Traveling has become more accessible and trendy than ever, which is great for allowing more people to explore the world, experience other cultures, and make lifelong memores. But travel is also one of the most environmetally damaging industries in the world. So, how can you enjoy traveling while also being environmentally cautious?
The answer lies in adopting sustainable traveling methods, being mindful as you explore the world to ensure its protection for future generations. Below, you will find eight sustainable travel tips that enable you to do your bit for the earth without stopping your adventures.
1. Travel By Train or Car
Planes are one of the worst sources of carbon emission; that is why one should consider choosing other modes of transport. If your destinations are accessible by train, or if you can turn your adventures into a road trip, take these options. Also, if you love exploring new places, consider visiting the ones that are closer to your home rather than the exotic far away ones. This can end up being a much more affordable, scenic, and immersive way to travel as well, in addition to being better for the environment.
However, if you do have to fly, make sure you book flights that reach the destination directly. The planes release most carbon during landing and takeoff. So, taking a flight that gets straight to the destination will mean that your carbon footprint is reduced.
Another way you can compensate for flying is by opting to carbon offset your flight. When you book your ticket, you can opt to compensate for your part of the emission that has been made during the flight. Some airlines offer this option upon booking, or you can calculate the offset and make your contribution through a third party site like MyClimate.org. Also, if available, choose to travel via more eco-friendly airline companies that do compensate for the carbon footprint and take additional sustainability measures.
2. Pack Only Essentials
The more luggage on the plane, the more carbon is released. That’s why always pack as light as possible. Only take essentials that will last you throughout the trip. Most people usually overpack for their vacations which is not a sustainable way of traveling. Your bags should always have some space left to carry back the items that you buy from the place you are traveling to.
However, keep in mind that while traveling light, you should also travel smart. Bring with you the items you will need, because arriving in your destination and then shopping for a bunch of toiletries of clothing you don’t really need is wasteful consumerism which ultimately has negative effects on the environment.
3. Support Locals
Shop locally and support the local artisans and sellers while traveling. This is a good practice to have even while at home, but especially during travel, because it allows you to have a more enriching and personably travel experience while also being more sustainable.
Eat at local produce hotels or restaurants rather than big chains that rely on imported ingredients; and if you have a kitchen at your disposal, always visit the local market and buy groceries there (bring a reusable tote to help eliminate plastic waste!) to cook your food.
It's also best to support local beds & breakfast, small independent hotels with a sustainability focus, or locals who rent their homes through Airbnb.
4. Buy Eco-Friendly Travel Necessities
Always carry your reusable water bottle or a flask for water. You can also carry your reusable spoons, forks, and straws if traveling to a destination where street food and plastic utensils are common. Try to use as many reusable products as possible, from reusable toiletries, sanitary products, and eco-friendly bags.
Where disposable products are absolutely necessary, make an effort to choose sustainable alternatives, like biodegradable bamboo makeup wipes (the traditional ones take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills or end up in the ocean), bamboo toothbrushes, solid shampoo and conditioner bars rather than plastic bottles, etc.
If possible, notify your hotel at booking (and send a reminder before check-in) to not put the disposable plastic bathroom amenities in your room — often, even if you don’t use them, they will be thrown away between every guest; it’s therefore best to have the hotel not put them in your room to begin with.
5. Avoid Single-Use Plastic
Plastic is one of the most wasteful components of travel. It may be convenient and functional, but the excessive use of plastic on airplanes, in airports, at hotels, and while traveling around different destinations has devastating effects on our oceans and environment.
From plastic bottles, to plastic bags, to plastic cups and bathroom amenities, most of the travel-friendly things we use without much thought are made of plastic and take hundreds of years to decompose. They are most often not recyclable, and end up in the oceans, washed up on beaches, or thrown into harmful landfills.
Make sure you avoid accepting or carrying plastic. In situations where you have to use it, keep such items with you and ensure they end up in a trustworthy recycling stream (remember that only about 10% of trash that gets tossed into the blue recycling bins in America actually gets recycled, so it’s best to avoid single-use plastic in the first place).
Coming back to the first point, having eco-friendly reusable travel necessities will decrease your need for plastic products, or simply training yourself to remember that it’s worth facing a bit of inconvenience in an effort to make more sustainable choices.
6. Be Carbon Conscious
Be careful of your carbon footprint at every place you go. Travel through local means when you visit a new place. Make sure you treat your hotel as you treat your home. Use the air conditioner only when necessary. Take a quick shower instead of baths. Hang your towel after you use it so that you do not have to ask for a new towel every time. Make sure you turn off the lights, water, and air conditioner when you leave your room.
Do your best to choose hotels with a solid sustainability stance and thorough policies, rather than hotels that do the bare minimum in order to be able to put some general sustainability statement on their website.
Stay at a place for a longer time rather than going from one place to another in a span of a few days. This way you will reduce your carbon footprint by traveling less, and you’ll get to know the destination in a deeper, richer way.
It’s also a great idea to explore your destination on foot or by bicycle if possible. It’s great exercise, will allow you to discover many hidden sites, and is much better for the environment than cars, taxis, or even buses. Opting for slow travel whenever possible is a good rule of thumb for your overall travel experience and for environmental sustainability.
7. Don’t Support Animal Tourism
You should always be extremely cautious when participating in any kind of travel activities surrounding animals and wildlife. Of course, do not support tourism which is based on animal cruelty. But often certain animal tourism experiences claim to be friendly toward animals, but in reality, are horrible industries that have disastrous effects on animal species and ecosystems.
Among many other things, never participate in animal tourism activities involving elephant riding, interacting with aggressive animals (like petting baby lions) that are chained and sedated, or animal “sight-seeing” excursions in which the animals are baited (common for whale shark experiences in destinations like Cebu, in the Philippines) or bred for tourism (such as Pinnawala Elephant “Orphanage” in Sri Lanka).
Also be cautious when buying animal products while traveling. Leather may be common in certain places but do the work to make sure you are only supporting industries and local leather producers that are sustainably and ethically maintained. Never buy animal bone products, or products marketed as “ivory” or other rare (and often illegal) materials made from animals.
As a rule, always Google any animal activity or company before participating in it. A quick Google search of “elephant riding ethics” or “Pinnawala ethics” will instantly give you hundreds of articles making it clear that these are never appropriate industries to support.
8. Travel Off The Beaten Path
Not only is it often a much more rewarding experience to travel to less popular destinations, but it also is much more sustainable than visiting over-touristed hotspots. Certain popular destinations may make headlines for being some of the most popular destinations to visit, but often local governments don’t have the resources to ensure their ancient sites, historic landmarks, and beaches and nature areas are well-preserved against the influx of hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of annual tourists. This can especially be true in developing countries where resources are limited and the temptation to cut corners in order to bring in more income is especially high.
Instead, do a bit of research to find smaller towns and cities that can offer just as beautiful a travel experience, but without over-extending natural resources or over-using historic or natural sites. Plus, this helps distribute the wealth a bit to more rural areas around the countries you visit, and can often allow you to more directly support locals rather than big corporate chains.
As an added benefit, you’ll avoid the crowds, meet more locals, and have truly unique travel experiences to share with friends when you get home.
It's up to each of us to do our part.
Considering sustainability during your travel is not that different from your daily life. It starts by being more conscious of your actions, more aware of your carbon footprint, and more willing to choose a less convenient or cheap route in favor of the ethical choice. Carry reusable goods, stay in eco-friendly hotels, travel by land or foot when possible, avoid single-use plastic, use public transport, and be sure to research the ethics of all animal tourism activities (even ones that claim to be “ethical” or “conservation centers”) before participating in them.
With just a little awareness and some conscious effort, you will be able to make each of your journeys more sustainable and eco-friendly.