By Juliet Kinsman

If you’re sensitive to environmental causes, it might be hard to surrender to the new extra-cautious COVID-19 hygiene protocols, much less turn a blind eye to the tsunami of single-use plastic and undertow of bacteria-zapping cleaning products being used everywhere. But when faced with the magnitude of these times, green travelers shouldn’t feel that they have to go against the tide in pursuit of positive change—thankfully, many hotels have adapted to our current needs, but with an eco-friendly spirit. And it’s good to remember that even the smallest socio-economic-impact considerations can lead to much more community-friendly actions.

Clean yet green

We all want to protect our health by hanging out in hyper-sanitized situations, but in the long term, it’s better for immune systems to spend less time in environments steeped in invisible chemicals. Keep an eye out for hosts who aren’t blasting bedrooms with carcinogenic toxins and are practicing holistic housekeeping. Even the big brands such as Marriott are enlisting electrostatic sprayers and ultraviolet light technology to zap unwanted pathogens and bacteria, without always relying on eco-detrimental detergents. Months ago, California retreat Post Ranch Inn enlisted a dedicated indoor air quality expert, and now this Big Sur beauty declares itself America’s healthiest hotel. Organic cleaning products can still be antibacterial, as proven by Costa Rica’s eco-minded Pacuare Lodge—heartening in a country with such reverence for nature. Ecolab’s biodegradable services are to be celebrated in hospitality; they devised dedicated post-coronavirus programs such as Safe + Sound for Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos. The same is true of EvaClean from EarthSafe, which is used for disinfecting in the likes of the AKA hotel in Capitol Hill. Since alcohol and essential oils are all that’s needed to sanitize hands, we can be thankful for pivoting gin purveyor Amass, who provides what’s pumped at all the Soho Houses.

Ditch the disposables

Being a responsible traveler has taken on new meaning in 2020. Wearing face masks isn’t only about protecting us, it’s an act of respect for the health of those we encounter, especially on the front lines. And like water bottles in hotel rooms around the globe, we don’t need masks to be disposable. Make a point of wearing reusable PPE while on the road, such as Isko Vital’s light, breathable, organic-cotton face coverings, which can be reworn dozens of times. A dazzling spike in single-use plastic isn’t great for the wellbeing of the planet, and reports cite that plastic circulation is up 300 percent in the United States since the COVID-19 outbreak began. A vast volume of petrochemicals is required to make synthetics, emissions are spewed during this fossil-fuel-requiring process, and polymers aplenty end up in rivers, oceans, and what we eat. Opt for filtered tap water, not bottled. Align with places such as The Ranch at Laguna Beach, which gifts personal Pathwater aluminum bottles to guests, which can be filled with their reverse-osmosis-cleaned water. Salute those upcycling to suit new needs by alchemizing scrap. Blue Apple Beach House in Colombia has responded to the surge in scrubbing by creating dishcloths from decommissioned towels and sun loungers at Townhouse Cartagena and scourers from coconut husks.

Chip in with community aid

With so many jobs gone, particularly those in the travel industry, livelihoods across hospitality have been lost or are on the line. You can help significantly by leaving money in local pockets. Pay it forward after tourism’s devastating hiatus and help mom-and-pop businesses stand a chance of survival. Make direct reservations with family-run guesthouses instead of paying commission to booking-platform behemoths. Favoring locally owned restaurants, family-run delis and small indie shops means fuller travel experiences. Even if you’re staying at a resort, make a point of heading into town for a meal or a night out. Research businesses promoting positive social change and include in your itinerary charity-run or social-impact cafes that have created jobs, or nonprofit walking tours given by people who were previously homeless. Don’t know where to start? Book a trip with operators that include social-impact stops in their supply chains, such G Adventures. Planeterra, their partner foundation, collaborates with many Indigenous entrepreneurs such as on Route 89, on the western side of Navajo Nation, where they also support the family-owned Native Grill by including a stop to the roadside restaurant in Arizona.

Seek out fresh air

Walking whenever possible is seriously appealing when we aren’t keen to share spaces with others, plus human-powered transport is a good fitness boost. Many cities like New York and Paris have upped their public biking systems in response to the increase in demand for cycling. As private travel peaks, so does our increasing sensitivity to air quality—which means we’d do well to be mindful of our emissions. When driving to destinations, consider mitigating gas-guzzling. Pack as lightly as possible, plan gas-efficient routes, wind down windows instead of air-conditioning, keep tires suitably pumped and drive at a steady pace. This all increases fuel economy: less fumes, lower costs. With road trips up across the country, choose an electric vehicle when renting. Tesla driver? Plug in at one of the increasing number of properties with charging stations, such as Umstead Hotel and Spa in North Carolina, and know that you’re helping by reducing your carbon footprint.