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Traveling the world can allow you to interact with people from other cultures, enjoy beautiful landscapes, sample foreign cuisine, and appreciate architecture and art that is different from what you’re used to. Aside from being a lot of fun, these experiences can broaden your perspective and help you to become a more understanding person.
However, as you might imagine, it takes a lot of fuel and energy to travel long distance, whether your trip is for pleasure, education, or business. There are also a number of less obvious consequences involved with exploring new places. Here are some strategies for cutting down on your environmental impact while traveling.
How Does Travel Impact the Environment?
Overtourism one of the biggest problems associated with travel. A sudden influx of tourists at the most popular times of year puts a significant strain on the local community and quickly taps their resources. In some places, scarce resources like food, water, and electricity are reserved almost exclusively for tourists, which causes locals to suffer. Hotels, swimming pools, and golf courses at some tourist destinations use massive amounts of water, which can deplete supplies needed for local people, plants, and wildlife.
Overtourism also encourages rapid expansion in the food and hospitality industries within these areas. Often, developers will construct these new buildings without regard for their impact on resources, urban planning, or the environment. This results in the destruction of natural landscapes and ecosystems, consumes massive amounts of energy in dense areas, and contributes to improper waste management practices.
There is also a major trend of tourists improperly disposing of trash and other materials while traveling. For example, there aren’t many trash cans along some of the more scenic trails through forests and mountains. Although many people are trying to create more positive habits, many hikers and climbers continue to litter. Even when trash receptacles exist in remote areas, they may not be well-maintained and the surrounding cities may not have adequate garbage collection systems or disposal facilities.
Transportation while on vacation contributes to air pollution from CO2 emissions on a global and local level. This includes long-distance travel by airplanes, coach buses, trains, and cars. However, tour buses can be particularly problematic. This is because drivers will often leave their buses running for hours while tourists are visiting some attraction or hiking in order to ensure tourists return to a well air-conditioned space.
Along with traditional vehicles, recreational vehicles like jet skis and snowmobiles contribute to air pollution. Heavy traffic and noise pollution can cause hearing loss in people and may also disrupt sensitive wildlife.
What Can You Do While Traveling?
There are several areas to consider when aiming to utilize more environmentally friendly travel strategies. Starting small, you can pay close attention to the waste you create and utilize the proper disposal methods when available. When possible avoid single-use plastics like straws, plastic bags, and water bottles. Instead, plan to bring a canvas bag for shopping needs, avoid using a straw when possible, and drink from a reusable water bottle.
These are habits that could help minimize your carbon footprint when traveling as well as at home. However, you may need to be vigilant while in foreign countries because they may have different systems for waste disposal and recycling. If you’re uncertain about some aspect of a location’s waste management, it’s a good idea to ask a tour guide or a local about the issue.
You may have several travel options when you arrive at your destination. If you have your choice, a train or railway will produce fewer carbon emissions than a car. Using the local bus system rather than a taxi or rented car can also cut down on the number of vehicles on the road and lower overall emissions and fuel usage.
Of course, when possible, walking or cycling where you need to go will have the lowest environmental impact. You’ll also get some exercise, and you’ll be able to take in more details about the place you’re visiting than you would by traveling at high speeds to get around.
On choosing where you stay, aim to find accommodations that are locally owned and operated. This ensures the money you spend will go directly into the local economy. This can help them to maintain their community and environment, helping to offset some of the damage tourism causes. Rather than international hotel chains, local hotels may have a storied history and offer a more authentic experience.
You can also research whether any local hotels focus on sustainable practices. You should be able to find this information on the hotel’s website. Look for hotels that use renewable energy sources and water conservation policies and technologies. They might also prioritize using local products, materials, and foods in their hotels, which can cut down on fuel used for shipping.
When interacting with nature, be considerate of the delicate nature of the ecosystem. There’s a famous saying that has been adopted for hikers and other nature-goers that may be helpful to keep in mind:
“Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.”
If you want to go on a long hike where you won’t have access to trash or recycling bins for a long period of time, make a plan to keep any trash with you. This could be as simple as an extra bag within your day pack.
You should also remain on the trails and other designated areas when enjoying the outdoors. Otherwise you may damage local plant life, disturb animals, degrade the landscape, and you could even get seriously hurt. If you come into contact with animals, do as little as possible to disrupt their natural patterns. Don’t try to pet or feed them, as this could put you and the animal in danger.
Finally, you can fight the larger trend of overtourism by choosing to visit your chosen destination during the offseason. This will allow you to enjoy the community without depleting all of their resources. As an added benefit, the prices of your travel and stay will likely be lower, and you won’t have to fight through crowded streets and restaurants during your stay.
You could also look for destinations that are off the beaten path, rather than the most touristy areas. Neighborhoods just outside of busy downtowns may offer many of the same experiences, and you may find sights and restaurants you couldn’t find in popular travel guides.
Minimize Energy Use at Home
Just because you’re not home watching television or turning the lights off and on, doesn’t mean you’re not still burning through a lot of energy in your home. The first step in saving energy while on vacation is to adjust your thermostat. There’s no need to keep your home well cooled or heated if no one is around to enjoy it.
In the summer, you could set your thermostat for 85 degrees or leave it off altogether. If you’re traveling during the colder months, you should keep your heat turned up to at least 50 degrees to avoid freezing pipes and appliances. Keep in mind, if you’re planning to leave your pets at home while you travel, you may want to talk with your vet about an appropriate temperature.
You may be surprised to learn that many electronics and appliances may draw small amounts of electricity even when they aren’t in use. This could include large devices like televisions, sound systems, and lamps as well as smaller electronics like coffee pots, digital clocks, and phone chargers. Unplugging as many of these as possible will help cut down on unnecessary energy waste.
It’s a good idea to leave one or two lights on at night while you’re away from home to give the illusion that someone is home. This will help deter burglars and keep them from taking advantage of your absence. However, leaving several lights on for the duration of your trip is a huge waste of energy.
Instead, you can buy automatic timers for a few lights. You might also set a timer to turn a radio on and off. You could also ask a friend to stop by occasionally while you’re away in order to turn lights off and on.
If you’re planning to take an extended trip, cleaning out your refrigerator, unplugging it, and opening the doors can save a lot of energy while you’re gone. However, if you’ll only be gone for a few days, this might not be worth the effort. Alternatively, you could set the temperature to 42 degrees and the freezer to 5 degrees, which is enough to keep things cold or frozen.
Seeing the world can be a positive, life-changing experience. However, it’s important to acknowledge the impacts your vacation could have on the environment. By keeping these in mind and adjusting your behavior, you can minimize the damage your travel could cause and get the most out of your trip without harming the earth.