Wednesday, October 1, 2008

11 Usable Tips for Greener Traveling

There are lots of lists of tips you can find on greener traveling so why am I making another list? I'll tell you why. Most of those lists are full of suggestions that don't strike me as practical such as bringing home half used bars of soap and not using the airplane lavatories (seriously, those are actual tips that I found). My tips are actually usable and are all things that I have done or things that I'm planning to do on my next trip.

As you know I travel for work. A while back I started to think about what my environmental impact was as a frequent traveler. I didn't look up my Carbon footprint because most of my travel is flying and I didn't want to become depressed about it. What did happen was that I started thinking about all the little things that I could do other than cutting out my air travel. Thanks to some spirited discussions with coworkers and some internet searches I've come up with a list that works for me and I'd like to share it with you.

1. Unplug Unnecessary Electronic Devices:
If you unplug devices that don't need to be on then they won't be using standby power while you are away.

This starts before I even go on a trip. At my desk I have a couple devices that won't be in use while I'm out of the office plugged into a power strip , I just unplug the power strip and away I go.

When at a hotel be sure to unplug power adapters that you might have used in the night rather than leaving them plugged in while you are out for the day.

2. Use a Travel Mug:
Many hot cups are not recyclable due to a plastic that is used in them, that's waste that just doesn't need to be there. Reusing coffee cups helps but a reusable travel mug is even better.

I also sent Starbucks an e-mail about offering recycling for their cups at airports and I did get a nice form letter back.

3. Walk or Take Public Transportation:
Take public transportation or walk to your destination as often as you can manage.

Most cities will have a fairly good public transportation website to help you plan your routes before you arrive. I always feel a little better about my trips when I can avoid taking taxis.

There are a couple things to keep in mind if you are planning on using public transportation. Route schedules can vary at different times of day and different days of the week, unless you are sure about the schedule you would be good to have a plan B. Failure to do so could mean that you are stuck in a thunder storm in Germany waiting for the bus for an hour.

Secondly you should consider the issue of safety. If taking public transportation in a particular city gives you the feeling that you are unsafe then please find a safer option.

4. Turn Off Lights When You Leave:
This one is really basic and almost didn't make the list but it's good to keep in mind. Turning off the lights is something that we do when we are at home so it makes sense to turn the lights in your hotel room off when you leave.

5. Turn Off the AC When You Leave:
It's wasteful to keep the AC on all day when no one is in the room. Some hotels have automated systems that control the temperature, so sometimes you can't do anything about this but if it's possible to turn it off you should.

I really never thought about doing this until I saw the tip on another site but it makes a lot of sense.

6. Rent a Hybrid:
Some car rental firms will now let you rent a hybrid. While it's best to take public transportation there are times you just need to rent a car, asking if a hybrid is available is easy enough to do. Even if they don't have any hybrids available they'll make note of the request and that could have an impact down the road when they go to renew the rental fleet.

7. Reuse Towels:
Hang up the towels to dry so they don't get washed every day.

This one has been around for ages and I know you've seen those little cards in the hotel bathrooms asking you to conserve resources. I guess there are people that want them replaced daily but that was always sounded strange to me.

8. Carry a Reusable Water Bottle:
Nalgene bottles are widely available and do a great job. Filling the bottle up at the airport just past security works for me most of the time.

If you don't have one of these then you could always reuse a regular water bottle. I think they are good for 3-4 uses until they start doing strange things. In foreign countries I have found heavy plastic bottles that are washed and reused, I've occasionally used these as well.

9. Avoid Fast Food
In addition to being really bad for you fast food usually comes with far more packaging than you need. This includes too many paper napkins, utensils that you won't use and all of those little packets of ketchup.

You are on the road, treat yourself to some real food at a place that has actual silverware instead of disposable utensils.

Local restaurants are also more likely to be using local produce. This means a fresher product that hasn't been trucked hundreds of miles for your enjoyment.

10. Share Magazines With Other Travelers

When traveling you can often find magazines that have been left behind by other travelers. Instead of tossing the magazine they simply leave it on a chair near the gate for someone else to pick up and read. Books can also be shared in this fashion.

Another option if you happen to work with a number of frequent travelers is to start a lending library at work. We've just started one of these at my workplace and it looks to be getting a good start. I've been seeding the library with books that I find at thrift stores so we can keep even more paper from the landfill and recycling center.

11. Take Your Recyclables Off the Plane
If your airline doesn't have an in-flight recycling program then carry your recyclables off the plane for proper disposal.

I was on a United flight recently and was surprised to hear a flight attendant say that they don't have a program for recycling waste collected on the plane. All those cans that they provide are just getting thrown out along with the newspapers and styrofoam cups. In addition to carrying off my recyclable goods I've sent United an e-mail and I hope to get another form letter response back. If you'd like to join me in this effort please feel free to contact United.

Wrapping up
Well there you have it, some simple and manageable tips to travel a little greener. While these things might not seem to do much you should keep in mind that there are large numbers of business travelers out there so the little things will really add up quickly.

I invite you to join me in seeing that all of these little things do add up and if you see something that a company or group could be doing to help please stand up and be heard.

My short list is far from complete and I see it as a starting point. If you have any tips for traveling greener please add a comment to this post, I'd love to see them.

For further reading on greener traveling I'd recommend

This post was mentioned in the Green Travel Carnival. Thanks to the Perceptive Travel Blog for the link.

If you've enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to the RSS feed.

Coming Soon: The Curse of the German Asterisk


  1. Fantastic and very useful post. Will put it to good use this weekend while in Boston! Thanks!

  2. Great post and thanks for the link. I especially liked the tip about sharing magazines with other travelers. That's something I hadn't thought of before.

  3. Robin Sue: I'm glad that the post is timely for you. If you come up with any more handy ideas please let me know.

    Kimberly: Your very welcome for the link, you've got some good information on your blog. I hadn't thought much about magazines myself but I'm sure that the majority of airport purchased magazines aren't getting more than one read through.

    I've got a local thrift store that makes magazines available for free so there are several options available to get a little more use out of them.

  4. Nice tips..
    But why mug is important to travel??

  5. manga to read: A reusable travel mug will keep disposable paper cups out of circulation which is good. Ideally every time we go to a shop to get coffee we should take a reusable mug and not just when we travel. The mug that I happen to be using has the added bonus that it is recyclable so when it cracks then I'll be able to keep that out of a landfill as well.