Tips for Staying Green While Traveling
Teri Kent recently took time off from C3 to take her son on a college visit to the University of Texas. She shares her personal experience and tips for staying green while traveling.
I recently had the opportunity to take my son to Austin, Texas to visit the University of Texas, one of the colleges he’s looking to attend in the fall.
I love travel and think it’s such an important part of what has influenced my life, but I also recognize that travel has significant carbon impacts.
If travel is a priority for you, your work, or your family too, here are some tips from my experience that I hope are helpful. There are definitely things you can do to lessen the accompanying carbon “baggage” that comes with travel.
First, with changing regulations on container sizes and personal belongings, it’s really important to plan ahead so you aren’t taken by surprise by TSA agents. They will have no qualms about confiscating items and throwing them in the trash. Therefore, an empty water bottle packed away along with your reuseable take-out utensils are a must. I used them several times to avoid the single-use plastics.
My son and I decided to take in a college basketball game while we were in town, but who knew — many venues these days only allow see-through bags! So I had to dump all of my belongings into a large, clear plastic bag. (I stashed my empty purse in the bushes to retrieve afterwards and kept the bag for recycling.) Every school is different, but keep that in mind when you visit various events or amusement parks or other venues.
Quick Tip: Check venue websites for restrictions on bags and items.
Purchasing offsets for your travel is a great way to minimize your impact. For a round-trip from Charlottesville to Austin, my son and I contributed 2,880 lbs of CO2 with our 6,000 miles. (I used blueskymodel.org, which applies .24 lbs of CO2 per mile per passenger to get that number.) So I opted to use Carbon Lighthouse — which our Home Energy Challenge platform recommends — and purchased $18 dollars worth of offsets based on their calculator. It was super-easy and economical AND gave me 4,800 points for my team when I marked it complete on my “action plan” in the Home Energy Challenge.
Quick Tip: For snacks and drinks on flights, ask for the can and no plastic cup. Most airlines will oblige. Aluminum cans, when recycled, can turn into new cans in 90-120 days!
For ground travel around the city, Lyft was our chosen taxi because they offset all of their trips. With bike shares, scooter shares, and ride shares that are carbon free (either because they are electric or human-powered or using offsets), it’s easier to travel carbon light in cities! At the prompting of my adventurous son, I took my inaugural electric scooter ride in Austin with a Lime scooter for about eight miles in addition to good old-fashioned walking around UT’s large campus. The app was amazingly easy to use (and the scooters were disconcertingly fast at 15 mph sans helmet)! So now add “helmet” to your packing list for your next trip to a sizable city. (Afterthought: How cool would it be if I could select my Lyft driver based on the car that they drive — EV or hybrid — to further lessen my impact?!)
Another note: One discouraging piece of information that I learned was that Delta doesn’t recycle, so of course I made a note to send them feedback. (If you fly Delta, join me here to tell them to increase their corporate social and ecological responsibility by offering this.)
Depending on where you eat, three meals while on travel can amount to a lot of waste and carbon impacts (if you’re a meat eater), not to mention tax the budget. So remember to pack those reusable utensils and eat local and low waste. My 18-year-old, 5’10”-and-growing boy was all in with trying Texas meat eats, like the beef brisket and pork, so I found myself “offsetting” with vegetarian and pescatarian options. Popular Guero’s fish and spinach mushroom tacos — so yummy!
Quick Tip: Pack reusable utensils for eating on the go while traveling.
This trip, I chose my hotel based on my budget, but having stayed at Hampton Inn before, I felt confident that they would have environmental sustainability in mind for their guests, and they did for the most part. By now, most hotel chains have sustainability and conservation in mind for their guests, but like anything, it’s a continuum of commitment. We opted out of daily swapping out of linens and towels by hanging them up, but was disappointed those two days in a row they gave us new towels anyway. That’s where the comment card comes in handy!
Politely Decline and Encourage
One thing I continue to find annoying as a consumer is the lingering automatic straw delivery at most restaurants despite the huge alternative straw movement, and that giving bottled water as a “gift” is the hospitable and customer service-oriented thing to do. Hampton Inn welcomes their guests this way. Of course, we can politely decline.
Quick Tip: Politely decline straws and plastic water bottles.
When in Doubt, You Can Pack Out
I realize I’m on the radical side of recycling so this may not be for everyone, but I will happily pack an empty plastic container or soda can in my bag until I can find a dedicated recycling bin. My son’s chosen rebellion is to ask for plastic bags wherever he goes or he shops (could be worse), so I brought back three plastic bags from our visit to the UT bookstore and basketball game for McIntire Recycling Center drop off because I know they go to TREX recycling in Virginia.
I hope these simple tips will help you stay eco-agile while traveling!