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30 Small Ways to Reduce Your Travel Footprint

There’s no way to avoid the fact that travel has environmental consequences. From the carbon created by commercial air travel to the water used in hotel laundry there are many impacts to consider during a single trip. It might feel overwhelming to tackle this issue but it’s possible to reduce your footprint by making one small change at a time. Here are some bite-sized ways to make a big difference. If we all make a few smart choices, they’ll add up to reduce environmental damage and create more benefits for local people. Join us as we try to implement some of these changes on our future travels.

Choose a sustainable destination for your next trip.  If you haven’t decided where your next trip will take you, why not choose a green destination? You could pick from one of the winners of The Green Destinations Top 100. This program highlights destinations that are “working hard and making progress towards a more sustainable and responsible tourism industry while creating a more attractive experience for local communities and travellers.”

Visit popular destinations at off-peak times. Avoiding peak travel periods in popular destinations reduces the effects of ‘overtourism’ and allows communities to thrive year-round. It’s also typically less expensive and you’ll have your pick of accommodation, transportation, and entertainment options. TourRadar’s Ultimate Off-Season Travel Calendar has some general guidelines to help you avoid the crowds.

Stay closer to home. Transportation is the biggest contributor to your travel footprint, so why not choose a destination close to home. One thing the pandemic has taught us is that there are so many interesting places to visit in your own backyard.

Take the train or bus instead of flying. If your destination isn’t too far away and you don’t want to drive, consider taking the train or bus. Both of these methods of transportation produce less CO2.

Why not try a sustainable destination for your next adventure, like beautiful Kyoto, Japan

Book direct flights. Take off and landing requires the most fuel and energy, which makes direct flights a better, greener choice. It’s just one more reason to skip the stopover!

Choose an eco-friendly airline – Not all airlines are equal. In 2018 Atmosphair created the Airline Index to compare and rank the carbon efficiency of the 200 largest airlines in the world using aircraft statistics and passenger data.

Fly economy. The more passengers a plane can carry, the more efficient it is. Think twice about that first class seat!

Purchase carbon offsets. One option to consider when thinking about carbon emissions is purchasing carbon offsets. When you buy an offset, you fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which in theory balances out the carbon emissions your choices create. How Stuff Works provides a good explanation that might help you understand how they work. One reliable choice for purchasing offsets is Gold Standard.

Pre-order a vegetarian meal for your flight – Reducing meat consumption is one way we can reduce greenhouse gasses and choosing a vegetarian meal on flights is an easy swap. You might get a choice when you book your flight or you may need to call the airline directly.

Download e-tickets to your phone instead of printing your boarding pass. That paper boarding pass is just a waste since you’ll recycle it immediately.

Take your airplane trash with you. Many airlines don’t recycle items from the cabin, so take your recyclables with you and deal with them at home to make sure they don’t end up in the landfill.

Did you know booking a direct flight is a more eco-friendly option than a connecting flight?

Choose the most efficient rental car possible. Why not try a hybrid or electric vehicle on your next trip? Many of the large rental car companies now offer a variety of fuel-efficient cars. It might even save you some money in gas!

Walk, bike, or use public transportation to explore your destination. You’ll probably save money and see more on route anyway.

Use local guides whenever possible. By choosing a local guide you’ll probably have a more authentic experience and your fees will stay in the local community. 

Eat in locally-owned restaurants. Make sure your travel dollars are going into the local economy by choosing restaurants owned and staffed by locals. Bonus points if you can choose restaurants who use locally-grown produce.

Buy locally-made crafts directly from artisans whenever possible. Avoid cheap imported souvenirs and look for ways to purchase from local artists.

Give back at your destination. Is there a way you can positively impact the place you’re visiting? Can you bring donations for a local school or give your time or money to a local charity or environmental protection group?

Skip the imported souvenirs in favour of buying directly from local craftspeople.

Choose sustainable lodging. Look for accommodations that are striving for sustainability. If you’re travelling in Canada or the U.S., look for a hotel that has achieved LEED certification. LEED is a green building certification program that rates buildings on sustainability standards and awards them a Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum rating. You can also look for similar certifications from programs such as Earth Check, Green Key, and Green Globe

Try a homestay with a local family. Get a real taste of life in your destination by staying with a local family. Not only will you have unique experiences but you’ll also be helping provide income directly to the community.

When you leave your room, always turn off all lights, heat/air conditioning, and television. Just as you would do these things at home to conserve electricity, remember to do the same when you’re staying in a hotel.

Hang up your towels. Hanging up your towels is the universal signal that they don’t need to be washed and you’re happy to reuse them.

Don’t forget to turn out the lights and A/C when you leave your hotel room.

Avoid all attractions that involve using captive wild animals for entertainment. The most common offenders are riding elephants, swimming with dolphins, visiting captive whales, and petting tigers. These animals are often captured illegally and kept in deplorable conditions.

If you take a wildlife tour to see animals in their natural habitat, choose a reputable company. Make sure the company is committed to following all regulations and keeping the animals safe. You should never be encouraged to touch or feed wild animals.

Don’t buy anything made from endangered plants/animals, unsustainable hardwoods, or ancient artifacts. Before you buy that souvenir, think carefully about where it came from and what it’s made of.

If you take a snorkelling or scuba diving trip, do not touch or stand on coral reefs. Even a gentle touch can sometimes be damaging to coral.

Choose “reef-safe” sunscreen if you’ll be spending time in the ocean. Choose a sunscreen that doesn’t contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, two common UV-blocking chemicals, that studies have shown can harm coral reefs. SunBum and ThinkSport are two good options that are relatively easy to find in Canada.

Help protect coral reefs by choosing ‘reef safe’ sunscreen and trying not to step on or touch any corals.

Pack Light. The more a plane weighs, the more carbon emissions it produces, so pack only what you need.

Borrow anything you’ll only need for one trip. If there’s a specific item you’ll only need for the duration of your trip, why not borrow it from a friend or find it through a local buy-nothing group.

Aim for waste-free travel. Bring your own reusable items (like a water bottle, coffee cup, utensils, straw, or tote bag) to reduce your need for disposable products. See our post about waste-free travel essentials for some of our favourite items.

Pack toiletries (like soap and shampoo) that come in a solid/bar format. Reduce your need for tiny bottles that will only be thrown away. The added bonus is that you can take solid items in your carry-on without separating them as liquids and they usually they take up less space. Ethique offers a range of excellent solid products.

We hope this list gives you a few ideas you can incorporate on future adventures. Do you have any additional tips you’d like to share? Share them in the comments below!