Carbon offsets and luxury eco-lodges are great earth-friendly options, but being green doesn't always have to cost you so much... green. You can live like a local and have a richer experience by using less resources, which, not surprisingly, uses less cash. Here are some simple tips for your next trip.
1. Stray from the beaten path
By visiting areas that few tourists go to, you can avoid adding to the stress on hot spots and enjoy a more authentic experience. Plus, you'll save money by not paying a premium for limited space. For example: Visit Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica—it's remote and wild, but your payoff in terms of wildlife spotting will be off the charts. Compared to some of Costa Rica's much more visited parks, you'll probably spend less too.
2. Quench your thirst responsibly
Even if you can recycle a plastic bottle, it's best to avoid using it in the first place by refilling your own water bottle. A small up-front investment will save you later, especially when you consider the high prices charged to captive travelers. And for your other beverage choices, consider less-expensive local juice, beer, and wine as an alternative to a global brand. You'll get to try something new that probably has a smaller carbon footprint too. For example: Sigg's aluminum bottles come in a variety of sizes, patterns, and colors. And that Hinano beer in Tahiti or Sauvignon Blanc in Chile will always taste better than an imported option.
3. Eat like a local
Trying new things by eating local, seasonal products—it can be cheaper than a restaurant meal. Visit the local supermarket, or even better, Farmer's Market. Some open-air markets are only on specific summer days, but other cities have daily markets year-round. For example: Traditional open-air markets like Borough Market in London or Portland Farmer's Market in Oregon are perfect to snack, grab a meal on the go, or even buy ingredients for a meal.
4. Stay green in alternative lodging
More and more hotels are now implementing green initiatives, but your choice is not just limited to leaving your towel on the floor for washing or the rack for reuse. Homestays, B&Bs, university lodging, camping, and hostels are all examples of alternative lodging that cost less and use fewer resources. Locally-owned properties are often more socially responsible, too. Having access to a kitchen can give you more flexibility with your meals—using your delicious local ingredients, of course—and often the longer you stay the more you save. For example: Apartments are a great local experience, especially in an expensive city like New York. Backcountry huts like those on New Zealand's Milford Trek can be a great place to spend a night while hiking, and can have even less impact on the environment than camping—though you'll have to get to there under your own locomotion.
5. Move forward with earth-friendly transportation
Transportation is one of travel's biggest drains on the earth's resources. Simply walking or biking can be a fun experience and an inexpensive green option. If you must rent a car, consider a hybrid to save on gas. The train or bus can be a better choice and is a way to get a local experience. For flying, remember that economy seats have a lower carbon footprint then business or first-class. For example: The Vélib bike rentals in Paris are a unique way to tour the City of Light. Also, there's now some exciting bus options between major cities in the Northeast US. BoltBus and MegaBus have newer fleets than Greyhound, and fares as low as a dollar if you book in advance.
6. Think through your souvenir purchases
Consider what you'll really appreciate or use at home and focus on local products. Don't remove plants or animals from their natural environment and don't purchase handicrafts that are made from them, such as turtle-shell or black-coral jewelry. The best mementos from many trips are often inexpensive photographs and free memories. For example: Some travelers favorite souvenirs are consumables, such as regional delicacies, but another good green value can be trip reminders that you use often.
Earth Day is April 22nd—Happy Earth Month!