22 Ways to Be a More Sustainable Traveler 372 image asset

22 Ways to Be a More Sustainable Traveler

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    22 Ways to Be a More Sustainable Traveler 372 image asset

    22 Ways to Be a More Sustainable Traveler 373 image asset

    There is no denying that we all find pleasure in travel, whether near or far, a foreign country or within our State. For myself, travel is one of those things that I love and feel so alive being in a new place, experiencing a new culture, and tasting new food. Yet, I struggle with the internal conflict of sustainability and being a responsible global citizen.

    Let’s face it; global warming is far from cool. As we wake up to the impact of climate change, sustainable travel is becoming less a trend and more a necessity. 

    Unfortunately, many travelers aren’t aware of how limited our world’s resources are and how tourism is negatively affecting the environment, local cultures, and communities. That’s where sustainable travel comes in.

    But, before we dive in, we must first understand the 3 pillars of sustainable tourism:

    1. Environment: employing environmentally friendly practices. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

    2. Social: protecting cultural and natural heritage, restoring historic buildings or saving endangered species

    3. Economic: providing tangible social and economic benefits for local communities ranging from upholding the rights of indigenous peoples to supporting fair wages for employees. 

    Sustainable travel should be the only way we travel. As I write this article, I feel a sense of hypocrisy, because I’m guilty of being a frequent flier, some of the beautiful destinations I’ve visited like the Galapagos, Whitsundays, and Iceland have left me in awe yet liable for visiting. But, over the years, as I’ve learned more about eco-tourism and ways to change my impact. Sustainable travel is always top of mind. 

    Ban Orapin Guesthouse in Chaing Mai, Thailand

    Ban Orapin Guesthouse in Chaing Mai, Thailand

    From reef-friendly sunscreen to carbon offsetting, I’ve rounded up some of the best ways you can travel more sustainably. Here are 22 ways to be a more sustainable traveler and make responsible travel choices:

    Be a slow traveler

    Travel slowly. Being a slow traveler has many benefits and helps you travel more sustainably. This means flying less often and staying longer at a destination. You get to enjoy a destination, and truly experience a culture. All of my travels, with the exception of going on a cruise, is slow travel. It’s my favorite for many reasons, but in particular, because I get to fully immerse myself in a culture by spending more time there versus a marathon sprint to visit as mand places as possible.

    Fly direct whenever possible

    Look for the shortest legs to your destination, one with the least stopovers. Aside from the comfort of flying direct, takeoffs and landings cause most of a plane’s carbon emissions, so it’s best to take a direct flight and avoid changes or stop-overs where possible.

    Opt for the most sustainable form of transportation

    As eco-conscious travelers, we are always looking for ways to be more sustainable. One way to do this is to choose the most sustainable form of transportation. This will depend on where you are heading. This can mean taking the bus or train instead of flying, or carpooling with friends when possible. It can even mean walking or biking instead of driving. Whatever form of transportation you choose, try to make the most eco-friendly choice possible. It may take a little bit more effort, but it will help make a difference in the long run. And who knows, you might even enjoy the journey more than you expected. Using sites like Rome2Rio

    Get to know new destinations by foot

    The best way to truly get to know a place is on foot. Rushing past tourist hotspots in private rental cars may appeal to some, but by exploring slowly you’ll be able to understand the destination, build a mental map of the area, and learn about new cultures as you go. If you need a vehicle to get around, use public transport or a city bike where possible.

    Stay at locally owned accommodations

    Staying at places like farm stays, guesthouses, Inns, and Airbnb. It’s more sustainable as your money contributes to the local economy, rather than being redirected out of the local economy by foreign-owned hotels and resorts. Some of my favorite experiences have been a stay at an Agritourism in San Giminiano, Italy; a Bed and Breakfast in San Pietro, Italy; and a guesthouse in Chaing Mai, Thailand.

    Pick eco acommmodations

    While it’s easy to opt for the cheapest or most centrally located hotel, it’s worth researching the best sustainable places to stay in your destination. Chances are, there will be an eco-friendly choice that suits your needs.

    Check for green certifications at hotels and hostels

    Search for eco-hotels that are designed and built sustainably. They also have a commitment to sustainability initiatives, which may include solar power, energy-efficient lighting, recycling and so on. Find out whether a hotel employs local staff, source their food locally and use locally sourced building materials and decor.

    Organazitions such the Green Seal in the U.S.– are part of the Global Ecolabelling Network, a non-profit group comprised of 25 third-party organizations throughout the world. They’re all devoted to improving, promoting and developing labelling systems for eco-friendly products and services. Sponsored in part by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria (GSTC) are widely considered the gold standard in “green” certification. 

    Avoid large resorts, all-inclusive, and cruises

    Large resorts, all-inclusive, and cruises have negative impacts on the local environment due to their water and energy consumption. These types of accommodations give tourists little incentive to go elsewhere and often do not go out to local restaurants, hire local tour guides or participate in cultural activities.

    Research your tour operators

    Do your research before booking tours. Look for accreditations such as GSTC, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance, EarthCheck, Green Key Global, Green Tourism Business Scheme (UK) and other regulatory bodies. Tour operators like G-Adventures in which I used for my trip to India, NatGeo Expeditions like my Galapagos trip, or Responsible Travel offer tours and vacations with sustainability and its 3 pillars as the main focus.

    Support the real local economy

    Wherever you go, choosing to spend money at local institutions will help the economy and infrastructure. This doesn’t need to be a huge difference from your typical spending choices; just opt for a family-run restaurant, shop, or local market when it comes to buying snacks, souvenirs, and the like. Utilizing experiences like GetYourGuide, Eating Europe Food Tours or Airbnb Experiences are great ways to get a one-of-a-kind experience while supporting locals.

    Check your beauty products

    The beauty industry has a huge carbon footprint. If you’ll be swimming in the sea, wear reef-friendly sun cream. Many products include nanoparticles and chemicals that pose danger to marine ecosystems, particularly by contributing to the bleaching of coral reefs. Check the labels on your products.

    Check your beauty products

    The beauty industry has an enormous carbon footprint. If you’ll be swimming in the sea, wear reef-friendly sunscreen. Many products include nanoparticles and chemicals that pose danger to marine ecosystems, particularly by contributing to the bleaching of coral reefs. Check the labels on your products. A great place to start for clean beauty, are places like Credo Beauty in the US and Content Beauty in the UK. These two brands are committed to bringing better beauty.

    22 Ways to Be a More Sustainable Traveler 1 22WaystoBeaMoreSustainableTraveler

    Be respectful of your surroundings

    Many of us want to travel to the world’s most remote corners, where daily life is entwined with the surrounding environment. I get it, it’s tempting to bring all of your electronics, but be aware of the impact you have on local habitats. Noise emissions from speakers, for example, can have a negative impact on nearby flora and fauna.

    Make the most of Staycations

    Ready to book flights to far-off lands? Many of us often overlook the destinations on our doorstep. Emit less travel pollution, by making the most of your country’s various locations and attractions. Explore a new city or escape the daily grind and see what nearby places have to offer with a Staycation.

    There’s no need to feel guilty about not traveling this year– eco-conscious travelers can have a great staycation instead! Here are some tips for making the most of your time at home:

    First, take advantage of being able to explore your own backyard! Get out and discover all the hidden gems in your city or town that you’ve never had time to visit before. Make a point of visiting local businesses, and support your community while you’re at it.

    Next, use this as an opportunity to reconnect with nature. Spend time in your garden, go for hikes in nearby forests or parks, and try to get away from screens as much as possible. Not only is it good for your mental health, but you’ll also be reducing your carbon footprint.

    Finally, think about how you can use this time to learn new skills or hobbies. Whether it’s cooking, gardening, DIY or something else entirely, there’s no better time than now to start! Not only will you be keeping yourself busy, but you might even end up with a new passion.

    Carbon offsetting

    One of the newest improvements in sustainable travel is carbon offsetting. In short, carbon offsetting is a system where passengers pay a little extra to help compensate for the carbon emissions produced from their flight. The money is spent on projects such as planting trees or installing renewable energy sources. While not many airlines offer this alternative at present, the future looks promising. Opt for airlines such as Delta, United, JetBlue, and Lufthansa to try the scheme. Want to calculate yours? Go here.

    Take short showers and skip baths

    Try to take shorter showers, turn the water off while you lather up, shampoo, shave, and/or brush your teeth. And just say no to baths. Showers use just 10-25 gallons of water, while baths use up to 70 gallons.

    Skip Hotel Laundry

    Never use the hotel laundry, as they typically wash every guest’s clothes separately even when there are only a few items. You can usually wash our clothes as you shower, then hang them up overnight so they’re dry the next day. Hang up your towels after each use, which is the universal sign that you’d like to use them again. You don’t wash your towels every day at home, so why do it when you travel?

    Take any leftover soap, shampoo, or toothpaste with you

    Unused portions are often thrown away, and you can reuse plastic bottles in the future.

    Buy locally-made preferably handmade products, rather than those that have been imported

    Items that are flown or shipped in have a much larger carbon footprint, and who wants a cheap, cookie-cutter souvenir made on an Asian assembly line? Seeking out indigenous artisans when you can. When you buy directly from an artist, you’re not only helping them feed their family but in many cases, you’re helping to preserve their culture. We’ve also heard some pretty amazing stories by chatting these artisans up.

    Skip buying anything made from endangered plants/animals, unsustainable hardwoods, or ancient artifacts.

    Not only is it wrong, but you probably won’t be able to get them back through customs. Do not buy souvenir photos from anyone exploiting wildlife, such as the famous performing elephants of Thailand.

    Don’t Exploit Animals

    Don’t take any tour that promises hands-on encounters with wild animals, such as riding elephants or walking with lions. If you do, you’re supporting an industry that illegally captures, transports, and abuses millions of animals each year.

    Take your own reusable

    Take your own reusable bag when you go shopping. Plastic bags are SO 20th century. Take a BPA-free water bottle you can refill over and over again. Many international airports have free water dispensers, which saves you money and wasting plastic bottles.

    Final Thoughts

    Sustainable travel is becoming more and more popular, and for good reason. It can be easy to make small changes in your behavior while on vacation that will have a big impact on the environment. By following some of these tips, you can help reduce your carbon footprint while traveling and enjoy your trip guilt-free. What are you waiting for? Start planning your sustainable vacation today!

    Do you have any other sustainable travel tips? Join the conversation on Instagram!

    This article was first published December 2020 and updated by our editors June 2022.

    Hi, I’m Valerie!

    I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200), offering guidance to high achievers in aligning their lifestyle with well-being through daily wellness and self-care routines, promoting balance and harmony. Join me at Wellness Bum for tips on living well, and consider subscribing to my newsletter or booking a coaching session.