8 ways to be a more eco-conscious traveler in 2021

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There’s an unspoken term that is often on the back of any eco-conscious travelers’ mind. While talking to friends about their incredible hike up Machu Picchu, that eight-day trek to climb Kilimanjaro, or even the relaxing beach vacation in San Diego, we are all hoping that no one asks the dreaded question. “Yes, but what is your carbon footprint?”

With most of the world taking a break from air travel over the last year, carbon emissions significantly decreased. How do we maintain this trend and focus on ethical travel and better environmental practices now that travel is sure to pick up again soon?

Bringing home a unique item from a local artisan is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. The memories will last a lifetime! (Photo by Adi Dharmawan/Shutterstock)

Educate yourself

Before you travel to a new spot, learn a bit about the history, culture, and holidays celebrated in the area. Read books, find online forums, and ask questions. Not only will you foster a deeper appreciation and understanding for the place you are traveling, but you will be able to engage in deeper conversations with locals that you encounter. Knowing a bit about the place you are traveling to shows that you respect the people and the culture who live there.  

Eat locally 

This one should be easy! Maybe you already plan your trips around where you might find the best street food (is anyone else with me on this?). But if not, purchasing food from the local vendors and small, locally-owned restaurants is one of the best ways to develop a serious appreciation for the place you are traveling. Food is such a large part of the culture in many places around the world. So you’ve never had a pupusa as big as your head in Guatemala? Now is your chance. Hot tip: Look for the food cart with the longest line. That’s typically your best bet. 

Support local artisans

You’re looking for the perfect gift for friends and family back home. You want something that captures the essence of the place you have been traveling for the last few weeks. Something that you can bring home as a reminder of your time spent here.

So do not wait until the last minute and buy something at the airport gift shop. Seek out local artisans and learn about their crafts. When you invest in a piece of art, be it a small bowl or a handmade rug, you support the community of artisans who are representing their culture with the crafts they are creating. 

Offset carbon emissions

Carbon emissions are one of the leading factors that contribute to climate change, and, unfortunately, air travel is a significant source of carbon emissions. I’m not suggesting that you take a boat from New York to London, but there are ways that you can offset the carbon emissions that are produced by those flights you’re taking.

Some companies specialize in calculating how much carbon is produced by the number of miles that you fly each year. Figure out your number, and you can make a tax-deductible donation to offset your carbon footprint. It’s part of the process of becoming more focused on green travel. 

Minimize your travel footprint

When you arrive in a new spot, set out on foot to explore the area. Travel at a slower pace, give yourself time to wander around, stop into shops, and venture off into different neighborhoods without a set plan. By walking, you’ll minimize your carbon footprint while learning about new gems that you might not have found if you’d taken the bus through town. 

Hire local tour guides

One of the critical components of ethical travel is supporting the local population of the area in which you are traveling. Ecotourism has enormous financial benefits to areas that are rich with natural beauty and outdoor activities. When you’re visiting one of these places, ask around to find out what guides the locals recommend. You’ll be guaranteed a much more exciting adventure when you hire a local guide to explore the area. These guides typically know the best-kept secret spots that the larger touring companies don’t have access to. And they will often share their knowledge of the history of the area as well. 

Consider a homestay

Many places across the globe will offer a homestay to travelers looking to immerse themselves in daily life in the place they are staying. A homestay typically involves matching with a local family who will provide lodging and meals. Many times this is an extra bedroom in their house with a shared bathroom. Meals are prepared and served with the rest of the family.

If you’re interested in learning the local recipes, ask if you can help in the kitchen. A homestay is genuinely one of the best ways to integrate into daily life and learn the language in the place you are traveling. Homestays also provide a local family with a bit of extra income.

Reduce your use of plastic

One of the largest sources of pollution and waste is the excessive use of plastic around the world. There are a few easy things that you can do to help reduce the amount of plastic in circulation. To start, bring your own water bottle. This can help you to avoid purchasing multiple disposable plastic bottles. If you are traveling in an area where it’s not advisable to drink tap water, consider purchasing a SteriPEN to keep with you.

A SteriPEN (or another comparable brand) will kill up to 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, allowing you to drink water from the tap safely. Another easy way to reduce your plastic consumption is to bring reusable bags with you when you travel. Carrying a few canvas bags is an easy way to pass on the plastic (and helps you fit all of those extra purchases you made that don’t quite fit in your luggage).

Bottom line

Part of the beauty of travel is that you can choose the line that you take. Ethical travel requires a bit more intention during the planning process and beyond. It is a bit of a shift in mindset for some people. By incorporating these travel tips into your next trip, you will be on your way to supporting sustainable travel and engaging more with the local culture, resulting in an enriched experience. 

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Erin Lizzo is a contributor for Million Mile Secrets where she covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in the Matador Network.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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