Green Travel Tips for Earth Day and Beyond

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Obviously I’m a big fan of travel, but to be more specific, most of my favorite travels have been in natural settings.  I tend to favor national parks over big cities and incredible vistas over shopping malls.  In order to keep these wonderful destinations beautiful for future visitors, I try to include green travel efforts to do my part to protect the earth.

Since today is Earth Day, it’s a fitting time to evaluate your environmental impact.  Flying creates a huge carbon footprint, as do many other aspects of travel.  Since I’m not willing to give up traveling altogether, here are a few ways to green your travels.

Green Travel: 5 Easy Changes That Add Up to Real Impacts

Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Awareness is definitely the first step to making a change. carbon footprint travel greenCheck out how many tons of carbon your next flight will create.  I’m not about to give up flying for the purpose of getting to where I actually want to go, but being aware of my impact can help me choose ways to minimize this impact, either by making low-impact travel choices or donating to renewable energy projects in order to offset my carbon footprint

Give Up Bottled Water

The amount of plastic needed for disposable water bottles is absolutely insane, and frankly, unnecessary.  I promise you, the water in NYC is safe to drink, so next time bring your own empty water bottle from home and refill it as necessary instead of buying several bottles each day. 

In places where the water isn’t safe to drink, bring your own water purification system.  Something like the SteriPEN is lightweight, compact, effective, easy to use, and convenient.  Next time you’re brushing your teeth at the hotel and realize you don’t have a bottle of water to rinse with, you’ll be glad you don’t have to run outside in your pajamas to buy a bottle of water! 

Take Public Transportation Once You Arrive

Riding a public bus or subway is better for the environment than driving yourself or taking a taxi (especially in small groups of 1 or 2).  The math gets even better in areas that offer clean transport, and more and more cities are offering options like hybrid buses, biodiesel buses, or even trains with hydrogen powered fuel cells. 

Walking and biking are excellent options as well for short trips.  Other perks to public transportation in major cities include saving headaches since you won’t have to search for (expensive) parking or deal with congestion.  If you absolutely need private transportation, look for options like pedi-cabs.

Drive Smartly

In a lot of areas (especially in the United States, it seems), public transportation isn’t widely available, so renting a car might be your only option.  Smooth driving (reducing the amount of sharp braking and accelerating) can save up to 30% on fuel consumption when you’re in town, and when you’re on the highway, stick to the speed limit.  Cars use 25% less fuel at 55mph than at 70mph, so you’ll lower your fuel usage which in turn helps the earth – and your wallet!

Make a Donation

Unfortunately, visiting cultural sites and natural landmarks can often threaten their existence.  Low-impact travel, such as “leave no trace” hiking rather than littering along the trail, can make a big difference with little effort on your part.  You can step it up a notch by also making a small donation to these sites.  Donations through the World Monument Fund help with projects like cleaning up vandalism or buying land to protect sites from modern development.  If you don’t find a project you’d like to donate to, you can also make a donation to offset your carbon imprint

Green Travel: 5 Big Changes for Huge Impacts

Drive Instead of Fly (Or Take the Train!)

carbon green travel

Obviously to get to a lot of places, air travel is the only realistic option, but when that’s not the case, consider overland travel instead.  In addition to producing huge amounts of carbon dioxide, airplanes emit that CO2 directly into the upper atmosphere where it causes significant damage.  Driving (especially in groups of 2 or more) can cut down on the amount of carbon emissions, and taking buses or trains helps out even more.  Taking the Eurostar through the Chunnel from London to Paris, as an example, cuts your impact by roughly 90% compared to flying!  Wondering what the best option is for you?  Check out the carbon calculator.

Combine Trips

I’m a realist, and know that not flying probably isn’t going to be a great option for people who read this blog!  So instead of giving up those long-haul flights to international destinations, consider combining your trips.  Once you’re in Europe, it’s really easy to spend a week in one country and then move onto the next instead of spending a week in London and then flying back three months later for a week in Italy.  You’ll hugely reduce your greenhouse emissions, and you’ll enjoy other perks like already being adjusted to the time zone and saving money (or miles) by only purchasing one long-haul flight.  Take advantage of stopovers, too, if you’re looking for radically different experiences: I’m taking a few days in Europe before continuing on to Africa, for example.

Choose Closer Locations

It’s such an obvious option that often gets overlooked.  Closer locations make it easier to drive or take the train, but even if you fly, you’ll have a smaller carbon footprint by flying cross-country rather than all the way to the other side of the world.  There are lots of interesting places to visit right in your own backyard, so next time you are thinking about jetting off to Chicago for the weekend, consider driving an hour away to a cool state park or local attraction instead.

Choose an Eco-Friendly Hotel

It seems like most hotels these days offer towel reuse programs, but some hotels go above and beyond to promote green travel.  It takes a bit of effort to find a hotel with eco-friendly policies, but when you do, you can rest assured that you’re helping to cut down on pollution by staying at lodging that incorporates things like efficient plumbing, flourescent lightbulbs, in-room recycling, organic materials, or even solar power.  I love that Marriott is working towards having more of their properties become LEED-certified and hope that other chains follow this example.

Look into Voluntourism

Combining travel with volunteer work is probably a big change to your current travel habits, but it can make a big difference.  I often read about opportunities to help with local schools, human rights issues, or other programs and agree these are all hugely worthwhile causes, but in honor of Earth Day, don’t forget about options to take care of our planet as well.  There are programs worldwide helping out in permaculture (sustainable agriculture practices), solar energy, and general conservation.  If you’re willing to volunteer your time, you can apply for a $5,000 grant to cover your travel costs, but if you have less time to spare, you can find projects that only take a few hours of your time by doing some internet searches and/or asking around on forums.

I’ll be honest and admit that I won’t be making all of these changes on every single trip I take, but baby steps seem really possible to me.  If I can make a conscious effort to incorporate half of these options into every trip, then I’ll be making a difference.  I hope that someday these all become second-nature to me, where it’s easy to travel responsibly and reduce my carbon footprint while still enjoying one of my favorite hobbies.

5 thoughts on “Green Travel Tips for Earth Day and Beyond”

  1. Thanks for the great tips! I agree that air travel is terrible for the environment and should be minimized. I am not ready to give it up any time soon either but I don’t plan on doing any mileage runs.

  2. OK you are officially politically correct. Feel better now?

    First of all, there is no such thing as Global Warming. It’s a scam, whereby politically connected businesses make billions by selling us $10 light bulbs instead of superior light producing regular bulbs that cost $1. And $20K quality hybrid cars for $40K. And supposedly “non-profit” organizations take in hundreds of Millions of dollars a year to fight a false premise. While AGW “researchers” take in Millions of dollars in government grants to study the scam they made up.

    Secondly, none of the things you suggest will make a bit of difference, since China is building a new coal fired power plant a week, and intends to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. China and India are going to add Millions of gas burning automobiles every year. Not to mention that every time a human takes a breath, they exhale so called “global warming” CO2 with every exhale, and not one of the Billions of us have any intention of stopping breathing any time soon.

    Finally, none of the people who promote the AGW scam are living their lives as though they actually believe in it, so why should I? alGore constantly flys around the world in private jets, Joe Biden’s 16 vehicle SUV motorcade leaves the motors running the whole hour he is at an event, so they are properly heated/air-conditioned the moment he and his huge entourage gets back in them, Obama keeps the White House residence jacked up to Hawaiian temperatures in January so he can lounge around in short sleeves instead of wearing a sweater, and flies around the country in Air Force One on nearly daily fundraising trips.

    None of the proponents of AGW lives as though it were a real threat to the earth. They prefer to just lecture me on giving up bottled water as thousands of UN AGW conference attendees jet off to Bali for another useless AGW meeting. At which they condemn use of air travel for ordinary people.

    Meanwhile the glaciers in the Himalayas are fine, there are 5 times as many Polar Bears today as there were 30 years ago, for the past 5 years we have had the lowest number of hurricanes hit the US mainland since records have been kept, and despite the tampering with ground level temperature records, satellite temperature measurements shown no warming at all for the past 10 or so years.

    While AGW true believers will prattle on about a so called scientific consensus,
    has a list of 30,000 plus scienticists who have signed a statement that there is no evidence that harmful Global Warming is occuring, and that additional CO2 in the atmosphere may in fact be beneficial.

    For which there is historical evidence, since during the Medieval Warm Period, the average temperature of the atmosphere was significanly higher than it is today. Producing bumper crops harvests, which lead the population to expand and the standard of living in Western countries to soar higher than ever before. Not to mention allow the Vikings to have highly productive farms in Greenland.

    Meanwhile, the levels of air and water pollution in the US have dropped precipitiously over the last 100 years, and there are now more trees in North American than there were when Columbus first came here. People are living longer and healthier lives. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Despite all of the nonsense spouted by the fear-mongers who take in Billions of dollars a year feeding a false fear of Global Warming.

    Oh, and Happy Earth Day….

  3. @Robert Hanson, While I don’t disagree that there are much bigger issues that are contributing to our planet’s current state (define that as you will), I think that change must begin with our own individual decisions. I have absolutely no intention of giving up travel, but I will do what I can to bring about change, however minor that may be.

  4. “I will do what I can to bring about change, however minor that may be”

    Then I suggest you investigate the results of the actions you are taking in hopes of producing change. For one, many of the companies selling “carbon offsets” are taking over land the poor in 4th world countries were using to grow food. The local farmer, living on one or two dollars a day doesn’t have the resources to sue the “green” corporation that steals his land, and that bribes the local government to look the other way. Then the “green” corporation plants trees to “offset” the carbon footprint of a private jet owner. Who continues to fly his private jet just as before.

    End result: the local populace, already almost starving, now has less food available to them; the trees that absorb that CO2 do it only temporarily. When the trees die, and its sooner than expected because no one stays around to take care of them. The “green” corporation just plants them, takes their profit, and leaves.

    Anyway, when the trees die, all of the absorbed CO2 is released back into the atmosphere as the tree decays. Just as if nothing had been done at all. Except for the staving peasants forced off their land, that is.

    I could go on about how electric cars will need power plants to charge them up. And the pollution from mining the “rare earth” metals that make up their batteries. Which batteries will have to be replaced every 30K miles, leading to more pollution from mining and from junking the old battery. All of which will be much worse than simply using gasoline in the first place, yet will cost twice as much.

    I could go on about the mercury in the CFL bulbs we are being forced to buy. How it’s a little toxic waste dump in your home, how dangerous it is to any children who happen to break one and breathe the fumes. How we are all supposed to take used CFLs to a special recycling location, but instead nearly everyone just dumps them in the trash, filling our landfills with toxic mercury.

    I could go on about how the poor will live shorter, more miserable lives, as the war on AGW makes energy for heating, cooling, lighting and transportation twice, three times, four times more expensive. About poor elderly people huddling under a blanket in the dark on cold winter nights, because they can no longer afford the sky high energy bills that the anti-AGw campaign is bringing about.

    I could go on and on about how all of these AGW measures will actually make things worse, instead of better. But it won’t make any difference to people who “believe in the cause”, and refuse to consider any facts that don’t fit the talking points they have been fed by everyone who is making a fortune off of the “green” hysteria.

    I notice your response refuses to even acknowledge my basic point that AGW isn’t even happening. I suggest you read this before trying to “do your best” to help prevent something that isn’t going to happen anyway.

    From the Daily Mail in the UK:
    The supposed ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming is facing an inconvenient challenge after the release of new temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.

    The figures suggest that we could even be heading for a mini ice age to rival the 70-year temperature drop that saw frost fairs held on the Thames in the 17th Century.

    Based on readings from more than 30,000 measuring stations, the data was issued last week without fanfare by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit. It confirms that the rising trend in world temperatures ended in 1997.

    Meanwhile, leading climate scientists yesterday told The Mail on Sunday that, after emitting unusually high levels of energy throughout the 20th Century, the sun is now heading towards a ‘grand minimum’ in its output, threatening cold summers, bitter winters and a shortening of the season available for growing food.

    World temperatures may end up a lot cooler than now for 50 years or more,’ said Henrik Svensmark, director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at Denmark’s National Space Institute.

    ‘It will take a long battle to convince some climate scientists that the sun is important. It may well be that the sun is going to demonstrate this on its own, without the need for their help.’

    see this link:

    or Google ” Forget global warming – it’s Cycle 25 we need to worry about ”

    For more reasonable discussion about whether or not there is any reason to worry about AGW:

    Climate Change Reconsidered: 2011 Interim Report

    Summary here:

    “I will do what I can to bring about change”…

    and if that “change” is ill considered, and makes things worse instead of better, in an attempt to prevent something that wasn’t happening in the first place, will you still continue on, in the name of “change for change’s sake” ?

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