Reducing the Tourism Footprint: Kayak and TreeHugger Team Up

TreeHugger is no stranger to discussions on how best to travel lightly on this earth. While we’ve posted on alternatives to flying before, we are aware that many folks will continue to travel by air for the foreseeable future. We were delighted, then, when the folks from online-travel site Kayak contacted us asking for tips to help their customers travel greener [they’ve already published details of some top eco-tourism destinations]. Here’s what we put together for them:1. Take Responsibility with Carbon Offsets – Flying generates significant greenhouse gas emissions. Unless you happen to own Boeing, there is little you can do to improve the fuel economy of the average jumbo, but carbon offsets from a reputable supplier can fund programs that reduce carbon emissions by the amount created by your flight. These programs can include making manufacturing more efficient or planting trees. TreeHugger’s guide to carbon offsets can help you understand the options and find a vendor.

2. Stay Mindful – Much of what you can do to stay green while travelling is exactly what you’d do if you stayed at home. It’s easy to be wasteful with a hotel staff picking up behind you, but fight complacency! Look for recycling facilities in your hotel, keep your showers short, turn off the lights, TV and AC when leaving your room, and let the hotel know that changing your linens and towels every day is an unnecessary luxury. If your hotel isn’t making it easy to be green, tell them you expect more, or support brands that do have an environmental sensibility. Don't hesitate to give them feedback and make sure to ask them how they contribute to the local community.

3. Travel Doesn’t End at the Airport - While flying may be unavoidable, local transportation is another matter. Research public transportation options in advance, and you might be surprised to find options that are faster and cheaper, as well as emitting less carbon. Renting a bike is another way to get around, which has the added benefit of seeing the city and getting some exercise. If you do have to rent a car, ask for the most fuel efficient options – it may be an opportunity to try out that hybrid you always wanted. And of course, what's even better is to use your good ole' feet whenever possible.

4. Cut the Trash – Being away from home often puts you at the mercy of vendors for every need, which means surrendering to unnecessary packaging and waste. It doesn’t have to be that way. Bring water in a reusable bottle, carry a spare tote for those last-minute souvenirs, and pack your own water cup and shampoos rather than relying on tiny and wasteful hotel supplies (not to mention doing your roots a favor). If you do forget the necessities, make sure to bring those samples home with you and reuse them. And when you do need to eat, ditch the Styrofoam – find somewhere with real plates, real food, and real service, and sit down to enjoy it. You’re away from home – you may as well enjoy it!

5. Everywhere is Local to Someone – So you support the local farmer’s market back home - why not take this ethos with you when you travel? By seeking out local restaurants, shops and craftspeople, you’ll not only be cutting down on the unnecessary shipping of goods, but you’ll also be supporting the local economy in your host community, and ultimately getting a much more authentic, enjoyable experience.

6. Be Responsible When Sightseeing - If you are traveling to a place where there is a ton to see, remember the saying: "Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints." This means that when hiking stay on trails that are marked, when snorkeling don't touch the coral and when shopping leave the cheesey souvenirs behind. If you're with a tour, make sure to seek out one that is environmentally responsible and look for a smaller group (they tend to make less of an impact).

7. Savor the Experience – Ultimately, travel is an energy intensive activity, so make the most of it. Take the opportunity to make connections, to learn, to have fun, and to cherish the moment. We are fortunate to be able to travel; let’s not take it for granted.

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