Green hotels, bottled water, hiring cars, keeping your impact down when you travel.
Before you leave
• Turn off your gas at the main tap or leave the water heater at its "vacation" or lowest setting to prevent the pipes freezing.
• Switch off or unplug all electrical appliances which normally have a standby setting - TV, DVD player, game console, stereo, computer (and think about doing this all the time once you're home - standby is very wasteful of power).
• Cancel newspapers and magazines.
• If you want to leave a "security" light on in some rooms to deter break-ins while you're away, use low-energy lamps connected to timer switches.
When you travel
• Travel method: Whenever
possible, take a bus or train to your destination rather than driving or flying.
Trains are the most energy efficient land transport per kilometre, and as a
bonus give you the space for sleeping, reading, or talking to local people while
on the way.
• Flying: For
many short- to medium-distance trips, airplanes emit more heat-trapping gases
per person than cars. Travel by train or bus within the country; mile-for-mile,
internal, short-haul flights are much more polluting than longer trips. Don't
use "carbon offset" services to ease your conscience over flying - they are a
phoney climate fix, and continue the trend of enriching wealthy business
people in the developed world by exploiting the guilt of those travelling to
underdeveloped regions of the world.
• Behaviour: When you have waste (from eating food on trains or buses, for example), carry it with you to a proper disposal place - don't throw out of the window, even if locals seem to indicate that this is the usual attitude. Many beauty spots are getting trashed with aluminium foil wrappers, cans and bottles. Set an example by picking up rubbish as you trek and keeping it for later to either burn or drop into an safe disposal area. Don't use the "hot shower" facilities in Asian mountain areas (such as Nepal) more than absolutely needed, unless you can see that the water has been heated by solar power. Order local food which has been produced from ingredients grown or produced nearby, not familiar dishes from home whose ingredients have been imported or require longer cooking times.
• Photography: Don't use disposable cameras - digital models are best, as you can print only those pictures you want. Avoid use of disposable batteries - buy lithium metal hydride rechargeable cells and consider a solar charger (if you have no choice but to use disposable batteries, carry them with you until you can throw them away somewhere they won't be tipped into the ground - that might mean carrying them back to your country of origin).
Staying in a hotel/ trekking
• Green hotels: Some hotels are making a commitment to reduce their environmental impact. Although most are sited in the US or Europe, this page includes green hotels in Asia and Latin America. Since some "green" hotels are doing more than others, query each hotel about its environmental practices before making a reservation.
• Bedding: Laundering sheets and towels consumes large amounts of energy, water, and detergent. If you stay in a serviced room ask your room attendant to change your linen and towels every other day (or less often if you prefer).
• Energy: Turn off lights, air-conditioning, TV and fans before leaving your room. Close the curtains or shutters to keep the heat out or warmth in.
• Toiletries: Reduce waste by bringing your own shampoo, soap, and toothpaste instead of relying on those provided by most hotels. Restrict your use of things like toilet gels and air freshener sprays, which have no useful function outside the cosmetic and are very damaging environmentally.
• Own washing: Consider packing some biologically-friendly travel detergent (usually in a tube) along with your fit-all sink plug. If you trek and do your own washing in rivers or stream, pour the soapy water away onto the ground, not back directly into the watercourse. That way, the damaging chemicals in the detergent can be broken down before they drain back into the river.
• Water: Bottled water in one litre plastic bottles is enormously wasteful of plastic, and in countries without a developed waste-disposal system, usually results in littering on a gigantic scale. Don't buy bottled water except in an emergency. Buy a pump-action filter or use returnable, glass, bottles. If staying somewhere for longer, search out shops which have larger size bottles (often 5-10 litres) in returnable plastic. Never request boiled water on treks in mountainous areas like Nepal - deforestation is a serious problem in these regions, and you need a lot of trees to service the boiled water requests of hordes of tourists. Again, a pump-action filter is best.
Getting around while there
• Public transport: Many cities have bus, tram and rail systems that can bring you to major hotels and attractions, reducing or eliminating the need for a car.
• Human-powered transportation: Not only are walking and bicycling good for the environment and your health, they can also help you stumble upon all sorts of hidden gems you would never otherwise find. In some countries, rickshaws are a good, gentle way to see the sights or transfer to the rail station from your hotel, and provide employment for some of the city's poorest inhabitants.
• Car rentals: Think twice before hiring a car (or car and driver) to travel around. In poor countries this luxury can release you from the tedium of public transport, but it comes at a cost. As well as increased pollution and resource depletion, your example of travel indicates to people living locally that it's fine for them to make the same choice. If you really must, choose the most fuel-efficient car you can, and plan your route to avoid wasted miles driving around.
• Ecotours: The city in which you're staying may have sightseeing tours designed to minimize your impact on indigenous populations and the local environment. Check the city's tourism website or call its department of tourism or chamber of commerce for details. • Brochures: Loading up with tourist literature is fine if you read it all thoroughly and carry it home - in reality, we mostly throw most of the paper away unread. Be more selective when picking up hotel and tour brochures, or eliminate the need for them by doing research on travel websites before you leave.