Our website believes that it isn’t difficult to travel sustainably. Also, we believe that it takes knowing how in order to make changes that are reasonable and that realistic. We decided to ask some travel experts about their favorite sustainable travel tips and what they would recommend to others. Here were some of their answers!
Get a travel backpack
A great way to travel green is to ditch the luggage and get a travel backpack. Travel backpacks up to 45 liters in size weigh less than a rolling suitcase and can be brought with you as a carry-on. Not only does this save you time and money, it also means less weight for the aircraft. Less weight means less fuel needed. Using a luggage-conscious system, Frontier Airlines operates with up to 39% less fuel than other airlines. In 2018, they were able to save 102 million gallons of fuel! By being more aware of what you need and what you don’t, you can save yourself money and reduce greenhouse emissions for the planet. It’s literally a win-win!
Alek from 9 to 5 Voyager (you can read more from Alek here).
Know what community-based tourism is
When we talk about ecotourism at travel conferences around the world, we always emphasize the fact that responsible travel must benefit both the ecology and the economy of a place in order to truly be “eco-friendly.” In our eyes, community-based tourism is the antithesis of mass tourism, and is utterly essential in order for travel to be truly sustainable. When the tourism industry invests in benefiting locals, the people have a vested interest in protecting the area’s natural resources. For travelers, this underscores the importance of buying, staying, and shopping locally and immersing yourself in the local culture. When you buy directly from a local artisan, stay in a locally-owned hotel or B&B, and eat at a locally-owned restaurant that sources its food from the local area, you’re ensuring that the money you spend stays in the local community. When you eat where locals eat, drink where locals drink, and frequent shops that aren’t owned by international corporate conglomerates, you’re getting a true taste of the local culture rather than a homogenized version. And really, isn’t exploring the sights, sounds, and flavors of cultures different from our own one of the main draws of traveling in the first place?
Bret Love and Mary Gabbett from Green Global Travel (read more from them here).
Pick up slow travel as a philosophy
One way to travel more sustainably is to slow down. Rather than jetting off from destination to destination, choose one spot and dive deeper into that destination. Traveling slowly allows travelers to reduce their carbon emissions, as slower modes of transportation, like trains and buses, produce less carbon emissions than airplanes. Staying longer in a destination also allows travelers to discover more locally owned businesses, thereby giving their tourist dollars to the local economy rather than an international chain.
If you’re pressed for vacation time, you can still incorporate a slow travel mentality by limiting the number of destinations you visit during your vacation. Choose slower modes of transportation to get around a city, such as buses, bikes, or even walking. And choose sites and activities that are grouped within the same vicinity, rather than choosing places that require you to zig zag across the city.
Astrid Vinje from The Wandering Daughter (you can read more from Astrid here).
Purchase a Lifestraw
As travelers, we have a responsibility to limit our environmental impact everywhere we go. However, in countries where tap water isn’t drinkable, this is easier said than done, and we often leave piles of plastic water bottles in our wake. That is until you invest in a Lifestraw. This handy water bottle is a personal water filtration system. You can clean water from a faucet in India to a puddle in downtown Bangkok. The Lifestraw has been proven to remove over 99.9 percent of waterborne germs, parasites, and bacteria. How cool is that? No more using tons of plastic bottles behind, and in the long run, you’ll save money as well.
Choose locally-run tours
An easy way to enjoy a new destination while still traveling ethically and sustainably is to participate in locally-run tours. By taking local tours, you are putting your tourism money back into the economy at the small business level, stabilizing entrepreneurs and providing income to local families. Aside from supporting the community, local tours also provide insight into the destination from a local’s perspective. Local tours offer the opportunity to absorb a place’s history, culture, and customs from the lens of someone who actually lives there. Decolonizing history, especially in what are referred to as “third world/developing” countries, is crucial to increasing your social awareness and growing as a global citizen. Local tours allow the community to reclaim the narrative of their country, and give power back to their voices. Plus, by taking a local tour, they often introduce sites and experiences that are off-the-beaten path, with less crowds and tastier food!
Know local trash and recycling laws
Before you set off on your travels, it is common to do some research on sightseeing, where to eat, maybe a few words in the local language, or even some customs. But have you ever investigated local trash and recycling laws? Probably not. It isn’t the most glamorous bit of information.
Being sustainable isn’t about taking the easiest or the most interesting path. Sometimes that involves researching recycling procedures. Each place has its own practices for disposing of trash and recycling. Checking local recycling symbols can help with this process. Participating in this model can greatly benefit the local population and it also helps you to reduce your footprint!
A tip for helping with this practice is to keep a small bag with you to hold trash if there are no facilities nearby. This can prove useful if you are buying drinks on the go, if you are hiking with no trash cans available, or just in a place with very few options. I tend to keep a bag in my car and one in my purse to make a habit of it and have used these bags many times.
Make the commitment to fly less
It seems hard, but fly less. It takes more time, but it’s usually cheaper and more fun to travel over land than by air. I make a point of it to fly as little as possible and limit air travel to intercontinental flights only. For instance, within Europe, Southeast Asia and North America I’ve traveled mainly by bus and train (and sometimes ferry). It’s not exactly time efficient, but you get to see a lot more of the actual country you are visiting. To me, travel is as much about the journey as the destination.
Offset your carbon emissions
There are United Nations-certified organizations that help to plant trees, provide water, and more to developing countries. I use mindfulflights to offset some of the emissions that come with flying. I just enjoy their transparency and being able to see exactly where my dollar is being spent.
Travel by bicycle
One way to make travel more sustainable is to travel by bicycle. This isn’t always possible in every location, but for a city break, it’s easy and fun. More and more cities are investing in bike infrastructure and rental programs. There are also private bike rental companies and many hotels offer the use of hotel bicycles.
You can obviously get in on the trend by renting a bike when you visit a city. Also, look for bike tours as a sustainable alternative to bus tours. Bike tours are a great way to see a city like a local while cutting down on carbon emissions. Biking also means that you can reach certain destinations that may be impossible to reach on a bus. Plus, it’s good for your health, the planet and it’s a lot more fun than sitting on a bus.
Derek Hartman and Mike Walsh from Robe Trotting (you can read more from them at this post to see a city like a local).
Use public transportation
I know hiring a car is a matter of convenience, but there are many cases in which you really don’t need it. Especially when traveling to a city that has a good public transport system, it’s a lot greener and more comfortable to use buses, trams, or the subway to get around rather than to be stuck in traffic or try to find parking.
Public transportation can also be a great solution when planning a bigger trip. Even though sometimes there’s nothing like a good old road trip, if you’re only going to be moving between big cities, you can also skip out on hiring a car and use the train instead.
Staying at rural homestays and family-run guesthouses is a great way to support the local people and promotes responsible and sustainable travel. Not only are you helping the local community and really contributing to someone’s livelihood, but it is such a unique and memorable experience.
Homestays offer such a special opportunity for you to really get to understand the local people, culture, cuisine and traditions. The people running the homestay have invited you into their home, and are often just as curious about your culture as you are theirs, so they always make an effort to talk to you, get to know you and explain things about their culture. For me the best part about traveling is meeting the local people, so I often stay in homestays where possible when traveling. As well as being very reasonably priced, they also make delicious home-made traditional food which is great!
Something so simple as choosing to stay at a small family-run guesthouse or at a homestay as opposed to a big chain hotel really makes a difference to communities and local families. Plus you see the direct benefit of how your money is helping the local people: you just don’t get that when you spend your money at big chain companies.
Support companies that believe in sustainability
Sustainable travel is not a thing of the future. As more and more people become aware of climate change, there is also a growing sense of the great amount of waste and footprint that is produced when one is traveling. Traveling accounts for 8% of the total carbon emissions on earth. Travel Love Repeat, a startup based out of Kolkata plans to tackle just that issue. Started by Shreya Saha and Richie Sharma in 2019, TLR curates zero-waste, eco-friendly and vegan travel itineraries to destinations that have been personally reviewed by them.
What makes TLR different from other travel companies is that their focus stays on giving the best experience with the least harm to the planet. They provide a zero-waste kit to all travelers and support the local economy by staying with the local people and enjoying their products and services. Zero-waste means choosing not to buy bottled water, packaged snacks, and using the most eco-friendly transportation methods.
Take the train
Taking the train is not only a nice way to travel, it is also one that is the most ecological since airplanes emit three times more CO2 emissions than the train.
The train usually brings you right into the heart of the city instead of a long trip to the airport, causing you to arrive two hours in advance, checking in your luggage, customs, and more. When traveling by train, you get to arrive leisurely, check what track your train is at, and board easily with your own luggage in hand. Plus, the seats on trains are usually more comfortable with more space, Wifi and legroom. Luxury!
So next time you are tempted to fly somewhere, see if you can take a train journey instead!
Turn off your AC in your hotel
As climate change makes our earth warmer, we rely more and more on using air conditioners to cool us down–especially when traveling to hot climates. Ironically, using A/C is actually contributing to the warming effects of our environment in the first place. Air conditioning units typically use hydrofluorocarbons, which are greenhouse gasses–they trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere. So, any time you leave your hotel room or accommodation, remember to turn off the A/C. You can also take it step further by unplugging any unused electronics and take cooler showers while you are in your hotel room. Doing these simple things can save energy, the environment, and money.
Cut back on your water usage
Military life is many things, but in my 25 years in the Army, saving water for environmental reasons was not one of them! However, now I travel full-time in a motorhome, finding ways to be sustainable wherever possible is always important. Some of the tricks I learned in the Army have stood me in good stead: managing on very little water being one. If a shower is possible (and often its just a wash), I can shower with around three to four liters of water. To do this, you need to get in and turn on the tap–no point in waiting for hot water! Just get under and get wet! Turn off the tap, apply soap, or shower gel and lather up. Turn on again and rinse using your hands to help the water move excess lather away. Done. You’re clean–which is really all a shower needs to do!
Invest in zero-waste storage items
Our family’s “must have” travel essential is a selection of zero-waste food storage items. We use snack bags every day for the kids, and often for us as well. Having a few sandwich wraps and beeswax wraps means that we can pack up a picnic wherever we are. Taking these lightweight, reusable solutions with us means that we eliminate any need for cling film or ziplock plastic bags, and we can save money and waste by making our own lunches rather than buying food to go. A bonus sustainable travel tip is to use reusable snack bags to store whatever else you might use ziplocks for while traveling: collecting your rubbish until you can dispose of it responsibly, spare memory cards and batteries, different currency, small toiletries, and more.
Create a sustainable travel kit
If you travel a lot, then you might already have a travel kit with all of your essential items. However, there might be ways that you can make it more sustainable and help reduce your impact while staying in hotels .
You can buy travel kits in shops, but most of them are full of plastic and future waste. Avoid them and make your kit using steel boxes, cotton bags, and wax wraps instead. Fill them up with solid bars of shampoo, conditioner, soap, and deodorant as hygiene basics. Then add a natural sponge, menstrual cup (depending), and package-free toothpaste. Finish up with a reusable water bottle and a cup, a food container, cutlery, straws, and a reusable shopping bag.
With this simple kit, you are carrying everything with you so that you won’t need to use the toiletries in hotels or disposable cups, cutlery, and more.
Avoid plastic bags
When you’re out traveling, chances are you’re going to make a few purchases: souvenirs, clothing, food, and drinks to name a few. Vendors will routinely give out plastic bags with your purchase. Since they are so lightweight, these plastic bags often end up in our oceans, causing a threat to our marine life.
Plastic waste is a huge contributor to pollution and is often made from non-renewable resources. Polypropylene makes up the majority of plastic bags. As well as being toxic to our environment once it is thrown away, its production exhausts our limited oil resources. As well as this, plastic waste can take up to 1000 years to decompose.
Say “no” to plastic bags, plastic straws, and any unnecessary packaging. Instead, carry a daypack with you, or fold up a small reusable bag and keep it handy in your pocket. Carry your own metal straw or simply go without one. Choose to purchase from brands without unnecessary plastic packing or those who use recyclable packaging.
Vendors may act slightly shocked when you say you won’t require a bag, especially in counties where recycling is not heavily encouraged. But in reality, you don’t need one. These little acts of sustainable living will help to reduce the amount of plastic circulating in our precious world.
Again, avoid plastic
Do you also have the feeling that more and more people are sensitive about plastic nowadays? That it’s becoming a routine for many travelers to carry their reusable bags/cups/straws? It’s a good thing–an amazing step.
There’s something we realized during our 11 months backpacking through South America. It’s one thing to own a foldaway bag and a reuse cup and a bamboo straw. It’s another step to actually be able to use them every single time.
It all boils down to having a routine. Whenever we set off for a day out hiking nature or exploring a city, on our travels, or even at home, we make sure we have everything in our backpack or handbag. Tote bag? Check. Cup for any sudden coffee crave? Check. Bamboo straw in case our friends invite us for cocktails tonight? Check.
How many times did we end up getting a single-use cup or bag, just because we had forgotten ours? Now we make sure it never happens again.
Another thing we noticed on our travels is that sellers are just used to serving in a plastic bag. That street food lady has been selling hundreds of empanadas each day for the last 12 years – in a plastic bag. It’s not her job to ask us whether we’ve brought our own pouch.
So now we fling ostensibly our bag as soon as we order, to make sure they don’t beat us at it. We used to feel guilty about disturbing their habits, but we don’t anymore: it’s right to stop using that bloody plastic.
We also realized it’s even more effective when we say it at the same time. So wherever we go on holiday, we don’t only learn how to say “hello,” “please,” and “thank you” in the regional tongue–that’s out of respect. We also learn how to say “without bag.”
Choose ethical animal attractions
To be a responsible tourist, one of the things you need to do is to avoid contributing to unethical treatment of animals. Many attractions and activities designed for tourists around the world involve some kind of animal abuse or exploitation–even though it might be marketed as animal-friendly or something along those lines.
Keep away from riding elephants, taking photos with sedated tigers, or attending any kind of animal show with dolphins, lions, crocodiles, or monkeys.
To tame the animals so they can perform for tourists or be in close contact with a lot of people, they are often put through beatings and starvation to train them into submission. Even though the tiger looks calm in its chains or it seems like the dolphins are smiling during their performance, there’s most likely a brutal story behind the way they were captivated or trained.
If you really love animals, let them be wild and free!
Purchase a reusable water bottle
Always have a quality reusable water bottle with you, whether traveling or at home! It’s such a simple yet effective way of reducing your plastic packaging waste. Even when water bottles are recycled, the energy and resources used to produce them and then turn them into something else is enormous. It’s much better to remove all of those costs to the environment in the first place.
I recommend insulated or double-walled stainless-steel water bottles, both for their extreme durability and their versatility. They can be used for hot beverages as well as water, and will keep water and cold drinks cool even in hot conditions. Most countries have free or low cost water refill stations readily available now, or you can buy water in bulk and refill your bottle for the day from a large container. Another option is to travel with a water filter for when drinking water isn’t easily accessible. My family and I took one water filter between us as well our separate insulated bottles traveling, and it worked really well!
Buying a quality double-walled water bottle might seem like a big cost outlay and an annoying item to carry on your travels: I get that feedback sometimes. In response: the cost evens out over many years of reliable use. We’ve had our favorite ones for four years and will have them for many more yet. Imagine how much single-use plastic bottles would have cost a family of four in that time!
And yes, carrying heavy water bottles around (and remembering them) can be a bit of a pain, but you soon get used to it. I’d much rather know I have a cool drink on hand than wonder if my plastic bottle has warm water in it. With plastic, you always have to wonder how many chemicals might have leached into the drink, too.
Stay on the marked trail
Every day people around the world get out and explore the great outdoors. Hiking, biking, and walking are all great forms of exercise, stress relief, and enjoyment. In order to protect our parks and continue using them in the future, it is important that we all partake in sustainable travel habits. One easy and effective way to practice sustainable travel is to simply stay on marked trails while hiking.
Conservationists, parks, and land management agencies create trails with two specific thoughts in mind. The first is for the hiker to enjoy their time in nature. They are conscious of what visitors are eager to see and take that into consideration. The second is to protect the land and animals living within the area. The trails are created to avoid animal habitats. This is not only for your safety but for the safety of the animals. If you do see an animal while on a trail, it is important that you do not interact or feed it. Watch the beauty of wildlife from afar. Staying on marked trails also helps fight problems of erosion and plant loss. When you step off of the trail, you are potentially crushing new plant life and could cause loss of soil within that area. While this might seem trivial at the moment, doing so could lead to much bigger issues in the future.
While enjoying nature, it is your responsibility to maintain the integrity of the land and to protect the animals living within that area. Following the designated trail on a hike is such an easy and simple way to ensure that our parks are well maintained and can be enjoyed for years to come.
Clean up after your pet with biodegradable bags
If you’re traveling with a dog, there’s one important item you’ll need to bring everywhere you go: poop bags! It’s important to be respectful when traveling and keep your destination clean. Luckily, it’s possible to clean up after your dog and be green. Travelers with pets can reduce the environmental impact of dog waste and the amount of plastic going into landfills by using compostable poop bags.
Be warned: some companies are known to deceive consumers by selling product they claim are biodegradable when they’re really not. In 2015, the Federal Trade Commission caught 20 poop bag companies who were guilty of this. Make sure the bags you select meet the ASTM D6400 criteria, which is given to products that are compostable, like these bags made of plant-based materials.
Purchase reusable cutlery
When I first read about the horrific ramifications that plastic straws have on the environment and wildlife I just couldn’t unsee that information. I knew I had to make the change pronto.
These days I permanently have a little fabric drawstring bag in my handbag or travel pack. Within that bag lives a reusable straw for each of us and the next thing on my list to get is a reusable spork (an all-in-one spoon/ fork/ knife) for each of us.
If you pack smart and invest in simple and compact items, you will barely even notice the space they take up in your bag. So, next time you’re traveling and need to get a bite to eat while out and about, you can say, “no thanks,” to the single-use, disposable items.
Pack your own snacks
It may seem simple, but one of my favorite green travel tips is to take your own reusable water bottles and pack your own snacks when traveling. Single-use plastics are everywhere when you travel, particularly if you’re traveling by air. Think about the last time you took a flight: you would have seen the dozens of plastic cups, single-use cutlery, tiny packets of plastic-wrapped peanuts, and other snacks that are handed out during the meal and beverage service. The sad reality is that the majority of this waste will end up in landfills or find its way into the ocean. When traveling, I always try to do my part to reduce this waste by taking my own refillable water bottle and packing my own snacks. I find that most airlines have plenty of water fountains available to refill the bottle, and homemade snacks are always tastier than what they hand out on flights. It’s a win-win.
Travel during shoulder season
When I was an inexperienced traveler, I thought that each place had its very own character that remained in place, no matter what external factors were at play. Over time, as I’ve come face-to-face with the effects of overtourism more times than I’d like, I’ve realized that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, the essence of a place isn’t something that can just be altered, but our ability to experience it certainly can be. And that’s why I now firmly believe that we should try to visit the more touristy places in low or shoulder seasons. It’s better for the place and it’s certainly better for us.
Let’s take the example of Algarve, Portugal–a region I cannot get enough of. I mean, what’s not to love? The absolutely stunning beaches, mild and soothing climate, top-notch golf courses and spas, and excellent infrastructure are just some of the features that make for an exceptional getaway. But here’s the deal: the population there tripes during peak season! Needless to say, that’s a whole lot of tourists. In fact, during these months, it’s not uncommon to find no parking space at some of the frequently visited sites, such as the Ponta da Piedade…kind of a buzzkill, no?
Low and shoulder season travel helped me avoid that. It also helped me avoid a lot of other unpleasant things, such as unsmiling and overburdened local shopkeepers, camera flashes in my eyes, and insane bustle when I just wanted to relax. Everything seemed so much better, so much more accessible.
I’ve visited Algarve in both peak and shoulder seasons, and it’s safe to say that I prefer the latter. In places like the Algarve, which enjoy many months of great weather, you don’t always have to compromise on warmth and sunshine. The smart traveler can often get amazing prices and weather, especially during the shoulder months. I did!
Traveling here outside of the peak season also means Algarve residents will be happier. Firstly, visiting during the low season means less burden on the sites and infrastructure. Secondly, since it’s an economy that relies heavily on tourism, many locals are unemployed during off-peak times. So, a distribution of visitors translates to more employment opportunities all year around. Now that’s a true win-win situation!
Eat plant-based food
Eating plant-based food is my best green tip for sustainable travel. You can help reduce air and water pollution simply by making some changes to your diet. It’s not difficult to find plant-based food when you travel, as long as you know where to look and do a little bit of research, instead of leaving it up to chance.
You’d be surprised how many vegan and vegetarian and options are available, even in countries that are famous for their meat dishes. Use apps like Happy Cow that list, map and review vegan and vegetarian restaurants all over the world, or just enter the word “vegan” into the search box in Google Maps to find the nearest restaurant wherever you are. To get a better idea of what you can eat at your destination, look at vegan travel guides by travel bloggers for reviews, pictures, and insider tips.
Recharge using solar energy
The best type of energy is that which is sustainable, wouldn’t you agree? How great would it be if you could charge your phone, camera and other electronic devices without needing to be plugged into a wall at your hostel, hotel, or local cafe?
Imagine if you could charge your phone anywhere. You may think you can do this anyway with a fancy power bank, but what happens when that runs out? A great piece of equipment is the solar-powered charger. This item can get you out of a sticky situation in the middle of nowhere when your phone runs out of battery. It takes energy directly from the sun, so it obviously requires exposure to sunlight–the stronger the better.
It’s a great feeling to be self-sufficient and allow nature to recharge both you and your devices. This is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and use the sun instead of electricity wherever possible.
Find sustainable travel resources and bloggers
There are a lot of great resources available when you are researching for a trip. I like to read other travel blogs to help find great travel tips for our next destination, especially from other travel bloggers who focus on sustainable and eco-friendly travel.
One great way to find travel bloggers to follow is to use the wordoftravel app, where you can find travel bloggers based on your own travel style. You can find and follow eco-friendly travel bloggers on the app along with a bunch of other great writers. Once you follow a blogger, you will get a notification every time there is a new post and you can search posts from all of your favorite travel bloggers in your own feed.
The app is a great way to find tips for sustainable travel–you can search over 15,000 blog posts by travel destination and look for great tips from sustainable travel bloggers to help you plan your trip. You can even create your own sustainable travel tips in the app and share them with your travel buddies or with all other app users.
Another really useful feature is the ability to download blog posts to read when you are offline. This is really useful when you want to do some reading while you are traveling or for when you are out and about without internet access.
Dale from wordoftravel.
Again, pack a zero-waste kit
My favorite green travel strategy started as a personal challenge and pet project and morphed into a way of life on and off the road. I don’t generate any single-use waste (plastic or any other material) when I travel. I do this by having a zero-waste kit with me at all times: it has a collapsible water bottle, collapsible coffee mug, collapsible tupperware, spork, reusable shopping bag that carries 50 lbs of items and folds up into nothing.
I also have to make some tough decisions sometimes. If I don’t have my coffee cup with me for example, I don’t buy a coffee unless it can be served in a washable mug. Also, no soda, Gatorade, or any beverages on the go (good thing I love water).
But every time I avoid the use of a single-use item, I’m proud of it. I don’t show off my zero-waste kit and I don’t make others feel guilty, but every time I pull out my coffee cup or tupperware, people notice and are inspired.
Somebody once asked me how I was going to solve the problem of plastic in the world (implying that I can’t singlehandedly make a difference so why bother trying). I replied that it wasn’t my job to solve the waste crisis singlehandedly. But I see it as my job to do what I can. Soon enough, we’ll all be doing it out of necessity. May as well start now!
Keep everything local
One of the most impactful first steps towards more sustainable travel is stimulating the economy where you are visiting. Ethical tourism can be achieved when tourists are more mindful about keeping the money they spend within the places they visit. That means choosing locally-owned and managed accommodations, or buying souvenirs from local artisans and paying fair prices for their work. The UN predicts that about for every $100 USD spent on a vacation, about $5 USD stays in the developing destinations economy. Avoid the “tourism leakage” effect by shopping, eating, and staying locally. This way your costs contribute back to the community.
Choose green accommodations
Choose green hotels or resorts that care about the environment. I’d always recommend B&Bs or smaller places, but I understand that many people just prefer the luxury and convenience of a hotel. If you do, just research to see what this brand does for the environment. A friend of mine recently stayed in a resort in the Maldives where they did not have any plastics, did conservation works for coral reefs and offered talks about it. They also served sustainably-sourced seafood. I loved the sound of it–this should not be an exception, but the norm!
Do you have any sustainable travel tips and hacks that you use? Feel free to share!
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