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Seven Easy Ways to Be a More Eco-Friendly Traveler

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Making smarter travel choices can have a major impact on your destination.

woman walking with suitcase

You want to max out your vacation days and see... well, the entire world, ideally. But the unfortunate reality is that all that jet-setting isn’t always so good for the environment. Of course, when it comes to being a more eco-friendly traveler, there are some major things you can do: You can book a flight that creates fewer carbon emissions, you can stay at a hotel that uses renewable energy, or you can explore off the beaten path to protect over-touristed spots. But there are smaller things you can do, too, that add up over time, especially as more people start to do them. Add the below practices to your traveling habits and help make sure there will still be places worth going by the time your next vacation comes around.

woman organizing her fridge

1. Maximize the Contents of Your Fridge

You don’t want to leave your fridge full of foods that won’t withstand the length of your vacation, but you don’t want to just toss your leftovers, either—on average, Americans throw out the equivalent of almost one pound of food per person each day, research published in the journal PLOS One found. Calling that a waste would be an understatement, considering one in eight households in the U.S. are unable to access enough food at some point during a year. Try to use up what’s in your fridge, freeze it for later use, or give it away to a friend or neighbor. Take a look in your pantry, too—if you have any shelf-stable goods that will expire while you’re on vacation or shortly after, donate them to your local food bank before you go.

2. Unplug (Don’t Just Turn Off) Your Electronics

Even when they’re turned off, electronic appliances—from your refrigerator to your rechargeable toothbrush—use energy that can release greenhouse gas emissions. It’s called “vampire energy,” and Americans waste approximately one month's electricity bill on it each year. Save your cash and the environment by unplugging everything you can before you head out of town.

3. Pack Your Own Toiletries

Humans produce over 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single-use purposes—like those travel-size hotel shampoo and conditioner bottles, or even the wrapping your complimentary toothbrush comes in. Leave the mini toiletries for someone who forgot their essentials, and bring your own travel-friendly bottles of your toiletries and other products. Not only will you have your go-to brands, but you can make sure you pack enough of everything so you don’t run out. (Pro tip: It doesn’t take much more space to tuck a small bottle of Advil in your emergency travel kit.)

4. BYO Reusable Water Bottle

Everyone knows how annoying it is to throw out their half-finished drinks at the security checkpoint. Instead, bring an empty reusable bottle. Lots of airports have water fountains where you can refill your bottle. Buy one with a filter and keep refilling it throughout your travels. Not only will you ease your own stress about consuming iffy water, but you’ll reduce plastic waste. Every person who uses a reusable water bottle prevents over 156 plastic water bottles from ending up in a landfill or the ocean each year.

people taking metro together

5. Share a Ride or Take Public Transportation

As good as your intentions are, there comes a point on every vacation where you’re going to have to travel farther than your feet or a bike can take you. But cars are a major cause of global warming: In the U.S., cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of American global warming emissions. Opt for buses, subways, or trains, or look into local ride-sharing apps.

6. Eat Local and Seasonal

Trying new delicacies is one of the best parts of travel. Make sure you choose restaurants that serve local foods using seasonal ingredients; it’ll cut down on carbon emissions associated with getting the ingredients to your plate (and, really, who wants to eat Argentinian beef in Amsterdam?). Plus, eating locally supports the local economy, both in terms of cash flow and job opportunities. The best place to start: the local market. It’s not like you have to give up gourmet food—Singapore’s street food stalls, for example, have earned Michelin stars.

7. Leave No Trace

Some of the most amazing bucket list destinations are also the most fragile: the Great Barrier Reef, Colorado’s hot springs, Machu Picchu… Whether that’s because of environmental causes or over-tourism, it’s crucial that you do your part to help take care of those spots, so you and others can keep enjoying them. Remember to take everything you bring in with you back out when you leave, and if you see any garbage left behind by other tourists, grab that, too. Just think how much nicer your photos will be with no litter in the background.

Find other great health and wellness stories at MarthaStewart.com/Strive.