The question: I love to travel overseas. What can I do to green my travel this year?
For those of us who like to exercise our passports, the guilt-inducing facts are out there: A luxury hotel guest uses 1,800 litres of water a night. A village in a developing country uses 500 litres of water a month. But there's also hope.
Twenty years ago, it was hard to find examples of socially and environmentally responsible tourism “and now there are loads of them,” says Rachel Dodds, who runs the consulting firm Sustaining Tourism ( sustainabletourism.net).
So what can you do?
A lot of Dodds's tips are little things you already know: Pack a reusable water bottle. Turn off the lights when you leave the hotel room. Take shorter showers. Eat local to cut down on the carbon-mileage of your meal. And when you buy that souvenir, find one that's actually made in the country you're visiting.
“I think everything makes a difference,” says Dodds, who is also an associate professor at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University. Those little things add up, she says. As more tour operators and big chains commit to going green, everything changes down the supply chain.
But the loaded word in your question is, of course, “overseas.”
You can rent hybrid cars, or take public transit, but if you're still buckling into a metal bird to cross the ocean, you're unleashing a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Flying has a “disproportionately large” impact on the climate system compared with other modes of travel, says the David Suzuki Foundation ( davidsuzuki.org) on its website. The organization suggests holidaying closer to home – after all, many tourists flock to our backyards – and if you must fly, cut back on your trips, fly direct (as take-off and landing use the most fuel) and fly during the day, as reports have shown that night flights have a greater impact on the climate.
And even if you have the time, a transatlantic cruise isn't the easy answer. Some forms of cruising create a lot of environmental damage, says Dodds.
There's always carbon offsetting but many of us have grown leery of the unregulated industry and stories of failed tree plantings.
To counter her flight miles, Dodds donates to a local and trusted charity. When she was in England, for instance, she contributed to the wildlife-research group, Friends of Conservation ( foc-uk.com), and after a trip to Laos, she gave money to Big Brother Mouse ( bigbrothermouse.com), a literacy organization for kids.
The impact of travel also has to be weighed against benefits, such as its economic contribution, says Dodds.
Plus, there's that lingering effect that comes when you step outside your routines and engage with another world. “There's a real connection when people have travelled,” says Dodds, and that can prompt more connections abroad, and at home, and lead to change too.
Send your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow Karan Smith on Twitter: @karan_smith. Special to The Globe and Mail