Want to Cut Costs on Your Next Vacation? Go Green
When you purchase an airfare, do you usually choose to pay a carbon offset fee? Have you even heard of a carbon offset fee? (It's a small amount to help compensate for the emissions from the flight.)
The answer is very likely "no," and that's ok. But if paying for trip already leaves you feeling too broke to pay any extra fees, there are other things you can do to minimize your impact on the environment while traveling. (See also: 10 Things You're Paying Too Much for When You Travel)
And unlike the carbon offset fee, these things will actually help you save some money.
What's the point of shopping during a trip if you buy mass-produced things you can easily get at home? The T-shirts, fridge magnets, and keychains you see at gift shops were probably shipped in from factories elsewhere.
If you have to buy souvenirs, consider getting something local. For example, visit a market to see artisans at work and buy your souvenirs directly from them. The items you buy will be more meaningful and you'll help support the local economy. Not to mention give you a great opportunity to "place drop" when someone asks you where you got that new hat. (See also: Why You Should Never Buy Souvenirs)
Some hotels differentiate themselves from the competition by their environmentally friendly practices that minimize water and energy consumption. There is currently no one prevailing set of global standards for green hotels, but you can often find them through certification organizations like the Green Key Eco-Rating Program.
If you can book a green hotel, that's great. But even if you don't, it's possible to practice green habits at a non-green hotel.
One of the best things about staying at a hotel is having someone clean the room for you. However, this could also be a wasteful practice as sheets and towels don't always have to be changed daily. If you want to reuse your sheets and towels, let the front desk or the housekeeping staff know.
Other things you can do at the hotel include recycling, taking short showers, and turning off all electric devices when you leave the room.
Collapsible Food Containers
Think you can't fit food containers in your small carry-on? Think again. There are collapsible versions that can remain compact until you need to use them. They are not specifically marketed as travel items, but they would be perfect for complying with airline carry-on limits, which get stricter by the day. Just pack a flattened container or two in your bag, then expand them when necessary for take-outs, leftovers, and picnics.
Reusable Grocery Bags
When I travel, I like to book a suite with a kitchen. Shopping at unfamiliar markets and cooking with local ingredients can be an interesting experience in itself. This is why I pack a reusable grocery bag in my carry-on. It's small, light, and green. Plus, some grocery stores have started charging shoppers for plastic bags.
Not everybody goes grocery shopping during a vacation, but do consider packing a reusable grocery bag regardless. These bags are more sturdy than regular plastic bags and would be great for trips to the beach and containing luggage overflow.
If there's a good public transport network at your destination, take advantage of it. You'll see how locals get around and maybe meet some interesting people along the way. It's also cheaper and better for the environment.
If you plan to take public transit, check out the city's website for important information like maps, routes, and fares beforehand. These details will help you plan your itinerary and you may even learn some money-saving tips. For example, Vancouver's public transit website tells you that a book of 10 tickets is 24% cheaper than 10 single tickets.
If you have to rent a car, go for the smallest one possible. A smaller car usually consumes less gas, and the car rental company often charges less for it. A hybrid car, if available, would be an even better, greener choice. If you're not familiar with the area, rent a GPS to help you find the shortest routes possible.
Reusable Water Bottles
Bottled water is often marketed as being a healthier alternative to the humble tap water, but the science behind this claim is debatable. At least in the United States, tap water is just as safe to drink as bottled water. Yet, the University of Maryland says Americans spent $11.8 billion on 9.7 billion gallons of bottled water in 2012 alone.
Single-use water bottles are manufactured at great cost to the environment and most of them are not recycled after use. They're also highly attractive to tourists, who often find themselves walking around for long stretches, unprepared and parched. So if you travel to a destination where the tap water is drinkable, bring a reusable water bottle and save yourself some money.
Digital Reading Material
I used to bring one or two books with me when I traveled, but now everything is on my smartphone. This way, I have fewer things to pack and I can read in the dark before sleeping.
Reading on a smartphone is not for everyone — it's small and it's often too bright. But tablets and e-readers are everywhere and most books are available in digital form. These e-books are often drastically cheaper compared to the printed versions, so you'll save money in the long run.
Access the Sharing Economy
The sharing economy minimizes overall consumption by encouraging people, who are often strangers, to share (actually rent) resources. Thanks to the Internet, there are many ways to take part in the sharing economy when you travel.
For accommodation, look into vacation rentals (renting someone's home) through websites like Airbnb and couchsurfing (sleeping on someone's couch). For longer trips, you could try house-sitting (taking care of someone's home while they're away) through HouseCarers or TrustedHousesitters.com. Alternatively, use Intervac or HomeLink for home exchange (staying at someone's home while the other family stays at yours).
Instead of renting a car, you can try ridesharing, which is when a local drives you around for a small fee. Lyft and Sidecar connect ridesharers in some select cities. If you want something more private, go with peer-to-peer carsharing instead, which means you'll rent a local's car when she's not using it. You can find these cars on RelayRides or Getaround.
How do you green your travel? Please share in comments!