10 Easy Ways to Travel Green

Follow the United States Travel Care Code

Woman hiking in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica, Central America
Michael Boyny / LOOK-foto/Getty Images

As sustainable travel continues to become more mainstream, hotels, resorts, tour operators and other travel companies incorporating green initiatives in operation are becoming plentiful.  But as travelers, what role can we play in protecting the landscapes and cultures we love to visit?

The United States Travel Care Code, developed by students at The Center for Sustainable Tourism, highlights 10 simple steps that are simple to commit to but make a drastic difference when practiced widely. 

1. Learn About Your Destination – Enjoy a rewarding experience by learning more about the natural environment, culture and history that make every destination unique.

Whether it’s a guidebook, a National Geographic article, or your favorite travel blog, take time to learn about where you’re going. The point of travel is to enrich ourselves and get a head start before you go.

2. Don’t Leave Your Good Habits At Home – While traveling, continue to recycle; use water wisely and turn off lights as you would at home.

When you’re at home and paying your own electricity bills, you probably pay attention to turning off the lights or TV when you leave the house. Just because you’re at a hotel, don’t disengage from that habit.  Same goes for blasting the air condition and leaving your balcony doors open.  If you don’t do at home, don’t do it traveling just because it’s on someone else’s bill. It’s easy to flip the switches on your way out and slide the balcony door shut behind you.

3. Be A Fuel-Efficient Traveler – Book direct flights, rent smaller cars and keep your own vehicle operating at maximum efficiency. Once in your destination, walk or bike as much as possible.

Think twice when you’re renting a car.  Do you really need an SUV?  Or would a more compact car fit you and your bags just as comfortably.  Seeing a city by bike can be a really fun way to get to know a destination and it cuts down on taxi costs AND emissions.

4. Make Informed Decisions – Seek out destinations or companies that engage in energy efficiency or recycling programs and that take actions to preserve their communities and natural environment.

Costa Rica has long been associated with eco-tourism due to the beautiful jungles, beaches, and extensive offering of outdoor activities – what could be better?  What about the fact that the entire country ran solely on renewable energy 285 days in 2015? Spend your money supporting destinations such as Costa Rica that are committed to the environment.

5. Be a Good Guest – Remember that you are a guest in your destination. Engage with locals, but respect their privacy, traditions and local community.

Several tourists have gotten bad press recently for dressing or acting inappropriately at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. While this ancient holy site is a major tourist attraction, remember that first and foremost that it is a sacred place.  It’s a privilege to be there as a visitor and make sure your behavior respects that.

6. Support Locals – As a visitor, the money you spend on your trip can help support the local artisans, farmers and business owners whose livelihoods depend on tourism.

Rather than buying everyone at home a cheap souvenir t-shirt that was probably made in a factory halfway across the world, buy something that was locally made. Be on the lookout for shops that sell handicrafts that support a cause important to the destination.  A great example of this is Bhaktapur Craft Paper which is a UNICEF founded community development project in Nepal. By purchasing the beautiful craft made in the traditional Lokta technique, you are supporting social programs such as safe water access and school support projects.

  It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

7. Dispose Of Your Waste Properly – Leave a beautiful place for others to enjoy. Recycle where possible, and always dispose of your waste with care.

For most people, recycling at home is second nature. Why should this change when you are traveling? Many hotels, such as the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, a Fairmont Managed Hotel in Bermuda are starting to put in dual recycling/trash bins in the room. If your hotel doesn’t offer that service (and it’s a country that does recycle), consider leaving feedback that it’s something you’d like to see.

8. Protect Your Natural Surroundings – Be mindful of the plants, animals and ecosystems that you impact. Avoid feeding wildlife; stay on designated trails, and strictly follow all fire restrictions.

You may have seen the unfortunate news recently about a baby bison that was picked up in Yellowstone by tourists that thought it was lost and brought it to a ranger station.  The results were quite sad – the herd wouldn’t accept the calf back and it ended up being euthanized. Just one more example of why we should consider ourselves visitors to natural areas and leave nature untouched.

9. Make Your Travel Zero Emissions – As an additional step, consider the option of purchasing carbon credits to fully offset your travel’s impact on climate change.

Considering the extreme carbon footprint that comes with flying, truthfully the most sustainable trip is to stay home. However, what a boring life that would be.  One thing you can do to help mitigate some of the harm of flying to consider purchasing carbon offsets that support a project aiming to mitigate climate change. Sustainable Travel International has a carbon calculator that will help you figure out how much carbon dioxide your trip is producing and offers you a few different projects that you may want to consider helping out as an offset.

10. Bring Your Experiences Home – Continue practicing your sustainable habits at home, and encourage friends and family to travel with the same care.

Share the Travel Care Code with friends – help spread the word that by following these 10 simple guidelines, we can make sure we are respectful and thoughtful travelers.