What to Do – Green Activities
The great thing about traveling is once you’re at your destination, it’s much easier to be green. Most of your carbon consumption comes from the actual travel itself. That’s not to say that if you’ve done your best to be a green traveler getting there (who says you can’t bike around the world?) then you’re off the hook. But you have more options.
photo crdit: SMercury98
Here are some of our favorite green activities while traveling:
- Sit in a park and watch the locals, read, or write in a travel journal
- Wander through non-touristy neighborhoods (you can spend days doing this)
- Stop at cafes in those neighborhoods
- Take public transportation to a random stop and get off and wander around (check with a hostel worker/concierge/local first to make sure the neighborhood is safe)
- Visit museums
- Browse local shops and businesses
- Play pick-up sports with the locals
- Visit the local library
- Spend time on a university’s campus
- Spend time in a university neighborhood – there are often fun and inexpensive bookstores, restaurants, and coffee shops near colleges
- Go to a religious service (make sure you are dressed appropriately and know enough about local customs as to not offend anyone)
- Windsurf, canoe, or kayak
- Go for a run before the city is awake
A good rule of thumb is if an activity doesn’t cost very much, chances are it has less of an environmental impact. Of course, there are exceptions like eco-safaris, but that is not a norm. And generally, avoid any activity that doesn’t seem native to the local environment – such as snow-skiing in Dubai.
When you’re getting to and from these activities try to bike or walk. If you need to take another form of transportation, map your route. Arrange your trip so that you see museums in area on the same day, which will prevent zig-zagging across the city. To be a green traveler, you need understand exactly what you’re aiming to do and what green travel is. There are many definitions of green travel, but here’s what we believe green travel is really about.
When most people think about green travel they immediately think of the environment and making choices that will minimize environmental impact and damage. For example, you might take public transportation instead of driving a car because it will cut emissions, or use less paper because it will save trees. But while the environment is a key piece of green travel, it’s not the entire picture.
photo credit: Éamonn
Green travel is also about respecting people in the local environment. That means respecting their presence, their values, and their way of life. It also means saying “hello,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” Basically, treat people with respect – the way you would like to be treated.
Traveling green is also about getting to know the local culture – from attempting to learn the language and customs to dressing appropriately. Plus, you’ll have more fun when you immerse yourself in the culture. You’ll have new experiences and broaden your understanding of other people.
photo credit: ahinsajain
Green travel is about giving back to the local economy. By buying local foods, taking tours with local operators, and patronizing local businesses, you’re supporting the local way of life and reducing your environmental impact. Your goods and food doesn’t have to travel far to get to you and your experience will be more authentic.
photo credit: Keith Bacongco
Green travel is about protecting your personal health. By paying attention to chemicals in your water bottle, shoes, and toiletries, you will protect yourself from toxic chemicals. In turn, your choices will benefit the environment because the chemicals from your products won’t end up in the environment.
photo credit: Perfecto Insecto
Green travel is about more than just the environment. It’s about supporting local culture and economy, reducing your environmental impact, and improving your personal health – separate but overlapping issues.
By buying local you not only support the local economy, but you also reduce your impact on the environment because your goods don’t travel as far.
Learning About the Local Culture
Now that we’ve laid out the why, what, and where of green travel, we’re going to discuss the how. For the rest of the 25 Days to Green Travel series we’ll talk about how to travel green in 3 parts: Before You Go, While You’re There, and Going Home.
To kick off Before You Go, I’m going to delve a little deeper into how to choose a destination for green travel. Kimberly’s post outlined a variety of options for where you might travel green. But how exactly do you choose the best green travel destination for you? Picking your destination doesn’t just depend on the place (e.g. whether there are LEED certified hotels or extensive public transportation); choosing a destination for eco travel also depends on you. How easy will it be for you to be a green traveler there?
Respect the Culture When Green Travel
As we said in our definition of green travel, to be a green traveler in any destination – be it eco-lodge-filled Costa Rica or pollution-ridden Beijing – you must understand, appreciate and respect the culture.
photo redit: foxypar4
Learning About the Local Culture: 25 Days to Green Travel
When you’re deciding where to go and after you’ve gotten there, you should research the culture. This includes learning about the local customs, traditions, and religion, as well as respecting local dress codes.
You should also attempt to learn at least a few key phrases in the local language. Not only is this respectful, you never know when it will get you out of a bind. Here are some resources that will help you learn more about culture and language:
Green Travel Culture Resources
- Search the web for country-specific information which you can often find on study abroad sites and blogs. Use keywords in your searched like the name of the destination, plus “customs” “culture” “etiquette.” Also, if you’re not finding anything add “business” to the search, since there is a multitude of resources for business travelers in need of etiquette information. This website also has a few links to country-specific culture information. Head to your local library and check out books, fiction or non-fiction, or videos like travel videos, documentaries, and foreign films to gain further insight into the culture There are several book series that describe cultures of other countries, such as the Culture Wise series. If you are really interested in learning as much about the culture as possible, check it out.
- Fun video showing how they count money in various countries
Green Travel Language Resources
- Foreign Language Podcasts (a personal favorite)
- Foreign Language Websites
- Open Directory Language Translation Sites
In addition to choosing environmentally-friendly transportation, shopping locally, and sleeping at a green hostel, remember to show your respect for the culture. Do your research before you go and try to pick up a few key phrases. Not only is it the right thing to do, it will also improve your time abroad and help you fully experience your destination.
Bus and Train Routes Across the World
Riding a bus or train in a foreign country can be daunting, especially for Americans (like us) who have limited non-car ground transportation options at home. But I hope my post yesterday convinced you that you should at least consider alternatives to flying for your next trip. Buses and trains are obviously the more environmentally-friendly options, but there are other advantages, too.
You get to see the countryside when you travel by land, which will give you a different perspective on the region. And you’ll have a chance to chat up fellow travelers and locals, especially on longer journeys. What else are you going to do when you’re stuck on a train for 5 days? These websites will give you the info you need – from route maps, to ticketing information, to departure schedules – to travel by bus or train just about anywhere in the world.
Regional Bus Systems
East Coast (Washington D.C., New York, Boston, Philadelphia)
- Bolt Bus
- Fung Wah
- Apex (Warning: Google the safety records of the last three companies before you choose to book a trip on them. I have plenty of friends who have ridden the buses and found them to be nice enough, though with the safety record of these companies it may be wiser to pay a few more dollars and ride Greyhound.)
Eurail has the most extensive (but sometimes pricey) network. Countries may also have their own networks. For example, we’ve gotten a pass and ridden extensively on the Polish and Russian train systems.
photo credit: Smabs Sputzer
- JR Bus Kanto Japan
- Alpico Japan
- Nishitetsu Japan
- The Transport Company, Ltd. Thailand
- Greyhound Australia
- Firefly Express Coaches
- Premier Motor Service
- Integrity Coach Lines
- Kynoch Coaches
- Rail Australia
- Sydney to Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra
- Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide,Perth, Alice Springs, Darwin
- Brisbane, Townsville, Cairns
- V-Line Victoria
A phenomenal resource for train and sea based travel is Seat61, although it doesn’t have information on bus systems.
Too often people (myself included) look at flights only and never even consider the alternatives. Not only are trains and buses better for the environment; they are often cheaper than flights and provide a true adventure.
Getting Around – Public Transportation
[A] person who rides public transportation instead of driving reduces his or her carbon dioxide output, a harmful greenhouse gas, by more than 20 lbs a day and 4,800 lbs annually. That saves more than weatherizing a home, adjusting a thermostat, switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and replacing older appliances with higher efficiency models, combined. A national climate change strategy that doesn’t embrace public transportation has simply missed the bus.
– American Public Transportation Association’s Climate Report
Advantages of Going Public
In addition to the obvious positive environmental impacts of choosing public transportation over a car, there are a number of other reasons to hop on a bus or train.
Cost. Public transportation is almost always cheaper than renting a car and paying for gas. And it’s faster than walking so you can cover more ground in a day.
Convenience. In most major cities, public transportation will take you anywhere you want to go. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about parking a car or following street signs written only in Chinese. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Meeting the locals. Depending on where you’re headed, most of your fellow passengers will likely be natives. Strike up a conversation. You can practice your foreign language skills and learn about local culture and sites at the same time. And you never know; the person sitting next to you on the bus might be an English teacher who can help you buy a ticket and jump on your train before it leaves. It happened to me in Moscow.
Seeing the city. When you’re on a bus or tram, you’ll see parts of the city that may not be featured in guidebooks. You might even uncover an awesome market or hidden restaurant.
photo credit: Coradia1000
What You Should Know
Rules and laws. Before you hop on the train or bus, know the rules and the laws. In some countries, it seems like they’re intentionally trying to trick non-native speakers into buying the wrong ticket so they can catch them and fine them (ahemHUNGARYahem – but that’s a story for another day).
Be aware of these kinds of (often legal) scams. Talk to fellow travelers and hostel workers and do your research. When in doubt, ask.
Be smart. Public transportation in general is perfectly safe, but it depends on where you are. Keep your guard up and be cautious; don’t leave your passport (or camera or money) in an easily accessible pocket in your backpack. Keep it in a money belt.
Observe. One of my biggest pet peeves in DC is the tourists crowding the Metro in the summer, standing on the left and the right. If they just looked around, they’d realize that everyone else is standing on the right and walking on the left. It’s simple, people! Watch what the locals are doing and mimic them. You’ll fit in more and they won’t be wishing you were back where you came from.
Be courteous. The treat others as you’d like to be treated rule applies anywhere. Move out of the way for people who need a seat more than you do – namely elderly, disabled, or very pregnant people. Learn to say “excuse me” and “please” in the native language and if you forget how, saying it in English with an apologetic or friendly look on your face is generally better than not saying it at all.
How to Find It
Tourist information. It’s a great place to start, but it’s not always open (and sometimes you need to take public transportation to get there). They’re often located near train or bus stations, though, so it’s worth a shot.
Front desk. If you’re staying at a hostel – or even a B&B or hotel – ask the person at the front desk about the best way to get around the city.
Other travelers. Getting around is also a good conversation starter with other travelers who have been in the city a few days. They can share their experiences with you so you don’t repeat their mistakes.
Online. If none of these work, most public transportation systems have websites, though they can be hard to decipher in another language and English versions aren’t always available. Of course, there’s always Google, traveler websites like TripAdvisor, and online and print travel guides.
1. Click “Get directions” underneath the search box.
2. Enter your desired start and end addresses.
3. Click the “Get Directions button.” Google Maps will find driving directions between the two locations.
4. Click “Take Public Transit” at the top of the left panel to find public transportation routes. (This link will only appear when Google has public transit information for that area.)
In the US try PublicTransportation.org, which includes iPod maps, to and from airports, and cities with light rail, or PublicRoutes. The latter also includes information for London.