GOOD Instructions: How to Travel Without Ruining the Planet
For many of us, travel is a time to let go, unwind, indulge, or explore. All good things, but that doesn't have to mean a vacation from your otherwise squeaky-clean, environmentally responsible habits. Travel is one of the more wasteful industries-just think of all those single-use bottles of moisturizer, the carbon cost of transatlantic flights, the rented cars-taking measurable tolls on the planet. Each additional 10 pounds per traveler, for example, requires an extra 350 million gallons of jet fuel each year. That's enough to keep a 747 jet flying continuously for 10 years-and a lot of bad karma.
The good news is there are some pretty easy ways to minimize your own waste, while also saving money as you go.
Unplug everything. As long as they're plugged in, computers, microwaves, televisions, and various other appliances suck power even if they're turned off, so be sure to unplug them before you leave. (This is a good habit to get into when you aren't traveling, too.)
Turn off the lights. Make sure your lights are off. If you have outside lights or feel better leaving a light on in the house to fend off burglars, put them on a timer or use solar-powered lights.
Stop your newspaper delivery. Stop newspapers from coming while you're out of town. This saves you from having to recycle old newspapers when you return and it's good for safety, too. Nothing is more inviting to a burglar than a pile of unread papers on the porch.
Adjust the temperature. Turn off your air conditioner and heater, and draw your curtains.
Pack light (literally). Packing heavily means more energy used by you, the airplane, the airport carousels, and the car taking you to and from the airport. Wear bulkier items like sneakers or boots on the plane, and go the carry-on route: It saves time at the baggage claim and money on new bag-check fees.
Bring a water bottle and coffee cup. Traveling usually means long days away from your hotel or hostel, making it harder to get hydrated without buying bottled water-unless, of course, you bring along your Sigg. If you're a coffee drinker, pack a reusable BPA-free coffee cup, too.
Bring your own toiletries. Though more and more hotels are stocking guest rooms with cleaner, more sustainable shampoos and soaps, a lot of them still don't-and there's no getting around the wastefulness of single-use plastic bottles. Since you're going to be packing light (see above) it's worth keeping small refillable glass bottles on hand for when you leave town. Consider simplifying your regimen as well: Use soap or conditioner as shaving cream; or pack an all-in-one castile soap like Dr. Bronner's for hair, body, and face.
Put a hold on hotel hospitality. No one washes their towels and sheets every day, so there is no reason to do so while you are on vacation. Request that your linens not be changed during your stay, especially since most hotels use bleach and various chemical detergents to keep their whites white. You can also leave a friendly note in your room asking hotel staff to leave the thermostat where you set it (off, ideally).
Watch your paper consumption. Print your boarding pass at home on recycled paper instead of using the heavy-duty tickets issued by airlines, and use E-tickets when possible. Take travel books out from the library instead of purchasing them, or use free online trip-planning tools like Nile Guide.
Buy local. You do it at home, and you should do it when you're away, too. Buying local supports the economy wherever you go, and ensures your purchases don't come with a shamefully huge footprint.
Rent a hybrid-or a bike. If you must have a car wherever you go, reserve a hybrid (they go fast, so make sure you call ahead). Better still, find another way to get around town. More and more sustainability (and hipster) focused hotels offer complimentary bike rentals, but if yours doesn't, maybe the city you're in has a bike-share program. Do some research before you go so that your transportation requirements are sorted out before you go-obviating the need for last-minute cab rides or drives all over town.
Offset your carbon footprint. Finally, as you've surely noticed, most airlines and travel-booking sites now offer carbon offset programs as an add-on to your flight purchase. It's a nice move, but it doesn't let you off the hook for taking other meaningful actions.