How to Travel Sustainably (7 Easy Tips for Any Traveler to Follow)

written by local expert Jane Elmets

Jane always knew she wasn't destined for a desk job... She has travelled all over the world and is passionate about noodles, sloths and her hiking boots! When she isn't busy adventuring around the world, you can find her reviewing travel gear and dishing out travel tips to all the places she's visited.

Traveling the world isn’t cheap – moneywise or in terms of the environment. While the jet setting lifestyle is more and more appealing, individuals face a drastic rise in their own carbon footprints as they circle the globe. 

But what if there was a way to travel while having minimal impact on the environment? A way to still enjoy the world without contributing to its destruction? 

Enter: Sustainable travel. 

The million-dollar question these days is how to travel sustainably and see the world in an environmentally-responsible manner. Luckily for us, it’s becoming easier and easier to pick sustainable destinations, stay at environmentally-conscious accommodations, and contribute directly to local communities.

Here are our top sustainable travel tips so that you can feel good about your globetrotting!

7 Tips for Sustainable Travel

Stay at Green Hotels

If you already have a travel destination in mind, it’s a huge vote in sustainability’s favor to stay at a green hotel.

Green hotels go the extra mile in terms of sustainability and strive to be eco-friendly in all of their efforts. This doesn’t mean that they skimp on the luxury and amenities… It just means they do operate in a more environmentally-conscious way.

A green hotel doesn’t follow a single format, rather they’re all unique in the ways they give back to the environment. 

Camp Glenorchy in New Zealand boasts net-zero energy accommodation; Salinda Resort in Vietnam is committed to reducing plastic at the property and hosts a monthly beach clean; and Pikaia Lodge in Ecuador is a carbon-neutral property that was built using recyclable, eco-friendly materials. 

Finding a green hotel doesn’t have to be hard. Check out platforms that support sustainable travel like which lists properties all over the world that offer responsible stays.  

Even if they aren’t a strictly “green” hotel, many accommodation options do their part by decking out rooms with sustainable merchandise, so it’s worth it to find out what eco-friendly products they use

Pick Your Destination Wisely

No solid travel plans yet?

It should come as no surprise that not all destinations are created equal, but this stands true for sustainability as well. Some countries are much more conscious when it comes to sustainability and travel, and have infrastructure and programs to support such efforts. 

For example, European countries like Denmark, France, and Switzerland are some of the most sustainable places in the world despite their large influx of tourism. Towns in Slovenia and Spain are also hailed as destinations that leave a light footprint.

On the more exotic end of the spectrum, the small island of Palau in Micronesia has all visitors pledge to protect the environment and heritage of the area before being allowed entrance.

Many other alluring islands in the Maldives and Galapagos are also a great choice in terms of sustainability as they put an extra emphasis on protecting the surrounding waters and cutting down on waste. 

Besides just choosing sustainable places to travel to, it’s also worth looking into destinations that require tourism to jumpstart the local economy. Look to places like Puerto Rico and the islands in Indonesia that are riddled with natural disasters but rely on tourism to help rebuild the local economy when crisis strikes. 

Choosing your destination is the first step to traveling sustainably because it’s a direct vote of where your money is going. 

Do you want to give it to a country that is going to reinvest it in fossil fuels? Or would you rather contribute to a local economy striving to be eco-friendly?

The choice is yours. 

Give Back to Local Economies

A huge part of sustainable travel is giving back to local economies at the community level.

When it comes time to book activities, tours or treks, seek out local experiences and give back to individuals directly.

When you book through large companies, almost none of the money you spend trickles down to the local communities in the area. Rather than taking part in a large tour group, find locals to show you around, indigenous artists to support, neighborhood chefs to host a cooking class, and local markets to buy your goods at.

Doing this not only ensures that your money is going to the people who need it most but it drastically cuts down on the carbon footprint. By buying local, you aren’t consuming imported goods while also keeping money in the community you’re visiting, 

woman selling fish at the market

Choose Sustainable Activities

A great way to give back and reduce your carbon footprint while traveling is by choosing sustainable activities. 

Visiting places like marine protected areas directly contributes to the conservation of the waters, and hiking on marked trails in national parks helps maintain the local environment.

Many local organizations and tour operators will actually offer sustainable activities for travelers to take part in – it’s just up to you to seek them out. One great place to look for such activities is Intrepid Travel, which has trips led by native leaders to support the local economy. 

While sustainable activities may not be advertised as widely, if you are hoping to reduce your ecological footprint, refrain from activities involving captive wildlife, riding animals, or purchasing wildlife products.

Remember: say no to dolphin shows!

Cut Down on Waste

One of the most simple ways to travel sustainably is to cut down on your own waste. Since you’re directly in control of what you purchase and consume, make these decisions wisely and with the environment in mind.

On the basic level, say no to plastic and opt to use reusable products (water bottles, straws, coffee cups, bags). Choose smaller meal portions so that there’s no food waste leftover. Bring home half-used hotel soaps and shampoos which are thrown away otherwise, and return maps to the front desk for other travelers to reuse. 

These acts may seem small, but they compound to become something ultra meaningful. It’s up to you as an individual to eliminate waste while you travel and choose eco-friendly alternatives instead. 

way to travel sustainably: bring a reusable coffee cup

Conserve Water & Electricity

While it may seem obvious, conserving water and electricity greatly contributes to sustainable travel as well. 

Instead of taking long baths, choose a quick shower instead. Keep the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your room door to prevent your sheets from being changed and washed daily. Turn off the heat or A/C whenever you leave the room, and never keep the TV or lights on (even though you don’t have to pay the electricity bill).  

These small actions make all the difference and are something you have direct control over. By being conscious about your water and energy consumption, you can cut back in both areas to use only what you need. 

The planet will thank you!

Opt for Slow Travel

Finally, one of the best ways to travel sustainably is to choose slow travel. 

Buses, trains, and boats are much more sustainable methods of travel than flying. Even driving has less of an ecological footprint than flying 30,000 feet in the air.

Choose road trips when you can (they’re fun, I promise!), utilize public transportation, and see the countryside from a train window. Cozy up on an overnight bus to travel cross country and carpool when possible. 

When you do need to fly, consciously choose an IATA member airline that has carbon offset programs to feel good about your air travel. It’s also worth looking into what sustainability efforts the specific airline is taking in terms of waste and energy consumption.

A red train on the mountain edge

More than anything, sustainable travel is in your hands. It’s completely up to you how you spend your money, consume resources, and make your way from point A to point B. 

But know that there are sustainable alternatives to the classic methods of travel. There are efforts that you can take on an individual level to counteract the ecological damage of travel. 

All it takes is a conscious mindset and a green outlook. You’ll be traveling sustainably before you know it!

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How to Travel Sustainably | Looking to be more environmentally friendly on your travels? Here are our top tips for how to travel sustainably around the globe.

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