Smart travelers, rejoice! You already know that the best vacations aren't just about you, right? That seeing the world brings a new appreciation for that world, and a natural desire to leave it a better place? Well, it's never been easier to be good to yourself and the planet at the same time. Here, our top trip tips for an environmentally friendly—and totally brag-worthy—vacation.
Between disposable snacks, Ziplocs, water bottles, batteries for electronic gear, and wrapping paper for gifts, just one carry-on can contribute an awful lot of junk to airport trash bins. Multiply that by the nearly 2 million people who pass through security in the U.S. each day and you've got tons of garbage headed straight to landfills. Instead, opt for reusable options such as sandwich bags from ReUseIt.com, clear Tupperware containers for toiletries and souvenirs, re-chargeable batteries, and BPA-free plastic or metal water bottles. And in place of gift paper, wrap presents in light fabric that can be used (either by you or the giftee) again.
The notion of a resort that does no environmental harm—or even gives back to the Earth with sustainable practices—would have sounded a bit like science fiction a few decades ago. Now, stylish lodges across the globe offer luxury, adventure, and sustainability all at the same time, and many will set you back less than $200 per night. Some of the highlights of an eco-stay can include imaginative architecture that often relies solely on local materials, solar power, innovative water filtration systems, environmental education programs like guided tours and nature walks, employment of local residents and native peoples, and restaurants whose kitchens rely on locally sourced produce—often grown right on the lodge's grounds. Check out Green Globe International to learn more about its certification criteria for ecolodges.
There's no better way to say thank-you to America's phenomenal parks and trails than by volunteering your time to build or repair a trail. The American Hiking Society offers weeklong stints that can include backpacking or day hikes with a group of up to 15 volunteers and a group leader. Lodgings are simple: cabins, bunkhouses, or just campsites. The work? Trail maintenance and construction, bridge and shelter renovation, and native species reestablishment in national parks and forests, state parks, wildlife preserves, and other unique environments across the U.S.
It doesn't matter whether you're in the heart of the Amazon or on a crowded boulevard in Paris—reaching out to the people who actually live year-round in your travel destination is the easiest and most reliable way to deepen your experience. It can be as simple as asking locals to recommend a public park or a favorite hike. Over the years, Budget Travel has highlighted readers' True Stories, often demonstrating how a smile, nod of the head, or a politely asked question can turn a tourist into an honorary local, privy to sights, tastes, and feelings unavailable to those who simply pass through.
We're not suggesting you pass up the opportunity to see every corner of the world—we're all about stretching and crossing boundaries—but the simple fact is you'll be responsible for fewer carbon emissions (and save more than a few bucks) if you explore closer to home. And you don't have to go coast-to-coast to savor homegrown delights. This weekend, visit the nearest state park, historical society, or winery. Next time you've got a few days on your hands, we've got "One-Tank Escapes for 8 Cities" to get you started.
Here in the U.S., we tend to think of farmers markets as a groundbreaking component of the local food movement—and no doubt the explosion of markets in recent years has helped bring home cooks back in touch with the folks who actually grow their food. But, of course, green markets have been a staple of civilization for centuries and can be found just about anywhere in the world you might be visiting. Dive in to local markets, try fresh fruits and vegetables you've never eaten before, ask farmers and locals for recipes, and if you have access to a kitchen, bring home a bagful of homegrown produce, fresh flowers, and the satisfaction of having contributed to the livelihood of a farmer.
Being on vacation shouldn't be an excuse to put more car and bus fumes into the air. No matter where you're staying, opt for walking tours over buses, rent bikes, and get to know the public transportation system.