10 best eco-friendly hostels in the world

portland hawthorne hoste websiteWhile you can usually expect an inexpensive stay at a hostel, not all of these accommodations are alike when it comes to being sustainable and green. For your next trip, why not stay somewhere that will not only give you a social experience on a budget, but will also be good for the planet? Check out this list of the 10 best eco-friendly hostels around the world.

Portland Hawthorne Hostel
Portland, Oregon

The Portland Hawthorne Hostel offers a clean, safe accommodation in the Hawthorne District of Portland, Oregon. The hostel has free breakfast, cheap bike rentals, and is a short walk from Mount Tabor and Luarelhurst parks. Not only that, but this hostel does its part in being eco-friendly. One of their biggest draws is their ecoroof, a “green living roof of vegetation and soil”. The project is low-maintenance and self-sustaining and is being encouraged by the city due to its ability to soak up stormwater and return it to a natural water cycle (water that is not soaked up usually becomes full of sewage and dirt and negatively affects aquatic habitats). Along with the ecoroof, the hostel makes use of green cleaning products, recycling and composting, and gives guests arriving by bicycle a discount of $5 per night.auberge alternative eco-friendly hostel Auberge Alternative du Vieux-Montréal
Montreal, Canada

The Auberge Alternative is a boutique hostel for budget travelers. Old-warm charm resides here as the accommodation is actually an 1875 warehouse that was restored and enhanced. Art-lovers will also enjoy it here, as there is a gallery and studio that hosts artists from all over the world. Mix Auberge Alternative’s flair for art and design with their passion for green living, and you have one amazing accommodation. The hostel boasts free fair-trade coffees and teas, an organic and sustainable breakfast buffet, and usage of products made by small, locally run businesses. Moreover, you will not find a single vending machine, soda machine, or TV.

Mellow Eco Hostel Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain

Located in the traditional Horta District, this hostel is surrounded by greenery and away from the pollution and crowds of the city (but, still only fifteen minutes away by metro). There are many amenities and services included in your stay, including free Wi-Fi, free lockers, free linens, and free luggage storage. It is also one of the more social hostels with a shared kitchen and events, such as BBQ’s and dinners, on the terrace. What’s really great about Mellow Eco Hostel Barcelona, however, is its approach to a reduced environmental impact. They use renewable energy, with shower water being heated by solar panels on the roof. Moreover, they make use of recycling facilities, draught tap water, soap dispensers, biodegradable cleaning products, low consumption light bulbs, and only having air-conditioning in the common areas (don’t worry, the rooms were built to be well ventilated).

The Grampians YHA Eco-Hostel
Grampians, Australia

Located in the heart of the Grampians National Park, the Grampians YHA Eco-Hostel provides adventure activities such as rock climbing, hiking, and abseling, as well as the chance to experience the beauty of nature. The hostel also aims to be as green as possible and succeeds in many ways. Not only is the accommodation powered by solar electricity, it also does its part by using solar hot water, recycling, and collecting rainwater to reduce water consumption. Free-range eggs and organically grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs are also offered to guests.

Reykjavík City Hostel
Reykjavík, Iceland

Not only is Reykjavík City Hostel eco-friendly itself, it is also located next to a big geothermal swimming pool, beautiful waterfalls, explosive geysers, and other natural wonders for an even greener experience. Moreover, the hostel practices extensive recycling services, energy monitoring, and erosion control, offers a breakfast of local and organic fare, and sells fair-trade beverages at their cafe. While enjoying free Wi-Fi, a BBQ terrace, lounges, game rooms, and comfortable beds, guests can also take part in educational programs that will offer knowledge on sustainability and green living.

Eco Hostel Palermo
Buenos Aires, Argentina

This green hostel is situated in the trendy Palermo Soho of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Along with free linens, Wi-Fi in every room, a fully equipped kitchen, and 24-hour reception, guests can expect a stay that is friendly to the planet. The Eco Hostel Palermo makes use of solar powered panels, solar collectors, an organic garden, low enery light bulbs, insulated windows, cross-ventilation chambers, and eco-friendly computers with less plastic and low carbon emition. Moreover, almost all of the decoration and furnishing of the hostel is made with recycled and reused materials.

Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge
Konso, Ethiopia

Staying at the Strawberry Fields Eco-Lodge, guests will get a feel for the simple life (the accommodation is also a farm) while being surrounded by dusty hills and lush greenery. It is a great budget accommodation if you’re looking to have a culturally-immersed experience as you will be staying in wooden thatched huts with authentic decor and eating locally prepared foods. Not only that, but your stay here will make you feel good about the environment, as it is run on solar power including solar showers and composting toilets.

The Green Hostel
Montevideo, Uruguay

This eco-friendly hostel has a lot to offer in terms of both amenities and sustainability. The Green Hostel features tours, bike rentals, 24-hour reception, a kitchen, a bar, internet, free breakfast and linens, lockers, luggage storage, and laundry services. Not only that, but they clearly have a committment to the environment, with furniture made of reused materials, hot water generated by solar panels, energy efficient light bulbs, a recycling program, and promotion of using bicycles as a way to explore the city.

ecolodges and hostels Gyreum Ecolodge
Sligo, Ireland

Located in the North-West of Ireland, the name Gyreum literally means “round building” in Latin. You will understand why once you see the temple-like roof of the seemingly invisible Gyreum Ecolodge poking from the Earth. The hostel is an Installation Incubator, a place where people can come together to “incubate” new ideas. It is also an ecolodge, using a wind turbine to power geothermal heating, solar panels to heat water, and a traditional toilet that is connected to outside compost. Moreover, rainwater is collected and used for showers and toilets and an organic vegetable garden can be enjoyed by guests.

Enigmata Treehouse Ecolodge
Camiguin Island, Philippines

The Enigmata Treehouse Ecolodge is more than just a hostel, it is a place for travelers, artists, and environmentalists to come together to create positive change. With options of home-stays and dorms, there is also an art gallery on site (the accommodation is run by local artists), as well as a sculpture garden, library cafe, theater, and an open classroom. Along with trying to educate about ecology through art by, for example, decorating with pieces made of recycled products, guests are also invited to attend conservation and biodiversity workshops and seminars. Surrounded by farms and trees, the accommodation is located far away from highways and pollution. An array of ecotours are offered, as well as recycling and energy saving programs.

Top ten simple ways to lower your travel carbon footprint in 2011

carbon footprintIt’s almost a new decade, and the earth ain’t getting any younger, cooler, or less crowded. As travel enthusiasts (even if it’s via an armchair), there are plenty of small changes we can make that cumulatively have a significant positive impact upon the planet. When you consider the amount of fossil fuels required to fly or even take a weekend roadtrip, it makes even more sense to try and offset that footprint by traveling (and living) mindfully. Notice I don’t suggest actually giving up travel: I’m eco-conscious, not delusional.

Fortunately, the eco-travel industry is exploding (be sure to do your research, to make sure companies aren’t just using the term as a buzzword). If you’re a business traveler who doesn’t have a choice on where you go or stay, there are still a number of things you can do to minimize your footprint. And FYI, there’s a growing choice of eco-gear and luggage available for all types of travelers these days.

While it’s simply not realistic to devote every waking moment to living a greener, cleaner life (I confess I love my car, and I certainly can’t afford to buy green or organic products all of the time), doing the best you can does make a difference.

Below, my suggestions for painlessly lowering a travel carbon footprint, no treehugging required.

1. BYO water bottle
It takes over a million of barrels of oil to fulfill our lust for bottled water in the U.S. alone, and those empty bottles have to go somewhere (hint: a landfill). Buying bottled is also just a waste of money, unless there’s a legitimate reason to drink purified water. Get a BPA-free bottle, and carry it to work, on the road, and in the air. You can even go one further and bring your own filter or iodine tablets, so you don’t need to purchase water at all in areas where the supply is untreated.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Brave Heart]

carbon footprint2. Bring a reusable shopping sack/use Ziplocs
These amazingly convenient little guys convert into stuff sacks and are the size of a deck of cards. Many have clips so you can hook them on your belt loop or day pack. Try ChicoBags or Foldable Bags for fun, practical, affordable options.

Ziplocs have dozens of uses, but one of their big bonuses (especially if you buy the heavy-duty freezer ones; if you can find industrial-strength bio-bags, even better) is that you can repeatedly use them to store snacks and leftovers; just wash, turn inside out, and dry. Now you have a place to put those juicy blackberries you found while hiking, or stash that crottin from the farmers market.

3. Use refillable bottles for toiletries
Who doesn’t love saving money? Whole Foods and other stores of that ilk have bulk body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and soap (often biodegradable/paraben-free) so not only can you top off for under a dollar, but get an earth-friendly product, to boot.

4. Conserve electricity
This is as simple as turning off the light, heat, A/C, or ceiling fan when you leave (you’ll survive the slight increase or decrease in temperature upon your return, I promise). If you’re staying somewhere long-term, unplug devices or appliances when not in use, since they continue to draw energy.
carbon footprint
5. Walk, rent or borrow a bike, or take the bus
Think of it as getting some exercise so you can eat more of the local food. It’s also an eye-opening, and often enlightening experience to travel with locals, or explore a place by foot.

6. Pack collapsible flatware and utensils
I realize not everyone travels with a bowl and spoon when they’re not camping, but travel writers don’t earn the big bucks. I usually end up buying a bag of granola and picking up yogurt or individual cartons of soy milk (which don’t require refrigeration if unopened), so I can cut down on food costs when I’m traveling. I even reuse and carry compostable utensils I acquire from dining out, and stash them in my car and backpack. There are all different makes and materials for collapsible dinnerware; REI has a great selection. As long as I don’t turn into my mother and start slipping half-gnawed dinner rolls into my purse, I think my little habit is harmless.

7. Shorten your showers/turn off taps while brushing teeth and shaving
Water shortage is a life-and-death issue in much of the developing world. At home, practicing water conservation is also important, even if you don’t live in a drought-stricken region. But when you’re traveling? It’s not just courteous, but critical.

8. Pick it up!
Your trash, as well as trash you find during hikes or other outings. At the beach (or lake or river), collect discarded bottles, plastic bags, and other flotsam that can kill or injure aquatic life or pollute delicate marine ecosystems (which ultimately affects human health). I always make a point of doing a beach clean-up during my sunset stroll when I’m on a coastal trip. I keep a couple of trash bags stashed in my car and backpack. If you can afford it, get
composcarbon footprinttable bags, which can now be found at just about any decent-size grocery store, but be aware most are pretty flimsy.

This beach clean-up behavior has garnered me baffled looks and even finger-pointing and snickers in Southeast Asia and Latin America, and of course these items aren’t going to get recycled. But if getting them off the ground and out of sight can temporarily tidy up and preserve the natural beauty of a place, I feel like I’ve done something positive for the planet and the local people.

9. Learn what not to purchase
Ivory, sea turtle products, rhinoceros horn, tiger penis, endangered animal pelts or pets, certain species of plants: just say no. The same goes for shady tour operators. Do a bit of research and talk to fellow travelers to get feedback on what trips or companies to avoid.

I’ve been seduced by slick promotional materials and operators in the past. This would explain how I’ve variously ended up at a squalid Burmese refugee camp (not a “Thai Hilltribe village”) full of downtrodden people who most definitely did not want a bunch of gawking backpackers in their faces; ridden some horses that were little more than walking skeletons; floated on a raft made from endangered wood; seen my tripmates buy drugs off of our guide, and literally had to make a run for it after a clueless guide had us set up camp in a flash flood zone. I realize I’m deviating a bit from the eco-theme here, but my point is, be careful.

For more information on what animal and plant products to avoid overseas, click here.

10. Give back
If I’m headed to a developing nation, especially if I’m doing a trek or other outdoor trip with guides, I pack old clothes and shoes, and donate them when it’s over. Sometimes operators will ask clients for donations if they have anything they’d like to part with. This isn’t greedy, tacky, or sketchy; when you consider what the average Quechua porter on the Inca Trail makes in a year, you can see why your gift of a pair of child’s mittens is important. Bonus: Packing light and donating articles reduces the weight of your luggage, which burns less fossil fuels on the drive or flight home.

I do still feel uncomfortable making unsolicited donations, but one of my favorite travel memories is from a culinary tour I took in Morocco a few years ago. On our final morning, a couple of us collected a bag of clothes, shoes, and toiletries to donate to the poverty-stricken community we’d passed each day on the way back to our accommodation. After seeking out an old woman who was clearly the village matriarch, we used sign language to explain our motive. With a huge, toothless grin, she began passing out items to the crowd that had suddenly gathered around her. They thanked us profusely, and we went on our way.

That afternoon, on our way to the airport, I spied an ancient, wizened Berber man scuffing down the dusty road. He was clad in skull cap and jellaba, and a pair of size 11 running shoes that had belonged to a 5’11 woman in our group. He kept pausing to hold up one foot, then the other, staring at them with wonderment. I have very mixed feelings about spreading Western culture when I travel to developing nations, but if those Air Nikes found a second life and enabled an old man to walk more comfortably, then so be it. And you know, he looked pretty damn fly.

[Photo credits: bags, Flickr user foldablebags.com; bike, Flickr user Pörrö; sign, Flickr user Beau B]