Between the miles logged, restaurant meals purchased, and cheap (but totally necessary) souvenirs acquired, it’s hard not to experience a wee bit of green guilt when traveling. Here’s the good news: By making some slight tweaks to your planning, packing, and prep—and by downloading a few cool apps—you can make a huge dent in your carbon footprint without sacrificing any fun. Just follow these steps.
1. Think about how you're getting there.
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If you can get to your destination via bus or train, you’ll lighten your impact. But flying isn’t as bad as you think. If you’re traveling solo, you’ll emit twice as many pounds of carbon if you drive 1,000 miles rather than fly. (At least in a plane, you’re sharing that burden with a couple hundred other passengers.)
To decrease your impact even more, splurge on that direct flight. Not only will eliminating layovers benefit your sanity, the most fuel in air travel is expended during takeoff and landing. Also, fly during the day. Contrails, those cloudy streaks that planes emit in the sky, can reflect sunlight, which slightly reduces your flight’s climate-warming effect. And, if you have a choice between airlines, take a look at this fuel-efficiency ranking from the International Council of Clean Transportation. (Spoiler alert: Alaska, Spirit, and Frontier are killing it.)
2. Make greener reservations.
There are a bunch of ways you can find eco-friendly hotels in your destination city. If you have a specific property in mind, enter the address into the search field of Green Key Global, which gives sustainability ratings from 1 to 5 keys. Or start from scratch with an app like Green Globe, which lists eco-friendly lodgings (and even cruise ships) by location.
If you don't want to rule out lodging based on its rating, simply be more strategic about a hotel’s location within a city by making sure that it’s accessible from the airport via a shuttle service; centrally located, so you can walk more than you ride; or just close to some mode of public transportation. If the weather permits, renting bikes once you get there is an easy way to travel around responsibly.
3. Go digital.
Trip It, an ingenious travel-planning app, will gather your vacation-related itinerary information from email confirmations and organize it all (reservation codes, phone numbers, addresses, maps, check-in and out times, etc.) in one handy place. You won’t need to print a single thing.
4. Pack lightly—and strategically.
Skip those drug-store travel-size toiletries and just decant your essential products into a reusable kit with TSA-approved containers. Only bring the items you think you’ll need to cut back on the weight you’re adding to the car or plane. And, if you plan on doing a lot of shopping, throw a lightweight collapsible duffel (or an extra tote bag) into your suitcase, so you won’t wind up having to ship things home.
5. Put your house in sleep mode before you go.
Before you head out the door, unplug all your countertop appliances and lamps, turn off the lights, and adjust the settings on your thermostat so no energy is wasted heating or cooling an empty home.
6. Arm yourself with apps.
Once you’ve arrived (or well in advance of your trip if that's your style), seek out restaurants and even actual farms that serve local, responsibly-sourced food. Farm Star Living is a great app for browsing locavore eating options by location, and you can find greenmarkets using Farmstand and bike rentals with Spotcycle (great for international destinations) or Biximo (if you’re in the United States). Missing someone? Send virtual postcards to folks back home with Postale.
This post originally ran last year, but we brought it back to help you out with summer travels.
Photos by Bobbi Lin, Mark Weinberg, James Ransom, and Bobbi Lin, respectively.
How do you travel responsibly without sacrificing any adventure? Tell us in the comments!