Here is a complete guide to sustainable travel – an incredible way to explore the world whilst positively impacting people and our planet!
How to explore with less harm and more positivity?
Sustainable travel may be a term you have heard before, but you still wonder what it truly means. In this article, I go into more depth into the meaning of sustainable travel, why it matters, and some tips to help you travel differently.
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- What does sustainable travel mean?
- What is the goal of sustainable travel?
- Why is sustainable travel important?
- How to be a sustainable traveller?
- 1- Consider the most sustainable method of transport
- 2- Book eco-friendly accommodations
- 3- Pack your suitcase mindfully
- 4- Use eco-conscious tour operators and activities
- 5- Eat locally and seasonally
- 6- Shop and buy local
- 7- Leave the place better than you found it
- 8- Offset your carbon footprint
- 9- Take action = volunteer, donate or share!
- 10- Prioritise slow travel = travel less, stay longer
What does sustainable travel mean?
Sustainable travel means exploring the world whilst being aware of your surroundings and having a positive social, environmental and economic impact on the places you visit.
It could be by adopting more sustainable methods of transportation, staying in more environmentally friendly accommodations, eating local and seasonal foods, and avoiding harmful activities.
What is the goal of sustainable travel?
The goal of sustainable travel is to reduce the impact of tourism on the environment and local communities. It means avoiding over-consumption, contributing to the conservation of the environment and respecting local traditions and heritage to participate in their protection.
Ultimately, the primary goal of sustainable travel is to create a better and more viable long-term future for tourism, aiming for a beneficial ‘give and take’ relationship.
Why is sustainable travel important?
Sustainable travel is important as tourism growth has had negative impacts on many places – including the destruction of lands and wildlife, deterioration of historical sites, pollution, littering, price inflation and loss of authenticity. Despite this, tourism remains an incredible way to experience the world and its beauty, share and connect with others, and generate economic benefits for a local area – and these positive effects should be the priority.
Today, tourism, a $9 trillion industry, continues to grow. That is why understanding its impact is vital to ensure a viable expansion, and current habits must change. Creating safe and responsible travel to protect our planet and communities will become crucial over time.
How to be a sustainable traveller?
You can travel sustainably by being mindful of the consequences of your journey. Responsible travel is about adjusting your habits and behaviours and paying attention to your surroundings.
For example, ask yourself: what is the impact of my flight? Does my hotel care about the environment? Does my tour operator support local communities?
When you travel, always consider your impact first.
Although adopting a greener way of travelling is a beautiful opportunity to slow down and be responsible, it is not magic and does not happen overnight. But step by step altogether, we can make a difference and create a better future for our planet – whilst enjoying it!
Here are some sustainable travel tips to make your next adventure greener:
1- Consider the most sustainable method of transport
How to get to your destination without harming our planet?
That is a question I have asked myself a lot, considering how much I travel by plane. Whilst doing some research, I discovered (without surprise) that transportation pollution is a significant issue caused by tourism. Air pollution has steadily increased with the number of tourists travelling by planes each year, severely affecting local air quality and contributing to climate change.
That is why, when booking your trip, try to choose the greenest form of transport possible.
- If you use a plane, take direct flights as much as possible to reduce your carbon footprint, as landing and take-off have the worst effect. You can also choose greener flights with Skyscanner. It has an option that only displays flights with lower CO2 emissions.
- Take the train when you can, as it is one of the transports that emits the lowest levels of pollutants. It is also a beautiful way to slow travel and take time to enjoy the scenery.
- Avoid cruises. Using boats may sound like a good idea, but they have proven to be the most pollutant for our environment. According to a 2017 study, even the most efficient cruise ships emit more carbon dioxide per passenger per kilometre than commercial flights. However, a cruise is another great way to slow travel, so what do you do if you care about the environment but are not ready to abandon cruises? Look carefully at the company website, consider a smaller ship, reduce your single-use plastic consumption and be mindful of your energy and water usage.
- If using the car, try carpooling like Blablacar (the more passengers, the lower the carbon footprint). If you decide to rent a car, go for an electric or at least the smallest vehicle that suits your needs.
- Finally, whatever your choice, use EcoPassenger to calculate the environmental impact of your journey. It will allow you to become aware of your effect and offset your carbon footprint when you get home.
The method of transport you choose to reach your destination will play a crucial role in your overall holiday footprint. However, it is equally important to be eco-conscious once you are there. Here are some other tips to help you reduce your impact: walk as much as possible, use a bike, take public transport, rent an electric or hybrid car or use small-group tour operators.
2- Book eco-friendly accommodations
Once you have booked your vacation, try to reserve a hotel or B&B that adopts eco-responsible practices. Many accommodations are working toward becoming greener by innovating and reducing their impact.
What is an eco-conscious accommodation?
Eco-conscious accommodations or sustainable hotels significantly reduce their environmental impact through green practices in maintenance, services, logistics, products, and supplies. The core elements revolve around reducing waste, saving energy, and decreasing water usage.
How to know if a hotel or guesthouse is eco-friendly?
Doing your research is essential. Go further greenwashing and find a responsible retreat that helps you explore your destination whilst leaving a positive impact.
Here are some guidelines to determine if a hotel or guesthouse is sustainable and using green practices:
- It has a sustainability policy: a hotel committed to sustainability will almost always have a sustainability policy on its website.
- It is committed to limiting its environmental impact: beyond the implementation of energy and water-conserving technologies, initiatives to look out for include an on-site garden that supplies the hotel restaurant, rooftop beehives, single-use plastic-free amenities, locally made furnishings, recycling bins in guest rooms, the use of eco-friendly cleaning products, and washing linens only on request.
- It works closely with the local community: sustainable hotels empower local communities by hiring local staff, using local suppliers, supporting sustainable community programs and integrating guests with the local community.
- It encourages guests to get involved: a sustainable hotel will inspire guests to follow their lead by incorporating interactive initiatives, such as offering reusable water bottles, free or cheap bicycle rental or shared transport options, and guest experiences that support local people and businesses.
3- Pack your suitcase mindfully
After choosing your destination and booking your trip, what you pack is the next step in reducing your impact. The best way to avoid waste and plastic when travelling is to arrive prepared. That is why considering what you bring with you is so important.
Here are some ideas:
- Reusable cups or mugs are the perfect way to enjoy your trip whilst having a positive impact, as they reduce the number of single-use plastic cups you need on your journey. Here are some brands offering light and eco-friendly cups and mugs: KeepCup, Circular&Co, and Klean Kanteen.
- Reusable water bottles are also a great way to cut down on single-use plastic and should become a must-have in your life, even when you are not travelling! Stay hydrated on the go with these incredibly sustainable bottles: Pure Panda, Jococups, and Sweet Bamboo.
- Whether you like climbing the highest peaks or walking around the city, organic and eco-minded clothes are practical, functional, and a great way to celebrate the adventurer in you. Here are some brands trying to make a difference: United by Blue, Toad&Co, and Coalatree.
- Travel towels are very helpful for any adventure. A quick-drying, antimicrobial towel made of eco-friendly fibres like the Trespass bamboo towel is a must-have and all-in-one option. It is also very convenient as it folds easily, takes no space, and requires less washing.
- Having gear charged on your trip is essential to capture your beautiful adventure and come home with memories. However, it can sometimes be trouble when you are on the road, and it also consumes a lot of energy. Here are some portable solar chargers you can easily take everywhere: Goal Zero and Anker PowerPort Solar.
- Travel tote bags are an excellent substitute for single-use plastic bags and can be very helpful for shopping or the beach! They are practical, functional and easy to take wherever you go. Here is my favourite one: EcoRight.
Check out this page for more inspiration on eco-friendly products & gear.
- Cutlery and containers (reduce single-use plastic)
- Reusable straws (reduce single-use plastic)
- Zero-waste sunscreens (protect reefs and marine life)
- Biodegradable shampoos (reduce toxic chemicals)
- Solid toiletries (reduce water usage)
Looking to stay warm and dry in winter? Check out these top 10 ethical winter coats.
4- Use eco-conscious tour operators and activities
When travelling, being mindful of the activity you choose and the travel agent you select is very important for helping reduce impact. A sustainable tour operator offers travel products or services complying with high social and environmental standards. They focus on creating benefits for local communities, protecting the environment using conservation projects, and prioritising animal welfare.
It is essential that you do your research before booking an activity or tour. Only get involved in activities that benefit the environment, locals and wildlife. Also, try using local guides and look for authentic experiences to ensure your money goes into the local economy. Most importantly, never take part in activities that do not seem right!
- Look on the website for their practices and mission.
- Look for certifications: responsible tour operators are certified by a GSTC accredited certification scheme.
- Look for information on carbon footprint: responsible tour operators take measures to minimise their environmental impact.
- Look for animal activities: responsible tour operators do not offer activities or excursions with captive wildlife or animal interaction.
- Look for statements on local benefits: responsible tour operators benefit local communities with their tourism activities and are proud of it.
- Look for collaborations with local research and conservation projects: responsible tour operators prioritise animal welfare and environmental protection.
- Look at their group sizes: responsible tour operators will not go on an excursion with large groups but with small groups to create less impact.
- Look at the offered accommodations: responsible tour operators will not book your rooms in large hotel chains but in local small-scale accommodations.
- Look for sustainable travel tips: responsible tour operators are all about sharing their knowledge and want you to travel sustainably.
Some of the best sustainable tour operators:
Check out this article for more inspiration: Top Ecotourism Activities Around the World.
5- Eat locally and seasonally
When travelling, being mindful of what you eat is crucial to leaving a lower footprint on your destination.
Here are some tips for eating locally and responsibly:
- Eat vegetarian or vegan.
- Ask the locals where they like to eat.
- Buy your food at local markets and shop seasonally.
- And finally, avoid big resorts and go to local restaurants supporting farmers and sustainable products.
And if you want more, check out HappyCow.
6- Shop and buy local
The souvenirs we bring home matter as much as how we travel. Being mindful of your shopping habits is another way to become more responsible whilst exploring.
Here are some tips:
Buy local and avoid big chain stores.
Shopping locally means less fuel to move goods and food long distances and less energy to cool warehouses and trucks. It also means more money stays in the local community, enriching neighbours instead of corporations in a far-off city or country. So buy locally made gifts to take home as souvenirs. It is better to take home souvenirs unique to the country where you are travelling, rather than something from a factory elsewhere. Local markets are also a great way to ensure you buy local.
- Ask questions to find out more about the product and its origin.
- Go for vegan and decline objects made with animal products.
- Research eco-friendly boutiques and shop vintage.
- Reduce the use of packaging and gift wrap.
- Prioritise sustainable materials or buy second-hand.
Bring reusable shopping bags.
When you bring reusable bags to shop, you adopt a more eco-friendly travel lifestyle with less plastic and waste. Reusable tote bags are lightweight and easily fit in your suitcase, so do not forget to add one to your packing list!
Ask yourself: is it needed?
It can sometimes be challenging to differentiate what you need from what you want. Most of the time, we buy things because of temptation rather than necessity. Therefore, it is essential to ask yourself if you require the product you want to purchase or if the person you are buying it for will use it.
When buying clothes, ask yourself if you really need this item in your closet. Think about how often you will wear it. Always ensure the item will add to your collection and fill a practical niche. Any article that does not meet one of these criteria is not worth the cost to you or the environment.
7- Leave the place better than you found it
Always pick up your trash, or any you come across, avoid plastic at all costs, do not touch everything, be mindful of your water and electricity usage, stay on track when you hike, smile and be grateful to the locals for welcoming you.
Be mindful of cultural sites.
Over-tourism has generated dangerous environmental effects on our sites, and we have, for instance, observed many cases of path erosions over the past few years. Therefore, be mindful and considerate of the places you attend. Learn about them beforehand and respect them whilst visiting.
8- Offset your carbon footprint
Even if you have done your best to lower your footprint, it is still a good idea to offset your carbon emissions from your trip. BUT do not use carbon offset as a complete solution. Combine it with other sustainable practices, like prioritising other methods of transport, avoiding single-use plastic on the plane and mindfully packing your suitcase to be ready for your green adventure.
What is a carbon offset?
A carbon offset is an act of reducing or removing emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases to compensate for the emissions produced elsewhere. You can offset your carbon footprints by investing in carbon offset projects, locally or internationally, as a way of balancing your impact. For example, you can invest your money in a project in Costa Rica to offset the amount of carbon produced by your flight.
What are carbon offset projects?
Carbon offset projects allow you to invest in environmental or social projects to balance the carbon footprint of your travels. They help fight global climate change and care for local communities. For example, they can provide employment, health improvement, biodiversity, reforestation and broad social benefits to disadvantaged communities.
How to offset carbon?
To do this, visit an offset website, use the online tools to calculate the emissions from your trip, and then pay the offset company to reduce emissions elsewhere in the world by the same amount – making your journey “carbon neutral”.
Here are some companies you can use:
9- Take action = volunteer, donate or share!
Take this opportunity to come back home and feel inspired by your adventure. Now is the best time to take action, whether by volunteering locally or abroad, donating to an organisation or sharing your experience. Speak up and share your sustainable travel experience with your family, friends and followers.
The more we talk about it, the more we will change the world.
10- Prioritise slow travel = travel less, stay longer
Slow travel is a way of exploring the world that accentuates slowing down and connecting with the places and locals. This approach allows you to take more time to get to know a country and its culture on a deeper level, which can also mean travelling less but staying longer = quality over quantity.
Therefore, if you can, try to always stay longer in the destination you are visiting – for at least 3 or 4 days, and avoid day trips as they contribute to overtourism.
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I hope this sustainable travel guide will help make your future trips greener. Remember, always leave your destination better than you found it and educate yourself as much as you can. You got this – one step at a time!
Want to know more?
- 10 Best Travel Apps for Exploring Sustainably
- Top Ecotourism Activities Around the World
- 8 Best Filtered Water Bottles for Travel & Hiking
- Carbon Offset your Flights: What, Why & How
- 10 Best Zero-Waste & Reef-Safe Sunscreens
Do you have any other suggestions for travelling sustainably and reducing impact?
Let me know in the comments below!
With love ♡