National Geographic Traveler
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October 2008
On the Road
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Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Travel:

14. Lighten Up

Packing lightly will make it easier to get where you're going, while also reducing your negative impact on the environment. So leave the extra shoes and clothes at home, and stick with durable, neutral-colored clothing that can be easily mixed and matched to create different looks over several days of travel.

"In our research for The Green Book, we discovered that every additional ten pounds per traveler requires an additional 350 million gallons of jet fuel per year," says Thomas Kostigen. "That's enough fuel to keep a 747 flying continuously for ten years, which is pretty amazing."

15. Bring Your Own Water Bottle

According to the Container Recycling Institute, more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away in the United States each day. Recycling or reusing those bottles instead would save enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for an entire day in 15 million households. Travelers can help by recycling and reusing existing water bottles, and refusing to purchase or accept new bottles; instead refilling a single bottle or other dishwasher-safe, reusable bottle with filtered water.

"Breaking our addiction to water bottles is one of the easiest things we can do to help the environment, " says Josh Dorfman, author of The Lazy Environmentalist, 2007, and national spokesperson for the Filter for Good campaign, a partnership between Brita and Nalgene to encourage consumers to reduce plastic water-bottle waste. "Not only will we keep the plastic out of landfills, but we'll be helping conserve the 1.5 million barrels of oil it takes to produce all the water bottles we toss each year."

If you don't have access to filtered water, use a portable filtered water bottle or a reusable filter designed to fit in standard sport and water bottles. Check out a wide range of portable filter brands and products at

16. Pack a Meal to Go

The average U.S. resident produces 4.5 pounds of trash each day, according to the Energy Information Administration, and more than a third of that waste is from containers and packaging.

To trim excess food wrapper and storage waste from your diet when you travel, pack a waste-free meal or snack in a reusable container to bring on your trip. Clean and reuse the container during your travels to limit excess wrapping whenever possible.

"The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that a child packing a reusable lunch box will prevent 67 pounds of lunch waste from entering the landfill each year—and that's just for schools," says Amy Hemmert, author of The Laptop Lunch User's Guide: Fresh Ideas for Packing Wholesome, Earth-Friendly Lunches Your Kids Will Love. "Children and adults spend so much time away from home. When we're hungry and in a rush, it's only natural for us to reach for something in disposable packaging. However, all that packaging ends up in the landfill, on the streets, and in the oceans."

Hemmert and partner Tammy Pelstring created the reusable, dishwasher-safe Laptop Lunch system for children and adults, inspired by the traditional Japanese bento box featuring multiple interior containers neatly arranged within a larger box. While the bento system is convenient, any washable, reusable plastic containers with lids can be used to safely store on-the-go meals and limit waste when traveling.

For more information on packing waste-free lunches, visit

17. Pack a Battery Charger

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans buy nearly 3 billion dry-cell batteries containing lead, cadmium, nickel, and other heavy metals each year. When batteries are improperly dumped in landfills, the metals can contaminate the air, ground, and/or water.

"Remember to bring rechargeable batteries and your battery charger. This reduces toxic waste, saves the environment and your pocketbook," says Alyssa Johnson, president of Oro Azul, a Seattle-based ecotourism and sustainable tourism consulting, and international small business development firm. "Check your destination's power supply to see if you will also need a power converter."

18. Get a Green Map

Whether you're visiting a distant city or traveling somewhere closer to home, a locally designed Green Map can be a great tool for exploring a new place with a fresh, eco-friendly perspective.

Downloadable and interactive maps contributed by Green Mapmakers from over 50 countries are available for more than 400 cities, villages, and neighborhoods worldwide at Each map highlights local natural and cultural resources (parks, bike paths, farmers markets, and so on) making it easy for visitors to access green and authentic products, services, and activities.

"With a Green Map, instead of finding yourself at yet another mall, you'll be cycling in a wonderful park or greenway, entertained by authentic local theater, or dining at a unique healthy café that serves local produce," says Wendy E. Brawer, founder and director of Green Map System. "Green Maps help globetrotters become aware of local environmental issues and resources as well as ways to engage in sustainable ecotourism."

For example, the "Powerful Green Map of NYC" gives visitors the chance to explore New York City through its energy-efficient resources. The map highlights everything from underwater turbines that generate low-impact electricity in the East River to a warehouse of reusable building materials in Queens, along with more traditional sights such as the New York Aquarium and the biomass-powered Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

19. Use the Right Gear

Choose environmentally friendly clothing and travel gear made from recycled, reused, organic, and sustainable natural materials such as cotton, hemp, and bamboo.

Sustainable Travel International publishes an annual Green Gear and Gift Guide featuring eco-friendly and fairly traded backpacks, messenger bags, clothing, shoes, and other travel essentials. Items include packs and bags containing waterproof solar panels that generate up to four watts of power. Inside each bag is a Li-lon battery pack, which can store enough surplus power to recharge most handheld electronic devices.

Many eco-friendly gear vendors also give back to their local communities or invest a portion of profits in environmental initiatives and organizations. Before purchasing, check out the company's website to research their community outreach efforts.

20. Bring a Reusable Shopping Bag

Packing a basic canvas tote, or other similar sturdy, washable bag, in your luggage is an easy way to help keep trash out of landfills and off roadsides, conserve energy, and protect marine life. Use the bag—instead of the paper or plastic bags provided by stores—to carry souvenirs and other purchases made during your trip.

So how can one little bag really help? Worldwatch Institute's Good Stuff reports that people in the United States toss out some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags each year. In California alone, 600 plastic bags are used per second and, according to Californians Against Waste, most of those bags are thrown out.

To help people visualize often staggering, abstract statistics—including the number of plastic bags we use—Seattle artist Chris Jordan is creating an online image series entitled "Running the Numbers: An American Self Portrait." Jordan's "Plastic Bags 2007" composite image depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number of bags, according to Jordan's research, which are used in the United States every five seconds.

While some plastic bags make it into landfills (where they'll eventually photo-degrade—break down and release toxic ingredients into the soil and ground water), others litter roadways and float in waterways where they can choke or entangle sea turtles, jellyfish, whales, and other marine life and waterfowl, which mistake the bags for food.

A 2007 state law requiring large grocery stores and pharmacies in California to recycle plastic shopping bags will help reduce the plastic waste in that state, but no matter where you travel, you can help. Bringing your own reusable bag every time you shop eliminates the need for plastic bags.

Several eco-friendly shopping bags—made from biodegradable, organic, and or recycled materials—are available. features a line of reusable shopping, grocery, and lunch bags made from materials including organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, recycled cotton, and recycled PET. While you're checking out their bags, watch the ticker continuously tally the number of plastic bags used around the world.
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