7 Planet-Saving Travel Tips for Earth Day

earth day
Travel the right way for Earth Day. | Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Travel the right way for Earth Day. | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Earth Day, the most important of all holidays, so much so that we reliably forget about it each year until it autopopulates into the Google Cal. When you were a kid, April 22 might have involved your a class trip to clean garbage out of your neighborhood creek, maybe plant a bunch of little trees, but a lot of the time now, for a lot of people, Earth Day becomes something to be reminded about online and rarely celebrated in real life.

Look, I know it’s hard to stay optimistic about this stuff. When just 100 of the world’s biggest companies account for more than 70% of its total carbon emissions, anyone who tells you that you -- an individual -- can pull us back from the brink via proper recycling is lying, and also probably works for one of those 100 companies. But more and more of you guys prioritizing things designed to make the planet better, and not worse, is how we turn the tide and ultimately pressure the big guns into following, and it just so happens that travel is one of the places where we’re often polluting our world much more than we may realize, whether from airplane emissions, hotel stays, or not-so-eco-friendly ecotourism. If we have the privilege of traveling to see parts of the world that aren’t our own, we have the responsibility to at least leave them better than we found them.

Here’s some things to keep in mind as you move about the world, on Earth Day or any other day.

The owl eyes are watching you. | mxbfilms/Shutterstock

Check out some airline carbon offset programs

A lot of major carries like United, Delta, and JetBlue offer carbon offset programs. These typically work by analyzing the environmental impact of your trip and calculating a corresponding dollar amount (or rewards miles, in some cases) that you can donate to various programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, the Delta calculator recommends a $4.60 offset for a cross-country flight from LAX to JFK.

Now, carbon offsets on the whole are slippery and complicated, because they can sometimes let companies that offer them get away with pumping out a higher volume of emissions than they’d have otherwise been allowed to. But if you’re already going to take that flight, you might as well give a few extra bucks to the cause (the cause being humanity not dying in a slow-motion fire), even if you just put that donation amount to a separate environmental program of your choice. Speaking of taking flights, though:

Take the bus. Take the train. Drive, even

Airplanes are the safest form of transportation we have in the sense that you’re the least likely to crash, but the commercial airline industry is godawful for the planet as a whole. Just … fly as little as you reasonably can. If you’re traveling somewhere domestic and have the time, absolutely you should roadtrip instead of booking that two-hour flight. You’ll spend longer than that waiting to board anyway. And when you’ve arrived, opt for public transport where possible instead of driving. This is solid advice regardless of the state of our ozone layer -- the local subway or bus system is the best way of getting to know a new city. If you rent a bike to get around during your travels, tweet me a picture and I will send you a fun pic, GIF, and/or anecdote from my own travels as a reward.

Upgrade your travel aggregator

You probably already have a modest roster of travel apps -- add in Glooby, an aggregator that focuses on finding you not just low-cost flights and hotel rooms, but sustainable ones. That can mean a flight that’s more fuel-efficient than a comparable one, or a hotel that’s earned an eco-friendly label. You can also search through their featured cities, just to see what options are out there.

Travel, but make it local

This has nothing to do with staycationing. This just means that whenever you travel, once you get to a place try to make sure everything you do there actually comes from that place. It’s not always gonna be logistically or financially feasible, but look for restaurants and markets that use locally sourced food, and for hotels and tour companies that hire locally. And that’s what you’re after here anyway, right? The best food you’ll eat while traveling is going to be fresh fruit or seafood that came from somewhere within walking distance; the most knowledgeable guides are going to be folks who grew up wherever you are. While this is best accomplished on a case-by-case basis, companies like Undiscovered Mountains and Adventure Alternative make it a priority.

Skip the fresh towels

How often do you wash your towels and sheets at home? You can keep the answer to yourself, I am not here to judge, mostly because no matter how gross your sheets are they are definitely still not as gross as mine. Yet I somehow still get the moral high ground because being gross is environmentally friendly. When I’m at a hotel, I hang that Do Not Disturb sign on the door for the duration, and I cannot endorse this enough to the rest of you. Take it easy opening all those little soaps, too. If you truly have a thing about reusing sheets or towels even once, that’s fine, I don’t want you to spend your vacation anxious and uncomfortable. But most of you won’t notice the difference, and you’ll conserve loads of water by not having someone launder and change your sheets each night of your three-night stay. Remember to still tip your hotel housekeepers, though.

No more disposable water bottles

A great many things give me anxiety, such as my deep-seated fear of being unlovable and the fact that Joe Biden might run for president, but very close to the top of my list is single-use plastics. Stop doing them. Get yourself a Nalgene or other fancy reusable water bottle of your choice. Make it your travel companion. Take it with you to see the world. Start an Instagram account for your water bottle where you pose it artfully in front of the planet’s many wonders or slowly cover it in little drawings of passport stamps. No more disposable water bottles. And no more plastic bags for things you could in fact carry in your two hands, or in your travel backpack.  

Plan your travel with the environment in mind

Loads and loads of companies are ready and waiting to help you plan a trip entirely around sustainable practices. Take a biking tour with Backroads or VBT. Or book a trip with Intrepid Travel, which is aiming to be climate positive -- not just neutral in its environmental impact -- by 2020. The company will donate 40% of profits from family tour bookings made between today and the end of June 2019 to the Climate Foundation programs working to replenish marine ecosystems and curb carbon emissions. And you can use resources like EarthCheck, Rainforest Alliance, and Green Globe to find companies certified in sustainable travel practices in different regions around the world. See the planet without killing it.


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Kastalia Medrano is Thrillist's Travel Writer. You can send her travel tips at, and Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.