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Green Travel: 6 Ways to Help Make Your Vacation Green or Sustainable

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What we'll cover:

  • There are different flavors of green travel – you can stay at a hotel with green practices or book an economy flight instead of flying first class, for example
  • Sustainable travel operators can help you book eco-friendly trips 
  • One of the best ways to travel green: Stay close to home 
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After a year of travel cancellations, many of us may be raring to get back on planes or in our cars to take a few trips again.

But a lot has changed since we last packed our bags, including, maybe, how we want to travel. If images like these of nature taking over have you thinking green, or you’ve just become interested in travelling a little more sustainably, there’s good news: Reducing your vacation footprint doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding planes or cars altogether or even going completely off the grid and making arduous treks. 

In fact, there are some relatively painless things you can do to travel with a smaller eco-footprint. Ahead, we’ll walk you through six of them. 

1. Pack light

When travelling green, the term “lighten up” takes on a new meaning. That’s because if you can manage to bring less with you on your travels, your efforts could help cut down on pollution.  

Here’s how: People, pets, packages and other cargo all have weight, and the more weight that a train, plane or car has to carry, the more fuel it burns. So, when you pack less, you’re potentially helping cut down on the emissions your mode of transportation puts out. (Bonus: if you’re flying, packing light can also help you avoid baggage fees.)  

One tip that’s going to sound obvious but can help you pack a little less is to check the weather. Doing so can help you avoid tossing in random things, like a parka just in case it’s chilly in Belize.

One way to save space? See what’s available where you’re staying. Your rental may have beach towels and hair dryers.

Once you have an idea of what the forecast will look like, you can take your light packing strategy a step further and see if you can pack clothes that can work for more than one activity (a shirt that multitasks for a day and a night out, for example). If the idea of possibly packing too little makes you nervous, see if your hotel offers laundry services, or scope out local options nearby. 

You could also save space by scanning the amenities you’ll find where you’ll be staying; Rentals may have an umbrella stand’s worth of rainy day options as well as conveniences like hair dryers or beach towels. They may also have a crib or two on site, which can be a help if you’re bringing kids.

2. Look for green places to stay 

Although you could sleep outside on the ground wrapped in bamboo sheets, you don’t have to give up sleeping in a real bed to travel green. More traditional (and to us, more comfortable) options may be available. 

You could, for example, look for accommodations that have earth-friendly practices. Instead of providing plastic water bottles, some places have water filters that you can use to fill up a reusable bottle. Others may provide bath products in dispensers (instead of those tiny plastic bottles) or use cleaning products that are eco-friendly. Some hotels may encourage you to help save on water and energy by offering discounts or rewards if you reuse towels or linens instead of having them changed every day.

3. Consider your transportation options 

Taking a train or driving may be better for the environment than flying, but it’s not always possible – or reasonable – to avoid taking a plane. But planes pollute. Info posted on the non-profit site of the David Suzuki foundation in April 2021, hints at one reason avoiding flights could help – flights were responsible for 12% of emissions tied to travel and are among the top 10 sources of emissions overall.

If you have to fly, you may still be able to minimize your in-flight environmental impact. Direct flights tend to have smaller carbon footprints, so it could be greener to take a single, continuous flight instead of piecing together a trip of connecting ones. (Up to a point; really long hauls could be another story.)

Public transit can be a great way to see a new city, and because it’s mass transit, it’s greener than taking a car. 

And – this may pinch if you really enjoy first class – going economy may help. This section of the plane carries more people than first class, which could result in a smaller per-passenger carbon footprint. 

What about traveling by sea? A cruise may seem like an eco-friendly option – it’s on water, you’re surrounded by nature! Turns out that the environmental impact can be rough: A researcher told the New York Times that cruise ships give off almost four times the amount of carbon dioxide per mile than jets. 

4. Use an eco-friendly trip operator or travel company

Using a travel company that specializes in eco-travel does a few good things:

  • Less work for you!
  • You get to travel green.
  • It could include benefits like:
  • A sustainable travel approach that tries to ease the negative impact of overtourism (the official term for too many people visiting one place) by drawing attention to less crowded areas
  • Pairing donations to environmental causes with vacation discounts.

If you want less of a “tour” approach to planning, you may be able to find some green activities through local outdoors stores, parks departments or tourism boards.

5. Travel like a local when you’re there

Public transit can be a great way to see a new city, and because it’s mass transit, it’s greener than taking a car. However, trains and buses aren’t the only ways to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and tamp down on fuel consumption; you may be able to rent bikes or walk. (It’s green and exercise by stealth.)

6. Stay close to home base

Of course, perhaps the most eco-friendly and sustainable travel you could do is close to home. Instead of planning a trip thousands of miles away, consider living like a tourist by seeking out local sights, events and activities. It could be just the push you need to finally go to the places you’ve been meaning to visit and support local businesses at the same time.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.