Tired of throwing away money and generating waste on single-use items like Q-tips or plastic wrap? Save money and the planet with these reusable alternatives for disposable items.
Collapsible Reusable Straws
No one wants to be caught asking for a plastic straw in public, but carrying around a reusable straw seems cumbersome—unless you get this set from Amazon. Made from stainless steel, these reusable straws collapse down into their own carrying case, so you have an easy and sanitary way to keep an eco-friendly straw on you at all times.
A to-go paper cup in a cardboard sleeve from your local coffee shop might be slightly more convenient than bringing your own, but it has its downsides—like cooling off almost immediately, burning your hand, and sloshing out the top. Break your disposable drink habit by bringing this coffee mug from Hydro Flask with you. It has a spill-proof lid and will keep your drink at the perfect temperature all day.
Even a Q-tip has a reusable alternative. LastSwab looks and works just like a disposable cotton swab, but is made to be used over and over again. Made from durable and eco-friendly materials, the LastSwab can be easily cleaned using soap and water. It’s available in two versions—one for cleaning and one for makeup. Both come in a protective case to keep your swab clean in between uses.
Plastic wrap can be incredibly usefully for saving leftovers, but it’s also incredibly wasteful. Ecomended’s Food Wax Wrap is a sustainable alternative to plastic wrap. Made from a cotton fabric coated with beeswax and jojoba oil, these wraps can be cut to any size and formed around any dish/bowl/cup to create a seal by using the warmth of your hand. Unlike plastic wrap, these wax wraps can be washed and reused, and come in fun prints like avocado or bees.
Made from bamboo, one roll of these reusable paper towels will last you about three to six months of regular use. The towels absorb more liquid than a regular paper towel and won’t tear. Simply toss them in the washing machine after each use.
Reusable, durable, microwave-safe, dishwasher-safe, and freezer-safe—Stasher’s silicone bags have some clear advantages over plastic zip-lock bags. The Stasher bags come in a variety of sizes, including sandwich, snack, pocket, and half-gallon. All of the bags are made from non-toxic platinum silicone and contain no BPA, PVC, or latex.
Single-use plastic floss picks are terrible for the environment, but they make flossing easier than standard dental floss. Get the benefits of a plastic floss pick without the environmental impact with quip’s Metal Refillable Floss. The metal dispenser holds floss that you’ll refill just once every three months, and makes it easy to get to those hard-to-reach spots in your mouth.
Eliminate waste and chemicals from your laundry with these Whitmor Dryer Balls, which replace fabric softener sheets. Made from non-toxic materials, these small balls have soft spikes to fluff and soften your laundry, preventing static cling and wrinkles.
Need an alternative to disposable aluminum foil and parchment paper? Try AmazonBasics’ Silicone Baking Mats. These slim mats are oven-safe up to 480 degrees and replace cooking sprays, oils, aluminum foil by preventing food from sticking. The mats are easy to clean and reuse.
Don’t want to use a plastic water bottle but hate cleaning your reusable water bottle? LARQ’s self-cleaning water bottle does the work for you—simply press the button on the lid to activate a UV light, which will clean and purify the water bottle and the water inside.
Many people hear the terms “green travel” or “ecotourism” and picture someone sleeping in a treehouse in the jungles of Borneo or canoeing down the Amazon. But this type of eco-adventure is just one end of the green travel spectrum. You don’t need to sacrifice creature comforts or go off into the middle of nowhere to be a green traveler; you can visit big cities or small villages, and stay in small ecolodges or luxury hotels. All that’s required is an effort to preserve and protect the environment of the place you’re visiting — and it’s easier than you might think.
Want to learn how? Read on….
What is Green Travel?
“Green travel” is one of many catchphrases — like ecotourism, sustainable travel, and responsible travel — that are bandied about with increasing frequency these days. But what exactly do these terms mean?
There are various shades of difference among all these terms, but at the heart of the matter is the importance of protecting the natural and cultural environment of the places you visit. That means conserving plants, wildlife, and other resources; respecting local cultures and ways of life; and contributing positively to local communities.
Why Go Green?
With over 1 billion tourists crisscrossing the globe every year, it’s more important than ever for travelers to minimize their individual impact on the earth’s natural and cultural treasures. The potential negative effects of tourism are both local and global; oceanfront hotels contribute to beach erosion in Hawaii, rising numbers of visitors threaten the fragile ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands, and carbon dioxide emissions from planes are a growing contributor to global warming.
Taking a green approach to travel is an easy and essential way to protect the places you love to visit, not just for yourself but for the travelers who come after you and for the people who will continue to live there long after you’ve flown home. As an added bonus, it often makes for a more rewarding, authentic travel experience, encouraging deeper connections with the people and places you visit.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily have to pay more in order to travel green. While offsetting the carbon emissions from your air travel will set you back a negligible amount (usually between $10 and $40 per flight, depending on the length), you can find green lodging options in all budgets, from hostels to luxury hotels. And earth-friendly transportation options like biking, walking and taking public transit are often cheaper than taking a cab or renting a car.
Is the hotel locally owned and operated? If not, is it at least staffed by local employees?
What kind of recycling programs does the hotel have (aluminum, plastic, paper, gray water, composting)?
Do guests have the option to reuse towels and sheets instead of having them changed every day?
What programs does the hotel have to reduce consumption? Examples include energy-efficient lighting, low-flow toilets and showers, and alternative energy sources like solar or wind power.
How does the hotel contribute to the local community?
During Your Stay
Even if you’re not spending the night in an eco-lodge or green hotel, there are still several easy steps you can take to make your stay more eco-friendly.
Keep your showers short, and shut off the water while you’re brushing your teeth.
When you leave the room, turn off the air-conditioning, heat, television, lights or any other electric devices.
Reuse your sheets and towels instead of having them changed every day. Many hotels will not replace your towels if you leave them hanging up neatly; if you’re not sure, write a note for the housekeeping staff or notify the front desk.
Bring your own toiletries and drinking cup rather than using the prepackaged ones provided. If you do use the hotel’s toiletries, take them with you and use them at home or during the rest of your trip.
Know your hotel’s recycling program and sort your trash accordingly. If your hotel doesn’t recycle, consider taking your empty bottles or other items home with you to recycle them there.
Give your hotel feedback. Express your appreciation for any eco-friendly programs it currently offers, or if it doesn’t, encourage the management to go green in the future.
Transportation, particularly air travel, is where most travelers have the biggest environmental impact. According to USA Today, a flight from New York to Denver produces as much carbon dioxide per passenger as an SUV produces in a month. To minimize your environmental footprint, try the following steps:
For shorter trips, take the train instead of flying — especially in Europe or other regions where train service is fast and frequent.
When renting a car, choose the smallest vehicle that can comfortably accommodate you. Decline any “free” upgrades (which will cost you more in gas).
Rent a hybrid car.
Taking a long road trip? If your personal vehicle is large and not very fuel-efficient, consider renting an economy car instead. You’ll save gas and avoid putting miles on your own vehicle.
Whenever possible, use public transportation instead of taxis or rental cars. Better yet, walk or bike.
When it comes to visiting the world’s most beautiful places, the old adage rings true: Take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints.
Travel with an environmentally friendly tour operator. Before you book, be sure to ask about group size (smaller groups tend to make less of an environmental impact), whether the tours are led by locals, how the tour operator gives back to the community, and what kind of lodging is included.
When hiking, always stay on marked trails and maintain a safe distance from any animals you encounter. Deposit your trash in marked receptacles or take it with you when you leave. Light campfires only in established fire rings and be sure they’re completely extinguished before you leave.
When snorkeling, do not touch the coral or stir up sediment, as these actions can damage the reef’s fragile ecosystem. Also, choose a reef-safe sunscreen; chemicals found in most sunblock lotions are harmful to coral.
Try to buy local products whenever possible instead of those that have been flown or shipped in from overseas. You’ll support the local economy and get a taste of native cuisine. Do not, however, buy souvenirs or other products made from endangered animals or plants, in most cases you can’t get them through U.S. Customs anyway.
You don’t need to be a nature expert to appreciate the seas of colorful flowers that mark the end of winter each year, or to get lost in photos of them. Some of the world’s biggest and best spring flower blooms turn travel-worthy spots like national parks and famous cities into a sea of color.
The World’s Most Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms
Here’s where to look for a breathtaking dose of color in spring, and which ones offer livestreams.
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.
Mount Fuji, Japan
Every April and May, pink-hued flowers blanket the meadows at the base of Mount Fuji. The Shibazakura Festival marks the occasion, drawing crowds who stroll through the electric-pink fields and snack at the many local food stalls that set up to offer Japanese buns, ramen, soups, and more. During the peak spring flower bloom this is one of the most photogenic places in the world. You can livestream the blooms here.
Death Valley, Southern California
Southern California’s parks are home to many different types of spring flower blooms, and they come to life earlier than most thanks to the region’s warm climate. Death Valley National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are popular for yellow and purple desert flowers that peek through the cracked desert floor as early as March. The Antelope Valley’s California Poppy Reserve becomes a sea of yellow, orange, and red poppies around April—and can look like a scene straight out of the Wizard of Oz. The small orange variation of poppy happens to be the state flower of California.
If rainbow palettes of tulips don’t come to mind when you think of the Netherlands, it’s time to venture beyond Amsterdam. Spring is a great time to head into the countryside to discover windmill-dotted fields of bright tulips, which often bloom as late as May. The Flower Bulb Region is home to vast tulip farms as well as public gardens like Keukenhof—one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, and home to seven million flowers. You can virtually tour the gardens here.
Western Australia (September)
Take your pick of Western Australia’s incredible array of wildflower trails in September—the southern hemisphere’s spring. Guided or self-driven spring flower bloom tours are available in wildflower-blanketed Perth, along the Coral Coast, and as far north as Pilbara. Options include the Esperance Wildflower Trail, wild orchids south of Perth, and rainbow desert blooms in Broome to the north.
Valley of Flowers National Park, India
India’s Valley of Flowers is both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its six miles of alpine flowers and rare, protected wildlife. Nestled between the Himalayas and the sacred Ganges River in Uttarakhand, the valley has 1,000 different species of flowers, including daisies, poppies, rhododendrons, lavender, and more. Hike along its waterways and through pastures blanketed in spring flower blooms—just keep an eye out for Himalayan black bears.
Monet’s House and Gardens, France
Claude Monet’s mesmerizing flowers don’t only exist in paintings. See the lavender and lily pad-filled settings that inspired his works in Giverny, France, where you can visit the Impressionist artist’s house and gardens. The grounds are separated into two main gardens: one around the house that includes an orchard and bulb flowers like daffodils, and an enchanting Japanese water garden across the street.
Texas Hill Country, U.S.
Combine wildflowers with wineries in Texas Hill Country, west of bustling Houston. Spring flower blooms come early to the Lone Star State, so you can get a jump start on summer by heading to Fredericksburg or Brenham to see the region’s famed bluebonnets—which the nearby Bluebonnet Wine Trail is named for. Stop at wineries and spot classic Texan ranches along the way.
Kew Gardens, London, England
Spring flower blooms don’t have to require a trek from the city, especially if you’re in London. The U.K. capital has an abundance of gardens that come to life every spring, and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 300 acres house 27,000 colorful plants, and are thick with tulips, poppies, peonies, and cherry blossoms each spring. The gardens even offer online educational horticulture courses so you can learn to identify species of plants.
Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin is famously popular in spring for the thousands of cherry trees gifted to the park by the mayor of Tokyo, Japan, over a century ago. The pink and white buds explode into peak bloom all at once in a matter of just a few days, typically in March or April. The National Mall’s live webcam is here.
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Working From Home? Make it Comfy
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We all know about athleisure: workout clothes worn outside exercising. But it might be time for the trend to move over for a more powerful alternative during this time of social distancing—workleisure. In short, workleisure is a work from home outfit that’s as business-appropriate as it is comfortable.
While you adjust to remote work (or embrace it, if you’ve been doing it all along), consider these work from home outfit items that are cozier than your work clothes, but a lot more polished than your sweatpants. Plus, they’ll eventually be perfect for the plane, especially if you want to be comfortable and still look stylish enough to get a free upgrade.
If all you need is a business-casual top half to get you through video conferences, consider more comfortable shirt options than your standard collared button-down. Everlane’s lightweight flannel tops and affordable silk blouses are versatile enough to go with any outfit beyond working from home. And they utilize travel-friendly fabrics like cooling cupro, so you’ll never want to take them off. Try the cupro mockneck blouse to top off your favorite leggings as a stylish and cozy work from home outfit. Everlane’s work shirts for men include collar-less options and classic button-downs made from higher-performance fabrics.
Wide-leg pants and flowing tops don’t always look tailored, but combining both into a stylish jumpsuit somehow works. The Serenity Culotte Jumpsuit by SweatyBetty is a perfect example that’s comfy enough for the couch and sleek enough for conference calls.
Leggings that look like pants are key to both work from home outfits and plane outfits. Bridge the gap between business-casual and athleisure with workout brands’ take on a trouser, like Lululemon’s Essential High-Rise Trouser. Betabrand’s Dress Yoga Pants are also a cult favorite for business travelers—many of whom are now likely stuck at home, too.
To look extra presentation-ready, a modified, stretchy blazer is the perfect wardrobe secret weapon. There are surprisingly numerous options out there, with Nordstrom’s Stretch Wool Blend Sweater Blazer being a cozy favorite that comes in several neutral colors.
You don’t need to play tennis to appreciate a good high-performance skirt with shorts underneath. Options from Athleta can camouflage as a work skirt, like the Soho Skort and Tee Time Skort (with pockets). Sure, your coworkers probably won’t see it—but you’ll feel more work-ready and definitely get some compliments from anyone you’re isolating with at home.
When in doubt, look for items made from merino wool—a natural fabric that’s much cooler and softer than regular wool, with added moisture-wicking and antimicrobial properties. Woolly Clothing Co. is a travel favorite for airy merino wool options for both men (including work-appropriate shirts and pants) and women. For even more men’s options Wool & Prince focuses on merino wool button-downs and polos that are wrinkle-resistant.
A women’s merino wool option that affords you the luxury of working sans pants, Wool & Prince’s partner line, wool&, makes super stylish shirt dresses that you’ll never want to take off. Cozy merino wool dress options from wool& include swing, midi, and wrap dresses.
SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.
Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.
Sustainable travel is more than a trend—for an increasing number of travelers, it’s as integral to trip planning as comparing flight prices and browsing hotel listings. Motivated by the idea that a planet this spectacular deserves the care of those who navigate it, travelers are taking easy, small steps that reduce the impact of their travels while protecting natural resources and supporting local economies.
How would you rate your travel sustainability? Here are 12 sustainable travel tips—including shopping local, getting off the beaten path, and offsetting your carbon footprint—to help you reduce the impact of your travels. This generation of travelers—and the next, and the next—will thank you for it.
Buy from Local Artists and Eat Local Food
Farmers’ markets are a great place to find locally produced art and food. Buying locally supports the economy and—because the goods haven’t travelled far to get to you—helps keep the carbon footprint low.
Support Businesses That Support Local Sustainability
Before booking any tour, ask in advance about group size (smaller has less of an impact), whether locals guide the tours, and how the operator gives back to the community and prevents harming ecosystems. When you visit the Amazon, for example, hire a tour company that helps preserve indigenous communities most directly affected by deforestation. Wherever you go, look for locally owned hotels that compost and recycle or use alternative energy sources. This list of environmentally friendly tour operators and hotels is a great place to start when you’re considering how to travel sustainably.
Make a Donation to Help Preserve Natural and Historic Sites
Instead of leaving a few coins during your visit, consider a more significant contribution. If you’re hiking Borneo, for instance, paying more than your park fee or hiring a sustainable tour operator will help convince the government that preserving the forest, rather than exploiting it, is good for business and may prompt conservation. Donating to the Sustainable Preservation Initiative helps poor communities leverage their historic sites responsibly so they can create self-reliance and economic stability to thrive.
Skip Activities That Negatively Impact the Environment or Community
As a result of climate change, many ski towns in the European Alps whose economies rely on winter tourism are now overusing snowmaking machines. Unfortunately, these machines only contribute to the escalation of global warming. Visit the Alps in summer for hiking instead, or find an alternate ski destination with natural snow. If you’re a fan of animal attractions, do a bit of investigating and visit only those that are true sanctuaries with high standards.
Pay a Little Extra if it Means Having Less of an Impact
For your next road trip, rent a hybrid or electric car. On your next cruise, try a smaller ship, which has a significantly smaller carbon footprint and produces less waste than a 6,000-passenger behemoth. It often doesn’t cost much more to travel more sustainably, but it can make a big difference in your personal impact.
Overdevelopment and overcrowding can be as threatening as climate change in the most popular destinations around the world. Spain’s Costa del Sol and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex are only a couple of examples of places where tourism’s footprint could cause irreparable damage. Seek alternative destinations. Instead of joining the hoards in Machu Picchu, visit the similar but lesser-known “lost” Inca city of Choquequirao. Instead of Ibiza or Majorca, go to Sardinia or Crete—larger islands that can handle more visitors.
Bike or Use Public Transit Instead of Driving or Hailing a Taxi
Bike-sharing programs in more than 1,000 cities around the world make it easier and cheaper than ever to explore urban destinations. Seeing a new destination by bike, public transit, or on foot reduces your impact and offers more opportunities for interacting with locals. Touring Florida’s everglades? Go minimal impact with a guided swamp walk.
Switch to Reef-Safe, Oxybenzone-Free Sunscreen
Harmful chemicals from sunscreen worn by swimmers and snorkelers contribute to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs around the world. Oxybenzone damages adult coral and deforms and kills new coral, reducing its ability to regenerate. Choose oxybenzone-free products or wear protective clothing when swimming and snorkeling.
See your travel destination from an entirely different perspective. As a volunteer rather than a traveler, you’ll learn more about the place you’re visiting and have a chance to be part of the sustainability solution. Consider participating in a conservation project or another cause that makes your heart sing. Check Transitions Abroad and Idealist for links to some organizations to consider for your volunteer vacation. But make sure your volunteer efforts will be helpful, not harmful, before you decide where to go.
Bring Your Own Water Bottle
According to the Sierra Club, the billions of plastic water bottles that end up in landfills each year will take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Invest in a stainless steel reusable bottle for your next trip. If the tap water in your destination isn’t safe to drink, purify it with a SteriPEN or water purification tablets. Another option: Pick up a gallon (or larger container) of water to keep in your room.
Contribute to a carbon offsetting company and, on your behalf, someone will plant a tree or contribute to another carbon sequestration project that can absorb the toxic carbon dioxide emitted for every mile you travel, netting a zero-sum total. Some popular destinations even have their own offset programs.
Stick to the Trail
It’s tempting to step over the roped-off area to get the perfect photo for Instagram. But when millions of tourists follow suit, the effect is substantial. Whether you’re at a UNESCO World Heritage site or a local park, preserve the land by staying on the marked trails. Many ecosystems are so delicate that even a couple steps across the greenery or light brush against the coral can cause irreparable damage.
No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon, standing at the rim’s edge for the first time will take your breath away—especially if you’re there at sunset, as the fading light paints shades of rose, violet, and gold onto the ancient rocks. But planning a trip to the Grand Canyon requires more than just booking a hotel and packing your camera.
Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon
When should you travel to avoid the heaviest crowds and the most intense heat? Should you visit the North Rim or the South Rim? Where’s the best place to stay? For answers to these questions and more, read the following tips for planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.
Editor’s note: Many Grand Canyon facilities and tour operators have temporarily closed or made other modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check each provider’s website for full details before making plans.
South Rim vs. North Rim vs. Grand Canyon West
Grand Canyon National Park is split into two sections: the South Rim and the North Rim, located more than four hours apart by car. Then there’s Grand Canyon West, located on the Hualapai Native American Reservation, four hours from the South Rim and nearly seven hours from the North Rim. If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and your time is limited, where should you go?
The South Rim is the most visited part of the Grand Canyon for a reason. It has more viewpoints than the North Rim, with more expansive views of the canyon’s depth, as well as a wider range of lodging options and other visitor services. It also has plenty of hiking trails and activities like river rafting and mule rides. If you’re looking for classic Grand Canyon views, this is the place to go.
Popular with hikers and photographers, the North Rim is the South Rim’s quieter, more heavily forested cousin. While the views may be less spectacular, many travelers prefer the North Rim for its undisturbed wildlife and pristine trails.
The key draw at Grand Canyon West is the Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the canyon for dizzying views on all sides—including right under your feet. (Important note: The Skywalk does not permit cameras or phones. Professional photos are available for sale.) This isn’t the best bet for avid hikers, as there are only two (relatively easy) trails here, but other activities include zip-lining, pontoon boat rides, and touring a Native American village. Grand Canyon West is the closest part of the canyon to Las Vegas, making it a convenient, though long, day trip.
Note that because Grand Canyon West is located on Native American land, it requires a separate entry fee than the North and South Rims, which are administered by the National Park Service.
When to Visit the Grand Canyon
When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, consider visiting the South Rim any time other than summer—especially if you’re hoping to hike all the way down to the bottom of the canyon, where temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. Summer is also the busiest time of year; lodging in the park is expensive and sells out quickly, and viewpoints along the rim can be jammed with crowds.
The South Rim is open all year round, and you’ll find pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). Even a winter visit can be rewarding; bundle up and enjoy the sight of the canyon dusted with snow.
Thanks to its higher altitude, the North Rim has a cooler climate and is closed between mid-October and mid-May. Fortunately, this part of the park sees fewer visitors and isn’t usually crowded even during the summer high season. Consider visiting in the fall, when the Kaibab National Forest erupts in vibrant colors.
Grand Canyon West, open year-round, is less crowded outside the summer months.
Getting to the Grand Canyon
Most visitors to the Grand Canyon fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix. There’s also a small airport in Flagstaff, just an hour from the South Rim, and some North Rim travelers fly into Salt Lake City. No matter where you land you’ll need to rent a car, as public transit is extremely limited in this part of the U.S.
Once you arrive at the Grand Canyon, you might need to park your car and take a shuttle bus to get around. Grand Canyon West is closed to private vehicles and operates a hop-on, hop-off shuttle around the park, while certain parts of the South Rim are only accessible by bus. A shuttle service makes the 4.5-hour trip between the North and South Rims; it’s particularly handy for rim-to-rim hikers. The North Rim is fully open to private vehicles.
One fun alternative way to arrive at the South Rim is via the Grand Canyon Railway, which runs from the town of Williams, Arizona, into the heart of the park, allowing for a half-day of exploring before returning in the afternoon.
Grand Canyon Lodging
The most convenient Grand Canyon lodging options are within the national park or Grand Canyon West rather than in nearby towns, but these options tend to book up quickly—sometimes months in advance. When planning a trip to the Canyon, reserve your accommodations first.
The South Rim section of Grand Canyon National Park is home to half a dozen lodges, including the venerable El Tovar, which dates back to 1905 and has hosted former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Another option is the Bright Angel Lodge, situated at the top of the park’s most popular trail. There’s also an RV park near the main visitor center, as well as two campgrounds.
If you can’t find lodging within the South Rim section of the park, there’s a handful of options in nearby Tusayan, as well as dozens of hotels (mostly chain motels) in Williams and Flagstaff, each a little more than an hour from the park entrance gates.
The most unique place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park is Phantom Ranch, located on the canyon floor. The only ways to get there are to hike or ride a mule down.
If you want to stay overnight within Grand Canyon West, you can book a cabin at Hualapai Ranch; each one features a front porch where you can relax and enjoy the desert views.
Grand Canyon Hikes
When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, leave time for a hike or two.
The simplest walk at Grand Canyon National Park is the Rim Trail, which stretches for 13—mostly flat—miles along the top of the South Rim. Much of it is paved and wheelchair-accessible, and you can enter and leave the path at any viewpoint.
If your fitness allows, try to hike at least part of the way into the Grand Canyon; you’ll get a completely different perspective than you do from the top.
The most popular South Rim trail into the canyon is the Bright Angel Trail, which is well maintained and offers some shade along the way. Another good option is the South Kaibab Trail—it is a little steeper and has less shade, but boasts slightly more dramatic views if you’re only doing part of the trail. While both of these trails go all the way to the bottom, you can easily transform each of them into a day hike by turning around at one of the mile markers and going back the way you came.
The North Rim offers a variety of day hikes ranging from less than a mile to about 10 miles round-trip. It’s possible to hike into the canyon from the North Rim on the North Kaibab Trail and back out of the canyon via one of the trails on the South Rim (or vice versa); this is recommended only for fit, experienced hikers.
The National Park Service strongly recommends against hiking down to the river and back in a single day, even if you’re a veteran hiker. Instead, plan to overnight at Phantom Ranch or one of several backcountry campgrounds within the canyon.
Keep in mind that it usually takes twice as long to come back up the trail as it does to go down, and that temperatures at the bottom of the canyon can be up to 20 degrees higher than those at the top. Hundreds of hikers are rescued each year from the canyon due to dehydration, heat exhaustion, or injury.
Grand Canyon West offers just two hiking trails, one easy and one moderate, and neither one goes into the canyon.
One intriguing Grand Canyon hike to consider is the 10-mile (each way) track to Havasu Falls, the famous turquoise cascade you’ve probably seen on your Instagram feed. It’s located on Native American land between the South Rim and Grand Canyon West. Reservations are required (and limited). To learn more, see the NPS website.
Mule Rides, Rafting Trips, and Helicopter Tours
When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, don’t forget about other activities besides hiking, like riding a mule into the canyon. (Why a mule? They’re more sure-footed than horses.)
From the South Rim you can ride a mule to the Colorado River and spend a night or two at Phantom Ranch, or take a shorter two-hour ride along the rim. (See GrandCanyonLodges.com.) From the North Rim you can take one- or three-hour rides along the rim or part of the way into the canyon. (See CanyonRides.com.) Book as far in advance as possible to guarantee yourself a spot.
Dreaming of rafting the Colorado River? You can take a guided trip in the national park with options from a half-day to more than two weeks, or plan your own trip with a permit from the National Park Service. To plan a one- or two-day rafting trip at Grand Canyon West, visit GrandCanyonWest.com.
Finally, one of the most incredible ways to view the Grand Canyon is from the air. Numerous companies operate helicopter tours over the canyon, including Grand Canyon Helicopters and Papillon.
General Grand Canyon Travel Tips
As soon as you arrive, stop by the visitor center—especially if you have limited time. Park rangers can help design an itinerary to make the most of your visit, suggest hikes to suit your fitness level, and recommend the best viewpoints for sunrise and/or sunset.
The desert heat can be deadly, so hikers should pack plenty of water as well as salty snacks. Bring a reusable bottle that you can fill up at water stations located throughout the national park. Start hiking early in the morning to avoid the midday sun. If you get a headache or start to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, stop to rest and rehydrate.
The South Rim is located at 7,000 feet above sea level, and the North Rim is at nearly 8,300 feet. Some travelers may experience fatigue, headaches, or other symptoms of altitude sickness.
Stick to the trail. Not only does this protect the landscape, but it also protects you. Numerous tourists have died after falling from the rim of the canyon.
The most crowded viewpoints at the South Rim are those nearest the parking lots and bus stops. To avoid getting a hundred other people in every photo, walk along the Rim Trail in either direction. Often you can snap great shots along the trail or find your way to a less congested viewpoint.
The United States is home to more than a dozen cities and towns named Florida, but none can compare with the real Florida’s natural fun-in-the-sun appeal.
The Best Places to Go in Florida
From the coolest cities in Florida, like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, to top theme parks like Busch Gardens and Disney World, these must-see attractions top our list of the best places to go in Florida.
Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Walt Disney should have named his Orlando theme park Disney Universe—or even Disney Galaxy. The Walt Disney World Resort is so large, in fact, that it’s difficult to narrow down which of the four main theme parks and two water parks to make time for, let alone whether to stay at a hotel within the resort confines or conserve costs with a nearby off-resort stay. Even selecting your preferred theme-park entry ticket can be daunting.
Here is some helpful Walt Disney World Resort information to get you started at this must-see Florida attraction:
Disney World ticketing options include single-day, single-park passes for Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the Magic Kingdom. You can extend your Disney World family vacation with multi-day passes, which reduce the per-day rate significantly. For example, you can purchase two-day passes, three-day passes, seven-day passes, and 10-day passes. All tickets must be used within 14 days of your initial visit.
Budget-minded travelers will easily find an array of accommodations options, with thousands of hotel rooms from “budget” to “luxury” within driving distance of Disney World. Consider a stay at a Disney Resort such as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin if you want to take advantage of early-morning and late-night access to select theme parks. Guests of Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista also have an added hour of play before the general public is allowed in and three hours after the parks close for the evening.
With so many parades and shows, peruse the Disney calendar to find scheduled events, plan your itinerary, and work around park closings. No matter what, you’ll find there’s plenty to do in Orlando—one of the coolest cities in Florida.
South Beach, Miami, Florida
Lovingly dubbed SoBe, South Beach’s reputation as a gregarious scene for the fun-loving is well deserved among young and old visitors alike. From laid-back lounges to racy dance clubs, South Beach is world-renowned for its hot nightlife (many clubs operate until dawn). And while the robust club and dining scene is too caliente to sleep through every night, SoBe also knows how to play “grown-up” during the day.
On South Beach, both locals and tourists know how to share the sun, sand, and the occasional pickup volleyball game. Expedite a speedy hangover recovery with yoga lessons from 3rd Street Beach Yoga. Generous instructors facilitate donation-based “yoga from the heart” near the beach’s lifeguard hut.
Always a popular tourist destination, South Beach experiences its biggest influx of visitors in March (spring break), April (Pride festivities), and over Memorial Day Weekend (Urban Beach Week).
Everglades National Park, Florida
A visit to Everglades National Park isn’t just a must-see Florida attraction or one of the top things to do in Florida—it’s an adventure traveler’s dream. The Everglades offers canoe and hiking trails, airboat and tram tours, bird-watching expeditions, and camping.
Also a mecca for those seeking out wildlife sightings, the Florida Everglades’ ecosystem is one of the top attractions in Florida because it’s like no other in the world. Alligators, crocodiles, falcons, turtles, and even panthers are but a few of the many animals you can spot in the Everglades.
Not to be missed, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge lies on the western edge of the Everglades. This 35,000-acre national refuge comprised of mangroves and islands provides refuge to endangered wildlife, among them West Indian manatees, bald eagles, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. There’s some debate about how many islands are actually in the Ten Thousand Islands area. Conservative estimates have it in the hundreds, while more robust assessments estimate at least 17,000 islands during low tide. The Everglades National Park as a whole spans about 1.5 million acres.
Ft. Lauderdale is known by many nicknames, among them the “Venice of America” (for its vast system of canals) and the “Yachting Capital of the World” (because locals collectively own 50,000 private yachts). Regardless of what you call it, there’s no disputing that this Florida must-see is a dream destination for boaters. For more than 50 years, Ft. Lauderdale has hosted the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show—the largest such event in the world.
But boaters aren’t the only ones docking in this local scene. Countless spring breakers flock to the city for hedonistic fun each March, beach bums bask on Ft. Lauderdale’s 23 miles of beaches, and snorkelers and divers seek out underwater adventures among the 75-plus artificial reefs.
Key West, Florida Keys, Florida
The final stop on the Eastern Seaboard’s 2,369-mile Route 1, Key West really is the be-all and end-all. Geographically, Key West sits at the southernmost point within the continental U.S. and is closer to Havana than it is to Miami. In spite of its tropical climate (Key West boasts an annual average temperature of 77 degrees) and its low-lying land, Key West is hit by hurricanes less than other coastal regions.
While Key West is enthralling in and of itself, be sure to make it out to sea when in the area. Just a few miles off the coast is the third-largest coral-reef system in the world, the Great Florida Reef. Snorkeling, diving, and deep-sea fishing are popular area adventures. Man-made reefs offer wreck diving just a few miles offshore, too.
Key West was once home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, among other celebrities of yesteryear. These days, its most famous residents come in a more natural variety: iguanas, feral chickens and roosters, and a clutter of cats, the latter of the excessive-toe variety, nestled in Hemingway’s former home.
Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida
Just like Walt Disney World Resort on the other side of town, Orlando’s Universal Studios can hang with the big boys. And planning a visit in advance yields major savings.
Multiday tickets purchased online offer as much as $20 off gate rates. For single-park, single-day passes, you can choose between Universal’s Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. Single-park, multiday tickets are available two days, three days, and four days. Multipark, single-day passes are also available. Multipark, multiday options are available for two days, three days, and four days.
You can skip the lines while at the Universal Studios parks with the Universal Express Pass. A multipark, single-day Universal Express Pass option is also available; as are multiday and even annual pass options (with select blackout dates). Season passes are available that offer “red-carpet treatment.”
With so many theme parks, resorts, and other top attractions to choose from all in one place, it’s easy to see why Orlando is one of the coolest cities in Florida—not to mention one of the best places to go in the entire Sunshine State.
Sanibel Island, Florida
The beaches of Sanibel Island are revered around the world as one of the best places to go in Florida by conchologists (shell collectors). The practice of shell collecting is so popular on Sanibel Island’s shores that locals have nicknamed the act of bending down for a shell “the Sanibel Stoop.”
Sanibel Islanders celebrate the seashell with an annual three-day exhibit and festival that typically runs in March. Shell enthusiasts can also learn about shells and mollusks by visiting The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The biggest prize on the beach is the junonia shell, which can land you in the local newspaper.
While shelling is serious business on the island, so is conservation. More than half of Sanibel Island is part of a designated wildlife refuge.
St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine isn’t nicknamed “Ancient City” for nothing. Juan Ponce de Leon first explored the area in 1513 and claimed it for Spain. It was later turned over to Britain, then back to Spain, and finally ceded (with the rest of the Florida Territory) to the United States in 1819. Today it’s one of the coolest cities in Florida.
You can see much of its rich history infused into St. Augustine’s architecture in places like Ft. Matanzas National Monument, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country, the Hotel Ponce de Leon (once a regal hotel, now part of Flagler College and also a designated National Historic Landmark), and, of course, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. (Folklore says that Ponce de Leon was searching for the elixir of life when he stumbled upon St. Augustine.)
St. Augustine is also home to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The park opened its doors in 1893 and now houses more than 20 species of crocodile as well as other reptiles, a bird collection, and many mammals.
Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida
For those seeking an up-close look at safari wildlife without the high price of an airfare ticket to Africa, Busch Gardens is one of the best places to go in Florida. Among the 2,700 animals that call the 335-acre zoological-themed park home are elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, kangaroos, meerkats, and lemurs.
Busch Gardens Tampa also features an adjoining water park, Adventure Island. Seek out some water-filled fun on the twisting Aruba Tuba, the 55-foot-drop Riptide, and the 700-foot-long Key West Rapids. Adventure Island closes from November through February and reopens in March; see the current calendar for more information.
All theme-park tickets provide complimentary round-trip shuttle transportation from several Orlando pickup/drop-off points.
Amelia Island, Florida
Among the southernmost of the Sea Islands, Amelia Island is an easy drive from Jacksonville and only about five hours from Atlanta. Two bridges connect the island to the mainland.
Amelia Island’s seashore provides plenty of adventures for all. Scallop digging, snorkeling, and horseback riding are all quintessential Amelia Island activities. Watch for the shoreline’s playful dolphins and (if you’re lucky) perhaps even a right-whale sighting.
Amelia Island offers upscale resorts, spas, championship golf courses, a variety of festivals, and of course beaches. Amelia is routinely recognized among the top 10 U.S. islands in Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Awards.
While we’re nowhere near where we should be in helping the planet, awareness of the negative impact that traveling has on the environment is increasing. So much that many travelers are increasingly investing in ways to neutralize the carbon emissions from their flights. A whole host of companies exist to help travelers go “carbon neutral.”
A Mile Is a Mile: Quick and Dirty Look at the Science
Air travel has a particularly negative impact on the atmosphere due to two factors, expressed herein as close to lay terms as I can muster: 1) planes emit a stew of other harmful gases in addition to carbon dioxide, and 2) gases released in the upper atmosphere where planes cruise have a much greater impact than gases released on the ground due to something called the “radiative forcing” effect. The sum total of the damage is about 1.9 times that of driving a relatively fuel-efficient car.
Radiative forcing notwithstanding, it’s much easier simply to call a mile a mile. Since most of us are doing so little about the problem already, to quibble over the exact radiative forcing effect is a bit like working inside the Beltway, where people would rather argue over how to do something than actually do it. As convenient as it would be out here in the real world to live that way, we can’t, so let’s use the mile = mile metric.
Thus, if the average American drives 10,000 to 15,000 miles each year, it takes only a trip to Europe for a West Coaster, a trip to Hawaii for an East Coaster or a couple of cross-country flights to do as much damage (or more) as you do during an entire year of commuting and cruising in your car.
Politics Cedes to Science (Finally)
While climate change has considerable staying power as a hot-button topic among politicians, virtually no reputable scientists and increasingly few citizens see it merely as a political issue any longer. After years in the political wilderness, climate change has come to be accepted as scientific fact by most Americans, or close enough to fact to act.
As “flight-shaming” becomes a thing in travel, many travelers are willing to do something about it, but are we willing to stop traveling? In this global economy, and in a country where extended families might live all over the country, forgoing air travel entirely isn’t going to happen. And the greater benefits of global travel are multifold and diverse, whether you focus on cultural, political or economic factors. So what can we do about it?
Carbon Offsetting: Solution or Panacea?
For better or worse, the concept of “carbon offsetting” has gained considerable currency in the media as one way to mitigate the environmental impact of many facets of modern living. The concept is fairly simple: for every mile you travel, or rather every ton of carbon dioxide your mode of travel causes to be released into the atmosphere, you pay a small fee to enable other folks to work on solutions to mitigate the damaging ecological effect of your travel.
There are some great things about carbon offsetting:
Unlike a lot of environmental science, the concept is extremely easy to grasp. Spew a bunch of gases into the atmosphere + plant a tree that can chew up those gases = zero-sum total.
To let the market help solve some of its own problems is a promising long-term approach; several companies mentioned below are making it very easy to participate, which is a critical component of any popular movement.
For insanely busy working Americans who simply do not have the resources to plant 40 trees every time they fly to Chicago, paying a very reasonable amount to have someone else do this work is both effective and realistic.
But there are also some problems:
For one, the majority of online carbon calculators are standard, and as airlines do more in minimizing their carbon footprint, “No account is taken of the airline and whether it is an airline that has taken more measures to reduce emissions, or not. Aircraft type is also not being taken into account, yet we know that one aircraft can be massively more efficient than another,” reports the OAG (Official Aviation Guide). We need new, industry-wide metrics to help travelers understand what their actual impact is and how to make appropriate decisions whether it’s to fly at all or to choose a different airline or route.
Considerable debate remains on how best to spend the funds: wind farms or tree farms? Solar solutions or “manure into methane”? Indigenous reforestation or “tree cultures”? While tree planting is one of the most popular options for carbon offsets—not to mention one of the easiest for average people to understand—many experts point out that trees only sequester carbon until they die, at which point the carbon will be re-released into the atmosphere. Other debates center around questions of whether the companies and agencies doing the work are actually delivering on their promises.
As of late, many airlines, and other travel-industry providers, are taking their impact on the environment more seriously and participating in programs that help make their business models more sustainable. One of these ways is by offering carbon-neutral flights (read more on that, here) that use biofuel, other airlines are forming industry “eco-partnerships”, like Etihad and Boeing for example, as well as investing in newer, more efficient aircraft fleets. The good news here is that these major corporations are taking responsibility, but the reality is, both travelers and providers need to do their part to have an impact.
(The issue of whether a nonprofit is better than a commercial company for this type of work is also a divisive issue in the world of general do-gooding; many believe that adding a profit motive to what has typically been “charity work” is the best way to improve and sustain these efforts. On the other hand, one obvious upside of using the nonprofit is that you can deduct the expense at tax time.)
We’ll walk you through an example of how carbon offsets work with Expedia: When booking a flight on Expedia, the last screen you see before confirming the purchase of your trip to Knoxville is the option to “Customize your trip to Knoxville,” which includes such “Featured Activities and Services” as the Expedia Flight Protection Plan, an airport lounge pass, a subscription to a glossy travel magazine and, sure enough, the option to “Fly Green with TerraPass,” one of the leading travel carbon-offsetting companies.
Based on calculations of the carbon footprint of your trip (typically measured in cubic tons, which you can calculate on the TerraPass site), Expedia and TerraPass offer multiple contribution levels to account for the length of your flight.
International and Domestic Airlines’ Carbon Offset Programs
There are numerous sites that offer carbon offsets, and a few airlines that offer the option to offset air travel.
Some of the stand out programs from international airlines include the following: EasyJet now offsets the carbon from the fuel used on every single flight by investing in selected projects, like forest regeneration and solar energy. Qantas allows its Frequent Flyer and Business Rewards customers to earn 10 Qantas Points for every dollar spent on offsetting, plus, the airline matches every customer’s contribution to carbon offsetting, dollar for dollar. Cathay Pacific’s FLY Greener program helps customers calculate their carbon offset and purchase plans on their site when booking. Other international airlines that offer customer-facing carbon offset purchasing options include: Air New Zealand, Austrian, China Airlines, EVA Air, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, and more.
Point is, no matter where you’re flying, you can probably find an airline offering offsets. You can also access these sites without going through the airlines. Your other options include The Conservation Fund and TerraPass. Or, to simply calculate your carbon impact and learn more about ways you can reduce it rather than purchasing offsets, visitCOTAP.org. It’s also worth noting that just because an airline isn’t listed here, doesn’t mean that it’s not participating in other environmental-friendly initiatives.
If you prefer not to mingle your travel booking with your charitable and environmental efforts, or if you want to extend your carbon offsetting donations to other parts of your life, you can visit the Web sites of any number of competing carbon offsetting outfits to calculate your carbon consumption and make your contribution directly. See our comprehensive list of carbon offset companies.
FAQs on Carbon Offsetts for Flights
How much does carbon offsetting cost?
Most websites allow you to offset in two ways. The first is to donate a preselected amount ($5, $10, $20). The second is to calculate your carbon emissions based on your travel and/or activities to determine a specific donation amount. When you purchase carbon offsets through an airline, you often only get the option of offsetting travel, but sites such as Carbonfund.org offer the option of offsetting air travel, car travel, your home, or any combination.
When offsetting air travel, some sites give you the option of offsetting the effects of radiative forcing as well. Radiative forcing occurs at higher altitudes when an aircraft’s contrails form cirrus clouds, which more than double the emissions’ effect on global warming. Naturally, opting to offset radiative forcing costs more.
How is carbon offsetting calculated?
The way emissions are calculated varies by site, and most give an explanation as to how they generate the cost of an offset. Carbonfund.org uses statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, while Cathay Pacific uses historic fuel consumption data to determine carbon dioxide emissions, then divides this number by the total passengers on the plane (based on historical averages) and the distance flown to determine the amount of carbon dioxide per passenger kilometer. Qantas takes it a step further and factors in emissions from ground operations such as catering centers, terminals, ground vehicles, and engineering facilities. There is no industry standard as to how emissions are calculated, so there is potential for variation.
Where does my money go and can I choose where it goes?
Once you purchase a carbon offset, your donation supports renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and/or reforestation projects. Some sites allow you to choose what types of projects your money goes toward, while others choose for you. For example, both Carbonfund.org and Sustainable Travel International allow you to choose whether your donation goes toward reforestation/preventing deforestation, renewable energy, or energy efficiency projects.
How do I know my money is going to a reputable project?
Do your research. Before you purchase offsets, review the organization and its projects.
Look for nonprofit organizations and Gold Standard certified projects.
Make sure the organization and its projects meet third-party certification standards and are verified and audited by third parties.
Check that the organization retires carbon offsets instead of reselling them.
Other Ways to Offset Your Environmental Impact While Traveling
Reducing your environmental impact while traveling can be almost absurdly easy (and I’m not talking about driving without air-conditioning during summer, wearing down coats in your hotel room or other such unpleasantries):
When you leave your hotel room, turn down the heat or air-conditioning until you return, and turn off the lights.
Use the “no room service needed” option offered at many hotels. At home, you don’t change your bedsheets, use a different towel, vacuum perfectly tidy rugs or scrub your sink every single day, as is the case at even the most modest hotels. If everyone in every hotel in the U.S. were to use this option, the amount of water and energy saved on washing machines alone would have an impact.
Use public transportation when traveling. In many cities riding the subway, the Underground, the El trains and the like can be a wholly satisfying way to get to know your surroundings. Folks who zip from one tourist attraction to another in a taxi learn about exactly those things: taxis and tourist attractions. It’s all the actual living in between that makes a great city great.
You Tell Us: Have you ever purchased a carbon offset? Do you think they are a good idea? Share your thoughts and advice with us on social media and tag (@SmarterTravel) so we can see it!
Are you an eco-adventurer? If your idea of a perfect trip is getting up close and personal with the natural world, you’ll want to check out one of these dream destinations for ecotourists. From lush jungles and colorful coral reefs to sprawling savannas and fabulous fjords, the five regions we’ve selected encompass some of the earth’s most distinctive ecosystems.
To make our list, it wasn’t enough for a place to be blessed with extraordinary natural resources; it was equally important that those resources are being cared for. We chose these five destinations not only for their unique biodiversity but also for a local commitment to maintaining the beauty and integrity of these places through sustainable tourism. And remember — visitors must do their part as well, as the parts of the earth with the greatest ecological diversity are often the most threatened. If you choose to visit, it’s more important than ever to follow our green travel tips to ensure that these places remain beautiful and unspoiled for many years to come.
Long before it was featured on Survivor, the island nation of Palau was recognized as one of the world’s foremost diving destinations. In the crystal-clear sea just off the coast is a colorful underwater wonderland, featuring more than 500 species of coral teeming with some 1,400 kinds of fish. On land, travelers can wander along unspoiled beaches or go trekking through dense jungles.
Palau’s remote location in the westernmost corner of Micronesia has helped to shield both its natural resources and its cultural traditions from the detrimental effects of mass tourism, and the locals are working to make sure their island paradise stays pristine well into the future. About 460 miles of reefs and lagoon waters are dedicated no-fishing zones, which has allowed many endangered species of fish to repopulate the area. The Palau Conservation Society manages nearly two dozen conservation areas and encourages sustainable development to protect the islands’ fragile ecosystems.
Their remote location and strict environmental regulations have helped preserve the pristine beauty of Norway’s famous fjords, with their snowcapped mountains, tumbling waterfalls and crystal-clear waters. Visitors can go hiking or biking over the rugged terrain, or take a scenic boat ride through the towering fjords. A wide variety of wildlife lives here, including eagles, seals, porpoises and seabirds. Along with the region’s natural attractions, the fjords are also home to many small fishing villages where local cultural traditions have survived for hundreds of years.
As an international leader in environmental policy, Norway has taken care to protect its unique coastline by regulating the fishing, whaling, sealing and petroleum industries.
Costa Rica is practically synonymous with the term “ecotourism,” and for good reason. Misty cloud forests, black sand beaches, thick rain forests, and rushing river rapids offer outdoor activities for active travelers and nature enthusiasts. A dazzling array of creatures, including monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, jaguars, sea turtles and poison dart frogs, live in Costa Rica’s many national parks. Costa Rica is widely known for its proliferation of wildlife refuges and the diversity of its animals and plants.
Environmentally conscious travelers have their choice of eco-friendly accommodations; the Key to Costa Rica maintains lists of green hotels, resorts, and lodges.
The small state of Kerala, on India’s southwestern coast, is often referred to as “God’s Own Country”, a label that doesn’t seem at all hyperbolic once you’ve visited its clean sandy beaches and lush virgin forests. This is one of India’s most unspoiled corners, home to hundreds of unique animal species and nearly a quarter of the country’s 10,000 plant species. The Nilgiri tahr, an endangered mountain goat, takes shelter in Rajamala National Park, while elephants, bison, and wild boar roam freely within the Lake Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.
In the past, Kerala’s ecosystems were threatened by excessive forest clearing, but these days many of the state’s forests are now protected, and tourist officials are encouraging environmentally responsible travel to the area.
Kenya is best known for its wide savannas teeming with lions and elephants, but most travelers don’t know that it’s also home to mountains, lakes, rain forests, deserts and beaches, each with its own unique ecosystem and wildlife. Kenya’s incredible natural diversity is protected in some 50 national parks and reserves across the country, from the virgin rain forests of the Kakamega Forest Reserve to the wildebeests who migrate to the Masai Mara National Reserve every July and August.
On the coast, travelers can walk down pristine white beaches or go diving along colorful coral reefs. All tourism occurs under the watchful eye of Ecotourism Kenya, which works to protect the local environment through community outreach and education projects. The organization also rates lodges throughout Kenya based on its environmental policies. Learn more about Kenya in Planning an African Safari.
Whether your idea of a great trip is sipping fruity drinks on the beach, hiking through the rain forest or hiding away in a quaint bed and breakfast, there’s an eco-friendly lodging option for you. Green hotels come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, and can be found almost anywhere, from the streets of San Francisco to the grasslands of Kenya. With the number of eco-friendly options on the rise, there’s no excuse not to “go green” on your next trip!
The list that follows is the best of the best: the top ecolodges and green hotels, selected from thousands of properties around the world. We chose them for their spectacular locations, outstanding guest amenities and extraordinary commitment to conservation.
San Francisco, California: Orchard Garden Hotel
The smoke-free, 86-room Orchard Garden Hotel in downtown San Francisco opened in November 2006 as the only hotel in the city to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council for environmentally-friendly design. Its energy-saving electric key card system automatically stops power to each room when a guest leaves and turns it back on when he or she returns. The hotel also uses energy-efficient light bulbs to further cut its electricity usage.
Rooms are equipped with low-flow toilets, organic bath products and recycling bins, and are cleaned with chemical-free products. The hotel also reaches out to the community by featuring the work of local artists in the lobby.
South Andros Island, Bahamas: Tiamo Resorts
For a tropical getaway that’s both luxurious and eco-friendly, head to the private beach bungalows of Tiamo Resorts, tucked away on the pristine Bahamian island of South Andros. The resort is 100 percent solar-powered, with all hot water heated by the sun rather than electricity or gas. The buildings were designed to minimize erosion and maximize airflow, and constructed by locals from wood taken from sustainable forests. Tiamo uses composting toilets and water treatment systems to minimize waste, and even gets guests involved by neatly packaging plastic products to be taken home and recycled. A wide variety of outdoor activities are offered, and the staff is always eager to educate guests and the wider community about the resort’s environmental efforts.
Chichester, England: Old Chapel Forge Bed and Breakfast
The beautifully restored 17th-century house and chapel of Old Chapel Forge provide an eco-friendly stay in the heart of England’s Sussex countryside. Old Chapel Forge has been awarded the highest rating from the Green Tourism Business Scheme for its environmental programs, including the use of solar panels to heat water, and partnerships with local farmers and merchants to provide locally grown organic meals. Other green efforts include composting, greywater recycling and guest education.
Mtito Andei, Kenya: Campi ya Kanzi
Get up close and personal with Africa’s “big five” mammals (Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhinoceros) and support the native Maasai community at Campi ya Kanzia, luxurious safari camp in southern Kenya. The camp and its 400 square miles are owned by the Maasai people, who work with the camp’s Italian hosts to preserve the local wildlife and provide a personalized and sustainable experience for visitors.
The camp’s thatched-roof tented cottages were constructed of local materials without cutting down any trees. Electricity and hot water are generated by solar power, and waste is composted or recycled. The menu includes organic eggs, milk and vegetables, and all meals are cooked with eco-friendly charcoal.
Queensland, Australia: Binna Burra Mountain Lodge and Campsite
Deep within the subtropical rain forest of Queensland’s Lamington National Park is the Binna Burra Mountain Lodge and Campsite, an eco-lodge where guests can enjoy hiking, bird watching, abseiling and numerous environmental education programs. Accommodation options include safari-style canvas tents or a more luxurious room in the main lodge. Binna Burra was founded in 1933 on land that had been cleared and farmed; since then, the lodge has restored the land to its original rain forest state and encouraged the growth of native plant species. Recycling, composting, low-flow water fixtures and the use of energy-efficient lighting are just a few of the lodge’s environmental initiatives. Binna Burra makes regular contributions to research projects within the national park as well as to other environmental organizations.
Siena, Italy: Tenuta di Spannocchia
Looking for your own place under the Tuscan sun? Try Tenuta di Spannocchia, a working organic farm that produces its own meat, eggs, grains, vegetables, honey, wine, and olive oil. Guests can rent their own farmhouse for a week or stay for a few nights in one of two bed and breakfast facilities. Visitors are welcome (but not required) to learn about and get involved with the farm’s day-to-day operations, which rely on sustainable farming techniques.
Spannocchia is home to one of Tuscany’s first natural wastewater treatment systems, and guests are strongly encouraged to participate in the farm’s composting and recycling programs. Housekeeping and linen changes are done once a week. To stay at Spannocchia, guests must become members of the Spannocchia Foundation, which supports conservation and sustainable agriculture.
Rurrenabaque, Bolivia: Chalalan Ecolodge
Bolivia’s Madidi National Park is one of the most biologically diverse areas of the planet, and a stay at the Chalalan Ecolodge puts you right in the heart of it. Guests stay in Tacana-style cabins built from environmentally friendly local materials, with balconies overlooking the jungle. The lodge was founded in the 1990s by members of the indigenous community of San Jose de Uchupiamonas in an effort to support themselves and protect the beauty and eco-diversity of their homeland. The lodge is still community-owned and operated. Environmental provisions include solar-powered lighting, a liquid waste treatment system, a water purification system and a composting program.
Greensboro, North Carolina: Proximity Hotel
The Proximity Hotel is one of the greenest hotels in the country, using 40 percent less energy and 35 percent less water than a conventional hotel. Much of the hot water for the hotel and its restaurant is heated by 4,000 square feet of solar panels on the roof, and water-saving fixtures are used throughout the guestrooms and other facilities. Bikes are available for guests to ride on a nearby five-mile greenway.
Guestrooms may be green but they’re also luxurious, featuring TVs, original artwork, complimentary Wi-Fi, large windows that allow plenty of natural light, and many other amenities.
Bayfield, Wisconsin: Pinehurst Inn
During your stay in Bayfield, Wisconsin, even the cars have been known to run on used vegetable oil from local restaurants. This is just one way the innkeepers show their commitment to sustainable living, a commitment that’s also visible in every aspect of life at Pinehurst. The 19th-century inn boasts energy-efficient appliances and lighting, solar panels to heat water in the Garden House, and organic cotton linens and towels in all rooms. Locally grown organic food is served at breakfast. Non-toxic cleaning products are used inside, while outside the innkeepers refrain from using pesticides, herbicides and commercial fertilizers anywhere on the grounds.
There are pretty much zero rules when it comes to travel, and that’s how it should be. Everyone plans and attacks an itinerary differently: city vs. outdoors, spontaneity vs. advance planning, budget vs. luxury. That said, one travel trend has taken on a life of its own in recent years, becoming a kind of mantra across traveler types—one that makes me cringe every time it’s brought up. It’s a line that I wish people would stop echoing in their vacation planning: How/where can I stay, eat, explore, etc.—if I want to “travel like a local”?
Maybe the phrase makes me squirm because I know first-hand how badly that thinking can derail a once-in-a-lifetime experience: I still regret several times I let locals and/or friends talk me out of visiting certain sites in Europe because of crowds and cost (we were broke students, after all).
Or maybe it’s because, as a resident of a highly visited North American city, I don’t want too many tourists in my favorite local joints. But most importantly, I know visitors are doing themselves a disservice by focusing on those places rather than going all in on the most significant sights a city has to offer. There are the obvious tourist traps like wax museums and hotel casinos to skip—but then there are true greatest-hits sites worth touristing-out over, which you should never write off in the name of being more “like a local.”
If you’re in London, you go to Westminster Abbey; when in Rome, you hit the Colosseum; in Agra, you wake up early for a glimpse of the Taj Mahal—crowds be damned. Locals don’t do that. “Travel like a local” is an oxymoron, even if you want to get off the tourist track. Hidden gems? Sure. Off the beaten path? Absolutely—weave in the hidden restaurants, shops, and cozy neighborhoods you want to blend into for a few hours. But do you really want to stay in a residential area and have to commute to all the best historic sites? Should you prioritize a dive-y local watering hole over the historic-yet-crowded pubs not found anywhere else? Probably not.
Bottom line: Time and again, the answer to “Where do the locals go?” is “Not where you, a tourist, should.”
But here’s the main problem I have with the idea that you need to travel like a local: It seems created more by fear of judgment rather than by any actual virtue. The trend toward traveling like a local seems like it was borne from the ethos that travelers are ignorant, talk too loudly, dress badly, and cause problems like overtourism. While all of those things can be true, it’s also possible to be a cultured, humble, stylish, and sustainability-focused traveler—and there seem to be more of them today than ever before. Likewise, staying in a local’s apartment or sticking only to local-approved spots won’t make you any more of a local, or any less of the tourist that you are. So you might as well embrace it.
Sure, you can come to Boston and, for fear of looking like a tourist, leave out the centuries-old sites that I’ve rarely, if ever, been to outside of a grade-school field trip. The same sites that make Boston one of America’s most storied cities: the Freedom Trail, Fenway Park, Paul Revere’s House, the Bunker Hill Monument. But you might leave feeling like you missed out on something pretty unique. There’s a balance to strike, and that balance isn’t only prioritizing what locals do, or what’s “authentic”—another cringe-worthy word travelers so often use.
An architectural feat and cultural icon, the Eiffel Tower was once so hated by Parisians that it was almost demolished. Created for the World’s Fair and serving no real purpose, it’s by no means “authentic” or local. But hindsight is 20/20, and smart travelers now know that you’d be crazy not to experience the behemoth lattice-work beauty, even if only for the view from the top, because you’re in Paris and there’s nothing else in the world like it.
Planning your trip solely around where you’ll find locals (hint: there are none at the Eiffel Tower) is a ridiculous premise that will have you missing all the tourist-frequented sites that make a destination unique. Those places are tourist-frequented for a reason. So let the locals be your compass, not your roadmap.
And go ahead and wear the embarrassing audio guide headset: Life’s too short not to.
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The tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba sees more than a million visitors per year—and not just for the beachfront resorts and romantic Aruba hotels. Travelers from the U.S. and beyond know Aruba for its bright blue waters and white sand, but there’s also rugged outdoor adventure and colorful Caribbean culture to break up your beach lounging.
Did you know almost 20 percent of Aruba is a protected national park? Arikok National Park stretches from the island’s arid center to its eastern and northern coasts, where it meets tropical blue shores and steep ocean cliffs.
Inside Arikok you’ll see centuries-old cacti and rock-face paintings. Cooling off means heading to its breezy coastal inlets, like Boca Prins (pictured) for far-flung ocean views.
Opt for a hike of the trails to see bright quartz peeking through the desert soil and succulents like aloe flourishing; then head toward the wind turbines in the distance (which create a significant portion of the island’s electricity) to experience the nearby sea cliffs and swimming spots.
At the edge of Arikok National Park are shady caverns rife with ancient paintings, stalactites, skylights, and (only a few) bats that are sure to make you feel like a true explorer. Unlike Aruba’s beaches, these caverns rarely fill up with tourists—giving you a unique up-close experience with the island’s natural formations. Guadirikiri Cave is a favorite for its two large main caves connected by a “Tunnel of Love,” lit by skylights and dotted with thousand-year-old Arawak Indian cave paintings and hand prints.
Discover San Nicolas
Most Aruba visitors stay in the resort-saturated Palm Beach area on the north coast, but the opposite side of the island has some of the best local beaches and cultural things to do in Aruba.
The San Nicolas area is home to colorful street murals, local art galleries and artisan shops, and Baby Beach—which earned its name for its calm, clear bay that’s fit for babies to splash in. You’ll get equal parts nature and culture in San Nicolas.
The clear, calm waters of Aruba make snorkeling a can’t-miss activity, and there are plenty of animals to see outside the water as well. Head to Arashi Beach or Boca Catalina for pristine waters full of tropical fish, or pick one of the many hotels on the island that have their own snorkeling and wildlife areas.
The Renaissance Aruba Resort in Oranjestad (Aruba’s capital) has its own private island complete with snorkeling, plus iguanas and vibrant flamingos that lounge on the beach with you.
Visitors can feed the flamingos the provided treats, although food isn’t necessary for the pink residents to walk right up to you on the soft sands. Colorful iguanas and blue lizards lounge on the beach next door as well, and a regular boat shuttle takes you back and forth from the hotel.
Caribbean destinations like Aruba celebrate traditional Carnival annually, taking to the streets in ornate costumes and masks. The colorful events go on for weeks in Aruba between early January and late February. Locals and visitors alike honor the tradition with music, food, dancing, and parades—just in time for spring-break season. It’s one of the best things to do in Aruba if you want to experience the island alongside locals.
Most Arubans speak the local language of Papiamento, plus Spanish, Dutch, and English. It’s a treat to hear all the languages co-exist on this one happy island, and the friendly Arubans are welcoming of visitors.
Taste Aruban Flavors
The Dutch-Caribbean food scene is a unique one that includes both rich European flavors from Holland as well as spicy Caribbean flavors like seasoned seafood and fried plantains. For the latter, Zeerovers’ seaside picnic tables and fried fish baskets are island-famous and perfect after a long day at the beach. Local coffee, beer, and quick bites are a favorite at Craft Aruba.
For romantic dinners, Wilhelmina in Oranjestad offers Dutch-influenced dishes, local seafood options, and international fare. Papiamento Restaurant also stays true to local and Dutch flavors, and is located at a historic local house with intimate tables both inside the home and on its open-air patio.
Don’t leave the island without trying fresh local fish like red snapper, mahi mahi, and Caribbean rock lobster.
Learn About Aruban History
Aruba might be tiny, but it has a long history that dates back beyond the Arawak Indians, who drew Arikok National Park’s cave paintings about 1,000 years ago. You can learn about the original Arubans and see 4,000-year-old pre-ceramic artifacts at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba, or hear about the Dutch settlers and pirates that landed here in the 1700s at the Fort Zoutman Historical Museum.
Take to the Caribbean Sea with a sailing expedition that will give you the full view of the island and an opportunity to experience various swimming spots all in the same day. Try Tranquilo Tours for a locally led daytime cruise around the island, with onboard lunch and off-boat swimming included.
Locals and visitors alike take to Druif Beach for relaxation closer to downtown, while the calm waters of Baby Beach or watersports at Palm Beach might also be worth the trip for some water lovers.
Buy Local Goods
A haul of all your favorite Caribbean and Dutch goodies makes for great Aruban souvenirs, from European cheeses and chocolate to local spices and tropical jams—best found at local grocery stores. While retail shopping can be pricey on Aruba, especially near resorts, just strolling colorful Oranjested’s shopping district is worth the view.
Local crafts and goods made in the Netherlands or the greater Caribbean are worth getting since they’ll be cheaper than they are in the States. Look out for authentic items like Caribbean-made papaya hot sauces and Dutch sweets. Just be sure to declare cheeses and similar food items at customs if you do indulge.
It’s well-known that air travel is a major source of carbon emissions. For travelers who want to do something about their flight’s carbon footprint, the options are limited: Invent a more fuel-efficient jet engine (not easy); travel by other means, or not at all (not always feasible); or offset carbon emissions in some way.
Option three is the most realistic, but the challenge comes when determining how much to offset, and how. A new feature from travel app TripIt aims to demystify this question by showing travelers their flight’s carbon footprint and offering suggestions for offsetting it.
TripIt uses the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to calculate travelers’ footprint. The GGP says it offers the world’s most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standards, which are used by American and European government agencies to track their carbon footprint. TripIt says it “takes into account factors like distance, flight class, and environmental elements” when making these calculations. TripIt tracks individual flights and total annual carbon footprint.
TripIt users can find this information in the flight detail screen under “Carbon Footprint” once they link a trip to the app. The app offers suggestions for offsetting emissions alongside the carbon footprint info. Cumulative emissions can be found under “Travel Stats” in the “More” tab.
Forget overwater bungalows. Floating hotels, or “floatels,” are the latest innovative and Insta-worthy accommodations that should be on your radar.
Ocean House in Haida Gwaii, Canada
[st_content_ad]Located in a secluded inlet on the west coast of Haida Gwaii is Ocean House, a unique floating hotel that complements the natural beauty you’ll experience on the “Island of the People.” There are just 12 rooms at this remote wilderness lodge, and it’s only accessible via air. But don’t worry: Packages include airfare from Vancouver, helicopter transfers, daily meals, use of kayaks and paddleboards, and a spa treatment—as well as local transfers and access to an on-site cultural interpreter and resident artist.
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Les Cabanes des Grands Cepages in Sorgues, France
Located close to the city of Avignon in France’s Provence region are these eco-friendly floating cabins. On-site activities include dining, fishing, bike rentals, a natural pool, and a spa. Enjoy the tranquility of floating on a still pond and the romance of the surrounding French vineyards.
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River Kwai Jungle Rafts in Sai Yok, Thailand
Float your way to sleep in your private room attached to a bamboo raft (yes, you have a private bathroom, too). Rooms have an outdoor deck with hammock and use lamp light instead of electricity for a truly off-the-grid experience. Located in Sai Yok National Park, the hotel helps with activity planning like hiking, mountain biking, and river canoeing.
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4 Rivers Floating Lodge on Koh Andet Island, Cambodia
Imagine stepping out of your villa onto a private terrace that looks out to the Cardamom Mountains. Discover this and more at 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, located between Bangkok and Phnom Penh. The floating hotel can arrange excursions to a nearby waterfall and mangrove. But if you’d rather not leave, you can relax in the on-site spa or take a lazy kayak ride down the surrounding river.
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Gili Lankanfushi in Male, Maldives
Go one step beyond an overwater bungalow in the Maldives and instead splurge on a floating hotel villa located on a private island. Just 20 minutes by speedboat from the Male airport, Gili Lankanfushi is the definition of luxury. From glass-paneled floors to an Underground Chocolate Cave (you’ll have to find out what this is for yourself) you might as well go all out if you’re headed to the Maldives. Other noteworthy amenities include free Wi-Fi (if you’re not looking to unplug), direct access to the Indian Ocean, two restaurants, a spa, and organized activities like island day trips and scuba diving.
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The Good Hotel in London, United Kingdom
This floating hotel is located just outside London (about two miles from Canary Wharf) on a platform in the Royal Victoria Dock. The Good Hotel does just that, promote good—not only does it serve locally sourced food and drinks, but the hotel reinvests its profits to train unemployed locals for jobs in the hospitality industry. The hotel itself has small but smartly designed rooms, as well as a popular rooftop terrace and lots of common spaces.
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Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India
The Taj Lake Palace is likely one of the oldest floating hotels in the world. Built in 1746 as a pleasure palace, it was restored as a hotel in 1963. With spectacular views of the City Palace and the Machla Magra Hills, the hotel is nothing short of luxurious. Think butler service, a spa, astrology sessions, a shopping arcade, and a rooftop restaurant. Stroll through the gardens, take a heritage walk, or just simply enjoy the panoramic views.
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ArkaBarka Floating Hostel in Belgrade, Serbia
For an affordable floating hotel option, check out a floating hostel right on the Danube in Serbia. With a central location in Belgrade, it’s just minutes from the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Palace of Serbia. Amenities at the hostel include large windows, shared or private bathrooms, complimentary bikes, BBQ facilities, and free Wi-Fi. Boat tours can also be arranged.
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Hotel OFF Paris Seine in Paris, France
If you’re looking for a different type of stay in Paris, then book a night or two at the Hotel OFF Paris Seine. While it might not look like it with its modern decor, plunge pool, and on-site bar and restaurant, the hotel is actually a floating barge. Popular with younger travelers, the hotel offers a Sunday brunch and theme parties. The hotel is moored near the Austerlitz Metro station between the Left and Right Banks of the city.
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Arctic Bath in Harads, Sweden
The buzzed-about Arctic Bath was seen on travel sites everywhere when it first announced plans to open in 2018, and now it’s here (according to the website bookings will open in January 2020). Located in true isolation on the Lule River in northern Sweden, the floating hotel is open year-round, offering views of the northern lights in the winter and sunbathing in the summer at the outdoor pool. You can stay in a floating double room cabin on the water complete with a wood deck, pellet stove, and heated flooring.
If the term “green travel” makes you think of ultra-luxe ecolodges, carbon offset fees or expensive suitcases made out of hemp and recycled plastic, you might imagine that being an eco-friendly traveler is a bit out of your price range. Luckily, that’s not necessarily the case, in fact, going green could actually help you trim costs on your next trip.
From packing and planning to shopping for souvenirs, we’ve come up with eight green travel practices that are easy on your wallet and on the environment.
Got your own money-saving green travel tip to share? Post it below.
Green Travel Tips for Packing and Planning
1. Pack light, especially if you’re flying. The heavier the plane, the more fuel it burns and the more toxic gases it releases into the atmosphere. Stick to a carry-on only and you’ll not only help lighten your plane’s load but also save money on airline baggage fees.
2. Instead of buying a new destination guide for every trip, borrow one from your local library or download an e-version. You won’t have to pay $20 for a book you’ll only use for a week or two, and you’ll be helping the environment by reusing resources and reducing waste.
3. Everyone knows it’s cheaper to buy in bulk, so why throw away money on travel-size toiletries that cost much more per ounce than the larger bottles you use at home? Instead, pick up a set of empty travel-size bottles and fill them with your favorite shampoo, conditioner, sunblock, and other products. By reusing the bottles on multiple trips, you’ll quickly recoup the five bucks it cost you to buy them, and keep dozens of travel-size bottles out of landfills.
Green Travel Tips for Transportation
4. Get around town by walking, biking or using public transportation. All of these options lower your carbon footprint, cost less than taking a cab or renting a car, and offer great opportunities for interacting with locals.
5. If you need to rent a car, book a small one, or a hybrid. A growing number of car rental companies are offering hybrid vehicles (see our Green Travel Resources for a list), and while they may cost a little more than standard vehicles, you can often make up the difference with your savings on gas. If a hybrid isn’t available, rent the smallest car that’s realistic for your needs, compact cars are almost always cheaper and more fuel-efficient than their larger brethren.
6. Taking a road trip? Prepare your vehicle beforehand to optimize your fuel efficiency and reduce gas costs during your trip. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and your engine is tuned up, and get rid of all that heavy, extraneous junk you’ve been hauling around in your trunk or back seat.
During Your Trip
7. Wherever you are, buy local. Pick up fruit and snacks at farmer’s markets, and buy souvenirs made by local artisans. Goods produced nearby are usually cheaper because they don’t have to be shipped in from somewhere else, and the fact that they haven’t traveled far means these purchases have a smaller carbon footprint too. (Note: Not all local goods are eco-friendly. Avoid buying souvenirs made of elephant ivory or other products made from endangered species.)
8. According to the Sierra Club, every year billions of plastic water bottles end up in landfills, where they will take up to 1,000 years to decompose. As a traveler, you can help reduce this mountain of waste and save money, by bringing your own reusable bottle and filling it multiple times. If the tap water in your destination isn’t safe to drink, visit the local supermarket and purchase a gallon-size or larger container of purified water to keep in your hotel room; as with toiletries, buying water in bulk is cheaper per ounce and uses less packaging.
Bonus Green Travel Tip
This tip applies not when you’re traveling but when you’re between trips. Taking steps to make your own home more environmentally friendly, such as installing energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs and low-flow showerheads. can help you reduce your monthly bills and your carbon footprint at the same time. Best of all, you can put the money you save toward your next green vacation.