Travel is necessary to expand our horizons and appreciate different cultures, landscapes, food and more. But roving about does tend to increase our consumption and broaden our individual impact. If we begin to travel a bit more consciously and make informed decisions during our explorations, we can all contribute to a lot less pollution, consumption and environmental damage. Here are a few points to get you thinking before your next quest:
START SMALL FOR SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL
Obviously sticking closer to home will minimize your impact when traveling. Can you better balance the larger trips you take by plane with some local destinations within your state or neighboring states? Tick off a bucket list item that’s been lingering for a while! I myself have always wanted to hike up Notch Peak, a 3.5-hour drive from my home in Salt Lake City. Consider some geographically adjacent adventures to step up your sustainability factor. Try to prioritize destinations that have great public transit systems or offer accessible corridors or options for bikers and pedestrians.
SLOW IT DOWN - SUSTAINABLE TRIP PLANNING
While we’re still in the trip planning phase, consider settling in and staying in one place for a while. Instead of rushing around from place to place and logging as many frantic miles as you can, get to know the local haunts and make a friend or two by planning a more mellow itinerary. What you discover may surprise you, the local librarian may have an exquisite restaurant or coffee suggestion. There are often discounts for booking longer stays with one property as well! Not only will you have a far more relaxing vacation, but you’ll also reduce your mileage and return home refreshed.
CAR VS. AIRPLANE?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a 2019 report spanning three decades of data to reveal that the transportation sector—airline travel, driving, rail, commercial shipping etc.—releases the greatest amount of greenhouse gas emissions domestically when compared to every other economic sector. (Source) This should provide motivation for us seething masses to try and mitigate our output a bit.
Generally, driving is less impactful than boarding an airplane but in reality, it all depends on the number of passengers in your vehicle and the distance traveled. When airplanes take off and land they consume a great deal more fuel than cruising does, so shorter flights are less eco-friendly than longer flights if driving is feasible. The more passengers there are in your car, the far more efficient it will be than having the group board a plane.
You can use a carbon calculator to determine if your trip is best suited to air or car travel. In fact, Delta Air Lines allows passengers to calculate their carbon emissions and offset the impact of their flight right on delta.com or through their app. More on that later.
Here are the tools you need:
STRAIGHT TRIPPIN' CAR ROAD TRIP TIPS
For trips by car, there are a few things you can do to boost the efficiency of your trip and boost your mileage.
TRAVEL LIKE A LOCAL
It should go without saying that public transit is a fantastic way to get around when traveling and, in some areas, may save you a huge chunk of change when compared to renting a car. While public transit may not be available or practical in rural locations, if you’re visiting a big city or metro area, public transit is the way to go. Plus, you’ll see corners of the city you wouldn’t normally explore! Here in Utah, Park City has an awesome transit system with free fares. Salt Lake City operates the Utah Transit Authority as well as our excellent Ski Bus system in the winter. Check out the full Ski Bus guide here!
If possible, you can also research and seek out adventures like the Woodward Park City campus that are fully accessible by public transit.
If you must rent, request a smaller car with better fuel economy. You can also provide feedback to the rental company that you’d prefer to rent an electric vehicle. I can’t bypass this opportunity to plead with anyone visiting Utah in winter to ski or snowboard: PLEASE rent an appropriate vehicle for snow travel or better yet, reserve a shuttle service like Canyon Transportation or use our great public transit Ski Bus in the winter months.
DO YOUR FLIGHT RIGHT
A few tips to make the most of your flight while lessening your impact:
If you plan to stay in a hotel, lodge or motel, consider your options. Seek a place that sets rigorous environmental standards. Here are some useful links from the EPA. More conscious alternatives involve house swapping, home stays, camping or RV travel.
While this should be your M.O. at home as well, do your part to simply consume less when staying in a hotel, motel or vacation rental. Turn the lights off, don’t waste water, turn down the heat or AC when you leave the space. You should obviously be doing the same with your home when departing for travel. Adjust your home’s thermostat, turn your water heater down, leave the lights off, etc.
You can reduce your impact by packing two small, simple items.
1. Pack a collapsible bag, these come in SO handy during travel! Many mountain and beach communities have outlawed plastic bags so it’s handy to have a bag ready to go when you travel. Frankly, this should just be a regular life habit!
2. Pack your water bottle. Consuming bottled water is a staggeringly wasteful habit when you consider the cost of creating bottles, shipping and transporting water, and then disposal of the bottle after one use. Take care of the communities you visit and bring your own water bottle. If necessary, splurge on the one you really love the look of to inspire you to tote it around with you.
One of the best things about travel is savoring local flavors, discovering regional delicacies and celebrating the food that’s in season. Before you head out, do a little research and find the local farmer’s markets or art fairs. Look for restaurants that focus on locally-sourced foods and farms. Not only will you taste and enjoy the character of a new place, but you are also doing great things to support the local economy, makers and growers. By avoiding using chain restaurants or box stores to purchase what you need, you support vibrant community members and craft a truly unique experience.
Make sure you engage in solid trail ethics and leave no trace philosophy and definitely be a watershed warrior here in Utah. If you see something, say something! With so many folks visiting Utah and tons of new transplants, many don’t know the rules around our watershed or realize they are mucking up our delicious drinking water. Yuck!
There has been a surge in tourism in many mountain and resort towns. This has caused many issues and challenges for local residents so when traveling as a tourist, be sure to act respectfully, be polite and situationally aware.
If hiking or biking, stay on the trail. Fragile desert soils, especially in Southern Utah and in and around our National Parks, can take years and years to recover! Stay on the trail, favor walking on more durable surfaces like stone or riverbeds if you can. If overlanding, follow all local regulations and rules and please do not make new roads that destroy our fragile desert soils.
Many state and national parks across the nation suffer from budget shortfalls or staffing challenges. One of the easiest and most effective things you can do to support our parks is to avoid using their trash receptacles if you can. It saves them money, time and effort. Pack out and properly dispose and recycle anything you bring along to fuel your adventure. Don’t trash our parks, towns or trails to ensure you have a great stay and preserve the experience for others.
Wasatch Mountain Wildlife Guide - Click Here
10 Ways to Reduce Ski & Snowboard Travel Hassles - Click Here
Salt Lake City Summer Day Trips - Click Here
Watershed 101 - Click Here