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Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.

The 2020 slowdown in travel may have benefited the environment but that was likely one of the few upsides to an otherwise difficult year globally. But with 2021 now upon us, we’ll again have roads to drive, destinations to fly to (eventually) and the same insatiable thirst for travel that saw the industry account for 8% of total global emissions. Moving forward, every action we take today to reduce tomorrow’s carbon footprint will be essential. But “green” travel doesn’t mean having less fun or sacrificing creature comforts. All it requires is to be more eco-conscious, and here are some helpful ways to do that in 2021.

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Calculate your impact

Until zero-emissions travel becomes a reality, flights and road trips will in some way negatively impact the environment. So, calculating your vacation’s emissions and footprint is a good first step. You can determine the environmental cost with a carbon footprint calculator. Add it all together, then purchase carbon credits to lessen what can’t be reduced.

Pack like a minimalist

The more you pack, the heavier your bag. This contributes to the overall weight of the plane or car, ultimately impacting the amount of CO2 emitted. Lighten the load with a backpack or small suitcase, packing only what you need and choosing outfits you can mix and match. Stashing your eco-friendly toiletries in packing cubes saves space and means you can buy a few things upon arrival, need be.

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Fly smarter

In-flight emissions can be reduced in a number of ways. First, choose an airline that offers the option to offset air travel or visit My Climate where you can match climate protection projects with your flight’s carbon footprint. Then, book a direct flight in coach, opt for carry-on only, bring your own food and amenities, and lower the window shades to keep the plane cool.

Better road tripping

Driving can create some of the biggest environmental impacts. Maintaining your vehicle keeps it running smoothly and efficiently. Proper tire pressure alone can improve average gas mileage by 0.6% —up to 3% in some cases. If you’re renting, select the smallest, most fuel-efficient car that’ll fit your needs. If a hybrid is available, even better.


Choosing to walk, bike, or enjoy a cruise through town in a local pedicab when sightseeing is better for the planet. Remember to take a tote or daypack with you, too. It’s easier to carry your Hydro Flask or any souvenirs, clothes, and groceries you might pick up along the way. It also means no plastic bags, which are some of the biggest contributors to ocean pollution.

Eat locally

One of the great rewards of travel is sampling new flavors, and eating locally is a great way to support a community in an eco-friendly way. The USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory helps you plan visits to farmers’ markets, where you can pick up locally sourced sustainable foods. Also, dining at restaurants that offer homegrown menu items reduces food miles (emissions created during the journey from producer to consumer).

Stay green

Large hotels consume a lot of energy, but many are committed to power reduction and reducing their waste and water usage. And thanks to LEED certification, eco-travelers can feel better about an amenity-filled stay by booking certified locations. Aria Las Vegas has earned six LEED Gold certifications. Virgin Hotels Chicago is LEED Gold-certified with hotel-wide recycling. Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, NC, is the first hotel in America to be LEED Platinum-certified and focuses on buying more food from local farmers and food makers. Can’t find a LEED-ranked hotel in your desired destination? Slash your personal consumption by turning off the lights, heater, and AC when leaving the room, reuse the towels, keep your showers short, and leave the freebies—lotion, shampoo, conditioner—behind.

Leave no trace

Leave no trace” is a catchy phrase reminding us to protect the natural spaces we love. It means sticking to existing trails whenever possible, camping at established sites 200 feet from water sources, minimizing campfire impacts, and what you pack in is also what you pack out. Keep this mindset when you hit the beach or go snorkeling as well. Apply a reef-safe sunscreen that is free from any chemicals contributing to coral bleaching.

Take a trip that gives back

Giving back can be rewarding. It reminds us to appreciate travel and reconnects us to the people and the land. It’s as simple as booking a “voluntourism” vacation or even properly disposing of trash that you see on a street corner or in the park. Hawaii has even come up with its own program to inspire mindful, eco-friendly travel, encouraging visitors to leave the islands better than when they arrived. Malama (care for) Hawaii projects include beach cleanups, ocean reef preservation, and tree planting. You’ll even score a free extra night at participating hotels.

Tagged: Tips & advice

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