Millions of Americans anxiously await their summer vacations, but does getting out of dodge for some rest and relaxation have to mean forcing Mother Earth to pay a toll? Absolutely not. If you travel sustainably, your journey can leave the planet in the same shape it enjoyed when you first waved au revoir to your hometown for a bit.

summer travel

Credit: Basti Voe, FlickrCC

How can you make your summer getaway eco-friendlier? It all begins with research and ends with exercising common sense and kindness whether abroad or closer to home. If you’re planning your getaway, follow these tips to reduce the carbon footprint of your travel.

  1. Calculate the Greenest Transport

The greenest way to reach your destination depends on how far away it is and how many people are in your party. If you are traveling with family, traveling by car may prove eco-friendliest. However, if you’re traveling solo and plan on going further than 300 miles or so, flying uses less fuel.

If driving, consider renting an eco-friendly vehicle if you do not own one yourself. This can keep the family more comfortable, especially if you typically drive an older model vehicle lacking amenities like video for rear-seat occupants. If flying, strive to book a non-stop flight whenever possible. Takeoff and landing create the most emissions. Also, look into the eco-friendliest airlines to support.

  1. Call Hotels Before Booking

Online websites help you find lodging deals, but call hotels beforehand to ask about their green practices or lack thereof. For example, many facilities lack recycling on site, so ask about availability.

Going online isn’t only for finding low prices. Look to see the property is certified as eco-friendly through a reputable organization in the area of the world you wish to travel. Look for amenities like bulk dispensers for soap and shampoo instead of tiny bottles, low-flow shower heads and toilets and master switches which turn off lights and TVs when you leave the room.

  1. Do the Same for Tour Companies

If you’re escaping to a shore location and want to swim with the dolphins, make sure the tour company you select does no harm to animals. Going to Asia? Think twice about elephant rides. The tourist industry contributes to the exploitation and harm of animals.

Going on a cruise? Many cruise lines are choosing to ditch the plastic, so research a line which minimizes waste. Exploring your area by air? Consider a hot air balloon ride as an alternative to a fuel-burning helicopter tour.

  1. Select Adventure Outings with Care

The survival of our civilization truly does depend on humankind’s ability to recognize that human activity strongly influences our environment. It is worth taking the time to exercise common sense and great care in booking day outings. While you may wish to explore the red rocks of the desert southwest by ATV, doing so harms native flora and fauna. Choose to hike instead. You’ll see more and protect the ground you tread upon while you lose yourself in the beauty of nature.

  1. Reuse Your Towels and Skip Laundry

Hotels often wash each guests’ clothing separately even if they bring only a few items to the desk. This uses a ton of water. Instead, wait until you get home to line dry items or even shower with your clothes and hang them to dry overnight on the curtain rod.

And while you no doubt want to relax, do take the effort to hang your towel up after washing instead of tossing it on the floor. This tells hotel staff you plan to reuse it — do you really need clean linens every day?

  1. Buy and Dine Local

Buying souvenirs is a fun part of any getaway, but pass on those which say, “Made in China,” unless you’re traveling in China. These baubles take an environmental toll when they’re shipped, and many are produced in sweat shops. Buy from indigenous merchants, and you’ll not only reduce your carbon footprint, you’ll help them feed and house their families.

Also, take a hard pass on restaurants which cater to tourists, as they typically package everything in plastic and Styrofoam (and even throw in plasticware for good measure). Ask a friendly local for a good, off-the-beaten-path place to dine, and you may even enjoy the freshest meal of your life.

  1. Carry Basics with You

Speaking of plastic silverware, how are you supposed to order takeout without it? Easily! Carrying your own silverware takes up negligible suitcase space but allows you to order linguine delivered to your room.

reusable straw fits in almost any purse or even a pocket, so carry one with you. Carry cloth bags along, too, or, if you’re road-tripping it, use said bags to pack snacks for the road and do double duty as souvenir bags when you reach your destination.

Yes, Travel Can Be Sustainable

Getting away for a vacation need not mean destroying the planet we all share. By following just a few savvy tips, you can get away for a bit without leaving a huge scar on Mother Earth in your wake.