You can still see the world—and save the planet.

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YOLO travel bucket lists are a wonderful excuse to crisscross the planet for amazing experiences and a chance to meet people around the world. But all that travel can do some serious damage to our planet, as everything from flights to what you choose from the menu can have an impact on the environment.

But that doesn't mean you have to stick with staycations to do your part to protect the planet. There are plenty of ways to travel lighter on the planet—and many of them can make your trip less expensive and far richer in experiences. "There's an old saying, 'take only photographs, leave only footprints,' that still applies," says travel expert Wendy Perrin. "When we are traveling in a sensitive place, we need to do the same things that you would do in our home to preserve what you have." Read on for the best ways to green your next getaway.

Shadow of airplane over forest
Credit: Getty Images

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Optimize your flights

Flying produces a literal ton of carbon emissions, but there are ways to make that impact smaller.

You can look on Google Flights to see how your chosen itinerary's carbon footprint compares to other flight combos. (Hint: Nonstops are better, as landings and takeoffs use more fuel than staying aloft.)

Most of the airlines have made commitments to reduce carbon emissions by using newer, more energy-efficient planes, investing in sustainable aviation fuel, and investing in carbon offsets and carbon capture programs to help reduce their impact. 

Streamline your stay

It's gotten much easier to find an eco-friendly hotel: just Google. Google will now show Eco-Certified hotels with a green leaf next to their name, who have to show a concerted effort to be more environmentally friendly (not just reminding you that you can skip having your towels washed).

If you look in the About tab, you'll see what features they have that help them live up to the hype, whether it's relying on sustainable energy sources or nixing plastic straws—all cross-checked by experts. 

But you can also do your part to reduce the impact of your stay. "Maybe we don't need housekeeping everyday, and we can use the same towels and sheets," Perrin says. "Or turning off the lights before you leave your hotel room—a lot of people don't do that in their rush to get out the door."

Look for greener ways to get around

This may be a tricky one at the moment, with people still fearful of the pandemic, but opting for public transportation over Ubers or rental cars are a cost-saving (and planet-saving) option.

"People want to be green, but they also want to be safe," Perrin says. "A lot of people are worried about taking public transportation." Another option? Consider biking or walking in lieu of a car to get around—enabling you to really get to know the cities you're visiting.

Shop and eat local

Skip the standard souvenirs for something with a much stronger sense of place. Look for artwork or handicrafts, or even better, something you can use on a daily basis, whether it's a colorful bag or a hand-knit shawl.

"Buy what the local people made with their own hands, and take a picture of yourself with the person who made the wooden bowl or basket," Perrin says. "If you're helping support and preserve the local community and local culture, that's part and parcel of the same thing."

The same goes for eating out—support local eateries, especially those that focus on using locally grown ingredients, to help really get a taste of the local flavor. And don't forget that plant-based dining is another huge way to reduce your carbon footprint.

BYO water bottle and bag

One hallmark of lighter travel is reducing the amount of disposable items you use along the way. Pack a reusable water bottle for your trip (if you look opt for a collapsible one, it'll be easy to pack and stash when you're done drinking.) 

And pack a few lightweight and easy-to-fold totes that you can carry along with you to hold any souvenirs you pick up along the way, so you don't need plastic bags. 

Look for green tour packages

"There are travel companies and tour operators out there, who are coming up with lines of tours and experiences where they're trying to reduce your carbon footprint," Perrin says. 

Consider tours that utilize public transportation, bikes, or walking—and try sailing cruises or kayak tours in lieu of powerboat adventures. 

In some areas, you can find activities that'll give back to your local community—the Malama Hawaii program, for instance, lets you choose from a series of helpful projects, like planting trees or cleaning up beaches. (And bonus: Many hotels will give you a discount on your hotel rate if you spend some time helping out.) 

Consider carbon offsets

Buying carbon offsets is one way to feel a little better about your travels. Carbon offsets pay for environmental projects like planting trees and preserving forests, which can help take carbon out of the atmosphere. 

Using a calculator, like the one at conservation.org, you can figure out your family's daily carbon footprint—and your travel impact—and mitigate it by donating toward groups that help protect the forests.