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Ask the Traveler: How can I travel more sustainably?

As someone who lives in a place under existential threat from climate change—hey, who doesn’t?—I’m heartened to see so many globe-trotters asking the question: How can I travel  more sustainably?

Fortunately, more tourism companies are heeding United Nations guidelines to reduce carbon emissions, cut single-use plastics, and support local communities. Among them, The Travel Corporation, whose TreadRight Foundation helps its more than 40 tour and hotel brands go green.

“Many operators are keen to focus on sustainability and are looking for support on how to do that, precisely,” says Shannon Guihan, chief sustainability officer and head of TreadRight for The Travel Corporation.

While the major industry players hold the greatest sway over tourism’s impact on the planet, we individual travelers can do plenty to help the cause.

One easy step is rethinking how and if we fly, says Susanne Etti, environmental impact specialist for Intrepid Travel, which promotes sustainable tourism. Choose nonstop flights whenever possible. Favor airlines like United that have begun using biofuels. And, if you’re taking a long-haul trip to, say, Edinburgh, consider flying into a hub like London and hopping a train from there, she says.

Also, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions associated with air travel by investing in renewable energy initiatives is easy and surprisingly inexpensive. Offsetting my round-trip from New Orleans to Iceland set me back just $75 using Atmosfair’s online carbon calculator.

Somewhat frustratingly, booking sustainable lodging and experiences can be tougher. Beware of “greenwashing.” As you research, look for concrete environmental goals from companies, such as reducing water consumption by 30% or sourcing produce from local farmers. Independent environmental certifications and support for sustainability pacts like Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency are also good signs you’re in the right place.

“It comes back to voting with your money,” Etti says. “Support the brands and businesses that are doing the right things.”

Speaking of the right things, don’t forget to pack your good habits.

You might already carry a reusable water bottle, so why not add a coffee cup and utensils? If there’s no recycling program at your destination, consider taking plastics home.

With a little research, you can go green on your next vacay—and get a lot of gratitude from those of us living below sea level.

Want to suggest an Ask the Traveler topic? Write to Jessica Fender at westways@aaa-calif.com.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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