Traveling has a lot of benefits. It keeps us active, breaks up the daily routine, and inspires us to try out new things. In a nutshell, traveling makes us happy. In fact, a 2014 study found that having new experiences and traveling makes us happier than simply buying stuff. And although traveling every 13 weeks is an exciting new adventure for medical travelers, it can also take a toll on the environment.
Medical Travelers and Eco-Friendly Travel
We’ve all seen the news about climate change. Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish environmental activist, has made several statements about climate policy, including this one: “Unless your climate policy, commitment, philanthropy or plan includes drastic emission cuts at the source starting today, in line with the 1,5° CO2 budget, it will be completely insufficient. We can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”
Science-based articles discussing the state of our environment have become more prominent in recent years. Multiple studies have surfaced, showing that 97 percent or more of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the last century are likely due to human activity. NASA’s temperature data chart shows rapid warming in the last few decades, with data as recent as 2019:
With all this environmental research floating around, it’s clear that some of our daily patterns need to change to provide a greener world for the future, and that includes traveling. But eco-friendly travel doesn’t mean you need to give up your car and bike across the country to make an impact. You can go green in so many small ways. Whether you’re traveling to your next assignment or traveling to your facility each day, you can be Earth-conscious while exploring.
Purge your plastic.
By purge, we obviously mean recycle. Plastic pollution one of our biggest environmental issues. According to a report from the Guardian, an estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s… and only 9% of it has been recycled and According to National Geographic, 73% of all beach litter is plastic. Ouch.
There are many ways you can reduce your single use plastics. The most obvious one is to reuse your water bottles. Whether you’re headed into your shift for the day, hiking some new trails, sweating at the gym, sneaking a water bottle into your bag at the movies, or traveling long distances by car or plane, that plastic water bottle you’re toting around isn’t the best choice for an environmentally friendly future. It’s pretty easy to snag yourself a reusable, eco-friendly water bottle for your regular daily routine. Personally, I like the ones that S’well makes. Getting into the habit of using a refillable bottle, or even going a step further and asking your local coffee shop to make your drink in a reusable coffee mug, can cut down on plastic bottles, plastic iced coffee cups, plastic coffee lids and plastic straws.
When you’re all checked in and ready for a flight, ditch the option to purchase a bottled water and bring your empty reusable bottle. Most airports have fill up stations for you to stay hydrated.
Choose layover-free flights.
If we’re talking about carbon production, flying is the most costly way to get around. On average, one mile in the air will generate 53 pounds of carbon dioxide. But it’s not like everyone has the time or ability to get around by road tripping or public transportation. What are you supposed to do, bike from NYC to Oregon? Flying is sometimes your only option, but you can still fly responsibly and efficiently. Opt for layover-free flights to reduce fuel waste. Airlines spend tens of thousands of dollars at the pump for every flight, so fuel efficiency is important.
Transportation itself is now the largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S. Personal vehicles are the biggest polluters, because their emissions add up over time. When you have millions of vehicles on the road, reducing our daily transportation can reduce greenhouse gas emissions too. But how? I mean, you need to get around each day, whether for work or otherwise. Try carpooling with coworkers or using Uber or Lyft and public transportation. If the distance seems reasonable and you’re into exercise and the outdoors, try walking or biking to work. By cutting down on how much we drive and using cleaner modes of transportation, even just a few times per week, we can bolster eco-friendly traveling.
Pack less, use less.
A lot of us are attached to our “stuff”, and it makes sense. This video from TED explains three reasons why we get attached. Our belongings give us a sense of home, no matter where we’re traveling to. As a medical traveler, you need a few things to make your new home-away-from-home both comfortable and practical. That being said, keep in mind what you’re packing when you’re headed out on the road (or in the air). It seems insignificant, but packing light actually has a huge environmental impact. The lighter the bag, the less fuel consumption by plane, car or bus, reducing your carbon footprint.
Eat and shop local.
Whether you’re on the road traveling to a new location or simply exploring the goods in your new city, sourcing out local restaurants and shops means that those goods didn’t need to be transported across the country just to provide them there. Food is one of the best ways to sample local vibes and sourcing local shops can bring out the atmosphere of a location and help the local economy too.
Explore but leave no trace.
One of the most connected experiences we can have is with nature, but often our exploring leaves behind waste. When you’re headed out on a hike, going camping, or enjoying the outdoors in any capacity, tread carefully and follow the Leave No Trace principles. Specifically, don’t litter and leave nature alone, including flowers, rocks and leaves. By respecting nature, you can minimize your environmental footprint, allowing others to enjoy that very same nature in the future.
Travel will almost always create a bigger environmental footprint than staying in one place, because a normal routine is hard to establish when you’re moving from place to place. That doesn’t mean traveling is off limits. Finding ways to practice eco-friendly travel can benefit the environment, ourselves and future generations.