Reducing Your Travel Environmental Impact

We have all heard that old eco-friendly travel truism: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”

No matter our noble intentions, the fact is that travel, all types of travel, leave a big footprint.

How big? Needless to say, there are a lot of numbers, statistics and anecdotes: One recent 2018 comprehensive study of the travel & tourism industries impact (including not just air travel, but hotel usage, eating out, renting cars, group tours, cruise ships, and even souvenir purchases) showed that it was responsible for an estimated 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions (along with 10.5% of global GDP and one in ten jobs). But sadly, the emissions were three times what was previously thought. And that impact is even bigger per person, when you consider the fact that as little as three percent of the entire global population flew in 2017. (FYI: At most, only about 18 percent of us have ever flown in an airplane!) That means that just three percent of us contribute eight percent of all climate chaos-inducing emissions annually.

There is no doubt that the human activity of travel, be it for business, pleasure or family obligation, adversely effects the environment. None. It is an inconvenient truth. That said, it is an unintended consequence of development, and it is a wealth problem. Collectively, being wealthier is good (we live longer, lead healthier lives, are better educated, have fewer kids, enjoy more enriching experiences, and live more peacefully), BUT, as more people become wealthier, more people are traveling than ever before…and it will continue to grow: there were 4.3 billion global air passengers in 2018—and every year since 2009 has been a new record-breaker. (Can you say over-tourism!)

We have chosen to travel, not only because of the obvious hedonistic aspects of travel, but because we acknowledge the true benefits of travel include, among other things: living longer; being healthier; raised global and collective consciousness; human interactions; never-ending learning; peaceful coexistence; and broader-based economic development (one in ten jobs in developing countries depend on the travel & tourism sector). Clearly, the meaning of our lives is undertaking new experiences; meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. This is our calculus, our cost-benefit analysis—our choice.

Our lives are full of lifestyle choices, one’s that directly impact the environment: Yes, travel does seriously affect the environment, it is viably the sixth, or seventh, most detrimental lifestyle choice we make after: 1) having children; 2) using a car (let alone more than one); 3) our diet (livestock account for around 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases each year!); 4) the types of energy we use (fossil fuels vs. renewables); 5) our use of plastics; 6) the size of our homes; 7) do you vote for climate friendly candidates who support a universal carbon tax or Green New Deal; 8) what we do with our body when we die; and 9) not flying, of course. Obviously, it is sexier to debate capricious travelers than to change our entire lifestyles and daily habits. The moral of the story is that climate heroes without carbon footprints don’t exist. No one makes perfect life choices all the time, but we can make positive choices.

Okay, so what is to be done? How can we minimize our carbon footprint while still electing to enjoy the enriching benefits of travel?

We at The Global Scavenger Hunt™ have always had a code of conduct—things we suggest our participants do while traveling that maybe help mitigate some of the negative effects that result from our desire for adventure and travel.

But first, here’s what we do in putting together our annual around the world travel adventure: 1) we attempt to stay at properties that operate on a low or neutral carbon impact philosophy; 2) we attempt to take as many long-haul flights as possible and as many direct nonstop flights as possible, fly on newer fleets of fuel-efficient aircraft and avoid all manner of cruise ships (which emit three to four times more carbon dioxide per passenger than commercial flights!), thus reducing our CO2 footprint per passenger per kilometer; 3) we attempt to use mass transit as much as possible; 4) we attempt to eat and drink as locally as possible; 5) we travel in the off peak shoulder season, thereby lessoning the stresses and strains of overtourism on our selected destinations; and finally, 6) we attempt to educate our travelers to make wiser choices when traveling. Specifically, we recommend:

As for our travelers: We hope that they travel with the philosophy of doing no harm. Being conscious of your actions: minimizing your footprint as best you can, reducing the energy and water you use, and the waste you create. Think GREEN. Pack it in—pack it out. Leave nothing in your wake. Don’t litter and never leave graffiti—even if it appears to be a custom.

We encourage you to walk and bike as often as possible.

We encourage you to use public transportation (buses, trains, subways, sailboats, etc) as much as possible; not employ private car hires.

We encourage you to enjoy locally produced foods and beverages; and to go vegetarian when possible. Avoid eateries that serve you food on plastics when you can.

We encourage you to use reef-friendly sunscreens, sans oxybenzone.

We encourage you to use reusable eco-sac bags (that we provide).

We encourage you to use reusable water bottles—filling them up after you pass through security at the airport & getting them filled at your hotel (that we provide).

We encourage you to buy goods in recyclable glass bottles or aluminum cans versus single-use plastic bottles.

We encourage you to BYO washable straw everywhere you go.

We encourage you to pack less (lighter) and more thoughtfully, think: digital media, refillable biodegradable shampoos and laundry detergents, putting snacks in reusable containers, and the use of sanitary cups, etc.

We encourage you, when you are given the opportunity, to use a local homestay (aka Airbnb) versus a big box hotel.

We encourage you to take part in optional volunteering scavenges that support both local environmental and social projects.

We encourage you to use less precious water: to take shorter showers and to reuse towels.

We encourage you to shut off the air conditioning of your rooms when not occupying them.

We encourage you to purchase and consume locally made products/brands.

We encourage you to do your best and think GREEN.

Finally, we are often asked about corporate greenwashing, and the purchase of carbon offsets. Well, obviously, corporations are notorious for greenwashing their activities, but we do our best to weed them out. Admittedly, we are not 100% successful in that endeavor. The jury is still out on the carbon offsets idea: offsets do not actually reduce emissions—they just assuage our so-called traveler’s guilt; in many cases they are schemes, new for-profit charades (although they are getting better and there are some good entities out there like Cool Effects & Rainforest Trust); and the premise that you can pay for your environmental sins rubs many the wrong way, akin to making a donation to SPCA so you can keep hitting Fido, paying someone else to diet for you, getting a get out of jail free card!

All things being equal, I myself firmly believe that only a strongly incentivizing carbon tax model, that takes into account all the facets of travel—not just jet fuel, but also the cost of mining the metals for planes, building airports, launching navigation satellites, etc.—ought to immediately be imposed all travelers and included in the price of every airline ticket, because clearly environmental costs (negative externalities) are not captured in the price we pay for airline tickets—and ought to be.

Bottom-line, yes there are some negative externalities (I am an economist after all!) to traveling, period, full stop. We do get it! But we see travel as a force of good in the world, for both we the traveler and the places and the people we visit. It keeps families together. It makes us healthier productive citizens. Travel offers us an inexhaustible source of learning, curiosity, empathy, friendships, novelty, and wonder. It provides us with profoundly humbling and enriching experiences. Travel can be equally transformational for both parties of the exchange. It can foster peace, love and understanding…things we desperately need (more of)…but yes, travel can also be a completely hedonistic selfish wasteful experience for those not thoughtful. Travel thoughtfully.

Thanks for reading. (Please don’t print this to save paper!)

Suggestions? Please e-mail us at: GSH (at) GlobalScavengerHunt (dot) com

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