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Easy, Budget-Friendly Ways to Travel Sustainably

Statistics show that more than half of the world’s travelers are now seeking sustainable travel options. As the travel industry embraces more eco-friendly practices, it’s becoming easier to find destinations that offer environmentally friendly accommodations supporting both natural and cultural heritage.

A growing number of airlines and airports are working towards carbon-neutral goals, as well. Globetrotters can leave a smaller global footprint and save some money by making a few simple changes in their travel habits.

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01Choose trains or buses over air travel

train sustainable rail system emissions Solovyova / Getty Images

Around three percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions fall on the shoulders of the air travel industry. Switching your mode of travel to trains or a bus — especially if you’re traveling around Europe — helps whittle down the problem and lets you see landscapes you would have missed by air.

Canada has an excellent rail system that travels from Nova Scotia to Vancouver, while the U.S. has both commuter and long-distance trips available. Traveling by bus offers a lot of the perks that airlines do, but you can also connect to smaller, less-traveled-to destinations.

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02Stick closer to home

domestic travel lower emissions exploring Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Domestic travel leads to lower emissions, so plan your next getaway closer to your home base, not only to reduce the distance you travel but also to support neighboring communities and regions. Major trips abroad involve lots of time-consuming steps, including passports and high-dollar visas.

By sticking closer to home, you won’t have to spend a ton of money and extra time planning a trip. You’ll devote your days exploring instead of retrieving your luggage, waiting in line, and dealing with crowds.

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03Travel during the off-peak season

peak season shoulder crowds benefits MesquitaFMS / Getty Images

By planning trips during shoulder or off-peak season, you’re not only helping local businesses during an economically challenging time of year, but you can also score significant savings, and additionally, avoid the frustratingly long lines and the hordes of tourists you’d encounter during the height of the season.

Although some shoulder seasons occur during the destination’s worst weather, you can still time your trip in the early or latest part of the off-peak season and reap the benefits.

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04Avoid flights with connections

connecting direct flights environment emissions undrey / Getty Images

Research shows that one-fourth of a plane’s fuel use occurs during take-offs and landings. Booking a direct flight may be more expensive, but connecting flights puts more strain on the environment due to additional CO2 emissions. The lack of travel over the past couple of years has allowed the aviation industry time to reset.

Travelers can now download a phone app to estimate the emissions of any given flight and make more sustainable destination choices.

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05Pack lightly, reuse, and think multi-use

close up young wanderlust woman hand holding shirt and manage into baggage in apartment for preparation to travel , millennial lifestyle concept Chainarong Prasertthai / Getty Images

To pack sustainably is to pack lightly. You’ll save on baggage fees and help with emissions by carrying a lighter load. Quick-drying, versatile, lightweight clothing is the best choice. Wash them in a sink, then hang up to dry instead of using the washer and dryer.

Consider packing multi-use items, like a sarong that can double as a skirt, scarf, or beach blanket. Always choose a reusable water bottle, utensils, or straws over disposable ones to help cut down on plastic waste. Pack a reusable grocery tote bag to use for shopping excursions.

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06Longer trips and extended stays

Young woman discovers volcanic landscape, from tent Andrii Lutsyk/ Ascent Xmedia / Getty Images

Instead of planning several trips throughout the year, try planning one longer, extended one that allows you more time to immerse yourself in the culture and surrounding natural sites. Once you arrive at a destination and start exploring surrounding areas, spend more time in each location you choose to visit instead of hopping around from one locale to another.

You’ll cut down on travel time aboard planes, trains, or automobiles and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.

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07Opt for Natural Areas

natural areas wildlife conservation sustainable Jonathan Mauer / Getty Images

Some of the least expensive and sustainable vacation spots on the planet are natural conservation areas. Avoid the most famous ones that tend to get overcrowded because, unfortunately, the crowds stress the wildlife, cause high car emissions, and leave behind loads of work for park staff to keep up with.

Instead, try lesser-known parks with smaller numbers of humans, such as Congaree in South Carolina, Point Pelee in Ontario, or Durmitor in Montenegro. Fees for camping and other activities are much less than if you stayed in a hotel.

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08Choose public transportation when possible

public transportation systems sustainability practices SolStock / Getty Images

While some countries are struggling to keep their public transportation systems up and running, others had it figured out long ago. To heed sustainability practices, avoid renting a car whenever possible to save money and be kinder to the planet. Public transportation options in major cities like Berlin or Tokyo are often the most earth-friendly and least expensive way to get to any part of the city.

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09Book accommodations in sustainable hotels

green practices sustainable hotels footprint Kenishirotie / Getty Images

By implementing green best practices, sustainable hotels significantly reduce the carbon footprint for their businesses as well as their guests. Gothenburg, Sweden, and the Maldives are famous for their sustainable practices and having accommodations that support their goals.

Many of these hotels encourage towel reuse, install smart showers that limit the length of bathing times, and use natural fiber sheets in rooms. Others furnish electric vehicle charging stations, offer eBike and eScooter rentals, or have switched to group shuttles for transporting guests.

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10Bike instead of cabs or ride shares

Photo of a young woman using her mobile phone for finishing her work, while walking the sunny streets of Amsterdam AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

Instead of jumping in a cab, consider biking around your destination. With bikes, there are no harmful emissions of carbon dioxide.

Local bike rentals are available just about everywhere, and they make a much smaller dent in your bank account than a cab or rideshare would. Around 119 American cities provide more than 4700 bike share stations in the U.S. alone.

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