(July 9, 2015) A record 1.1 billion tourists traveled to international destinations in 2014, and the World Tourism Organization predicts that international travel will increase by 4% by the end of the year. The tourism industry continues to have an enormous impact on the environment and on communities in and near popular travel destinations – many of which are located in ecologically fragile areas like coral reefs. Luckily, the sustainable tourism movement is growing, as more travelers are making smart choices that help to protect and support the planet.
There are a lot of different ways to be a sustainable traveler, and many of them are easier than you’d think. We picked three green travel tips that are easy but effective enough to be a great starting point for the average traveler.
1. Ditch disposable water bottles
When you’re on the go, it’s tempting to buy a bottle of water at the airport or the convenience store and trash it when you’re done. Sadly, this leaves behind a harmful trail of plastic that takes hundreds of years to degrade in landfills and ends up being a considerable expense, with bottled water costing as much as $10 per gallon. Even more troubling is the fact that some bottled water companies obtain their product by exploiting natural water sources in rural, often impoverished communities, and leaving these people high and dry when the water runs out.
Travelers Against Plastic (TAP) estimates that if Americans stopped buying disposable water bottles while traveling, an estimated 3.5 billion plastic water bottles would be taken off the market. Being a part of the solution is simple: buy a reusable plastic or metal water bottle, and you’re set for life! One will cost you anywhere from $5-$25. When you consider the price of bottled water, you can see how quickly a reusable bottle pays for itself.
But what if you’re backpacking in the wilderness or traveling in the developing world, where potable tap water is not available? There are several popular and easy-to-use methods for treating water during your travels. Water purification tablets and water treatment drops are cheap options at $5-$15 per bottle, but require 20-30 minutes to work. Filtration systems work faster, but only remove bacteria and not water-borne viruses. The SteriPen is a convenient solution that uses UV light to remove both bacteria and viruses in less than two minutes, but will set you back $50-$120. Whichever method you choose, there are very few excuses left for not kicking your bottled water habit.
2. Track and offset your CO2 emissions
With the advent of several innovative mobile apps, it’s extremely easy to determine the CO2 emissions of your travel. Check out Green Travel Choice ($1.99), created by Pocketweb in partnership with The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Cleaner Climate, and Commute Greener. Pick your mode of transportation and enter your starting point and destination. You can even log your trips to track your carbon footprint over time.
Carbon offsets can be a great tool to help mitigate the impact of travel. Buying offsets has never been easier, whether it’s for single flight or an entire trip. Many airlines offer the option to offset your flight at the point of purchase, or you can buy any amount of carbon offsets online from a variety of companies.
Critics of carbon off setting have claimed that these purchases allow people to assuage their guilt without truly mitigating the impact of their behavior. Environmental journalist Duncan Clark explains the carbon offset debate in this article and answers some of the most popular questions about its efficacy. Global Sustainable Tourism Council CEO, Randy Durband offsets 100% of his flights and believes If you’re going to offset your emissions, make sure to choose a legitimate company. Green America’s guide to choosing a carbon offset program is a great place to start.
3. Stay at hotels certified by a GSTC Approved eco-label
To reduce your impact as a global traveler, it’s important to choose accommodations that actively practice sustainability. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council created a set of internationally recognized standards to ensure that hotels certified as sustainable are taking the correct management steps to be socially and environmentally responsible. The GSTC works with eco-label owners, such as Ecotourism Australia and Biosphere Responsible Tourism, to ensure that their hotel certification standards meet the requirements. This helps to eliminate issues of green washing or consumer confusion about what eco-labeling actually means. To plan your trip and ensure you are staying with a sustainable hotel, checkout the list of hotels that are certified by a eco-label we have worked with.