10 Ways to Plan a More Earth-Friendly Vacation

Graham Hughes
10 Ways to Plan a More Earth-Friendly Vacation

We’re currently in the grip of a climate emergency, and it's something to think about as your plan your next travel adventure.

Globally, the last five years were the five hottest on record. If melting ice causes a sea level rise of just a few feet, it will wipe out pretty much every single beach in the world. Not to mention the Maldives, much of the South Pacific and a good chuck of Manhattan.

So, help save the planet -- and save some money, too. Next time you feel the urge to get away, go green! Here are 10 ways to do it.

Eds note: Graham Hughes holds the Guinness World Record for visiting every country on Earth without flying. He hosts the Travel Channel's "Lonely Planet: Odyssey with Graham Hughes" and is the author of Man of the World.

1. Resist using the A/C

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On a hot day, turn off the AC and roll down the windows instead.

This, perhaps surprisingly, is the No. 1 rule of green travel. The electrical drain of air conditioners is staggering, accounting for over a fifth of the total energy used in buildings worldwide. But that aside, the gases used in A/C units are incredibly bad for the environment.

So try to stay in older buildings with high ceilings (and ceiling fans), windows that open, and rooms set around a courtyard. That setup is popular across Europe and Latin America for its natural cooling properties.

When you’re in a car, just roll down the windows. And if you absolutely must use the A/C, keep it to a minimum and don’t ever leave it on in your room when you're not there.

2. Fly less

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Alternative travel lessens the output of jet fuel pollution created by planes.

I’m living proof that you can get to literally every country in the world without flying. That’s not to say it was easy (nobody else has come close to beating my record), but it’s possible — and if we’re going to tackle the current climate emergency, we need to take this matter seriously.

So, do your best to keep your feet on the ground.

Seriously consider the alternatives to air travel, such as taking a train or driving an electric car. Make the journey part of the adventure, not the tedious bit before the fun begins.

3. Do homestays, not hotels

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Spending the night in a homestay room will waste far fewer resources than the average hotel.

I’ll happily admit that I intensely dislike the typical hotel experience, and, given an alternative, I’d much rather sleep pretty much anywhere else. But still, there are sound environmental reasons for opting for a homestay vacay.

Couchsurfing.com, Airbnb and HomeAway will give you opportunities to stay somewhere nice without contributing to the almost industrial processes that can take place behind the scenes when you stay at a big hotel.

Those include overuse of air conditioning, food wastage and an insane amount of washing.

4. Eat local

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Familiarizing yourself with the local cuisine helps limit the need for imported goods.

Transporting food over long distances is a big problem for the environment, so don't force your meals to go that extra mile. When you travel, you should not be expecting the exact same dietary repertoire you enjoy at home.

This is no big deal if you love diving into the local cuisine and trying new things. But even if you’re a bit stuck in your ways, it’s fairly easy to find alternatives to your usual faves.

However, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan there are certain countries where finding food that doesn’t have meat in it can be an infuriating process. Which brings me to my next point.

5. Prep your own meals

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Prepping your own meals eliminates the food waste created by restaurants.

Food is one of the great joys in life, and I do enjoy cooking for my family. But cooking when you're on vacation? I can see why some people might recoil in horror at the very idea.

That said, self-catering not only saves you a heap of cash, it's also heaps better for the environment than eating in cafes and restaurants every day of the week — something most of us would never dream of doing at home.

So, pop down to the local minimart. Prepare your own meals. Make sandwiches for lunch. Eat fresh fruit and veggies. You’ll not only be helping to reduce your carbon footprint, you’ll be saving money in the bargain.

6. Use public transportation

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Public transportation is much more fuel efficient than cabs or Ubers.

Nearly every major city around the world has a half-decent public transportation system, and it’ll invariably be miles cheaper than taking taxis or renting a car.

An argument that some people make is that public transit is more stressful. I can only guess these people have never driven in London, New York, Mexico City, Rome, Bangkok, Cairo — I could go on.

When you drive, you must navigate unfamiliar roads (sometimes on the opposite side than you're used to), keep out of bus lanes, avoid getting caught in intersections, and not go the wrong way down a one-way street. And, parking can be a huge and expensive headache.

7. Recycle

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You recycle at home, so why wouldn't you while you're abroad?

You do this at home no doubt, but when you're abroad it's often easier "when you don’t know the system" to just chuck everything in the same bin. Please don’t do that.

Carry your used cans and glass bottles with you until you find a dedicated recycling bin — most big cities have them dotted around the place. Before booking your accommodation, check to see if it has facilities for guests to recycle their trash.

And never, ever litter. Not only is it hideously disrespectful, there’s a much greater chance of your garbage getting into the water system and harming marine life.

8. Say no to plastic

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Single use plastics are extremely harmful to marine life.

I stayed for a few years in the beautiful tropical archipelago of Bocas Del Toro in Panama, and there was one thing that drove me mad.

If you bought a canned soft drink from one of the local supermarkets, the checkout assistant would jam a plastic drinking straw under the tab and put the can in a small black plastic bag. Creating so much plastic waste less than a mile from where endangered turtles lay their eggs is beyond irresponsible.

Things have greatly improved in recent years, but still, when you’re traveling take your own pocket bags and take a reusable coffee cup with a lid. You can use it for hot and cold drinks wherever you go — and, more often than not, save money.

9. Reconsider that cruise

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Cruises take a bigger environmental toll than you'd expect.

Cruise ships not only burn an insane amount of fuel and rely heavily on air conditioning, but they also waste an incredible amount of resources. Anyone who has been on a cruise will tell you the food waste alone is staggering.

There’s also the local environmental impact of building and maintaining the massive concrete cruise ship terminals that stick out from a tropical waterfront like a septic thumb.

Until green cruises become a thing (if only somebody could come up with a clever way of moving a ship using the power of the wind), I’d give cruising a swerve.

10. Make a carbon offset donation

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Give back to the environment by investing in carbon offset charities.

A number of websites allow you to find out the size of your carbon footprint after filling out a short questionnaire. I heartily suggest that you try this.

The result might surprise you, especially if you think for a moment that I’m joking about flying less. (Or not flying all!) Then, find a carbon offset program and make a donation, maybe using your credit card.

Carbon offsets allow you to invest in environmental projects around the world in order to help balance out your carbon footprint. Every little bit helps.

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