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How to make your Disney vacation more environmentally friendly, according to a sustainable tourism expert

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  • Disney vacations are always extravagant, but travelers can also make them sustainable.
  • Insider spoke with Kelly Bricker, an expert in sustainable tourism, about how to do so.
  • This article is part of “Better Me,” a series about improving your lifestyle and helping society through sustainable efforts and eco-consciousness.

There’s no way around it — Disney vacations are extravagant.

The company’s theme parks are located in major cities like Anaheim and Paris, and the destinations are larger than life. And that’s not to mention the seemingly endless activities inside, massive firework shows, and giant resorts — even the cheapest of which are rather luxurious.

Still, it is possible to stay conscious of your environmental impact — and support sustainability initiatives — while visiting the Disney destinations of your dreams.

Kelly Bricker, a professor of nature-based tourism and sustainability at Arizona State University, spoke with Insider about taking sustainable Disney vacations. She said it can be easier to do than you might think.

Take time to look into the environmental efforts of different airlines, and stay at your destination as long as possible

Traveling by plane is often one of the least sustainable and “most carbon-emitting pieces” of any vacation, according to Bricker. Still, there are opportunities when booking air travel to minimize your environmental impact, she said.

Bricker suggests researching which airlines have offsetting programs or voluntary fees travelers can pay toward projects that offset CO2 emissions produced by their flights.

It also helps to book direct flights, or at least minimize the number of stops you make when traveling, Bricker said.

“Look at ways to minimize that carbon output and ensure that if you have to fly, that you are doing it responsibly — both in scheduling that flight and supporting airlines that have programs in place to help offset carbon emissions,” Bricker said. 

Of course, if you have the financial means and time, you can also try traveling by more sustainable methods, like buses.

“The type of vehicle that you travel in certainly matters,” Bricker said. “If you have an electric car, you’re doing something great there; you’ve already committed to reducing your purchase of gasoline. Buses are incredibly sustainable because they can take a lot of people. Trains certainly offer that as well.”

“Anything you can do to sort of reduce your fossil fuel emissions would be fantastic,” she added.

But no matter how you get to your vacation, staying there for an extended period of time instead of taking “a one or two-day trip, turning around, and going back,” Bricker said, can help offset the environmental impact of your travels.

Be thoughtful when packing and choosing your meals

Not only can you help protect the environment in doing so, but you’ll also be doing a favor for your wallet.

“It all starts at home,” Bricker said. “Ensure that what you bring in to Disney comes out of Disney, and consider what you purchase while there. There are all kinds of souvenirs that are probably thrown in the waste bucket in a year or less.”

The same goes for meals.

“Think about where you stop and what you purchase. Can you bring a cooler with fresh veggies and fruits in it, or are you going to buy something that’s in a plastic container?” Bricker said. 

While at Disney, Bricker said, “considering a low-impact diet could be another way to help make your trip more sustainable.” One aspect of such a diet would be to limit meals with meat, as beef production often produces heavy carbon emissions, she noted.

Visiting Disney theme parks can be a sustainable act in itself, according to Bricker

“I really believe it is possible to take a sustainable vacation at Disney parks, and I think it’s because your dollar goes to the different efforts they’re making once you support Disney,” Bricker said. “If you look at their stewardship environmentally, it goes way back.”

According to Disney’s website, the company started its sustainability efforts nearly 100 years ago when it was founded. There are solar facilities across Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida; bathrooms that help with water conservation in Shanghai Disneyland Park; and sustainable-design standards for new projects across all theme parks.

“I think by supporting the organization, you’re supporting sustainability habits and empowering them to become more sustainable,” she added.

That said, you don’t need to make a huge effort toward sustainability when planning a Disney vacation. Instead, you’ll want to focus on the small things you can control, Bricker said.

“Disney manages the big issues: energy, water, waste management, hiring — those kinds of things,” Bricker said. “But as individuals, just as in daily life, I think we can make choices that actually help reduce our impact on our planet.”

“Whether it’s a Disney vacation or a canoe trip down the rivers in Florida, it doesn’t really matter,” she continued. “It’s really about how we approach our day-to-day and the cumulative impact of what we do.”

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