We hear a lot about sustainability and sustainable travel these days. Climate change, pollution, deforestation, corporate social responsibility, but what does it all mean and why should we care?

At BookGreener our view is simple: we believe that being more mindful of people and the environment will lead to a richer experience for us and for generations of travelers to come. It will lead to destinations with better-preserved cultural and environmental heritages, locals who are genuinely happy to show you around their home, and thought-provoking exchanges. Take care of the world around you and it will take care of you.

Fortunately, we live in a time when “thinking green” has become a trend, and that makes it easier and more convenient to promote sustainable travel. It also means that today you have a much greater range of options when it comes to making decisions about your vacation.

Booking hotels that focus on social and environmental sustainability means you are both supporting these businesses and nurturing a better planet, without compromising your holiday experience. In fact, we think you’ll return home even more inspired and rejuvenated than you would after a regular trip.

Here are just a few sustainable travel tips you can try that will help make a difference.

1. Research and planning your trip

  • Use BookGreener to find and book hotels that are committed to social and environmental responsibility.
    Book flights with airlines that have a green policy. Check airlines’ websites to find out more about their sustainability practices. For instance:

    • A sustainability policy for their day-to-day administrative and company processes (e.g. using 100% recycled paper in all their offices)
    • A commitment to cutting down on in-flight waste such as plastic water bottles
    • A carbon offset policy and option for travelers
    • Use of a new, fuel-efficient fleet
  • If the airline itself does not offer a carbon-offset option for your flight, commit to offsetting your flight yourself.
  • Choose airlines with a low percentage of delays, as planes can burn a lot of fuel while waiting.
  • Book direct flights—take-offs and landings are a large source of CO2 emissions and fuel use.
  • Purchase electronic-tickets for airline travel whenever possible.
  • If you have a smartphone or tablet, take advantage of apps such as Passbook or TripIt which will conveniently organize all your travel documents in one place. This is both easier for you and better for the planet since it reduces the need to print out a paper confirmation for each step of your journey.
  • Research your destination. Learn about the culture, history, geography,beliefs, and even a few words of the language. This will give you a greater appreciation for the country and its people, allowing for more meaningful cultural exchanges.
  • Advance research will also help you locate “green” shops, restaurants, sights, or travel companies you can visit and support.
  • Choose countries, regions, or national parks that have a dedicated environmental conservation program in place. Visiting these areas will send a message to local and national governments that conservation is extremely important for tourism.
  • Download maps and guidebooks onto your smartphone or tablet. This is a great way to get a sense of orientation in the destination before you arrive, as well as reducing paper and printing waste.
  • If you do use paper maps or guidebooks, pass them along to a friend or fellow traveler at the end of your trip.

2. Before you leave home

  • Turn off the air-conditioning or adjust your heat to a sensible temperature – e.g. if you live in a cold climate, use the minimum temperature necessary to protect your pipes from freezing.
  • Shut off your water supply (to prevent flooding should a pipe break while you’re gone). When you return, turn on the water slowly – this is a great time to conduct a small home “audit” and check for any problems or leakages.
  • Appliances, such as TVs, computers, and cable converter boxes should be completely unplugged because they can draw or “leak” as much as 40 watts per hour even when they’re off.
  • Be sensible about food shopping before your departure, and consume or donate all perishable items in your refrigerator before you leave.
  • If possible and especially if you’ll be away for a while, unplug or increase the temperature of your refrigerator/freezer, since refrigeration can use a large amount of energy. Appreciate the low electric bill when you return home.
  • If you must keep some lighting on (either indoor or outdoor lighting) for security reasons, invest in an automated timer. This will reduce both energy consumption and your electricity bill.
  • Stop newspaper deliveries, if possible. You may even be able to donate it to a school.
  • Pack and travel light. The heavier the plane, the more fuel it uses. It may be a small step, but everything makes a difference.
  • Pack clothing that is respectful of the local culture and customs of your destinations. Visiting temples or churches? Keeping your arms and legs covered may be the proper etiquette.
  • Re-use small toiletries containers by refilling them with as much as you need for your trip. This will also eliminate the need to take wasteful mini toiletries from your hotel.

3. At Your Hotel

Electricity usage

  • Turn off your air-conditioning and lights when you leave the room (especially if the hotel does not have an automated key-card system). Air-conditioning in particular is an enormous waste of energy, if it’s running while you are not in the room.
  • Set air-conditioning to a reasonable temperate.
  • Make sure the windows/balcony doors are closed if the air conditioning/heating system is on.
  • Open the curtains to take advantage of natural light rather than turning on lights when you are in the room.
  • In hot weather, draw the curtains during the day to help keep the room cool when you are not in the room.
  • Unplug all appliances in the room if you don’t plan to use them (hair dryer, coffee machine, minibar, etc.).

Water

  • Flush less frequently. No need to flush every time. Practice the “if it’s brown flush it down, if it’s yellow let it mellow” rule.
  • Most green hotels provide guests with the option to reuse their towels and linens during their stay rather than changing them every day. By taking advantage of these programs, you help reduce the number of loads of laundry a hotel generates daily, which contributes to water and energy savings, a reduction in the use of chemical cleaning agents, and less frequent purchases of new linens (i.e. less frequent waste generated from throwing away old linens).
  • If the hotel does not offer linen reuse, hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. You might not need to have your room cleaned during your stay, or at least not every day. Placing the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door lets housekeeping know.
  • When brushing your teeth or washing/shaving your face, turn off the tap or fill the sink to avoid leaving the water running. Keeping your showers short not only saves water but also saves energy (used to heat the water). A 10-minute shower can use up to 75 liters of water (low-flow showerheads will use less).

Waste

  • More and more hotels are placing recycling bins in their guest rooms and meeting rooms. Make full use of them by placing items such as newspapers, paper, plastics, and cans and glass in them rather than in the garbage bin.
  • If the hotel doesn’t have a recycling bin in the room, inquire with housekeeping or management about their recycling policies. In some cases, hotels that don’t have bins in the rooms will still separate the recyclables from the trash in the back-of-house area.
  • Bring your own toiletries. Think of all of the plastics that are used to create tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner and all of the extra packaging in luxury hotel items.
  • Leave the bottles of shampoo and other toiletries if you don’t use them. If you do need to use them, take the unused portion with you and refill it for use on your next trip rather than throwing it away. Keep bar soap wrappers and take used bars of soap home. Use the same soap in the shower and by the sink.
  • Leave the pen and other freebies behind.
  • Carry a cleaning bag with you to carry dirty laundry home, rather than taking one from the hotel (which will need to be replaced for all guests that do this).

4. While Traveling and Sightseeing

Getting around and touring

  • Book walking tours of cities through local tour operators. In addition to being environmentally friendly, it is a great way to scratch beneath the surface and see day-to-day life in your destination.
  • Walk or take public transportation when it’s available and logical to do so.
  • Rent a bicycle to discover the area.
  • Use the hotel’s shuttle service when available.
  • Take only brochures or maps that you need and are likely to use. Return others to the brochure stand.
  • Choose travel companies that employ locals, focus on eco-tourism, and/or give back to local charities and communities.

Respecting people, customs, and culture

  • Use binoculars and cameras to “hunt” animals.
  • Take photographs not “souvenirs” from natural areas or historical sites.
  • Leave only footprints. Take everything out that you brought with you, and never litter.
  • Support conservation programs when visiting national parks, wildlife refuges, or eco-tourism sites.
  • Set a goal to pick up at least one piece of litter every day, especially at national tourist sites see huge numbers of visitors every day. Make no promises that you cannot keep (e.g. sending photos, or making a donation when you get home).
  • Don’t make extravagant displays of wealth.
  • Respect the privacy and dignity of others – observe local customs.
  • Get permission before photographing people, homes, or religious sites.
  • Be extremely careful and thoughtful about giving money to beggars. Children – who are cute and can attract more money from tourists – are often kept out of school in order to beg. In some cultures, giving to adults is a different story, so do your research or ask your guide (or a trusted local) about the cultural norms, but keep in mind any inequalities this may cause. Seek out reputable and trustworthy social organizations that assist people who might otherwise have to beg. Choosing to give to such local organizations can spread the money and assist disadvantaged people more equitably and effectively.
  • Do not hand out candies, toys, or items such as pens to local children (even if they ask for them). Doing so can foster a begging mindset, create inequalities in the local community, and be bad for health (in the case of giving out candy). Instead, support education and the local economy by purchasing items such as pens and notebooks from a local market, then donating them to a school or an education-focused non-profit.

5. Shopping and Dining

Shopping

  • Never, ever buy endangered-species animal products such as tortoiseshell, ivory, animal skins, or feathers. Even if they are antiques (in the case of ivory), purchasing them sends a message to retailers that it is OK to sell such products.
  • Don’t purchase starfish or turtle-shell related souvenirs – or any products that come from any creature that may have been put to death for the sake of a gift-shop sale. These animals may have been killed specifically for the tourism business.
  • Don’t purchase products taken from the sea, particularly coral. Reefs are often destroyed to take coral, and this leads to destruction of the ocean eco-system. Seashells are questionable, so do your research before you buy.
  • Support local social enterprises – such as shops that are run by an NGO or charity – that are not-for-profit, employ the disabled or disadvantaged communities, or give to local charity organizations. If you discover a wonderful social business, tell us about it!
  • Choose products made from renewable, local materials – such as bamboo or coconut shells in regions of the world where these plants grow.
  • Purchase recycled, “up-cycled” gift items made from reused items, or vintage clothing.
  • Consider every purchase before you buy, and ask yourself whether you really need it, and whether you will still appreciate it when you get home. Souvenirs are a wonderful way to hold on to memories from your trip, but travelers often return home with items they purchased “in the moment” while traveling abroad, only to never use them again once they get home.

Dining

  • Support the local economy by using locally-owned restaurants. Eating outside of your hotel will help spread tourist dollars to a greater variety of people and businesses.
  • Embrace local cuisine when eating out, rather than dining on foreign and imported foods, which create unnecessary pollution and waste in transport. Your wallet will appreciate local dining as well.
  • Seek out organic restaurants or restaurants that make a point of using fresh, local produce. Often, these restaurants will have a “community board,” which can be a great resource for learning more about local sites or businesses of interest.

6. Embrace a conscious and meaningful state of mind

  • Travel with an open mind: cultivate the habit of listening and observing; discover the enrichment that comes from experiencing another way of life.
  • Reflect daily on your experiences and keep a journal.
  • Stretch your comfort zone. Have a sense of humor, keep a flexible attitude, and embrace a willingness to understand that travel, by its very nature, involves delays and changes. These are opportunities for personal growth.
  • Interact with local residents in a culturally appropriate manner.

7. At the end of your journey

  • Make an effort to provide feedback to the hotel where you’re staying. Feedback cards are generally available in the rooms, from the front desk or through online forms on the hotel’s website. Sharing your thoughts and ideas about their sustainable practices will help them to know what works, what doesn’t, and what they may want to consider for future sustainable initiatives.
  • Share the message with other travelers on popular forums such as TripAdvisor. Tell your friends about inspiring and green destinations, properties, or trips, and send them to BookGreener when they plan their next vacation.
  • Tell BookGreener about any new discoveries you’ve made that embody our message of socially and environmentally responsible travel.