EcoTravel is on the rise as more Americans are choosing to travel with purpose. Taking conscious trips has translated into a growing popularity for sustainable accommodations.
In 2015, Booking.com surveyed 32,000 global travelers from 16 countries and found 53 percent were more likely to choose destinations where they would have less of an environmental impact or places that gave them opportunities to positively contribute to the local community.
There appears to be a shift in attitude toward embracing eco-friendly travel. The survey revealed respondents were three times as likely to choose “green” lodging in 2015 than in 2014.
As more businesses invoke the ethos of sustainability, you may be surprised to learn how stealthily these eco-practices are being woven into the places you stay. Without even realizing it, your room may have organic sheets that have been washed with water heated from solar panels or the kitchen may be serving locally sourced ingredients.
Getting into the nitty-gritty of energy efficiency can make your head spin, but if you want to be a conscious traveler, here are a few ways to reduce your carbon footprint on any journey:
Where to Stay
Your lodging options play a big role in how you choose to travel sustainably. Hostelling is arguably the most efficient choice when the goal is to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible.
The very nature of sharing a space reduces the overall maintenance and energy consumption by consolidating it into one room. Some hostel organizations, like Hostelling International USA (HI USA), have upheld sustainable practices since its inception over 80 years ago.
Restoring historic buildings is the epitome of the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle. From mansions to lighthouses to large Victorian-era buildings, over 95 percent of HI USA buildings are repurposed and have unique, storied pasts!
In addition, all HI USA hostels are audited annually to ensure they meet a host of quality standards, including 17 environmental practices, such as LED lighting, low-flow plumbing, non-toxic cleaners, or a robust recycling program. By being thoughtful about your choice of lodging, your travel plans can tread lightly on the environment.
Other ways to be mindful of your footprint regardless of where you decide to stay is to minimize your water consumption (limiting the amount of time you spend in the shower or brushing your teeth), and turning off all lights when you leave the room.
Choosing a Destination
When deciding where to take your next trip, consider locations that have strong public transportation options. Taking the subway, riding the bus, or hopping on the train is an adventure in itself and reduces your transportation emissions.
In U.S. cities like New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, or even Boston, you’ll experience life as a local by easily getting around via the metro. The people watching alone will keep you entertained and provide a better sense of the culture.
Expect to jump on a bike when visiting a place like Portland. Built by cyclists and eco-enthusiasts, biking is the preferred mode of transportation in the city due to being the cleanest way to get around…not to mention a great way to stay in shape!
Start your ride in the Hawthorne district and pick up a map of the eco-roof tour at HI Portland Hawthorne. From there, bounce from place to place learning how the city’s residents lower their energy consumption through unique building and gardening techniques.
Support Local Businesses
In most cities, tourism is the fuel that keeps many local companies going. Whether renting bikes, buying tickets to a museum, or simply stopping for some ice cream, buying from local businesses is essential to maintaining social and economic sustainability in the towns you visit.
Eating at local restaurants, or if you are staying in a hostel, buying local produce to create your own meals, gives you much more of an authentic feel of the culture, community, and way of life. It can also create fun memories.
Asking locals or your hostel staff for recommendations on places to go can help curate a genuine experience you may otherwise not get. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself eating delicious tamales at that Mexican hole-in-the-wall in Los Angeles or sipping craft cocktails at a hidden rooftop happy hour in New York’s Meat Packing district or even noshing on gourmet donuts at an unassuming bakery in Downtown Portland.
When planning activities or tours, investigate the ownership of the company prior to visiting or booking. You may learn that a large corporation or even another country is receiving your money instead of the locals supplying the products and services. Always turn to the locals to support community-based initiatives.
Volunteer Your Time
In July of 2015, a Tourism Cares study found 81 percent of millennials were interested in taking a charitable trip. Of those millennials that did engage in charitable activities while traveling, each person gave an average of $437 in cash and $324 of in-kind donations.
Volunteering while traveling can offer exceptional value to your stay. And the advantages far out weight the disadvantages. You may potentially meet new friends, learn unique skills, or gain a deeper appreciation for the place you are visiting.
There are also significant health benefits associated with volunteering. The simple act of helping someone is known to increase self-confidence, combat depression, and provide a greater sense of purpose.
Some hospitality companies, like HI USA with their Great Hostel Give Back Program, will even reward volunteering efforts with a free night’s stay. It pays to be altruistic!
EcoTravel on Your Horizon
As eco-travel embeds itself into the fabric of our society, it is important to recognize all the ways in which sustainability can factor into your experience. From environmental to social impacts, make sure the next time you are planning a trip, you are mindful of the community you are visiting.