With the past summer breaking all records on the heat index, it's time to get woke about travel.
Travel, of course, requires a certain amount of forethought. There's the planning — the where, when and how you're going. There's choosing what to do, where to eat and what to visit to make it as memorable as can be. But what about the impact your adventure will make on the world? (And we're not talking about the good kind.)
Tourism is responsible for 5% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, according to the UN's World Tourism Organization. And the number of wanderlusters taking trips continues to grow. In the first four months of 2016 alone, 348 million people took an international trip, about 5.3% more than during the same time last year. It's time that sustainability became a fundamental consideration of travel — because the very beaches, ski slopes and fragile ecosystems we love to visit depend on it.
"We can't any longer consume in a way that we have," said Rochelle Turner, Director of Research at the nonprofit World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), in a phone interview. "It's just not sustainable for the long-term future of the world."
But making your next trip greener doesn't mean you have to be zip-lining through the Costa Rican rainforest or staying in some fancy niche ecolodge (although those do sound pretty fun). "It's just being a bit more thoughtful about where we're going and why we're going there," Turner said. It's about small, mindful choices that add up to making a difference.
Choose green before you go. Eco-travel starts in the planning stage. It can be booking an electric rental car or choosing a hotel that has a green seal of approval, such as the LEED Certification, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. A LEED-certified building is recognized as being designed to function with optimal sustainability, meaning it minimizes water and nonrenewable energy consumption. Bret Love, a travel blogger and co-founder of the eco-tourism site Green Global Travel, recommends that you search your hotel's sustainability practices, such as using local supplies or solar power.
Getting there and around town. Transportation makes up about 80% of the travel and tourism carbon footprint, according to WTTC's Turner. Choosing the most eco-friendly mode of transportation for your trip often depends on the trip itself, she adds. Start by going over all of the transportation choices you have, and then weigh your options for expending the least energy and emissions, such as taking a train instead of a plane or taking public transportation to the airport and throughout the rest of your trip.
As aviation companies explore the most efficient ways to operate, some destinations are still only accessible by a long plane ride. In these instances, Green Global Travel's Love suggests a kind of personal carbon-trading plan. Essentially, it's doing things both on your trip and at home that'll help neutralize your flight's carbon expense, such as recycling, composting or riding a bike.
BYO bottle. Possibly one of the easiest things you can do to make a big impact is bringing a refillable water bottle with you so that you don't need to purchase plastic ones. Even if plastic water bottles are recyclable, producing them uses large amounts of fossil fuels, and only about one in six ultimately end up in a recycling bin. The rest end up on beaches, hiking trails and waterways, making their way into the aquatic food chain. Just keep in mind that wherever you go, that plastic bottle will still be there 450 years afterward.
Of course, avoiding plastic water bottles may not be so easy in destinations where the public water is unsafe to drink. To minimize the number of bottles you use, Love suggests investing in portable purification and filtering tools like the SteriPEN or LifeStraw.
Simple solutions. And then there are those small, mindful things you can do — personal choices and behaviors to minimize your impact. Even while on vacation, it's important to be conscious of our energy usage. The same goes for water usage. Taking shorter showers and turning off the faucet when shaving or brushing our teeth can help with your overall water consumption.
Love likes to hang his "Do Not Disturb" sign so that the cleaning staff doesn't expend energy and supplies on cleaning his room everyday. "I don't clean my room everyday when I'm home so why should we waste the energy of the vacuum cleaner [now]?" he said.
He also suggests remembering to turn off the lights, air conditioner and television when leaving your hotel room — and to take these small but impactful habits back home with you.
"I think over time as you adopt these little things, it adds up into big things," Love said. "It becomes a daily conscious choice of trying to be more responsible."