Earth Month 2023 may be reaching its conclusion, but we’d like to share our own personal motto: Earth Day is every day. For us, that means each day is a new opportunity to make a sustainable choice. There’s plenty we can do to acknowledge our home planet no matter the season.
As we prepare to turn the calendar over to May, many of us are looking ahead to summer–the season that’s synonymous with travel. You may be planning your vacations and voyages, getaways and escapes, trips and tours, adventures and outings. No matter what words you use to refer to your travel plans, there’s one word to keep in mind, and that’s sustainability.
When we travel, it’s easy for our environmental goals to take a backseat. We’re trying to get a break from normal life, right? Here are some stress-free ways to add sustainability to your itinerary that’ll keep you on an environmentally conscious path.
While You Plan
Consider your mode of transportation.
Are you planning to walk, bike, drive, ride a train, or fly? How will the modes of transportation you use impact your carbon footprint? You can use an online carbon footprint calculator to get an estimate.
Flights have the greatest environmental impact. According to the EPA, commercial aircraft account for 10% of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and 3% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
“Globally, aviation produced 2.4 percent of total CO2 emissions in 2018. While this may seem like a relatively small amount, consider that if global commercial aviation had been a country in the 2019 national GHG emissions standings, the industry would rank number six in the world between Japan and Germany,” reported the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.
Look into buses and train trips to make your getaway even more economical environmentally. If flying is really the only option, try to take the most direct flights possible. Choose economy class, as first class has a higher individual carbon footprint, according to this study.
Consider your destination.
If you’re really wanting to live sustainably, plan a staycation in Charlottesville. Hike one of our many trails, explore historic sites on foot, and take a leisurely stroll on the Downtown Mall.
There are also plenty of nearby destinations that require less driving than a long-distance trip, like Richmond, Williamsburg, Washington, D.C., or even Virginia Beach.
Really wanting to travel across the country or overseas? Offset the carbon footprint of your flight by choosing to visit a sustainable city. Check out Lonely Planet’s suggestions for sustainable destinations. Responsible Travel is also a great resource, providing travel guides and more for destinations all over the world.
Once you’ve decided where to go, book accommodations that have implemented environmentally conscious practices. Here are some ideas for hotels inside and outside the U.S.:
Incredible Eco Hotels in the United States (Ecotourism World)
Is your destination a tourist attraction? Traveling during peak tourism seasons can overburden popular destinations, putting a strain on resources and negatively impacting the environment and those who live there. If you can, travel off season, which allows you more breathing room on your trip and provides a boost to the local economy.
While You Pack
Be conscious with your packing list.
We know there’s a lot to consider when packing your travel bag. Which clothes are appropriate for the weather? How much should I pack? How will I get everything to fit?
We understand your top priority when it comes to packing is likely not sustainability. It does take a bit more time and planning, but we encourage you to ask yourself this question before you zip up your suitcase. What should I bring to be as sustainable as possible?
Sometimes the question is what not to bring. Avoid travel-size toiletries and disposable items and choose zero- or low-waste products instead. With a little conscious effort upfront, you can reduce your reliance on single-use plastic while traveling.
If there’s one single thing you can do to be more environmentally conscious while traveling, reducing your single-use plastics is the best thing you could do. Single-use plastics are a leading contributor to climate change–they are responsible for a significant amount of waste, they take a long time to degrade, and they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions from production to deterioration.
The United States is a significant contributor of plastic waste, using 100 billon plastic shopping bags each year and 2.5 million plastic bottles per hour, according to information compiled by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Most of our plastic waste in the U.S. ends up in landfills and oceans, as we only recycle about 9% of it. The plastic waste produced in the U.S. in a single year alone could circle the earth four times, per the NRDC. To learn more about the effects of single-use plastics on the environment, we recommend the documentary A Plastic Ocean.
Here’s a packing list we recommend for your next trip to help you avoid single-use plastics:
Eating & Drinking
Packing, Organizing, & Cleaning
Liquid Laundry Detergent (store in a GoToob)
While You Pilgrimage
If you stay in a hotel, hang the “do not disturb” sign on your door. This way, housekeeping staff will not tidy your room during your stay, thus avoiding a more significant environmental impact (e.g., no use of harsh cleaning products; reduction in laundry services; decrease in electricity usage).
If you’re booking tours of your destination, try to plan ones that don’t require a carbon footprint—think biking, kayaking, and walking tours.
When you’re exploring the outdoors, remember to leave no trace philosophy and “take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints.” Do your best not to disturb the plants and animals that live there.
When shopping or eating, try your best to support local businesses. Dine at local restaurants. Purchase locally made products as souvenirs. Spend your dollars so they stay within that community.
Find more tips for your trip via The New York Times.
Laura Drummond, a sustainability-focused freelance writer based in Charlottesville, is our blog contributor.