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6 Tips to be a Sustainable Traveler

Stand of saguaro cacti next to a lake

6 Tips to be a Sustainable Traveler

These days “sustainability” can often be a hot topic issue. While you might not be actively hugging trees or signing up for a beach clean-up crew (we get it, we wouldn’t want to pick up someone else’s used Q-tips either), there are some simple out-of-the-ordinary steps you can take on your next holiday to be a more eco-considerate traveler. 


Visit a Sustainable Destination

Sustainable travel starts long before your bags are packed. Really, it starts with choosing your destination. Remember the scene in the Matrix when Morpheus asks Neo to choose between the red pill and the blue pill? Red would reveal the matrix to him, whereas blue would let him forever live in happy ignorance of the program. It’s the same with sustainable travel. Choose a destination that reveals how the destination manages sustainable practices. Most of the time, you can find this information on the local visitor’s bureau website or city website. Scottsdale, where the majority of the artwork we at EcoTours AZ visit, has a great section on their website about their sustainability efforts. If you can’t find any information about a destination’s sustainable practices, you might be choosing the blue pill if you decide to go. 


Book Better Flights

Sustainable travel isn’t just about having your dirty bath towels laundered if you leave them on the floor. Really, it all starts with the journey there. Since aircraft are one of the leading producers of CO2, the flight there should be one of your biggest research points to cut your carbon footprint. According to the open source BlueSkyModel, a single flight from JFK to LAX can generate up to 65 short tons of carbon dioxide – way more CO2 than any amount of wasted bath towel laundering will emit. So, when checking flights, look for airlines flying newer nex-gen aircraft that are more fuel efficient. Flights that are non-stop are always a winner since they avoid the extra take-offs which is really what amps-up the carbon output. Finally, book a flight which usually sells-out, this way you keep the CO2 per passenger air mile to its lowest.  


Rent a Sensible Car

After your flight lands, you’ll most likely be heading to the Hertz parking lot where you’ll wander around for at least 15 minutes trying to find your white Toyota Camry (yeah, it’s two aisles over and ten spots down from where it should have been). While you can’t straight-up rent a Tesla to offset your carbon spewage, (actually, you could rent a Tesla on Turo, come to think of it) you can stick to economy class cars instead of premium or suv classes. These cars often get much better gas mileage and your pocketbook will thank you since they carry lower daily rental rates. And if you happen to be the VIP that always gets the sweet upgrades, (or the lucky chap that gets bumped up one tier because that Camry actually wasn’t anywhere to be found) opt for an economical car that’ll get the job done, instead of leaving six empty seats in that fancy, gas-guzzling, eight-cylinder. 


Don’t Forget to Tip

Tipping is actually one of the most sustainable things you can do when you travel, so be sure to do it – and do it well! Nothing has a greater impact on the local economy than cold hard cash that goes from your warm pocket to the cold, empty pocket of a local. And let’s be honest, a lot of the time this cash goes unreported to Uncle Sam which means the economic impact is unburdened by income taxes. In Arizona, the standard tip for food and beverage service is 20% of the pre-tax amount of your bill. 10-15% should suffice for a tour guide on a guided tour. I usually tip valets $5 on my way in and $5 on my way out. A $20 spot is good for a bellman hauling a bell cart full of all your trappings to your room. And don’t slip the cash into their hand like you’re trying to hide something from the IRS. Just hand it to them in plain view, make eye contact, and give a sincere “thank you”. 


Don’t Trash your Room

You’d be surprised how much trash you generate while traveling. After all, you’re living out of a suitcase stuffed with plastic single-use bottles you frantically bought from Walgreens the night before. Check with the hotel ahead of time to see if there is a recycling can in the room. If there is, don’t shove your leftover pizza from Rosati’s in it. Housekeeping will not be able to recycle anything in the can if you contaminate its contents with five different kinds of Italian cheeses. In fact, eliminate the need to recycle in the first place by bringing a vessel water bottle and your own soaps. You’ll avoid having to pay $5 per water bottle or begging the front desk to bring more bottles to your room. Using your own soaps will prevent the single-use bottles from ending up in the trash. Most hotels are shifting toward eliminating single-use bottles anyway, so unless you want to use a locker room style soap dispenser, probably best to bring your own lotions and potions. 


Watch your Energy Consumption

Energy usage is usually the second largest operating expense behind payroll for most hotels. The majority of this usage comes from the guestrooms. So, if you can reduce your consumption while traveling, you will drastically reduce the energy usage and waste you leave the destination with once you depart. When I worked in hotels, I saw guests crank their air conditioner all the way to 60 degrees when they checked in. They’d drop their bags, use the bathroom and then leave for the day. Even with motion detection thermostats, you still place an undue burden on the local grid to run the air conditioner that cold. Unless you’re setting up a Bitcoin mine in your hotel room, there’s no need to crank the AC to the lowest it’ll go. Instead, set it to 76-78 degrees and your homeostasis will soon be happy.


The Takeaway

Nobody likes house guests that leave a mess when they leave, and we all like when a guest brings a gift when they come to the party. The same is true when we travel. Avoid being the traveler that leaves their waste and excess consumption for the residents of the destination to deal with after you depart. And come bearing gifts – gifts of mindfulness, conservation and generous gratuities. Finally, keep in mind that sustainable actions can be made at any point along the journey, not just at the final destination. Don’t over-think and try too hard to be sustainable. Just make simple changes. They all add up to significant improvements in the destination’s overall well-being.

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