Cutting the carbon footprint of travel — a topic you’ve likely heard about. But how, exactly, are you supposed to travel in a more eco-friendly manner when it seems as though everything involved is built around a get in-get out, single-use, on-the-go, mentality? The best way to green up your travels is to take it step-by-step, beginning with accommodations. Here’s how you can be a more sustainable traveler both while staying at a hotel and before you ever hit the road.
1. Choose your hotel wisely
The biggest impact you as a traveler can have on your carbon footprint is to choose where to spend your money. Hit ’em in the wallet and brands will listen, and hotels are no exception. Travelers, especially of the millennial age group, have demanded eco-friendly practices from hotels and this has driven both boutiques and major brands to drastically rethink their approach to sustainability. Brands love to brag about what they’re doing to be “green” but sometimes the effort doesn’t dive much deeper than aesthetics. To make selecting a “green” hotel easier, TripAdvisor recently launched its GreenLeaders program, in which hotels and B&Bs apply for certification and if accepted, are ranked as platinum, gold, silver, or bronze-level members.
In addition to checking the hotel’s website, here are a few telltale signs that the business is considering the environment:
- On-site food and beverage options feature locally-sourced ingredients and the bar menu offers local craft beer and spirits.
- In-room or on-site recycling is offered for guests.
- Guests have the option to refuse cleaning services during their stay, and/or the cleaning materials are certified as non-harmful to the environment.
- The hotel doesn’t charge extra to have a “green” stay.
- The hotel is LEED-certified, meaning that everything from the design and construction to daily operation of the building is up-to-date with green building and business practices.
- The hotel uses solar or wind power.
Tangible benefits: Puts your money to use supporting eco-conscious businesses and puts pressure on those that overlook sustainability.
2. Carry a water bottle
Drinking bottled water is all but unavoidable for tourists in many parts of the world, even when staying in nicer hotels. That said, you can minimize the number of bottles you use (and the amount you spend on bottled water) simply by carrying a thermos-type water bottle with you at all times. Hydroflask makes a number of bottles that are perfect for this, and their insulated bottles keep water (or beer!) cold for up 24 hours and coffee hot for up to six hours.
Fill up a reusable water bottle every chance you get. This is easily done in much of the US, Australia, Canada, and Western Europe, as there are ample places with potable tap water or at least the ability to find such water nearby. Start your search within the hotel: does the hotel’s restaurant or bar have good water? Problem solved. Of course, when you must use plastic bottles, recycle them whenever possible.
Tangible benefits: Cuts down on plastic bottle use and trash.
3. Bring a coffee thermos
You may wish to use a separate mug to keep that coffee taste out of your water, but if you aren’t picky, one hot/cold thermos can work as long as you take the time to rinse it out regularly. Again, Hydroflask is great for this. They sell insulated coffee mugs that keep your coffee warm for hours on end — a huge perk for long walking tours and days of transit. Skip the lousy in-room coffee and fill up at the breakfast station or a nearby coffee shop.
Tangible benefits: Keeps your coffee hot and with you as you go, and eliminates the need for the single-use, plastic-wrapped coffee bag in the hotel room (or worse, a Keurig-style pod).
4. Don’t use what you don’t need
Among the simpler things hotel guests can do to minimize their footprint once checked in to a hotel is to not use more than they need inside the room. First, forego room cleaning during your stay. Don’t need both beds? Only use one. Many hotels nowadays ask you to hang your towels, versus throwing them on the floor, to signify you don’t require them to be washed daily (because let’s be real — how often do you do that at home?) Another big issue found in the bathroom are those little shampoo and conditioner bottles, which typically end up in the landfill. Instead of opening them, bring your own toiletries.
Tangible benefits: Decreases waste, saves water, and reduces use of harmful cleaning chemicals.
5. Consider the packaging when making purchases
This tip applies as much to everyday life as it does to staying in hotels, but is more than worth a note here. A green hotel stay involves minimizing trash. If you’re buying souvenirs, travel accessories, food, or anything else, be mindful of what it comes wrapped in. Consolidate any trash into one trash bin in the room throughout your stay. If you find that you’re filling up more than one trash bin on a simple one or two-night hotel stay, it may be time to evaluate the things you’re buying. Do you really need that item that’s wrapped in plastic and then wrapped in another layer of plastic?
Tangible benefits: Helps you minimize trash production.
6. Bring a versatile backpack and pack smart
You can minimize trips to the store and calls to the front desk simply by having a pack that’s built and packed for travel. Packs with multiple compartments are best, which you’ll find in many larger trekking packs. But as society becomes more mobile, manufacturers of smaller daypacks are taking notice and designing options that are highly functional and, as a bonus, meet carry-on requirements as well. Mountainsmith, for example, makes packs built to store electronics, both clean and dirty clothes, food, toiletries, adventure gear, and more, each in a separate area. No matter which pack you go with, make sure it has a water bottle holder. You can tuck the backpack straps into a designated pocket and it instantly switches over to a carry bag.
Tangible benefits: Keeps you prepared and not in need of quick purchases.
7. Bring a reusable to-go food container with you
Those mini-fridges in hotel rooms actually can serve a purpose beyond offering overpriced booze and salted peanuts: to store your room service leftovers in a collapsible food container, which takes up hardly any space in your luggage. Store it in your backpack, and you’ll also always have it ready to go when you have leftovers at a restaurant. This completely eliminates the need for styrofoam to-go boxes and plastic bags. There are a number of options available on Amazon.
Tangible benefits: Makes taking food to-go a zero-waste endeavor. Also makes it easier to pack it with you in the morning.