Not all of us are eco-hipsters who spend their every day counting their carbon footprint ... even if we should be. But, there are still easy things to do when planning and taking your vacation to ensure you don't have a horrible eco-impact on the paradise you are visiting. We all love telling people that they have to go where we have been, so preserving it for them (and future generations) makes perfect sense.
More and more destinations (like cities in Mexico) and tour operators are demanding you bring biodegradable sunscreen on your water excursion. Billions of people hit the ocean and lakes every year and there is a big problem with micro-organisms and coral reefs dying off and the cause is thought to be chemicals in non-biodegradable sunscreen and bug spray. If you do nothing else eco-friendly, do this. It is such a small effort will help protect ocean life for future generations.
Everyone buys new stuff for vacation! Just be sure to remove tags and extra packaging before heading out. Another eco-initiative is to being back any recycling you can ... this doesn't mean you have to save your plastic cups (although we won't stop you), but if you break a pair of sunglasses dispose of them at home because many destinations don't recycle the way we do.
Like the sunscreen this is a super easy one that benefits you just as much as it does the environment!
By bringing a reusable cup you won't have to bring back any to disposable cups to recycle! Plus, it keeps your drink cool.
Let's face it, buying a magnet that says Miami and was made in China only makes sense if you actually have a collection of magnets to all the places you have been. Buying them for other people is just pointless as they will end up in the trash (or hopefully at least the recycling) when the cheap magnet stops sticking to the fridge or the glue let's go and the face falls off… typically within a few years … if you are lucky.
It is better to buy one souvenir for yourself that was made by a local artisan or commemorates your trip in a way that is special.
Depending where you are there are great souvenirs to get others that they will use; like a bag of coffee from the Dominican Republic, a piece of silver jewelry from Mexico, or a small painting in Aruba. If worried about your budget, only buy for the people who you really need to buy for, like the person who took care of your cat or watered your plants.
Collecting shells (especially the conch shells) is easy and a 'free' souvenir. Did you know you are actually not allowed to bring shells directly from the ocean back with you? You can buy shells in a souvenir shop, but by taking them off the beach you are inadvertently adding to the problem of receding shorelines (okay, true it would be further down the road, but what is sand made of?) and you are possibly causing the death of marine life because they need the shells to use as a home and if they can't find one are susceptible to predators. So, leave the seashells on the seashore.
It is true that flying is the worst mode of transportation, but we don't want to be held back by having to drive, so we don't expect you to be either. Instead, try to offset your flight's carbon footprint by taking a bus or car pooling once in a while. Turn off the lights, shorten your showers, only buy biodegradable cleaning products, don't stand with the fridge door open, no more buying new clothing unless it is to replace something un-useable for a few months … there are so many easy things to do (and honestly, we should all be doing them anyway). So, in lieu of forgoing the vacation you want (which, let's face it, is not going to happen for most of us) try to make a conscious environmental effort for at least 1 month, and who knows, getting into the habit may inspire you to make it a part of your everyday life.
There are many great eco-friendly hotels and resorts. Check their website to find out what initiatives they have. If you are caught between two places pick up the phone and call to find out if they recycle, and if one does, there is your booking answer.
Eco-tours have grown immensely over the years but there are still a few things to do on any tour to respect the eco-system. Remember to leave everything where it is, so don't pick flowers, or try to make your own trail. A walking tour is eco-friendly even if they aren't certified, where as an ATV adventure …not so much. But, if you want to go on the ATV adventure stick to one ATV for two people instead of everyone having their own, and switch out the driver half way through. There are always easy choices.