Although traveling is not considered very good for the environment, cutting this out of your lifestyle can be very difficult, at least for me. I’ll make major cuts in the rest of my lifestyle before I stop traveling.
So this creates quite a dilemma for environmentalists. How to balance the love of travel with the impact on the planet.
Here are some online resources I found to help you easily minimize your travel impact. This list is not inclusive, but the intent was to highlight major websites that you might already use, or could easily start using in the future.
There are six major decisions you will need to make when traveling (for both work and leisure):
1. Decide mode of transportation to get there
2. Decide mode of transportation to get around
3. Where to sleep
4. What to eat
5. Where to go and what to do
6. Decide how to offset your impact
Decide mode of transportation to get there
Most travel comes down to three major options: Car, plane or train. Train is best, but probably the longest. Plane is usually the fastest (4 hours or more away), but also the worst on the environment. Car is probably the most popular, since it has a very small impact, but you have control over the situation, and it can be faster than train.
If you plan to drive, consider using Mapquest to calculate the shortest distance in order to save gas. We discussed this earlier, so check out our detailed post on this topic. I personally like Google Maps, but they don’t have this feature, so I switch over when making travel plans.
Decide mode of transportation to get around
Obviously, walking, using public transportation, or renting a bike is a great way to get around. However, if you really want to explore, this means you will be renting a car, if you don’t drive to your destination. Unfortunately, I have not found many websites that allow filtering on hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicles. This is likely because not many rental companies offer these vehicles for rent. I have yet to be able to rent a hybrid or electric vehicle from any rental company. I think they are missing out on a huge opportunity!
When I have an option on the vehicle, I ask for the most fuel-efficient car possible. Even though I’m a tall person, I’ll take the smallest vehicle they have. They see me and automatically try and find the largest vehicle for me (a nice thought), but I tell them miles per gallon is more important than comfort.
Where to sleep
Ideally, if you can camp out in a tent or yurt, that is the best. Another good option is to stay with friends, family or with a stranger (using a site like airBnB.com). However, most people will stay at a hotel.
Travelocity had some filters on “Green / Eco-Friendly” hotels a few years ago, but now that appears to be gone. That’s a discussion for another post, where companies do something partially, or redesign their website and leave off a “green” feature. That usually tells me it wasn’t that important to them (or their customers).
TripAdvisor used to have a “GreenLeaders” program for hotels, but it appears they no longer offer that filter anymore.
If you really want to find some good options, that may not be major chains, consider using iStayGreen, which has a Green Eco-Leaf Rating system, based on criteria they developed (details available in the image below). This will help you assess your best options, when there are more than one option at your destination.
What to eat
When I think of eco-friendly eating, I’m looking for vegan and organic options, not just vegetarian options. Many times, vegetarian means they serve salads (not what I’m looking for). Most restaurant search websites will identify vegetarian options, but Zomato (formerly UrbanSpoon) provides both organic and vegan-friendly filtering.
The organic filter is under the Cuisines section on the left of the page, and the vegan-friendly filter is under the Features section. They also have gluten-free and something called Farm-to-Table, which I’m assuming means they serve food grown locally, which is a great thing to reduce food travel miles.
One of the best websites and free app for finding local vegan and vegetarian options is Happy Cow. I’ve had great success with it in many locations around the world!
Where to go and what to do
Unfortunately, I have not found a good option for finding eco-friendly tours, destinations or things to do. Some of these operators will market themselves that way, but you have to get to their website first, before you figure it out.
Visiting parks, gardens, and nature is a good decision, and usually the most memorable and awe-inspiring. Look for bike tours, kayaking, snorkeling, hiking and other activities that are more active and require less gas-powered sources. Any activity can have an impact, so make certain you leave nature as you found it, and don’t add to the degradation.
Decide how to offset your impact
Now that your trip is over, consider offsetting your impact on the environment by investing in your own project (planting trees, installing renewable energy, etc).
Purchasing carbon offsets is usually the easiest option. The companies who run these programs collect money, and use it to invest in renewable energy projects. Think of it as donating your money together with others to help get a large infrastructure project off the ground. There are many different companies that have a good reputation, and give you clear information about where your money goes.
If you find some other resources I didn’t list, please notify us in the comments below.