Eco-Friendly Approaches to Globe-Trotting
Yes, we miss road trips too--But at least there are fewer carbon emissions!
It pains our travel-lusting hearts to face the facts: no one is going to be traveling for quite a while. Coronavirus stay-at-home orders and worldwide lockdowns have changed virtually every aspect of modern human life. From the way we work our normal 9 to 5, to the way we keep in touch with family and friends, life is different.
For anyone who had big summer travel plans, the disappointment and longing for normalcy is real. Most likely your days are spent staring at your refrigerator, scrolling through social media, and simply just trying to keep busy.
If you're like me, you've cramped your hand while scrolling through Instagram a little bit more than normal recently (and by a little bit I mean a lot). As we look longingly at exotic locations that are a far distant dream, I have a suggestion. Maybe this period of time is a necessary pause; one that forces us to reassess and reevaluate what is important in our lives. I challenge you to take this pause to ask yourself how you will go green the next time you go on vacation. Even though you can't put your toes in the sand just yet, let's talk about ways explorers like yourself can soften your impact on the environment.
If you do a little research prior to booking your next vacation destination, you will discover there are a lot of resources out there to make better choices while traveling. For example, one of the staples of a vacation is purchasing a neat souvenir. But have you ever asked yourself what exactly was sacrificed to make that souvenir? The true cost of a souvenir might shock you. A shell or piece of coral might look pretty on your mantel, but each shell taken from its natural habitat could have profound impacts on its surrounding environment. One pretty coral necklace might seem innocent enough, but the harvesting of shells and coral has been directly linked to a decline in marine biodiversity.
Coral harvesting/poaching could cause these ecosystems to become extinct, resulting in thousands of species of fish and plants to also face the same fate. Devastatingly, reefs are sometimes blasted with dynamite to harvest shells and other wildlife. Therefore, collecting mementos from your favorite holiday destination might seem harmless enough, but this simple act of choosing not to buy will have a positive impact in the bigger picture.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, tourism produces 5% of the world's carbon emissions. Ultimately, the greenest way to travel is not to. But travel and exploration is part of our human nature. Post-pandemic, it does not seem like an industry that's going away.
The next way to travel responsibly is to look out for certain labels. The Environmental Protection Agency's program called Energy Star scores hotels on their energy efficiency. Each hotel has to submit a year's worth of verified energy bills for review. To get their badge of approval, hotels have to meet minimum standards such as and recycling, linen-reuse, and to educate their guests about their practices.
ECOTEL is an independent environmental rating system for hotels worldwide. This certification sets the standard for waste, energy, and water management. The American Hotel & Motel Association stresses water and energy conservation and aims to raise consumer awareness.
There is a cool hotel in Costa Rica that has stepped up to the plate in ways other hotels should too. Arco Iris Lodge actually recycles cigarette butts and turns them into nicotine bug repellent!
But the list doesn't end there: They also:
- Compost all organic waste and napkins
- Use only biodegradable detergent for laundry
- Get hot water from solar heaters or instant gas heaters
- Avoid buying products packed in Styrofoam or aluminum
- And other amazing initiatives!
We're all about this kind of dedication to sustainability. There are so many green options out there if you look for them.
Another thing to consider is traveling by rail whenever possible. Train travel is underrated compared to air travel and car trips, but we think it's pretty great. Aside from it being one of the most sustainable options, it can also be the most enjoyable!
First, train prices are generally pretty stable. No more constantly checking flight apps for the best time to buy! (It's on a Tuesday, three months in advance, btw.)
Next, how many times have you gotten frustrated at the airport on all those never-ending lines: check-in, security, boarding...the list goes on. Train travel kisses those lines goodbye! Most railways don't have check-ins, instead using a self-service ticket kiosk. Basically, you just arrive and walk on.
And we need to point out possibly the most important thing: the freedom of movement! Unlike airplanes where you're stuck in your seat most of the time, on a train you're allowed to move about as much as you want. Plus, you can leave your electronics on: No need to quit your game of Words With Friends (Alec Baldwin, I'm talking to you).
Furthermore, trains emit between 66% and 75% less carbon than cars and airplanes, according to Eurorail's website. You can further reduce your impact by taking public transportation, walking, or biking whenever possible once you get to your destination.
As you can see, there are many options readily available at your fingertips to travel more sustainably. While you daydream your next vacation, I encourage you to look into some of these eco-friendly alternatives. Wishing you safe and sustainable travels!
Edited by Laura Marsh