Just because you're leaving home doesn't mean you have to leave your conscious principles behind. Sometimes we're on vacation or away from our normal lives and forget about our ethical reasoning because we have the luxury to do so. A lot of places make luxury and convenience high priority in the hopes of attracting tourism. We have endless supplies of hot water, towels, electricity, air conditioning, etc. It's easy to waste when we leave the house, so here I’ve outlined a few things to consider to help you be a conscious tourist. Keep in mind that that guide isn't just limited to tourism outside of your native place of residence, but can apply to any time you leave the house.
Before you visit ANYWHERE, do some research on the place you’re going to visit. This might seem like a no brainer, but it’s important to know the area’s cultural customs. There are some parts of the world that require any one person (particularly women) to dress more conservatively.
Then do some research on the types of environmental issues the city you’re visiting suffers from. Different geographic areas suffer from different environmental issues. Yale's sustainable travel guide states that mass tourism poses major problems on the environment and when choosing where to travel, choose places that are least touristy. Go against the grain. Who wants to visit heavily populated tourist areas anyways? But also be safe when visiting the more off the grid areas. Don't go around upsetting locals.
Now that you've followed step 1, you should now think about what you're going to pack. Considering you've done your research, you know the types of clothing people wear in the area you're going to visit.
With that in mind, the second tip might be obvious to some people, but the key to success is to pack lightly. Packing lightly is better when trying to reduce your carbon footprint because it lightens the plane's load. It's also great because you don't have to lug all your stuff around if you're hopping from one city to the next.
Bring a reusable water bottle with you so you don't have to worry about buying plastic bottles and tossing them when you're done. UNLESS, the place your going has water that is undrinkable. Most places will be will be willing to fill your water bottles. You may not be able to bring it on the plane, but you'll be able to use it during your travel.
Try to bring a book with you on your trip instead of loading up on all your nice gadgets. Getting immersed in a good book on a flight is much better than watching a movie you've seen a million times. It's also a great way to stay busy while waiting for a train (unless of course you're visiting L.A.).
If you're going somewhere tropical or hot, be sure to pack organic, toxic-free sunscreen. Sunscreen can be really harmful to the ocean's ecosystems and destroys its inhabitants. Manda by Simple by Nature is a really amazing brand and highly recommended!
Think about things that you'll be able to buy when you get there so you lighten your luggage. It might be more economical to bring your own, but it also might support the local economy to buy stuff while you're there. Personally, any toiletries I'll bring on any trip will be my own because I use special organic and all natural products that I don't want to have to search high and low for when I arrive at my destination.
Lastly, one of the most important things to consider is your luggage! You don't have to buy something new and fancy for the trip. Reuse luggage, or if you're in the market to purchase something new, look for something made ethically or sustainable!
When determining how to get to your destination, sometimes there isn't an option. However, if you are traveling to a far off place and you need to travel by plane, get a direct flight. You emit more carbon during landing and take off, plus, layovers are annoying. Get the most of your vacation and just get there. Flying is generally the most eco-friendly option.
TIP: Most major airlines offer carbon offset programs. This will add a small fee to your ticket but the price is small when you consider these fees go towards funding reforestation programs, wind and solar panel farms, or agricultural programs that offset greenhouse gases.
If you're considering a road trip, try and rent a hybrid! Rentals seem pricey, but you offset the costs of rental through gas savings when you go hybrid or electric.
You can always travel by train, bus, or ship, which is also eco-friendly! It's also a good way to meet people.
Once you land, get lost and walk around. A lot of cities also offer bike rentals, which is a great way to tour the city in a more environmentally conscious way.
You can take a train or bus when touring the city, unless you're in L.A. We aren't as public transportation friendly out here, but you can always Uber Pool, which is a great way to carpool and maybe meet some locals. I've definitely met some cool travelers through Uber Pool.
Now, I usually Air BnB because it's A) cheaper, but more importantly B) it forces me to to be conscious during my travel. I'm not afforded the same luxuries in a private home as I am a hotel. There's also a kitchen, so I can buy my own food from local produce stands or grocery stores and make food at home. It's a win-win.
However, if you're traveling and you prefer hotels, that's fine too! You can check their directory to see if the hotel has LEED Certification through the U.S. Green Building Council. You want to make sure you're staying in the most environmentally conscious hotel!
When you stay in a hotel, or even an Air BnB, you can still conserve water and electricity:
Take showers, not baths. I KNOW. It's hard! I'm an avid bath taker, so I have to limit my bath use. On that note, try and shorten your shower time as well.
Hang your towels and reuse them. I'm not sure why people feel the need to use a towel once anyways. Any dirt you may have had on your body was washed off during the shower, duh. Reuse towels ALWAYS.
Try not to use the hotel's laundry. If you must, then do it, but they wash each guest's clothing separately, which wastes a lot of water.
When you leave your place of stay, always shut off the electricity. Don't leave lights, TV's, AC's, heaters, etc. running.
Place your do not disturb sign on the door before you go, so the maids don't clean your room every time you leave. They use a lot of chemicals to clean the room, which doesn't need to be done every time you're out. You don't clean your house everyday, do you?
Take used mini shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and soaps with you. The hotel will just toss everything when leave your stay. This will ensure less waste and that the bottles get disposed of safely.
Always support your local business! If you know the economy needs support and relies on tourism, try and buy from small markets and local artisans. You can also get some cool things to bring back for your friends and family.
Try and be a "traveler, not a tourist." Always ask before taking a photo of someone.
Don't buy anything that contributes to the death of endangered animal/plant species. For instance, mini dried seahorses or elephant tusks and especially not shark fin soup! It's not even real shark fin most of the time.
Understand the local customs and learn some of the language.
Bring your own reusable bag - just like you do at home.
If the city you're visiting offers it, go on a nature tour or a local sustainability tour.
Don't take photos with locals who have small wild animals. These people are cruel and remove cubs and other animals from their homes to make a dime off you. Don't support this industry.
Go on a hike, but if you do, don't remove plants and animals from their natural habitat.
This goes without saying, but don't litter!
If you go snorkeling, don't touch the coral reefs or animals in the water. It's harmful to them indefinitely and potentially harmful to you.
If you can't finish your food, take it home. I'm not sure why people are so weird about taking home leftovers. You can even bring your own Tupperware so you don't contribute to more waste. It's a strange thing to do, but do it a few times and feel great!
If you'd like to conserve water, don't order ice in your drink. You might not be able to drink the water anyways, so you can either bring a water bottle or have some juice or wine.
Don't be the rude tourist and demand things of your server. This applies anytime you eat a restaurant.
If you're feeling adventurous, don't substitute anything in your meal. Eat as is. This is respectful to your host country and is actually impolite in some places. (Unless of course you have allergies.)