In honor of Earth Day on April 22, architect, author of Authentic Ecolodges and curator of our just-launched eco-friendly hotels and resorts collection Hitesh Mehta shares with us tips for greener travel.
As a traveler, your travel choices can make a huge difference to yourself, your family, your friends and the local environment and culture. Travel to exotic destinations can be much more than simply visiting places, taking photos and buying designer goods and souvenirs. If done authentically, travel can inspire commitment to environmental responsibility, religious/racial tolerance and understanding, and cultural awareness, among other things.
As a green traveler, you have the power to help transform the way the world travels and the negative effect it has on the environment and local cultures. As the renowned American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
1. Make conscientious choices before your trip
It’s an important step to becoming a green traveler. Let tour operators and hotels know that you are a responsible traveler. When booking a trip, ask questions such as:
– What kind of actions are they taking to protect the environment?
– How are they helping local communities?
– What kind of life-changing experiences are they providing?
– What percentage of your money is being used for a good cause?
2. Do your homework on your destination
Look for information and resources on responsible and conscientious travel. Read literature books by local and foreign authors to give you an in-depth understanding of the local ways of living and customs. Search the web, purchase apps and consult guidebooks with information on your destination’s environmental, social and political issues.
3. Take low carbon or carbon neutral transportation
For example, Nature Air in Central America is the world’s first certified carbon neutral airline. Trains are the best way to travel if they are available and you have the time. Alternatively, you can carbon offset your travel. This is best done by donating directly to the hotel or lodge itself if it has a carbon-offsetting program. If your chosen destination doesn’t run such a program, you can donate to companies such as NativeEnergy or Atmosfair, the latter of which funds alternative energy projects in countries like India, China and Honduras.
4. Use less and tread lightly
While staying at a hotel or lodge, it is important to be frugal in your use of water in showers, bathtubs and sinks; switch on lights only when necessary; take back with you any thrash that you may create in remote locations; and try not to leave any food on the plate at the end of a meal. Most importantly, whatever activities you partake in, leave a faint footprint!
5. Be respectful and recycling-aware
Respect the natural environment and keep it pristine by not littering or driving, cycling, walking, or ski-jetting off the designated routes. Support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites. Many places do not have recycling programs, so pack as few disposables as possible. In this digital age, remove wrappers from batteries before traveling and bring back any dead batteries. Carry a water bottle so that you avoid using plastic bottles and be sure not to litter.
6. Immerse yourself in the culture
When at the hotel, partake in activities that provide the opportunity for enjoying and relaxing, but at the same time create learning experiences that make a difference to the local environment or community. Activities include kayaking, snorkeling, bird-watching, hiking, diving, canoeing, visiting local villages and medicinal trails, etc. Hire local guides as they will help provide immersive experiences. Also, be considerate of the local culture and etiquette. Learn some phrases of the local language as this can go a long way in establishing communications and rapport with your hosts.
7. Pack less
Travel light and only take those clothes and accessories that will be required on the trip. Any extra luggage leads to more global warming! Also, adhere to the unfortunately strict luggage restrictions imposed by airlines these days as this will reduce trip costs.
8. Chews wisely
The food you eat and the drinks you have at your destination can also make a difference to the planet. Cows and other members of the livestock industry spew nearly six times the amount of global carbon emissions than airlines! Ask the restaurant managers where your seafood is sourced from and whether any items are on the IUCN red list. Ask for organic fruits and vegetables.
9. Give back
Find out if your hotel has a community or nature conservation program and see if you can get involved. Take usable gifts with you, like books for local libraries, clothing for orphanages, and pens, pencils and picture books for schools.
10. Support the local economy
Visiting local restaurants; staying in locally-owned lodges, hotels and B&Bs; and using local buses, car rental agencies, and airlines will all help the economy. Purchase local crafts, but do not buy any wildlife or prohibited goods on display such as endangered species or fauna and flora. If buying any wood items, ask if the wood is from a sustainable forest. Anything with animal skins should be a no-no.