How To Travel Without F*cking Up The Planet

Hey! Global warming is real! ICYMI, it’s January, and it was literally just 70 degrees one day then 40 degrees and snowing the next over here on the east coast. IDK, I just feel like I shouldn’t be able to wear a crop top and ripped jeans without freezing my ass off in the dead of winter in New York? This is just one of many obvious signs of climate change. travelhorizons™ is travel marketing brand MMGY Global’s quarterly national survey designed to learn more about American travelers’ habits and intentions with current events in mind. Their newest report, which explored the travel habits of American adults in the global warming age, shows a TON of us are hesitant to travel because we fear adding more fuel to this metaphorical (but also literal?) fire. Time for us to discuss WTF our Instagrammable vacays are doing to our planet and how we can act more responsibly so we can continue bragging about our trips on social media 20 years from now!

How Traveling Impacts Our Planet

Let’s cover the bad news first: your Instagram vacations are definitely f*cking up the planet. “Over-tourism, climate strikes, and global warming are major issues with serious ramifications for the global travel sector,” says Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, CEO of the Aruba Tourism Authority, adding, “plastic and food waste from the tourism industry is another major concern.” Basically, we’re being careless and reckless by overcrowding tourist spots, littering, and not acting mindfully when we travel… and we need to f*cking stop. 

On the bright side (there’s always a bright side, right?), MMGY’s study shows that travelers are down to change their behaviors when traveling to benefit the planet. Yay! According to the study, 34% of travelers believe traveling plays an important role in understanding the impact of climate change on the world, and 32% say travel increases their desire to help people in other parts of the country or the world. I feel like Googling is a way cheaper method for learning how to save the world, but all the power to you if you can afford to learn about Japan in Japan instead.

Anyway, sounds like traveling is a problem AND a solution to fighting against global warming? Kinda confusing, but OK. Moving right along.

WTF Is Sustainable Travel?

“Sustainable travel means that locals and visitors of a destination are ensuring the protection of the environment for generations to come,” explains Asjoe-Croes. In order to achieve long-term sustainability, it requires an investment from all parties (government, hotel properties, tourism board, etc.) in order to shift the cultural mindset, which takes time.” Fortunately, a bunch of countries are already ahead of the sustainability game and have implemented really awesome programs to reduce waste, rely on renewable resources, and educate visitors on how to save our planet, one town at a time. 

Aruba is just one of many places at the forefront of sustainable travel, but they’re ranked 4/10 (right after Bhutan, England, and North Macedonia?!) on Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2020 list which highlighted destinations that are progressive in terms of sustainability. “We hope to introduce visitors to the greater community, immerse them in our culture, and help them understand that the island’s nature, beautiful beaches, and culture need to be preserved,” says Asjoe-Croes. Before I visited Aruba last year, I personally volunteered to e-sign the Aruba Promise to pledge I’d be responsible and preserve the island during my stay. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m like, such an eco-friendly traveler.

Costa Rica also ranks #8 on Lonely Planet’s list of top 10 countries leading in sustainable travel. Depending on where you go, you can visit local organic farms, go fishing, and hop in on tours of the island to learn about their green programs. “We want our guests to connect with nature and experience first hand the quality, smell, and flavors of organic and sustainable farming. We want to educate and inspire everyone that visits La Senda [about] the importance of sustainable farming,” says Federico Pilurzu, general manager of Costa Rica-based luxury hotel Cala Luna Boutique Hotel & Villas that offers farm-to-table dinners. 

One more place worthy of a shout-out as far as sustainability goes: Dubai International Airport (DXB) and Dubai World Central Airport (DWC), the two busiest airports that see over 90 MILLION people passing through every year, recently announced that they’re instituting a ban on all single-use plastic starting in 2020. This effort alone will reduce tens of thousands of single-use plastics every day.

As awesome as these nationwide programs are, though, sustainable travel is also on you and me—the travelers. So what can us little people do to pitch in and do our part? 

Tips For How To Travel More Eco-Friendly

Time for us to step TF up and travel more responsibly! Here’s what you can do to be a sustainable traveler, whether you’re heading to California, flying to Switzerland, or thousands of miles away to sip piña coladas in the tropics:

1. Avoid using single-use plastics

Not to bring it back to elementary school, but in case you forgot: reduce, reuse, recycle. According to that MMGY study, 54% of travelers are willing to use less single-use plastics. That means using reusable straws and utensil kits and BYOB (B as in bottle)! Most hotels have free water stations where you can fill up your old bottle so you don’t have to go buying new plastic bottles every day. Nomader and que bottle are two of my favorite reusable bottles that I bring along with me every day and whenever I travel. They literally collapse into themselves so you can pack them in your carry-on or your purse (do people even call bags purses anymore?).

2. Wear reef-safe sunscreen

Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are two of the (unfortunately) popular chemicals found in most sunscreens, and they harm coral reefs. STOP USING PRODUCTS WITH THOSE INGREDIENTS. A quick Google search for “reef-safe sunscreens” will give you a bunch of alternatives from popular brands like Neutrogena, Aveeno, and Drunk Elephant that are good for your body and the environment. Just make sure to read full ingredient lists and check labels before you buy.

3. Walk or rent bikes wherever possible

27% of travelers will either rent bicycles or walk more instead of taking automobile transportation. Be more like them. Save your $$$ and the world by skipping an Uber and enjoying the fresh air on your trip… aka stop being a lazy bitch and walk one mile to the bars or rent a complimentary bike from your hotel. I promise you’ll be fine (as long as you’re staying in a safe location, obv). 

4. Stay at environmentally-friendly hotels 

Almost one-third of people will intentionally avoid booking stays at non-sustainable resorts and opt for environmentally-friendly hotels and tour companies instead. Depending on where you’re going, dig around online to find which sustainable hotels are in the area… then stay there. Some use solar energy, treat and reuse sink and shower water, feature local, organic products in the resort, and even host beach clean-up programs. I know, cleaning beaches on your vacation sounds like a bummer. But you know what else is a bummer? Beaches filled with litter that eventually float out to sea and kill cute sea turtles. Yeah. So think about that next time you’re chugging White Claw on the sand.

5. Travel during off-season to avoid overcrowding

Around 4/10 American travelers agree that tourism overcrowding is a serious issue. That same amount of travelers will consciously visit destinations in the off-season to reduce overcrowding. Hate crowds? Perfect! Not only is it eco-friendly to visit hotspots in the slower season, but it’s prob cheaper to travel then, too (especially if you book on a Tuesday or Wednesday). Sooo… win-win.

6. Learn about green travel programs where you’re going

You know how you check to make sure there are good bars and brunch spots where you’re headed? Spend that same amount of time researching how you can be an eco-conscious visitor wherever the hell you’re staying. If you’re heading out of the country, at least visit a tourist center and ask questions about what you can do to help while you’re there. Again, I know. BORING. Grow up. It’s 2020. It feels good to be a good human.

7. Don’t Fly If You Can Help It

Last but certainly not least (probably foremost, actually), try to limit air travel. Even though we’ve all been taught that cars are the devil, traveling by car (provided you’re not driving just yourself), train, or bus are more sustainable options than hopping on a flight. We all know planes are f*cking terrible for the environment, but okay, let’s say your next flight is unavoidable—there are still ways to fly smarter. Fly direct, don’t fly business or first class (who even are you if this is an option), and pack light (it makes it easier on both you and the plane’s fuel expenditure).

These tips might sound like NBD, but they’re a good start—much like I tell myself when I go to the gym just to spend five minutes walking on the treadmill, something is better than nothing. And although traveling more sustainably is important, that’s not the only thing we can do to make sure the planet is like, inhabitable for our grandkids. “Beyond just travel, there’s pressure for all of us as humans to look at our footprint and preserve our planet,” reminds Asjoe-Croes. So don’t just take the bus one time and pack it in. We all better start making moves and going green before it’s too late.

Images: Giphy (6)