It’s the Traveler’s Catch-22…
Impressive landscapes, history, wildlife, diverse cultures and fascinating people. We connect to some of the most valuable things in the world through travel.
Yet travel contributes to the climate crisis and has lasting impacts on local communities. Sustainabletravel.org reports, “A round trip flight from San Francisco to Paris can produce just over 1.25 metric tons of carbon emissions per passenger.”
In an ironic twist of good intentions and poor execution, we’re damaging the same things that we travel to appreciate and fight to protect.
How Can You Be A More Sustainable Traveler?
It’s getting easier every year to travel internationally and leave a smaller carbon footprint. The catch is we have to put in the effort, do more research and plan responsibly.
Sustainable travel means using each adventure as an opportunity to grow local economies, protect the environment and celebrate culture and heritage.
Find out how you can reduce your impact and travel consciously with our 20 sustainable travel tips.
Deciding Where To Go
- Stay Close to Home
The best way you can cut back on your carbon emissions (and everybody’s least favorite) is to fly less and stay close to home. Take a class, book a food tour, visit museums or discover a part of your city you haven’t seen before.
Explore outdoor options near you, from relaxing to action-packed: camping, kayaking, hiking, climbing or a mountain lodge with a spa.
Adventure is waiting where you’re willing to look for it. What are the things tourists do in your city you haven’t tried yet?
- Avoid Popular Destinations
Realistically, we don’t always want to keep our travel close to home. So when you’re planning an international trip, sidestep the hotspots that suffer overtourism.
Overtourism is the name given to overcrowding in popular tourist destinations. Rather than improving the quality of life for the local population, overtourism causes heavy traffic, increased air pollution and inflated prices. Apartment rentals become scarce and local services are replaced by souvenir shops.
Avoid cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris and Venice and opt for destinations with less hype, or better yet, visit a green destination.
If you must see Paris at least once in your life, book your trip during the low season.
- Practice Slow Travel
Stop running from one spot to the next chasing Instagram photos, bragging rights and ticks on a list. Leave that to the influencers and start giving yourself more time to hang out in cafés, make friends and explore the side streets.
The ‘two days here and three days there’ travel style is exhausting. Try spending your vacation in one place. Slow travel lets you relax and sink into your destination, putting quality experiences before quantity.
The slow travel movement also advocates alternative transportation like trains, boats, bikes, walking and horseback, to enrich your travel experience and better serve the environment.
Check out slow travel experiences with The OOO Club for one-week itineraries in unique locations.
- Pack Light
I know how tempting it is to pack three novels, a back-up pair of hiking boots, a travel pillow and heavy zoom lenses…
But with less baggage to lug around, it’s easier to take public transportation or walk wherever you need to go, reducing your carbon emissions.
- Buy Second-Hand
Not only are you helping the environment by not driving demand for more production, but you’re also saving yourself precious travel funds.
Backpacks, luggage, clothes, cameras and camping gear are just some of the things you can buy used. Worried that the clothes from a second-hand store aren’t durable enough (or photo friendly) for your travels? Check out Patagonia’s Worn Wear.
- Pack Reusable and Environmentally Friendly Items
Reduce your plastic consumption by packing reusable items: reusable razors, shopping bags, makeup wipes and bamboo utensils.
Using eco-friendly toiletries takes strain off of delicate ecosystems by removing harmful chemicals from the equation. Try organic sunscreen, deet-free insect repellent and all-natural deodorant cream. Get a list of eco-friendly travel products.
- A Water Purifying Reusable Water Bottle
Reusable water bottles are good for reducing single-use plastic consumption. But when you find yourself in places where the tap water is iffy, we resort to buying bottled water.
For those ‘iffy tap water’ destinations, get a LifeStraw Go, a reusable water bottle with an advanced, built-in water filtration system that protects you from bacteria, parasites, microplastics, chlorine and chemical matter. Drink the water anywhere, worry-free and leave a much smaller plastic trail.
- Choose Airlines That Care
There are currently only five airports in the world with a steady distribution of sustainable aviation biofuel (fortune.com). With few options in terms of biofuels, what else can you do?
You can choose airlines that mix biofuels with fossil fuels, and book airlines that use space efficiently, allowing as many people as possible on a flight. Avoid first-class and business class, and fly with airlines that upgrade their fleets to newer, more fuel-efficient models every few years.
To see how airlines rank, you can use Atmosfair’s climate-conscious airline index.
- Practice Carbon OffSetting
Carbon offsetting is the practice of making a monetary donation to environmental projects in order to compensate for the carbon footprint created during your flight and travel.
How does it work? Use a carbon calculator to add up your emissions. Once they’re calculated, you can purchase credits that equal your emissions, and invest those credits in certified environmental projects like wind farms, reforestation, waste management and solar energy.
This easy and responsible act is surprisingly affordable, with round-trip, overseas flights being offset by as little as $12 to $20 USD. Many airlines are now offering carbon offsets as part of the flight purchase, or you can purchase offsets at carbonfund.org or sustainabletravel.org.
- Carpool with Rideshare Apps
Uber and Lyft are great for short distances and you can make them greener by using the carpool option. Carpooling is an awesome way to start meeting locals within the first few minutes of your trip.
For longer distances, start carpooling in Europe and Canada with rideshare apps like BlablaCar, Motar and PopaRide.
Let’s say you’re in Spain and you want to get from Valencia to Seville and you can’t find a direct bus or train. You can use BlaBlaCar to split the cost of fuel. Ladies, if you’re doubtful about virtual hitchhiking, you can request female drivers.
- Book Properties with Commitments to Sustainability
It can be tricky to find accommodation with a genuine commitment to sustainability versus those who make green claims as a marketing tool. If your accommodation has sustainability certifications, be sure to research the certification body and verify it’s legitimacy.
Though useful, certifications can be expensive and can cause us to overlook the little guys making an effort. When looking for accommodation, check websites for specific actions taken:
- Local, organic food
- Ecological cleaning products
- Waste recycling and composting
- Solar panels
- Rainwater recovery
- Carbon offsets
- No single-use plastic
- Funding conservation efforts
Remember that “Some types of accommodation are naturally eco, without needing to be certified. Tiny house stays, cabins, wilderness huts, glamping set-ups, and house-swapping for instance, all have small, often temporary, footprints.” (worldnomads.com)
- Be Wary of All-Inclusive Resorts
All-inclusive resorts are not necessarily all bad. They often provide quality jobs, use locally-sourced produce and partner with locally-owned tourism services for transportation and excursions.
Even so, all-inclusives are notorious for being owned by overseas companies who keep most of the wealth, while locals are left to deal with the heavy environmental impact.
Buffet-style dining produces enormous food waste and the use of water and electricity in resorts far exceeds their local competitors, sometimes in areas where water is scarce. And they often make their beaches private property, denying access to the community.
When traveling all-inclusive, seek out smaller, locally-owned alternatives. Many boutique hotels can give you the luxury and convenience of an all-inclusive, but with less crowds and fewer drawbacks.
- Practice Basic Energy and Water-Saving Techniques
Many small actions quickly add up in reducing your impact. The ‘do not disturb’ sign works even when you’re not entertaining ‘guests’. It also keeps cleaning services out of your room, saving the over-use of potentially harmful chemicals.
And follow the same eco-friendly steps you use at home: choose showers over baths, take short showers, choose warm water over hot, avoid single-use plastic, opt for the ceiling fan over A/C, and turn off lights, A/C or central heat when not in use.
- Go Local
When met with an intimidating menu in Croatian, don’t back down and head to the McDonalds next door. Not only will you make great memories outside of your comfort zone, but you’ll also help local businesses and invest in a community.
Think and act local for your hotels, restaurants, tour operators and grocery stores. Before you step inside a Wal-Mart in South Africa, remember your responsibility to give to your host country instead of contributing to corporations whose profits often go elsewhere.
- Do Cultural Activities
Farmers’ markets, a cooking class, festivals, a dance workshop, concerts, language lessons, what other cultural activities do you enjoy?
Cultural activities give you the chance to meet locals and make new friends. When you’re interested not only in the beautiful sites but also in the people and what they can teach you, you promote healthy cultural preservation.
When booking a trip with a U.S. based travel group, check the itinerary for cultural experiences and local guides. Ask your agent about their commitment to the host community.
Check out The OOO Club’s international trips for an ideal balance of tourism and immersive, cultural experiences.
- Eat Less Meat
I’m sure proud meat-lovers are already rolling their eyes, but the fact is outdated farming practices, especially those used in raising livestock, are accelerating climate change because they require large amounts of deforested land for grazing, intensive waste-management and large consumption of water.
Plant foods are less resource-intensive and therefore produce fewer carbon emissions. Going flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan for vacation is an excellent way to ease your conscience when traveling.
- Get Creative with Souvenirs
Have you ever gotten a magnet as a souvenir from your friend’s trip to Toronto and you turn it over to read it was made somewhere else?
Steer clear of plastic or manufactured knickknacks and look for hand-crafted art, locally-sourced clothing or consider local food and drink like coffee, alcohol or sweets that you can pick up at the corner store.
Collecting coins and bills in the local currency is a fun and interesting souvenir turned hobby that you can share with your family and friends.
- Don’t Buy Animal Products
Costas Christ from National Geographic writes, “I once witnessed a couple of backpackers haggling at an outdoor market to buy a hand-stitched eagle hunter’s hat made from plush wolf fur.”
One thing that you don’t want to do is support a marketplace that creates a demand for products made from rare or endangered wildlife.
Respecting the People and the Land
- Learn Basic Expressions in the Language
Don’t get me wrong, knowing how to say “one beer, please” is indispensable.
But learning polite expressions in the local language is good travel manners: “Good morning, how are you?”, “Do you speak English?”, “Excuse me”, “Thank you”, “Sorry, I don’t speak Portuguese,” etc.
You don’t have to be fluent. Learning a few phrases is a considerate gesture that shows your interest in your host country’s culture.
It’s especially important (and courteous) to ask, in the local language, “Do you speak English?” before you start a conversation or ask a question in English.
- Pick Up Litter
Yes, even when the trash isn’t yours, picking up litter on the street, on the beach or on a trail is a great way to give back to the places you visit. The locals, the wildlife (and the travel gods) will thank you.
Fight the good fight and get in the habit of picking up trash when out and about. It’s easy and it sends a message that you care. It also inspires those around you and it leaves your destination better than you found it.
Interested in Sustainable Group Travel?
The OOO Club curates 7-day international, group travel experiences dedicated to sustainability. At The OOO Club, we practice slow travel, avert overtourism, avoid all-inclusives, go local, pack light, pack green and keep it cultural. Find your next trip.