Shades of green

Six ways to reduce your travel footprint

Shades of greenGlobal warming, smog and toxic chemicals are causing you sleepless nights. You’re ready for a vacation, but you’re worried that travel is bad for the planet.

Yes, travel – especially air travel – can carry a hefty environmental price tag and burns fossil fuels — it’s estimated that between 2 – 10% of greenhouse emissions are from aircraft. But if you’ve been saving for a dream trip to an exotic locale, go ahead, indulge yourself. Experiencing different cultures, dabbling in languages, seeing history and learning how others live is rewarding, educational, inspirational and an important part of the human experience.

Take off eh.comThere’s no question, however, that the planet is in bad shape, so when you travel you should reduce your environmental footprint as much as is practical. Here are six common-sense tips that will lessen your travel impact … and will let you sleep better.

  1. Change your outlook. Make the decision to cast aside the hedonistic eat-and-drink-til-you-drop and cost-doesn’t-matter attitudes usually taken during vacations. Consuming as much as possible isn’t necessarily the route to happiness. Instead, concentrate on taking joy in learning about a different culture, seeing new scenery and having the opportunity to relax. Walk with a smaller footprint … and revel in it. Make happiness, not consumption, your goal.
  2. Check out potential hotels in advance and book one that has made a commitment to sustainability and has an active environmental program that includes recycling. Once you’ve arrived, make a contribution by buying consumables that are packaged in recyclable containers. Then sort your waste and place recyclables into the appropriate bins.
  3. Burn less wherever you are. Jet skis, motorboats and all terrain vehicles add to your travel footprint. Floating in a kayak requires no fossil fuel, buffs your body and lets you observe nature up close… quietly. Horseback riding takes you over the dunes, without fumes… for the most part.
  4. Use mass transit instead. Not only will you reduce your carbon emissions, but you’ll save money, meet locals and learn a lot more about the region. In many  countries  taking a bus or train is cost effective, colourful and safe. It’s a win-win-win strategy.
  5. Get involved. You can work, for example, with conservation programs for endangered leatherback turtles in Costa Rica. There’s nothing like watching newly hatched turtles crawl into the sea by moonlight. Elseswhere programs exist where you can bottle feed young lambs, help build a house, or make crafts. You will connect with locals and their culture and you will have great stories to tell your friends. Best of all, you’ll feel really great.
  6. Add a ‘home vacation’ to your list. It’s a simple but very effective strategy. Instead of flying thousands of kilometers, go to an interesting destination that is reachable by car, bus or train. It’s amazing how many exciting locales lie close to where we live.

Travel offers a conundrum. On the one hand it emits greenhouse gases and has a relatively large environmental footprint. On the other hand, travel is an important part of enjoying a full, well-rounded life, and it helps us get in touch with other cultures. Like many things, balance is required. So, go ahead and make those travel plans, but do it responsibly.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.