traveling and touristing sustainably

Whether you're spending a week at the beach, visiting a new city, or simply visiting far-away family, there are plenty of ways to make your trip greener.

I'll start by using one of my favorite green words to describe packing: EFFICIENCY. 
  • Instead of packing everything you own into a set of suitcases, pare it down and bring only what you'll need. Pack pieces that match more than one other piece so you can wear it more than once. Wrap jewelry in socks or scarves and pack those inside shoes, using that available space to cut down elsewhere. 
  • Bringing a smaller or lighter suitcase is not only easier on you, it's less of a weight load on your vehicle as well. Of course, that won't make a lick of difference on an airplane, but it at least might save you an overweight bag charge!
  • Pack a reusable water bottle to encourage yourself to drink more water and use less water bottles. Metal water bottles ARE allowed through the TSA checkpoint if they are empty. It's even better to leave the top off during screening to help go smoothly.
  • If you plan on shopping on your trip (and seriously, what female doesn't!?), stuff a reusable bag into your suitcase or purse to use as your shopping bag. It'll come in handy more than you realize. 
  • If you fly with only a carry-on suitcase (which I usually do!), you get to follow the TSA 3-1-1 rules for liquids. Instead of purchasing travel size toiletries, get a set of empty travel size bottles and refill them for each trip with your existing toiletries. 
  • For those of you going on beach trips, aka, everyone in South Louisiana who migrates over to the Gulf Coast at some point, you know how much stuff goes along with your suitcase. Skip the styrofoam coolers for your beer and food, and bring a regular one. Bring large containers of snacks and make your own snack bags instead of bringing the individually bagged versions. Use food storage containers instead of disposable zip-top bags. 
  • Once you're packed and before you leave, take a walk around your house to make sure unnecessary electronics are unplugged to avoid drawing power. Adjust your thermostat so it runs less, because there's no point to cool an empty home. Just set it to be cooled down when you're scheduled to arrive home. It's also extra important to unplug electronics that draw vampire power as a safety precaution as well.

  • Fuel efficiency is super important on vacation, since there are already enough other expenses. If you're going on a road trip in your own car, make sure your tires are inflated and everything is in proper working order. A smoothly running car is more efficient than one that needs work. It's also safer to travel farther in a car that doesn't need service.
  • If you have multiple cars traveling together, see how you can cut down on the number by carpooling. If there's extra space, maximize it! Plus, when you carpool, chances are, you'll get some gas money recouped.
  • On to flying. Of course, airplanes burn a metric crap-ton (scientific fact) of fuel. I'm not sure what kind of impact any carbon-neutral initiatives are having, but I don't imagine it would be very much. By packing more efficiently and having a lighter suitcase, however, you can reduce your personal load impact. While you're in the airport, you can also be less wasteful. Ask for drinks in your reusable bottle, and refuse a plastic bag at the newsstand. Chances are, you have some kind of bag with you already! I believe at least United has recycling collection onboard the plane, where they accept drink cans and newspapers in a separate bag for recycling instead of trash. Put your items in the recycling collection!
  • Nonstop flights are greener than multiple-layover flights because the majority of fuel is burned during landing and takeoff, but of course, sometimes that's just out of your control. Where you have the option, consider it.

A few eco-friendly gadgets can make your trip a whole lot easier! I've already hammered in the reusable shopping bag and water bottle, but to go further than that:
  • Look into getting a power bank for your cell phone or other battery-powered gadgets. It should charge through your computer's USB port, which doesn't add much electricity generation, if any. The power bank will come in tremendously handy while you're out exploring and your phone is draining quickly. Plug it into your phone, turn the bank on and throw everything back into your bag! A good power bank should be able to fully charge a smartphone without dying itself.
  • GoToobs are food-safe, BPA-free silicone squeezy toiletry bottles. Among the reusable travel size containers, these are more eco-friendly than simple cheap plastic.
  • If you're really set on reducing your waste, pack a set of reusable silverware (or rather, bambooware!) Bamboo is very sustainable and fast-growing, and these utensil sets are heat and stain resistant and won't absorb food flavors. They even come in a handy recycled bag!
  • I would suggest solar-powered chargers for electronics, but the few experiences I've had with solar powered chargers have not been very electric (waka waka!). Read your reviews before investing in solar-powered chargers. 
  • Need portable speakers? Use a cup! Lifehacker has a "DIY" speaker for an iPad (aka cut a hole in a cup), but for phones or iPods, you can simply use the cup both as a holder and a speaker.

Wherever you travel, don't forget your green habits at home! Take the effort to reduce, reuse and recycle.
  • Instead of requesting a fresh towel every day in your hotel, save your towel an extra day. Hotels that practice conservation (or at least put a little card in the room to make it look like they practice conservation, but that should probably be reserved for another post) will let you know where to place towels you want to keep and towels you want to exchange. The EPA acknowledges Green Seal and Green Leaf as reputable organizations that measure and rate the environmental initiatives in hotels.
  • Don't waste water or electricity. Yes, I know hotel air conditioning is like free air conditioning, but it's still pulling extra power from somewhere! You may not have to conserve as much as you would at home, but you should still conserve.
  • Recycle plastic bottles, glass bottles, cans, paper and plastic wherever there are recycling bins, especially as you're out exploring.
  • Respect the natural environment around you. Don't trample landscaping or leave litter everywhere. Don't feed the animals.
  • Look for eco-friendly transportation methods. Rent a hybrid vehicle (or a fuel-efficient compact if price is an important factor), take public transportation (and some large cities have eco-friendly public transportation!), rent bicycles or simply walk around if you can. 
  • If you packed a reusable water bottle and shopping bag, use them!
  • Learn about the green initiatives in your home-away-from-home. What do they do differently from your hometown? It can be interesting and inspiring to see how others practice environmentalism. 
  • Eat local foods! Not only do you get to experience the real culture of your destination, you can be greener knowing the food doesn't travel as far to get to you. One of my favorite vacation rules of thumb is "If I have the same restaurant in my hometown, I won't eat it on vacation."
Other sources for tips:

When you're on vacation, it doesn't mean you have an excuse to trash someone else's hometown. As Sweet Greens puts it, leave no trace! Leave a beautiful place for others to have as good a vacation as you!

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