With vacation planning underway this time of year, it’s fun to spend the time finding a great place to go. Hawaii, Mexico, Ireland, camping, some place local? It can feel like you have the world in the palm of your hand when you’re planning a vacation. The best part is being able to throw off all your cares in the world.
It’s OK to let loose, but there’s no reason to forget sustainable living on vacation. In 2012, the United States travel and tourism industry generated $1.5 trillion dollars in economic output and, in 2011. accounted for 2.8 percent of gross domestic product. It’s a massive industry that could have untold effects on the environment.
Luckily, being sustainable on vacation doesn’t have to be too much of a hassle. Once you get a few key habits established, it will be as natural as your habits at home. Finding ways to plan a sustainable trip can be kind of fun, like a scavenger hunt. Below are some of the top ways to stay sustainable, even while relaxing.
Search for local optionsRemember, even though you’re far from home, the local economy can also benefit from choosing local, sustainable options. Go out of your way to support the area’s region by getting local, handcrafted souvenirs. Dine at local restaurants. Buy local produce from market stands. When looking for tours and events, find activities that are staffed by local residents. That will help keep jobs in their area. Plus, you’ll probably get more of a cultural immersion experience that way.
Keep the basics in mind, even when on vacationIt’s easy to slack off on vacation. After all, you’re on vacation, right? But keep the sustainability basics in mind when on vacation, too. Shut off electronics when they are not in use. Dress appropriately instead of messing with the thermostat. Keep your showers short, always recycle, still seek out organic food, pack your reusable shopping bags if you can, buy produce that is in season and buy minimally packaged goods.
Remember sustainable transportationAlways be on the lookout for sustainable ways to travel. If you need to rent a car, see if the rental company has an electric option available. Try to take public transportation when you can. Try to walk and bike as much as possible. You’ll be able to see more of the local area that way.
Find sustainable places to stayWhen looking for a place to stay, investigate the company. How sustainable are they? Do they have recycling bins? Do they make an effort to recycle water? Do they buy local food? All questions to ask the hotel or look up online. Lots of hotels are making an effort to be as green as possible, so make sure you research green hotels in the area you plan to stay.
Another option is to room with the locals. Some people will rent out spare rooms to travelers. You can find great rooms through programs like AirBnB. You’ll get full cultural immersion that way, and be more in charge of your daily sustainability activities.
Respect the natural areasRemember when traveling to always tread lightly. “Leave only footprints, take only pictures,” as they say. Keep your trash to yourself, keep on the footpaths while hiking and respect the local wildlife. If you’ve done it right, the area shouldn’t even look like you’ve been by when you’re done. I personally struggle with this one, but leave nifty looking rocks and other “natural souvenirs” in nature where they belong. Nature needs them more than your shelf does.
Buy sustainable souvenirsAlso remember to look into the sustainability of what you’re buying for souvenirs. Lots of areas will have things for sale like handbags made from endangered crocodile skin or teeth from endangered sharks. Think sustainable instead. Buy handwoven clothes made from wool instead of animal skin tote bags. Again, try to buy local, as well. Don’t support shops that ship non-authentic “local” items from halfway across the world, if you can avoid it.
Take advantage of airline emissions programsFlying to a destination doesn’t exactly keep the carbon footprint down to a dainty size. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. A lot of airlines will offer carbon emissions offset programs: You donate money as part of the program, and the airline will help out with forest conservation or something similar.
You can also look into organizations like atmosfair, which allows you to donate to renewable energy through voluntary climate protection payments when you fly. The company also ranks and compares which airlines have the best carbon efficiency so you can make a more informed decision about which airline you choose.
Take your sustainable products with youWhen packing, remember to leave space for your sustainable products. Remember your reusable water bottle, cloth bags and always pack some rags instead of relying on paper towels once at your destination. Similarly, try to avoid travel-sized individually wrapped products. Use reusable small containers for toiletries.
Vacation locallyYou don’t always have to jet halfway across the world for some fun in the sun. “Staycations” aren’t just for those who have budget difficulties. Consider staying around home to invest in your local tourism industry. You’ll save on fuel costs, and there’s a good chance there’s some fun things to do in your local area that you hadn’t thought of before. I just recently discovered a host of local historical sites and museums I was unaware of. You’ll be surprised at what you can find when you look at your hometown with the eyes of a tourist.
Sustainable campingYou don’t get much more sustainable than a good old-fashioned camping trip. You’ll stay in temporary housing right in the wilderness, and if you do it right, you’ll leave no trace behind.
Here are a few of the major tips for sustainable camping:
- Remember your own garbage bags and never litter.
- Take reusable everything (like silverware and water bottles).
- Keep to the designated trails and campsites.
- Keep fires small and burn everything to ash before putting the fire out.
- Use local firewood to reduce the risk of transporting insects and diseases.
- Use natural sunscreens and bug repellent.
- There’s a whole industry of solar powered camping gear. Make use of it.
If you go out of your way to be sustainable for the environment, it will pay you back with beauty for years to come. Which means more vacations.