The Getaway
Master the Art of Sustainable Travel

Travel is a transformative experience. It allows a connection between cultures and changes your perception of the world. Modern travel is also getting cheaper and more accessible, and people are taking notice. This rise in tourism proposes challenges to the world, and its most popular destinations. If you find yourself giving in to wanderlust, consider more than just your budget and itinerary. It's also important to keep track of your environmental impact. Responsible travelers know it's now more important than ever to vacation responsibly. By planning and following a few simple guidelines, it's not hard to master the art of sustainable travel.


01 Take advantage of public transportation

Train and metro stops are often conveniently located near popular sites and destinations. spooh / Getty Images

Online booking sites will often bundle airfare with hotel and rental car fees for a deep discount. These deals might seem attractive at first, but consider the carbon emissions that you'll be creating by flying to and from your destination in addition to driving and burning gas. Before choosing that vacation bundle, consider skipping the set of wheels and relying on public transportation. Most cities have a bus route or subways, which are cheaper alternatives to hiring a taxi or an Uber. Hop online and check if your destination city runs a bike-sharing program, and burn some calories while in town. With tourism on the rise, more cities are eager to improve and expand their public transportation systems to attract visitors.


02 Make the most of your mileage

Chinese couple looking out train window FangXiaNuo / Getty Images

If you're flying across the country or an entire ocean to arrive at your destination, make the journey worth it. The carbon emissions from your flight will remain the same regardless of what you do with your vacation; you may as well cover some ground and diversify your experiences. Don't book a separate flight for each of your dream destinations. Get the most out of your airline miles by exploring your surroundings.

New York is a popular destination, but there are other cities on the East Coast worth exploring. Take the train to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., before heading home. If you're hoping to tour Rome in Italy, look into high-speed trains to Florence, Milan, and Venice. Rent a fuel-efficient car and take the family on a scenic drive through the European countryside before parking the car and walking through the old cities.


03 Balance out your emissions with carbon offsets

Beautiful woman discover gifts market while travelling Middle East ArtMarie / Getty Images

As a responsible traveler, you'll want to keep track of your carbon footprint and your impact on the communities you visit. Efforts to clean up your act are always helpful, but you're still producing carbon emissions by traveling and using fossil fuels. Air travel accounts for a big portion of air contamination; one way to clear the air is by purchasing carbon offsets.

Carbon offset programs balance out your share of the pollution by investing in projects that reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Some of these projects might prioritize wildlife and habitat conservation, while others focus on developing renewable energy sources. A few organizations also invest in communities that maintain environmentally sustainable lifestyles. Check with your airline to see if they provide access to carbon offsets, and always do your research before investing.


04 Book travel experiences with environmentally responsible companies

Fall Hike stockstudioX / Getty Images

When it comes to travel, it's up to each person to minimize their carbon footprint and positively influence local communities. Tour companies have a greater responsibility to minimize the impacts of tourism, especially if they want socially-conscious Millennials to use their services. Look for businesses that work closely with their communities and prepare locally-sourced foods. Visit family-owned farms that maintain sustainable practices, and stay at energy-efficient hotels and hostels.

Aggregator sites do the hard work for you by putting ecotourism companies through a rigorous certification process before issuing a recommendation. Make sure you research before booking accommodations to make sure the company is doing what they say. Responsible tourism exists; all you have to do is find it.


05 Treat yourself but don't spoil yourself

Young Caucasian woman drinking cocktail at night in Bangkok night market Oleh_Slobodeniuk / Getty Images

Getting out of town is about more than just a change of scenery. It's also about stepping away from mundane daily tasks and enjoying the moment. While on vacation, feel free to indulge in extra calories and late-night bar-hopping. Don't bother tidying up or making the bed, but do make sure you aren't using leisure time as an excuse to be wasteful. Hang up your bath towels and reuse them a couple of times before sending them to the laundry. If your hotel room comes with a coffee maker that uses pods, wait until breakfast or head down to the lobby for your caffeine instead of creating unnecessary waste. Leave the rental in the garage and use your hotel's shuttle service. You'll enjoy your vacation more knowing you're making responsible choices.


06 Reduce your usage of disposable plastics

The drinking fountains in Italy dispense fresh, cool water for free. Imgorthand / Getty Images

The first step in taking a vacation is packing your bags. All at once an exhilarating and frustrating endeavor, it's a process that's best done as quickly as possible. Travel size toiletries and disposable tools are meant for such an occasion. If you aren't careful, however, you'll end up leaving more than just footprints behind at your destination.

Instead of purchasing travel-sized portions of your favorite toiletries, invest in reusable, travel safe containers. A reusable water bottle will also come in handy in cities like New York, where tap water is good enough to drink, and Italy, where water fountains all over the city streets, dispense fresh, cool water. If you're planning a picnic, pack foods that you can eat with your hands, and pay attention to local recycling procedures. The less waste you create, the easier it is for the locals to keep their city clean.


07 Pay the entrance fees to visit protected areas

Elephant crossing the road, Kruger National Park, South Africa javarman3 / Getty Images

Sometimes, travel budgets have to be carefully curated to keep you from getting into financial trouble. It's a good idea to stay mindful of your expenses, but while on vacation, some experiences are worth the investment. This is especially true when visiting protected national parks and wilderness areas. Entrance fees can sometimes seem surprisingly high for a natural, outdoor space, but rest assured that your dollars are being put to good use. It costs a lot of money to clear up dried brush, repair roads, and walkways, maintain public restrooms, and protect the local wildlife. With your support, environmental programs flourish, and local members of the community stay gainfully employed. Check online for more information on how national parks use their funds, and create some space in your budget for these donations.


08 Eat and shop at locally sourced vendors

Purchasing locally-made handicrafts is an effective way to invest in the communities you visit. hadynyah / Getty Images

While it can be tempting to look for a Starbucks in Cancún or pick up a few souvenir keychains in Brussels, don't sell yourself or your family short. Keep your eyes open for the keepsakes and experiences worth your time, and save your money for locally-made handicrafts. Rather than stopping at the McDonald's for a quick breakfast, try a breakfast panini at the mom and pop shop further down the street. Pass up the mass-produced t-shirts and head for traditionally made textiles, artwork, and jewelry. Better yet, choose a bottle of wine or liquor from the distiller and share it with friends back home. Purchasing local goods also helps eliminate carbon emissions by sourcing products locally. Tourism can only strengthen the economy of a city if travelers invest in the communities.


09 Respect the integrity of the places you visit

Wear reef-safe sunscreen when swimming in the coral reefs. Soft_Light / Getty Images

As the calendar counts down the days to your departure, you'll most likely preoccupy yourself with last-minute details and weather reports. It's enough to make you silence your ringtone and embrace your wild side once you get away. There's nothing wrong with being on vacation mode, as long as you stay mindful of your behavior and your impact on the environment. Don't stray from marked hiking trails to avoid trampling fragile ecosystems, and keep your hands to yourself while touring ancient spaces. Also, try not to feed the wildlife unless the locals tell you otherwise. If you plan on snorkeling or scuba diving, make sure your sunscreen is reef safe, and be wary of animal products. You don't want to support illegal poaching by purchasing a trinket made from ivory or furs.


10 Give back to the communities you visit

Young adult woman picking up some abandoned plastic bottles on the beach FilippoBacci / Getty Images

One of the most rewarding experiences in life is doing something positive and getting nothing in return. Travel gives you the chance to discover new cultures, and to bring positive change to communities away from home. Volunteer opportunities are available all over the world, and with a little research, you'll find a cause worthy of your time when booking your next trip. In Seattle, the Beacon Food Forest ensures food security and community involvement with their edible food forest and gardens. Visitors can sign up for work parties or volunteer behind-the-scenes to keep the program running. In Honduras, locals and tourists can sign up to patrol the beaches during sea turtle nesting season. Check online for volunteer opportunities at your next destination.


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