The Most Creative Ways to Travel Green

Photo of Natalie Southwick
Natalie Southwick

Natalie has made appearances in 16 different countries to date. Her favorite is definitely Colombia, where she spent 3.5 years ogling mountains on a daily basis, eating an overwhelming amount of arepas and working with human rights organizations.

Malaysia Floating House

Green: the fourth shade of the rainbow; used to symbolize illness, envy or luck; the color of spring and new, exciting growth. The term “green travel” is thrown around pretty liberally these days, but we here took it literally – in four different ways. Why restrict yourself to the world’s definition of green travel when the versatile color really means so much? Here we take a look at the best opulent, nature filled, environmentally friendly, and "lucky" destinations to seek out in the nearby future.

So without further ado, and to give you the greatest opportunity to take advantage of this month’s overabundance of luck, here are a multitude of suggestions for various ways to plan (and interpret) your next green vacation!

The Most Luxurious De$tinations

We’re talking dollar dollar bills, y’all. That’s right – the green sparkling in front of your eyes is made of sweet, sweet piles of Benjamins – or at least it will be when you visit one of these spots -- the five nations with the highest GDP per capita in the world, according to Forbes. These places have plenty to offer the curious traveler – as long as you’re willing to give your wallet a little more exercise than usual!

  • QATAR This oil-rich Middle Eastern nation often gets the reputation of the region’s answer to Las Vegas, but there’s more to the wee country than showgirls and high rollers. The last few years have brought an influx of foreign investors, tourists and even universities like Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon and Northwestern. Wander the seafront and admire the buildings springing up along the al-Corniche; load up on goodies at the Souq Waqif market; or just stroll through the glamorous hotels and restaurants dotting the capital city of Doha. With nearly as many annual tourists as permanent residents, it’s safe to say you’re in a place that has plenty to offer the luxury traveler – emphasis on luxury. Just think of it as a scouting mission for your repeat visit to see the World Cup in 2022!
  • SINGAPORE Glittering Singapore has long been a welcome destination for business travelers, but a new generation of global foodies have kindled interest in this miniscule city-state. Check into a luxury hotel, check out the innovative cage-free cage-free zoo, and prepare to spend all of your travel budget on some of the Eastern Hemisphere’s best food.
  • LUXEMBOURG Sink into a fairy tale in this tiny nation, with medieval castles, rolling vineyards and picturesque farmland. Known as a banking center of Europe, Luxembourg caters to the well-to-do vacationing crowd. From the World Heritage-listed capital of Luxembourg City, packed with cultural options and perched on a spectacular mountainside; to the impossibly beautiful (and impossibly touristy) castle of Vianden, Luxembourg is the perfect destination – after your fairy godmother grants you that wish for extra cash.
  • BRUNEI Perhaps best known for its tiny size and insanely wealthy ruler, Brunei is more than just an island coated in gold and oil fields. Snuggled up against the side of Borneo, Brunei is home to some of the most pristine rainforest in the region, which can best be explored in the Ulu Temburong National Park. Admire the mosques and architecture in the capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan and make sure to stop by the free Royal Regalia Museum to get an idea of a day in the life of the sultan, one of the world’s richest men.
  • NORWAY Naturally blessed Norway is just one of the treasures of the Scandinavian region. It may not be the perfect utopia the rest of us imagine it to be, but it’s pretty close – wealthy from vast oil reserves, trailblazing in terms of social programs and civic well-being and possessing some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world, it’s easy to see why Norwegians tend to be such lovely people. Get to know cosmopolitan Oslo and the harbor city of Bergen, scale the country’s highest peaks in snowy Jotunheimen National Park, take a road trip along the Troll’s Footpath on your way up the mountains, and fork over the money for a cruise through the stunning fjords. Beauty isn’t always free, you know.
tokyo skyline

Countries with the Best Landscapes

The gleam of money and glitzy skyscrapers has no effect on you – the only green you see are the rolling fields of… somewhere. Never fear – there are numerous places for you to sink your toes into a lush meadow or elbow your way through thick jungle leaves and palm fronds. If your idea of a perfect vacation is getting as far away as possible from cities (and anywhere that takes credit cards), these getaways will be just what the doctor ordered.

  • NEW ZEALAND It’s hardly news that New Zealand is one of the world’s top destinations for pure, jaw-dropping natural beauty. From the soaring peak of Mt. Cook to the aquatic life of Kaikoura; the glowworm caves of Waitomo to the pristine beaches of Abel Tasman National Park; the awe-inspiring Milford and Doubtful Sounds in Te Anau National Park to the adventure playground of Queenstown, the sights of Aotearoa (the nation’s Maori name) never get old. There isn’t a bad spot to take a photo anywhere in the country, and the locals are so pleasant you’ll wonder why you didn’t have the good luck to be born a hobbit. Maybe you’ll even decide to stay for a year!
  • ICELAND If Sigur Rós songs weren’t already giving you the chills, the majestic beauty of the band’s native country should certainly do the trick. Sure, you may have to beware the occasional belching, international-travel-disrupting volcano, but it’s worth it to get a look at Europe’s tallest waterfalls and largest glaciers. With sheer sea cliffs covered in migrating birds, the must-be-Photoshopped Blue Lagoon, black sand beaches, natural hot springs, thundering waterfalls, mind-boggling ice formations and some of the continent’s best hiking, you might just pray for a volcanic eruption to keep you in Iceland a little longer.
  • ARGENTINA Sprawling Argentina is the second-largest nation in South America, but perhaps unrivaled when it comes to overwhelming geographic diversity. The southern destination has everything the outdoorsy traveler could ever desire: stunning waterfalls at Iguazú, soaring Andean peaks in Patagonia, the shockingly blue Perito Moreno glacier in El Calafate, rolling wine country in Mendoza, frigid Antarctic waters at the end of the continent in Ushuaia – this country lacks almost nothing. Not to mention the sophisticated, world-class cities waiting for you if you ever get sick of exploring all that gorgeous nature.
  • COLOMBIA Though not as large as its neighbor to the south, Colombia makes up for its smaller size with a stunning range of biodiversity. Boasting a spectrum of plant and animal life to rival the much larger bordering nation of Brazil, Colombia is heaven for explorers and naturalists alike. In just a few hours, travelers can pass from steamy Caribbean beaches to thick jungle and high-altitude coffee fincas. From the summits of the Andean cordilleras to the endless expanses of the eastern plains to the Amazonian south and misty Pacific coast, Colombia is a country of stark contrasts and every temperature anyone could ever want.
  • THAILAND So much more than a resort country filled with wonderful food, Thailand is a tropical trekker’s paradise. Dense jungles give way to sparkling, palm-lined beaches lapped by shocking blue waves. Natural wonders (both flora and fauna) abound at expansive Khao Sok National Park; emerald plains yield delicious fruit in agricultural Nan Province; white beaches bake in the sun in Ko Lanta; and the miles of stunning coastline of Phuket earn the island its title as one of the nation’s most popular destinations. Oh, and did we mention that there’s some really good food?
karst green mountains china

The Most Environmentally Friendly Countries

Sure, forests are nice, but they’re even better when you know they will be there in fifty years. Plenty of places advertise their green credentials, but covering a roof with leaves and offering drinking water from a nearby waterfall isn’t enough to cut it anymore. Savvy travelers like you know that it takes real effort to enforce sustainable measures that ensure people can keep enjoying the world’s natural beauty for generations to come.

Put your money where your mouth is and make a visit to one of these nations, which all ranked high on the 2012 Global Environmental Performance Index rankings, compiled by researchers at Yale University.

  • SWITZERLAND With world-class chocolate, soaring mountains and the most ski trails per capita in the world (actually, I just made that last one up, but it seems likely), Switzerland is already an outdoorsy type’s paradise. But the country is more than just some pretty mountains – it’s also ahead of the pack in promoting ecological preservation and eco-tourism. Boasting the world’s oldest national park, the country retains volunteers who sweep and clean up after visitors in the nation’s most touristy regions. From quaint farmhouses repurposed as B&Bs to strict oversight of ski resort construction, Switzerland is doing its best to stay green under all that white.
  • COSTA RICA Renowned as one of the top ecotourism destinations in the Western Hemisphere, the small Central American nation is a leader among its peers in terms of sustainable and planet-friendly initiatives. By far the highest-ranked Latin American country on the EPI list, Costa Rica has based its economy on its strong tourism industry, which in turn depends on keeping the country looking as gorgeous as it does now. Nearly all tour operators and business within the country promote ecologically friendly initiatives, and it’s not hard to find green tourist options. After all, the vida isn’t going to stay pura on its own.
  • MALAYSIA Jungle-covered, mountainous Malaysia practically begs to be sustained – and the recent rise in tourism there has encouraged exactly that. Many tour companies operate environmentally friendly programs in the dense inner parts of the country, particularly in Malaysian Borneo. Fast-growing dive tourism has had a damaging effect on the nation’s living reefs, but increased awareness has led to greater efforts to monitor the problem. Do your homework before signing on for aquatic activities, but know that there’s plenty of jungle out there to explore!
  • SWEDEN Like neighboring Norway, Sweden is a northern smorgasbord of sweeping forests, progressive social programs and modern cultural centers. It’s also a leader in encouraging and implementing sustainable business and development measures, both through NGOs and government initiatives. They even have a hotel made out of ice!
  • JAPAN Though most of us probably think of towering Tokyo skyscrapers and packed bullet trains when we picture Japan, the reality is not so defined by metal. Japan, no stranger to progress, has been keeping up with the rest of the world when it comes to sustainable practices, promoting clean energy practices and working on lowering its carbon footprint, even as the nation rebuilt in the wake of the devastating 2011 tsunami. All you have to do is look at the popularity of hybrid cars on the streets of Japan’s major cities to see that this is a nation that cares about preserving the world outside office buildings.
green friendly countries

The Luckiest Countries

Do you carry a lucky charm? Do you avoid opening umbrellas inside? Do you make wishes only at 11:11? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, these travel locales are for you. These countries are well-known for their (sometimes outlandish) superstitions and overt willingness to go the extra mile to even out their karma. Don't knock on wood juuust yet, but with a little travel luck, you'll be able to check out all of these countries throughout your lifetime!

  • RUSSIA Russians are a very superstitious folk - and while many superstitions are largely ignored, many more are so common that they have become an inseparable part of everyday Russian culture. For travelers, whether it is avoiding sitting on a table, not accepting money handed directly to you, or letting a bird poop on you, it will be difficult for travelers to navigate the streets of Moscow or St. Petersburg without committing at least one of Russia's superstitious "no-no's." Cat lovers will be thrilled to learn you can up-your-luck by owning a house cat! If you’re going to travel in Russia, be sure to familiarize yourself with their widespread superstitions and learn how to react to some of them.
  • SOUTH KOREA In South Korea, lucky symbols often adorn items from clothing and jewelry to pottery and papercuts. Perhaps more than any other time of the year, Lunar New Year is a time soaked with superstitions. Koreans believe that what you say, what you wear, and how you act at this particularly auspicious time of the year can all contribute to the type of upcoming year that you will have. If you're planning on studying abroad in South Korea, be sure to steer clear of slippery foods (like noodles!) before any of your exams.
  • CHINA Superstitions are part of everyday life for Chinese citizens, as they put great belief in the concept of luck. To give you an idea: in Mandarin, the word for "eight" sounds similar to the words for "wealth" and "prosper", making the number eight the luckiest number in China (and license plates/phone numbers including "8" highly covetable). On the flip side, the number four is considered the unluckiest number because it sounds like the word for death (and many older Chinese buildings will skip floor 4). In Chinese culture, your luck starts before you are even born! The year you are born and conceived are extremely important, as seen in Chinese zodiac. The bad news? If the year is the same as your birth year, you are bound to have bad luck (be sure to wear red undergarments to avoid it!). The good news is that the other 11 years you're in good standing.
lucky countries

Whether your green interests relate to your wallet or the ground under your feet, you can find a way to make this year the greenest travel one ever. For those of you who feel strongly about sustainable travel, be sure to look into the background of companies before believing their “green” claims. It’s easy to make promises, but as we Muppet fans know, it isn’t so easy being green. Still, there are tons of great, conscientious companies and places out there doing their best to keep the world as green as possible – you just have to find them.

So don’t just stand there – pack up your wallet, your Keens or your Greenpeace t-shirt and get going. And may the luck of the Irish be with you!

Photo Credits: Megan Lee, vicmonto, and wwarby