity will leave more of a carbon footprint than a hike, bike, or snail/snorkel trip.   

No Plastic

Some of the greener cities are banning plastic so this might make this task easier for you, but avoid bottled water (bring a travel bottle and refill when you can), to-go coffee and other single use beverages.  Find out about recycling practices at your destination and use the bins. 


If you are traveling by air you'll be chugging out a lot of CO2.  If you have measured your annual household carbon footprint, you'll know that car and air travel are by far the biggest emitters of CO2.  But most destinations will require air travel or car/bus travel.

The good news is that airlines today provide travelers the chance to offset their miles with investments in carbon reducing projects to offset the air travel.  Other resources like Cool Effect  and Terrapass are sites where individuals can offset their air travel along with their entire annual household emissions if they so choose.  Think of this as the carbon tax for using CO2 during your travel - or for your day to day living.  

Happy 2020 Travel and beyond and we hope you make it green!


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