- Filter your own water: For some reason, even if we have a reusable water bottle glued to our hip at home, we fall back into the habit of buying plastic water bottles when abroad. Get information on the water safety in the area you're traveling - for many developed countries, it's totally fine to drink the tap water, so in that case, make sure to BYOB (bring your own bottle!). For places where it is unsafe to drink from the tap, bring your own filtering water bottle, a SteriPen, or iodine tablets. The truth is, standards for bottled water are far from stringent in the Unites States, let alone in developing countries. Take responsibility for your own clean water, you'll be happier and there won't be a plastic trail left in your place.
- Use biodegradable soap: Not only is biodegradable soap better for you, but it won't cause damage to the surrounding environment or change the pH balance of the waterways. I'm a big fan of Dr. Bronner's liquid soap because you can literally use it for everything - hair, body, laundry, it's a one-hit wonder!
- Book eco-friendly accommodations: There are hundreds of different green travel certifications available, and at times it can be hard to tell what's real and what is green-washing, but with a little research you can usually find resources for different countries. Greenhotels.com is a site that lists eco-friendly hotels in the US and around the world. While it's fairly standard practice now to only replace towels or sheets if guests request this, there are a few questions I try to ask before booking a place: How does the hotel manage its waste (recycling, composting, gray water, etc.)? What efforts have been made to lessen the hotels impact (low-flush toilets, low-flow shower heads, renewable energy, etc.)? What does the hotel do to give back to the community (do they employ local staff, etc.)?
- Choose low carbon transportation: Flights are tricky, though many airlines allow you to purchase carbon offsets for your trip, but once you're on the ground, there is much you can do to take a lighter step. The best way is to use the original carbon-free form of transportation - your own two feet! Second to that, think about renting a bike. If you are going long distances, consider taking public transportation. You'll often see a side of the city and culture that you may have missed out on otherwise. If renting a car, ask what options are available for hybrid vehicles or vehicles with high MPG.
- Buy conscious gear: Somehow, there seems to be a lot of "stuff" involved in traveling - the lugagge, the hiking boots, the sunscreen - it all adds up! Whenever I'm making my list or stocking up for a trip, I try to think through each purchase, do a little research and make it as eco-friendly as possible. For example, I recently needed a new roller suitcase and found this great recycled plastic line made by Heys USA (pictured above). It feels good knowing that while the act of traveling itself may not be as green as I'd like, I'm doing what I can to minimize the amount of new resources I require to get from point A to point B.
- Stay on the trail: This seems like a no-brainer but every time I travel I see tourists that feel they can't get the "authentic" experience unless they are allowed to go "off the beaten trail." Make sure to respect and support the local parks and recreation offices. Get maps, and stay on the trail. Many ecosystems are hugely endangered in part because of the disruptive impact humans are having on the natural environment. By keeping on the designated trail, you make sure that you are not accidentally upsetting an already sensitive habitat.
- Choose a local, eco tour operator: This often means using a local group that employs locals (they know the area and its sensitivities best), however large chains can be ok as well, you just need to make sure to ask questions about their operations. Ask about group size since smaller groups tend to have less of an impact. Ask about where you'll be stopping for meals, and inquire whether this is a local establishment. Ask about whether the tour company is involved with any local preservation or conservation efforts, and how you might contribute. Often, tour companies allow you to make a donation to support local reforestations projects going on, or efforts to build something for the community.
Traveling the world to see nature's incredible beauty and learn about new cultures can be one of life's most rewarding pleasures. But unfortunately, a pleasure that often takes a large toll on the earth. We've all heard the saying "take only pictures, leave only footprints," but it's often harder said than done. I grew up spending summers in my mother's native Australia and spent a year traveling the world with my best friend after college, so while I feel I've got the travel bug through and through, I'm constantly looking for ways to lessen my impact. Here area a few tips of my own for traveling light, but I hope that you'll share some as well! Please do leave a comment on this post or connect with us on facebook or twitter.