The dawning of the commercial jet age in 1958 revolutionized travel. But at the same time, it made journeys less eco-friendly than in the days of ships, propeller and piston-engine aircraft, and other less fuel-intensive means of getting around. (See References 1) If you want to be an eco-friendly travel planner, you can find ways to blend jet-age convenience with responsibility to the planet. You might be surprised at how many options you have to maintain your “home” values of eco-friendliness on the road.
Find your hotel in Barcelona on a city map and book online.
Select a destination with good rankings in terms of environmental protection. The editorial board at the online site Ethical Travel rates highly countries including Costa Rica, Palau, Poland, Uruguay and Dominica and others on environmental protection, based on an environmental performance index developed by centers at Yale and Columbia universities (see References 2).
Visit your library and check out as many of the guidebooks on the shelves as you can for your destination, looking especially for books published by Lonely Planet, Moon Travel Guides, Rough Guides and Bradt Publications, or independent publishers specializing in eco-friendly travel. To update the information in the library books on eco-friendly options, purchase the latest editions of the books you find most useful. Also, visit online travelers’ forums such as the Thorn Tree at LonelyPlanet.com, Slow Travel Talk, Travellerspoint, BootsnAll and IgoUgo, or websites of adventure outfitters.
Design a trip that allows you to “fly less, stay longer,” as recommended by off-the-beaten-track guidebook writer-publishers Tony Wheeler and Mark Ellingham. This maximizes your travel time and limits your carbon footprint, the measure of greenhouse gases you produce. (See References 3) “Flying across the continent or across the ocean is going to have a substantial environmental impact, so you want to make the most of it when you do go,” agrees transportation advisor John Z. Wetmore. “Try to make one two-week trip, rather than two one-week trips. In general, your green transportation choices are the ones that use fewer resources, so they tend to be less expensive as well.” (See References 4)
Patronize airlines that have a strong environmental agenda; see if they recycle cabin waste and offer all-electronic ticketing. Look at the average fleet age to determine if an airline uses more fuel-efficient planes; researchers at Greenopia, a green-products rating company, annually rate airlines on this variable as well as fuel consumption practices and green building design (see References 5).
Book a stay in a hotel or resort that follows environmentally sustainable practices such as water conservation, native plant landscaping and reduced solid waste. Hotels that adopt the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria work to follow such practices. (See References 6) Check if a hotel property’s green credentials have been certified by a third party, recommends Ronald Sanabria of the nonprofit Rainforest Alliance. Criteria may include the use of compact fluorescent lights and nontoxic cleaning products by the housekeepers. (See Resources 2)
Support vendors — tour operators and cruise liners as well as airlines, hotels and resorts — that advance energy conservation, recycling and good water and air quality, recommends the American Society of Travel Agents in its “Ten Commandments on Eco-Tourism.” Whether on safari in Kenya, fishing in Alaska, hiking in Hawaii or bird watching in Brazil, examine vendors’ policies on trash disposal, vehicle or vessel fuel efficiency, and whether they “leave no trace behind” after a visit to a pristine area.