Traveling With a Light Footprint

10 Tips for Sustainable Travel

 Lauren Lee Illing

Lauren Lee Illing

By Lauren Lee Illing 

Will you take a pledge to travel with a light footprint?

Earth Day is to pledges as New Years is to resolutions. At the start of a new year, we reflect on our own personal improvement. On April 22, we consider how we can participate in the preservation of our planet. It's a time for recognizing the immensity of the world and our own finitude. 

All of that can weigh heavy on us so it helps to join together to collectively make a positive impact on the environment. Living sustainably means making small changes day to day in our homes, work, and play. Everything we do involves some degree of resource use and/or waste creation. Whether it is our food, our transportation, or our trash, it all burns fuel and produces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels which are creating unprecedented climate change. Each of us can add up everything we do to calculate our own carbon footprint. With that baseline, we can take on the task of being part of the solution rather the part of the problem.

Our leisure can be one of the easiest and most enjoyable sustainability challenges we can take on. Travel, especially, offers many opportunities for creative waste reduction and offsets. With that in mind, here is a list of 10 tips to remember for your next getaway! 

 Jackson Square, New Orleans Photo Credit: Lauren Lee Illing

Jackson Square, New Orleans Photo Credit: Lauren Lee Illing

1 . Bring a water bottle and/or coffee mug

As long as your cup is empty when you're passing through security, you can totally pack it on the plane in your carry on or personal item. Stay hydrated with airport water fountains or have the barista at your favorite coffee shop skip the styrofoam and use your mug. Think of all the disposable cups you can save! 

2. Shop for food at fresh markets

Once you have arrived to your destination, you will have many options for dining and experiencing the full variety is part of the joy of traveling! Resist the urge to eat fast food or street cuisine at every meal and ditch the wrappers and other trash that comes with it. Find a bakery for your bread, a dairy for your cheese and yogurt, and a butcher for your cold cuts. When available, this is a great way to eat like a local and enjoy foods that have a petite carbon footprint. 

3. Pack a foldable Tupperware with utensils

TSA scrutiny may be tough but believe it or not, food is fine to take on a plane (unless you're going abroad and there are produce / agricultural restrictions through customs). Pack your Tupperware before you leave to the airport with healthy non perishable snacks (think nuts, cheese, jerky, and dried fruit). Eat your snack whenever you please, fold up the container and have it on the ready to pack leftovers after dining out. Also, have the freedom to pack to-go lunches with any groceries that you are able to store overnight!

4. Pack a fabric bag (or two or three!)

When you arrive at the local farmers market or bakery, show your respect by carrying away your goods in a reusable shopping bag. Let the local shopkeeper save their paper or plastic (if you're in a place that even offers bags to shoppers!). Be sure to carry the fabric bags that roll up tight when not in use. Bonus to this tip: extra space for packing souvenirs on the way home!

5. Opt for train or bus over car rental

Many destinations - even in the U.S. - have transit routes covering long distances. San Diego to Vancouver? Beautiful by train. New York City to Boston? A breeze by bus. New Orleans to Chicago. All aboard! Enjoy the relaxation of taking in the sights rather than the frustration of navigation and gas station stops. Travel by transit is far more efficient than a personal auto so especially if you're covering long distances, this is your eco-friendly option!

6. Try touring by bike or horse or foot

If your destination is a smaller geographic area, consider whether you can cover your ground without burning fuel. It's amazing how seeing a place from up close can enhance your experience overall. So try a walking tour, bike rentals, or horse ride! Just be sure that you're briefed on local rules so you can do so safely!

7. Use rechargeable batteries

 Photo Credit: Lauren Lee Illing

Photo Credit: Lauren Lee Illing

Especially if you bring an SLR camera, you're likely to be using battery power during your travels. Opt for rechargeable batteries rather than worry yourself about proper disposal (or running the risk of letting your battery acid leak out in a landfill- gasp!). Don't forget to pack the charger too!

8. Dispose properly

Many places have local rules on recycling and composting. Some places (even in the U.S.) require proper waste disposal by law. Look up those rules before your trip or ask a concierge or other locals for tips! Then, enjoy participating in the system to its fullest while you can. If your town or city back home doesn't recycle well, take notes to share with your neighbors, too. 

9. Carbon offsets

Honestly, buying carbon offsets is a luxury. There are places online where you can invest in tree planting or other "carbon negative" projects to counterbalance the carbon footprint of your travel. That's a great budget line item if you can afford it. For everyone else, (myself included!) we have to take on our own carbon offsetting projects. Whether it's a tree of a butterfly garden, we all have the power to plant! 

If you'd like to know what your carbon footprint is you can use a calculator such as this one:

10. Save the water

Many hotels now have cards to leave on the door to let them know that you don't need laundry service every day. If they've got it, use it! If not, place the "do not disturb" card on your door and forego the indulgence of fresh sheets daily. 

** Leave no trace **

Avoiding waste is the name of the game here. Get your buddies into the fun and keep each other accountable. The best that any of us can do is improve from where we were before. A little at a time, we become more and more mindful of the trash trail we leave behind. The trail of trash gets smaller and smaller then we begin making up for everything we send to the landfill. Eventually, the end goal is to have carbon neutral travel - and living. But that will take systems in place at a much larger level than just you and I. So until then, let's make a pledge to do the little things so that collectively it all adds up. 

Onward and upward,

Lauren Lee

Medium: LaurenLeeDC

Twitter: Lauren Illing

 Instagram:  LaurenLeeDC