Would you travel greener if it were simple and inexpensive? 90% of travelers in a recent survey indicated that they would like to have less of an impact on the environment when they travel. Unfortunately, traveling responsibly can be expensive (going on a $5,000 ecotour) or impossibly difficult (hauling your solar powered scooter around the world).
Luckily, there are many simple and cheap ways to travel greener.
Choose your transportation
Walk. Walking is not only earth-friendly and free, it’s a great way to see the local surroundings up close.
Bike. When it’s too far to walk, rent or borrow a bike. You’ll be surprised by how much distance you can cover in a day. Plus, it’s easy to get off the beaten path and less stressful than navigating a foreign city in a car.
Ride public transportation. Buses and trains run whether or not you’re aboard, so some would argue that your impact is almost non-existent (we have a table of carbon emissions for transport types here). Taking the train is not only much cheaper than renting cars or riding in taxis but it's usually faster and more pleasant and interesting as well. So, next time you fly into a European city, take public transportation into town.
Consider carbon offsetting. You have to fly sometimes, so when you do, please spend a few extra dollars on a carbon offset. It's pretty cheap with just $30 or so for a trans-Atlantic flight. More tips for carbon offsetting.
Make your own sandwiches. Eating out is expensive and creates a lot of waste, especially when you’re on a budget and the menu du jour consists of a Big Mac and Filet o Fish. Buy a loaf of bread, cheese, and meat in a grocery store and you’ll have at least three meals for under $5.
Split a meal. If you’re traveling with a friend or significant other consider splitting an appetizer and a main course. Not only will this be cheaper, no food will go to waste and the restaurant will have fewer dishes to wash.
Eat with real silverware and dishes. It’s becoming increasingly common for restaurants to serve their meals on throw-away dishes with plastic silverware. Take a stand and choose not to eat at these restaurants. If you must eat there, try requesting metal silverware and porcelain dinnerware. If nothing else, it may make them further consider investing in it.
On the plane or train, pass on the beverage cup. If you’re really craving a soda or juice, go ahead and drink it - just ask for the can and don’t use a cup.
Pack with care
Take three things out of your suitcase. It’s easy to over-pack. Take another look at your suitcase before you head for the airport and remove one pair of shoes, a pair of pants, and a shirt. Lightening your load will save your back, your wallet, and the environment.
Bring your own water bottle. From the creation of the plastic bottles to the shipping of gallons of water across the country, bottled water is terrible for the environment. And with TSA’s ban on liquids, buying water in the airport is terribly expensive. Save money (and the environment) by investing in a reusable water bottle. We recommend a stainless steel water bottle like a Klean Kanteen.
Grab an extra bag. Whenever you travel you should carry an extra cloth shopping bag with you. You never know when you’ll pick up that extra souvenir that you won’t have room for until you go to the post office tomorrow, or when a perfect stranger will hand you a bottle of pomegranate wine on a Moscow metro escalator (true story) and you’ll need to stash it away before boarding the train.
Pack a lightweight, reusable shopping bag. When you go to an outdoor market or a grocery store, instead of collecting your souvenirs or picnic provisions in disposable plastic bags, carry a reusable bag or a lightweight duffel bag. In much of Europe, when you purchase items in a grocery store, the only way you can get a disposable bag is to buy one.
Skip the hotel. Any form of shared housing - like a hostel or staying with a friend - has less of an impact on the environment than a hotel does. Another simple and sustainable way to sleep is to do so directly under the stars, camping.
Travel at night. When you book overnight tickets - whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or bus - you’ll save money you would have otherwise spent at a hotel or hostel. Plus you’ll save the resources you would have used in a hotel.
Bring your green habits from home to the hotel
Pass up the toiletries. While we must admit that there’s something appealing about mini soaps and tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner (especially the 'luxury' brands in hotels these days), the reality is that these toiletries use a ridiculous amount of packaging. The easiest and greenest thing to do is to just not take them. Another option is to take them once and use them for the length of your stay, but don’t take the replacement bottles you’ll get the next day. If you do use the freebies, take the empty bottles with you, refill them, and use them on your next trip.
Take shorter showers. After a hiking around Mayan ruins for 8 hours, it feels great to take a long, perfectly-heated shower. But the average U.S. showerhead spits out about 2.5 gallons per minute, which means in a 15 minute shower you use nearly 40 gallons of water. Plus, if you’re staying at a hostel or other group-style accommodation, your fellow travelers will thank you for your expedience in the shower.
Don’t flush every time. According to the Water Education Foundation, you use 1.5 to 4 gallons of water each time you flush. Last winter we spent a week in a great house in Belize with a malfunctioning septic system. So we were forced to implement to good ol’ 'if it’s yellow let it mellow if it’s brown flush it down' rule. At first, we were a little uncomfortable with the idea, but even though we were sharing the house with seven other people, it ended up being fine. So when you have your own bathroom, flush less.
Use 'do not disturb.' In an effort to green their practices (and save money), many hotels tell you how to communicate to the cleaning staff that you don’t want to have your towels washed daily - usually by placing your towel on the rack instead of the floor. This is a great step in the right direction, but washing sheets and replacing toiletries is wasteful, too. Since we generally don’t like to spend a lot of time in our hotel room, it really doesn’t get dirty and there’s no need for the staff to clean it. Before you head out for the day, put up the 'do not disturb' sign.
Wash clothes in the hotel sink. Carry a small bottle of Woolite with you and, instead of spending an arm and a leg having the hotel do your laundry, wash your dirty clothes in the sink and hang them to dry.
Lower the temperature in your room. If you have control over the thermostat, turn it down by 2 degrees in the winter or raise it by 2 in the summer. You won’t notice the difference, but it will save a lot of energy.
Turn off the lights and the TV. Just like at home, when you’re the last one to leave the room save energy by turning out the lights or shutting off the TV.
Reduce in the restroom
Opt for the hand dryer. Have you seen the super turbo hand dryers? They’re amazing - the only hand dryers we’ve seen that work well. Plus, they’re more energy-efficient than normal hand dryers. But really, just about any electric hand dryer works if you’re patient. Opt to use one instead of a paper towel - it only takes 10 more seconds.
Skip the 'sanitary' covers. In public restrooms don’t use a paper sanitary seat cover. What kinds of germs or bacteria can’t get through a ridiculously thin piece of paper, anyway? If you can’t bring yourself to sit on the toilet seat, remember that squatting is good for your muscles!
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Ever more people are alert to the challenge of global poverty and global warming. We know that solutions are at hand. We will not sleepwalk into catastrophe. We have the capacity to forsee and forestall, and I believe we will find the will to act .
green thinking on 22 May, 2008