How to be a better traveler

Maximize fun, minimize carbon footprints

MASS MOVEMENT Provincial jeepney on unpaved roads (Igor Plotnikov)

Revenge travel is on. While it’s good for the economy, it’s not so good for the environment. And while the tourism industry has incorporated sustainability into their corporate social responsibility programs, and while many hotels have ditched “single use” items (please, really, bring your own toothbrush), just stepping out the door makes you an accomplice to the abuse of Mother Nature.

The tourism industry is said to contribute at least eight percent to the world’s carbon emissions, 49 percent of which comes from transportation, so just going somewhere is a cause for guilt. Planes, cars, boats, trains, even hot air balloons in Cappadocia all contribute to this. People travel so much that between 2005 and 2016—or what I would personally call the YOLO years—transport-related tourism emissions increased by more than 60 percent.

We can only do so much with how the global travel industry conducts its business. But we can choose where to put our money in practical, doable ways. Here’s how to still enjoy our travels while minimizing our carbon footprint.

The tourism industry is said to contribute at least eight percent to the world’s carbon emissions, 49 percent of which comes from transportation, so just going somewhere is a cause for guilt.

Eat local.

If you can chance upon a small eatery, a beloved carinderia, or a local homegrown restaurant, do try to eat there as often as possible. Food production is responsible for about one fourth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Getting the food to your table means it travels from the farm where it was grown to factories where it was processed, packaged, and refrigerated. Most big restaurants and big hotel chains import their ingredients, especially if you go to small islands and stay in fancy hotels. The farther your food travels, the more emissions are generated. So if it’s an option, choose smaller restaurants who have fresh food options with meat coming from the neighborhood market or butcher, fresh vegetables coming from nearby farms, and fruits from the area or province.

Eat mindfully.

TRAVEL LIGHT Eat local and avoid food wastage

When we’re on vacation, we indulge. We forget our diets, and our budgets. That’s why we either over-order, or eat at buffets and scoop so much food onto our plates. When food is wasted, it means the effort and emissions it took to get your food to your table have all been for nothing. And very few hotels truly practice composting, which means that your food end up as waste, decomposing in landfills—which then creates methane, 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So if you do want to indulge, choose quality over quantity. Be mindful that your orders match your appetite.

Stop buying tacky souvenirs.

That sombrero keychain you bought in your trip to Mexico that’s actually made in China? It took a lot of emissions to get it shipped there. And then it’s just going to end up in one of your drawers, never to be used, another dust gatherer that’s going to go to a landfill soon. Instead of buying souvenirs you’ll never use, buy something that would be meaningful to you, or buy from local artisans and crafters. Not only are these pieces going to be unique, they’ll occupy a place of pride in your home for being such remarkable conversation pieces.

Treat your hotel room like your own home.

You might’ve paid top money to get your room, but that’s not an excuse to keep your airconditioning running when you’re out. Some people might think they want to get their money’s worth by having all your appliances turned on, but it’s simple math: The more energy, the more emissions. Also, if you treat your room like your own home, you won’t feel compelled to demand for housecleaning every single day. You really do not need to have your sheets changed daily, or your room vacuumed, or your towels replaced. If you treat your room like your own home, you’ll try to cut back on electricity costs.

Choose mass transportation.

And if you can, always choose the more practical and sustainable way to move around the city. Take the train, the bus, even a karitela, if it’s possible. Join group tours to explore the place. Try walking tours as well to cut as much on emissions as possible. You’ll meet new friends, and get to see as much as you can of the city. Avoid private drivers or taxis if possible. If you’re renting a car, consider a hybrid, or even a bicycle. Before exploring a new city, try to research on it first and make sure your itinerary does not see you wasting unnecessary fuel by carefully planning your routes.

We can still travel, and we should, because it is one of the biggest drivers of the world economy, but we should do it with respect for our earth.