People travel for many reasons – adventure, culture, education, wilderness. We do a bit of all these things, but focus our biggest trips on earth’s treasures. This produces a conflict – we thrill to explore natural places and be in the presence of wild creatures, but the trips themselves cause damage to these same environments.
How do we justify traveling to distant places while being environmentalists?
- The tourism business, though not without its faults, is often a top determiner on protecting a place or a species. Without the tourist income, many areas would be lost to development, poaching, or decay.
- Tourism allows people to become citizens of the world. It’s difficult to understand a people or feel attachment to a place if you’ve never traveled. The worldwide sorrow at the fire at Notre Dame in Paris, and the subsequent contributions to the repair, show how this Cathedral is beloved by all who have visited. We hope those who are unable to visit great destinations, can share a bit of that feeling through our photos and our stories.
Thus the discrepancy – tourism is an essential industry, yet travel is ecologically ‘expensive’ in terms of carbon footprint, and can be damaging to the destinations we visit.
Ultimately, in our family, we travel because we love it. We have dreamt of places like the Serengeti and the Nile since we were children. Now retired, with our children grown, we are dipping into our savings to live our dreams. We follow sustainable travel practices on our trips. And we are doing all we can to offset our travels with home-grown environmentalism – sustainable, green living.
We’ve changed our travel planning, packing, and activities to be more responsible. Read Sustainable Travel: how to be a responsible tourist.
Offset your travel with a sustainable lifestyle:
Some things can be done today, and some should wait until you have the need (and the funds). It is NOT environmentally friendly to buy new things when your current ones work. Do what you can to save energy with what you have.
- Turn down the thermostat during winter, and turn it up in summer
- Unplug or turn off appliances when not at home – appliances take up 9% of the average household energy bill!
- Turn off computers, etc. when not in use. A device in standby, or sleep, mode is still drawing energy.
- Install energy saving light bulbs
- Make sure your home has adequate insulation
- Install energy saving windows and doors
- Replace old appliances with energy savings ones
- Invest in a green energy source for your home
- Downsize your home –
From the Pew Research Center – average US home used 31% less energy per square foot in 2012 than in 1970, BUT homes have gotten bigger, canceling out the energy savings.*
- Take shorter showers, turn the faucet off while brushing your teeth, etc.
- If your yard needs watering, do it in the early morning before the heat of the day.
- Consider adding a rain barrel to your yard for collecting water for plants, etc.
- Check and repair any leaks inside and outside
- Install water-saving toilets
- Change your approach to lawn and gardening watering – can you live without a manicured lawn?
SIMPLE STEPS (they’re pretty much all simple steps…)
- Create a take-away kit (or two) for your car, office, whatever!
- reusable water bottle
- reusable coffee mug – an insulated one is great, though we love our KeepCups
- reusable fork and spoon – we use this to-go set but any fork and spoon will do! Use old or mismatched utensils.
- reusable straw – or do without. I have sensitive teeth so use a straw from Klean Kanteen. Wider silicone straws are great for your morning smoothies.
- cloth napkin
- Use reusable bags when shopping – we love the padded handles on our Tom Bihn shopbags, but you might prefer the a stylish mesh grocery bag.
- Use reusable produce bags too. AND remember that some fruits and veggies come ‘pre-wrapped’ – bananas, oranges, etc. don’t need to be in a bag.
- In the kitchen
- use plates to cover dishes in the fridge or buy beeswax wraps
- invest in a few silicone storage and sandwich sized bags. Most are dishwasher safe.
- reuse the inevitable plastic bag, i.e. the bread bag. Rinse, turn inside out to dry, and reuse!
- Cut back on meat in your diet, especially red meat. Meatless Mondays are an easy way to begin.
From Scientific American “the production, processing and distribution of meat requires huge outlays of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water while releasing greenhouse gases, manure and a range of toxic chemicals into our air and water. A lifecycle analysis conducted by EWG that took into account the production and distribution of 20 common agricultural products found that red meat such as beef and lamb is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains.”
- Eat local food when you can. Saves energy on transportation and the food tastes better. Support your local Farmer’s markets.
- Eliminate food waste. Use up those leftovers!
- Group commute – take public transportation or carpool
- Group errands – plan out your short trips to save yourself time and gas.
- Walk or bike more – good for you and the Earth
- If possible – have a car free day each week
- Invest in a hybrid vehicle
- Invest in an electric bike for errands around town
- Ask to work from home 1 or 2 days a week
Say No to Fast Fashion
Wear what you have now, but before purchasing a new item, ask yourself:
- Is it well made? Will it last for more than one season?
- Was it sewn by fairly paid workers?
- Will I wear it more than 10 times this year?
Avoid synthetics and fleeces that shed microplastics when washed. Wash those items you have in lingerie bags to reduce the friction between fabrics which leads to the shedding.
Offset Energy through Volunteering or Investment
- Litter patrol – carry a bag on your walks, dedicate one day a month to picking up your neighborhood, or organize a town-wide clean-up. Anything you can do helps!
- Volunteer with an Audubon group or similar to create future environmentalists.
- Fill your yard with native plants to attract butterflies, bees, and other wildlife
- Plant a tree
- Donate to a carbon offset program
Changes we’ve made-
We’ve always tried to live responsibly – avoiding single-use plastic, doing litter patrols, and volunteering- but when we decided to make travel a priority, we made some big changes. We sold our big house, moved into an energy efficient condo (within walking distance of the library, bank, and restaurants!), and traded our SUV for a hybrid. We still have a long way to go to truly offset our trips, but we’re trying!!
Have you made changes in your lifestyle to compensate for your love of travel??
Coming soon: Sustainable Travel: a globetrotter’s guide to being a responsible tourist