How to Green Your Dream Vacation
By Maridel Reyes
- PUBLISHED May 15
- 8 MINUTE READ
For globetrotters who worry about their effect on the environment, there’s good news: Green travel options are on the rise. And the industry is taking notice. “Customers worry about what they’re leaving behind for future generations,” says Jarrod Kyte, product developer at Steppes Travel, a luxury tour operator. “The last thing they want to feel is that they’re compromising the environment, wildlife or the local community by traveling.”
Today, taking a luxury vacation with a sustainable, eco-friendly focus has never been easier. Try these expert-approved strategies to expand your horizons while going easy on the planet.
Choose the Road Less Taken
“Any destination can be eco-friendly if you do it responsibly,” says Darshika Jones, director of North America for luxury travel outfitter Peregrine Adventures. One way is to travel outside of peak season, especially if you’re visiting a highly popular spot that may be suffering from over-tourism. You’ll avoid joining the crowds—and straining the local infrastructure—and likely have a better overall experience, while saving money, advises Kyte.
At the same time, picking a destination that’s off the beaten path means making fewer demands on the environment. For example, instead of going to Machu Picchu in Peru, visit pre-Inca ruins in the north of the country that are on a similar scale—or even grander. Bypass overrun Dubrovnik for a smaller port city in Croatia, or head to Albania or Montenegro instead. “One of the big trends we will see is desire for space,” Kyte says, and less crowded destinations can provide that. “Places like Mongolia or Northwest Argentina give you a fabulous sense of space.”
Pack some Earth-friendly essentials.
To avoid creating a mountain of plastic when you land at a destination, bring along items like a reusable water bottle, a metal straw and a cloth shopping bag, says Jones. If you’re spending time in the ocean, bring your own reef-safe sunscreen, so you don’t release chemicals into the water that can damage the environment and wildlife.
Minimize Your Footprint
Eco-minded outfitters like Steppes and Peregrine buy carbon offsets to counteract the pollution produced by plane travel. You can do the same for any flight you take.
Traveling by rail and sea can also create a gentler environmental footprint. For clients touring India, Kyte always suggests taking an overnight train instead of a flight between cities: “It’s more environmentally friendly and it’s a more memorable experience,” he says.
Have a Green Stay
For the gold standard of sustainability, seek out hotels and tour operators that are Certified B-Corps, a designation that indicates the highest standard of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability.
Kyte holds up the eco-friendly lodge Misool, located on a remote private island in Indonesia, as an example of a resort that has actually improved the surrounding area. Before the lodge was built, the nearby coral reef was dying because of dynamite fishing. Today, the owners have created a marine reserve around the island, given the local fisherman employment—and the reef is flourishing.
Sightsee with Conscience
“You can offset the damage done by air travel by doing as much good as you can on the ground,” says Kyte. “Travel has a very important role to play in the conservation of wildlife and the preservation of culture and heritage.” Visiting popular sights on off-hours, when they’re less crowded, can help protect the cultural heritage on display. Same thing goes for national parks and sights that can be overrun at peak times.
You may also want to be wary of tours and activities that disturb wildlife—such as helicopter trips, which generate a tremendous amount of noise or unscrupulous tour guides who prioritize an up-close experience over protecting the animals, their young and the ecosystem.
For getting around, public transportation can be an affordable and fun experience—and a chance to mingle with the locals—while lowering your carbon footprint. But if it isn’t an option, try to find an electronic vehicle to get from place to place, or sign up for a walking or cycling tour.
Luckily, one of the best travel experiences—eating in local restaurants—also pays off for the environment. Avoid chains if possible, and make sure you’re ordering dishes with ingredients sourced nearby, and not flown in from a far-flung place.
Savor the flavors of outdoor markets and side-street food stalls. “In Vietnam, having a little bowl of noodles on the street is a must-have experience,” says Kyte. “Not only is it delicious, wholesome food, but you also put money in the pocket of local enterprise.”
Seek Environmentally Savvy Souvenirs
Everyone wants to bring back a trinket or two from a trip, but be wary of buying anything that could damage the local environment, cautions Kyte. Definitely pass on seashells, coral, plants, fossils and antiquities—you can’t be sure they weren’t taken from the environment in a harmful or even illegal way.
A local guide can take you to the best places to shop for souvenirs, whether it’s a hand-woven rug in Turkey or to a women’s argan oil cooperative in Morocco. A guide also ensures you get a fair deal and steer you away from anything that could be counterfeit or harmful to the environment.
“You’re not just traveling lightly and minimizing impact, you’re making a real difference by investing in the local community,” says Jones. “Travel and tourism can change the world. It can be used as a source for good.”
Maridel Reyes is a journalist based in New York. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, the New York Post, USA Today and the Boston Globe.
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