Traveling Greener

Imagine yourself on a beach about a hundred years ago. There are sounds of bright blue waves crashing against the shoreline, a sensation of rough sand against your toes, a fragrant scent of salt, and an endless horizon in front of you. Now imagine yourself on a beach today. You are overwhelmed by the sounds of thousands of people all within just a square mile, shards of glass and plastic cut your feet as you walk along the sand, and the once endless horizon is covered by hundreds of boats. This is a very common example of how mindless travel devastates the environment.

Tourism in many developing is one of the most viable and constant economic development options, and in some countries, such as the Bahamas, Macau, and Bermuda, tourism is the main source of foreign exchange earnings. It is also not just developing countries that are benefiting from travel. In 2017, the United States revenue from tourism was over 211 billion from around 77 million international visitors. Without the economic benefits of travel, many underdeveloped nations would fall into immense debt, and larger tourist-attracting countries would lose a lot of revenue.

However, the economic benefits are not without cost. The average American family of four is on vacation for two weeks annually. Although vacation is supposed to be an enjoyable time to relax and destress, during those two weeks, the family’s environmental footprint increases immensely, and they contribute to an abundance of problems in their temporary location. As of right now, there is no true solution to make a traditional trip while being 100 percent eco-friendly, and many such as sophomore Alara Walcott would find it to be “depressing and boring to always be stuck at home.” However, there are many ways to lessen your negative environmental impact during traveling, while enjoying classic aspects of a vacation and even trying new things.

The first step to planning a trip is figuring out where you or you and your companions are going. In most cases closer is better. By staying a car ride away from your home you are more likely to not travel by plane, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions caused by transportation. When traveling in an area that you are familiar with, you have a better idea of activities and restaurants close by to visit, allowing you to avoid major tourist attractions that hurt local businesses. When traveling longer distances outside of your own country, it is best to avoid places that have urban centers filled with tens of thousands of people, such as Hawaii, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Rome, Cancun, and London. This is because the large number of visitors usually only visit popular activities, ignoring local workers.

The tourists also have negative effects on the environment. In places surrounded by nature, the natural resources become great aspects for an area to advertise. However, those selling points, whether it’s a type of food or a location, quickly become tourist attractions and their demand goes up. In the area of products made from natural resources, the supply cannot match the demand and the provider is either forced to produce more artificially, damaging the natural lands around it or to lose selling points hurting their local economy. In terms of location when a natural area like a beach or park become focal points to tourists, the place could soon see a variety of problems. Beaches such as Waikiki in Oahu, Hawaii, become crowded and are left covered in trash, and the movement of sedimentation leads to erosion. Environmentally, the best places to visit are smaller natural areas such as Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, Slovenia, Bhutan, Peru, and New Zealand because they are surrounded by nature and are less common destinations among tourists.

The second part of planning a trip is deciding when to go and how to get there. The best time of the year to travel is whenever other people are not. Although it would seem easier to go on vacation while everybody else is during a school or work break, traveling during off-seasons not only benefits the local economies but personal finance. During the off-season, more local businesses see a great decrease in sales and gain more economic freedom from income year-round. Another reason to travel during the off-season is that everything is cheaper. Flights, lodging, travel gear, and activities all decrease sufficiently in price because of back to school sales and the lack of demand.

Transportation is much more complicated because in order to realistically travel long distances you will have some greenhouse gas emissions. Though planes have a relatively high carbon footprint they are not always a bad choice. In the year 2018, just over one billion people were on at least one flight, and all of those flights combined equal approximately 10.59 billion miles flown within all of 2018. According to industry group IATA, air transport accounted for 10,585 million miles flown, making up two percent of global man-made carbon dioxide emissions. This is equal to around 859 million tonnes (nine hundred forty-seven tons) of carbon dioxide. However, planes do become more efficient the more miles traveled. For an overland trip going over the area of approximately two states, transportation from a plane is more ecofriendly than that of a car. Cars are an improvement and better than planes over short distances. Albeit they still do release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and makeup one-fifth of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions. Unless you ave the time and physical capability to walk or bike to vacation spot, the best way to travel overland is taking the bus or a train. According to junior Gio Nickerson, “Both trains and buses are actually super fun.” There are three ways to get over water; swimming, boats, and planes. No matter who it is swimming the entire way sounds rather difficult and dangerous. Between boats and planes, boats have a less damaging environmental footprint.

Packing depends heavily on the situation. In terms of carbon emissions, it is best to pack lightly. The more weight that trains, planes, and automobiles, have to carry the more fuel is used releasing greenhouse gasses. However, one of the worst things is being unprepared. When someone lacks everything that they need, it causes them to purchase items that they only use for the duration of their trip. After they either end up not using it or throwing it away. The best way to pack is lightly with everything you will realistically need like senior Ryan Curtis: “I only pack what I know I’ll need.” Another important part of packing is bringing reusable products such as a reusable water bottle, utensils, shopping bag, etc.

Unless a roommate is staying home there are many important things to do before leaving. Turning off all lights and unplugging devices because they will continue to use power even when turned off helps to conserve energy, and checking for any leaks to prevent wasting water. A person can also save energy and money by lowering the temperatures of their thermostat and water heat, since the heat is unnecessary. The final thing to do before leaving home is to unpackage everything like toothbrushes and dispose of the packaging properly because you may not have access to a compost or recycle.

If someone is set on staying at a hotel they should check the following; if or if not the hotel is owned and employed by locals, what recycling programs are put into place, and how does the hotel work to reduce its environmental impact. However, if they are open to other possibilities alternatives include staying with friends or family, renting, or even camping which is the most eco-friendly way to vacation as long as it is done responsibly.

The first step to someone being sustainable is simply being aware of their surroundings and how they are impacting them. Freshman Sam Carver says, “I think that when people start to listen and really see what is happening around them, they will begin to realize how important saving the environment is.” It is not about being a couple of people doing everything perfectly but rather billions of people helping prevent the climate crisis to the best of their ability.