Sustainable travel: Tips on how to explore the world while also loving it in 2023

What is sustainable travel? Sustainable travel means traveling while being mindful of the consequences of our choices made towards the environment, the climate and the local community. Sustainable travel comes down to the choices you make from your travel method, your accommodation, to your activities and your purchases. In this article I will give you some useful tips on how to travel more sustainably.
Sustainable travel: camping, hiking, relaxing or active, it can be anything you want.
Sustainable travel: camping, hiking, relaxing or active, it can be anything you want.

Traveling is my passion. I spend a few months a year traveling. I am aware of the impact of tourism on our climate, environment and the local communities. I have been trying to lower my own impact for a long time now via sustainable travel and I have learned a lot. I believe traveling is healthy for our mind and soul. Traveling however, should be done in a much more sustainable way then it is mostly done right now. This is why I wrote this article.

Over- tourism
Over- tourism

Tourism has a lot of disadvantages. The overcrowding of popular destinations is becoming a big problem. Large tourist operators setup attractions in tourist locations. Money earned in these attractions mostly doesn’t end up in the local economy, meaning that the local community is not benefitting from the industry. Tourism puts a lot of pressure on natural resources. The tourism industry is also responsible for a growing amount of carbon emissions. It is expected that by 2030, the tourism industry will have an increase of carbon emissions of 25%. (1)

Tourism also has some major advantages. A curious mind learns from its experiences. Traveling carries a huge educational advantage. Teaching people around the world about other cultures, about nature and the wildlife can leave a lasting impact. Let’s also not forget that many places in the world benefit hugely from tourism. It’s their main stream of income. If we would suddenly stop visiting these places, their economy would suffer the consequences.

When you plan a trip, you usually make 3 decisions in advance. Where are we going and how are we getting there?, Where are we staying?, and what are we going to do once we get there? These choices also form the 3 categories of this list. These decisions can be made in a sustainable manner. In this list you will read about:

Before you read this article, let’s quickly address the following: Traveling is rarely 100% sustainable. Traveling might require taking an airplane to a far foreign location. You will probably turn on the Air conditioning in your room when the temperatures get high. You will most likely enjoy your filtered swimming pool and you might buy a ”made in China” fridge magnet in a souvenir shop. These things all have a negative impact on our climate and environment. I will not tell you though to stop traveling all together. I love traveling myself so that would be a hypocritical thing to say. I would however encourage you to read this list and pick up some tips on sustainable travel.

Where are we going and how are we getting there?

Whether you’re a planner or a spontaneous traveler, we all need a way of transportation and a place to sleep. Here are my tips for sustainable travel options in this category. To start the list on sustainable travel, lets start at the beginning of your trip.

Picking your destination

So where are we going? This is usually the first question asked when planning your next trip. This decision is usually made based upon weather, interest, or maybe you’ve been going there for years. With the rise of eco- tourism, almost everywhere in the world, you will find the possibility for an eco- friendly accommodation. When you pick your destination, I encourage you to keep the following in mind:

  • Discover your own backyard;

You don’t always have to go far from home for an adventurous or relaxing experience. Reduce your carbon footprint by choosing a travel destination closer to home. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you might find!

  • Research your destination for of peak season;

Traveling during the off- peak season has a lot of benefits. No waiting in long lines for the museum and your pictures will look a lot better without all those people in the background. Traveling off peak is also better for the environment. Resources are not put under the intense amount of pressure as in the peak season. The locals can also have their income from tourism spread throughout  the year. 

  • Check if your destination is dealing with over- tourism;

Over- tourism means simply that too many tourists visit a destination. The destination has to deal with the consequences. Over tourism can lead to littering, high prices, exhausted resources, pollution and retracting wildlife. (2) Before booking your holiday, I would highly suggest you check if your destination is dealing with over- tourism. Traveling off peak might be the solution but some destinations deal with over tourism all year round. 

  • Research your eco- friendly options in several destinations before picking one;

The movement to become more eco- friendly has spread all over the world. There are countless great organizations making a difference. Sharing their knowledge and putting their efforts into creating a sustainable travel experience for you. If your not sure what to search for, use the term eco- tourism, this might help you during your research.

Choosing your travel method

Sustainable travel method: trains
Sustainable travel method: trains

This might be one of the most important decisions to be made when it comes to lowering your impact on the environment. Of course it massively depends on where you are from and where you are going. If you are from the USA and you want to go to Europe, you will most likely go by airplane. If you live in Europe though and you’re planning a trip to a lovely location somewhere on your continent, you might want to look into taking the train or even a bus. Here are some tips on sustainable travel methods:

  • Pack light;

The amount of fuel used by basically any vehicle that runs on fuel, is based upon the weight of the vehicle. The heavier the vehicle, the more fuel is needed to get it moving. Especially for air- travel which is already one of the least sustainable travel methods, I recommend packing as light as you can. (3)

  • Travel economy;

The size of your carbon footprint when taking an airplane is measured by the amount of space you take up. When you fly business class, you take up more space. Your carbon footprint will for this reason, be larger. (4) Traveling economy would be the more sustainable travel option.

  • Book a non- stop flight;

The most emissions from an airplane happen during takeoff and landing. If you are planning to fly a longer distance, you can prevent a lot of pollution by taking a non- stop flight if available. (5)

  • Go by train;

Trains are a very sustainable travel method. The amount of carbon dioxide emission by train is on average 66 to 80% less than that of an airplane. Trains also consume a lot less energy than other forms of transport. It does depend on whether the train is driving electrical or on fuel. (6)

  • Take a tour bus;

The average tour bus can seat up to 55 people. If all of these people would take a car or a plane, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions would be a lot higher. When it comes to sustainable transportation, traveling by bus comes 3th in line behind walking and cycling. Great right!? (7)

  • Opt for travel by car if you go with multiple people;

Traveling by car can be an unsustainable option, however, this depends on the number of people in the car. If you are traveling with 4 people, it can be a far more sustainable option then going by plane for example. The break even point for traveling by car versus by plane is 2,03 persons. I do need to point out though that the amount of emissions depends on the car. (8)

  • Walk or take a bicycle;

This is of course the most sustainable option. I understand of course that this is for many not an option. However, if you’re having adventures and feel like exploring your own backyard, maybe a hiking holiday or bicycle holiday might be for you. You will definitely challenge yourself and at the same time will help out the planet by your choice. 

  • Avoid cruise ships;

Cruise ships are one of the most polluting travel ‘’vehicles’’. I understand that cruise ships are not necessarily transportation vehicles but moreover a type of vacation. Cruise ships however have a carbon footprint larger than that of 12000 cars combined. They are responsible for water pollution and do damage to marine life. Cruise vacations, are not a good sustainable travel option.

Where are we staying?

There are many types of travelers. Some travelers like to hop from place to place where others prefer to stay in one location. Whatever your preference might be, at the end of the day, we all would like a roof over our head for the night and a comfy bed to sleep in. For this section on sustainable travel, lets look into the accommodation options.

Choosing you accommodation

Sustainable travel accommodations like to use local materials for theire structures.
Sustainable travel accommodations like to use local materials for theire structures.

When it comes to sustainable travel, picking your accommodation can be a decision made in a very eco- friendly manner. There are many hotels and resorts that have made an effort into becoming more eco friendly. They installed solar panels, temperature regulators, hired locals, and they offered local activities. If you want to go as eco- friendly as possible, you might want to look into eco- lodges or eco- hotels. Here are my tips for picking your accommodation and how to contribute to a sustainable stay once your there:

  • Research the accommodation- websites for their efforts to become more ‘green’;

Hotels or resorts can do a lot to become more sustainable. Even the smallest efforts can make a big difference for our environment. Something as simple as recycle bins or not heating the pool all year round can make a difference. The most eco- friendly options are eco- hotels or eco lodges. Some of these great accommodations are even entirely sustainable. The grow their own vegetables, have local staff, and they generate their power with solar energy. For sustainable travel, eco- conscious hotels are a great option.

  • Go camping;

Camping is usually a greener option then most resorts or hotels are. Eco- camping’s are making an uprise, especially in Europe. Camping is a great way to spend more time outdoors. Camping can be as luxurious or as basic as you want. If you are not sure whether camping is your thing or not, there is only one way to find out! Hire a camper van for a weekend and try it out!

  • Turn of the ac when you leave the room;

Turning off the air conditioning saves energy. Limiting your energy use is the sustainable travel choice. 

  • Put the no- disturb sign up;

This seems a bit far fetched but by putting the no- disturb sign up you save energy. In some hotels or resorts, they will offer you clean towels daily and they will clean your room. If you want to save energy, maybe use your towel an extra day. Washing and drying can cost a lot of energy. Just like vacuum cleaning. 

  • Recycle in location;

Recycling is an important part of sustainability. Not in every country or accommodation, recycling will be an option. If it is however, please recycle your waste as much as you can. Sustainable travel should however always go hand in hand with proper waste management.

What are we going to do here?

Some travelers like to plan their trip from start to finish. Some travelers make their plans as they go and see where the roads lead them. Both are great. No matter what kind of traveler you are, you will most likely do some activities while on holiday, eat out somewhere or go shopping somewhere local. Sustainable travel includes all of these choices. Here are my tips on these topics.

Activities

Are you having an active holiday or do you just want to relax by the pool all day? All good!, But if you do want to go on an adventure on your trip, here are my tips to pick your activity keeping sustainability in mind:

  • Research your Wild life experiences of animal encounters;

Many of these ”sanctuaries” claim to be all in favor of their animals’ well being but often they still abuse their animals. Make sure you do your research well before visiting any of these locations or go on any of these tours. sustainable travel, should be sustainable for people and wildlife.

  • Go in small groups;

Over- Tourism is a big issue and many already vulnerable places have suffered the consequences of groups upon groups slendering though. Going in small groups to a specific location instead of with 4 tour buses full of tourists, can help prevent over- pressuring the location. 

Research your activity well. Going to a local bamboo forest can be a great activity. But before you go, look for answers to these questions: Do the locals benefit from this activity? Does my money go into conservation? Who owns the initiative? If you want to make sure that your activity is sustainable, make sure you can answer these questions during your research.  

Food

Buy food from a local, it is often super fresh and tasty.
Buy food from a local, it is often super fresh and tasty.

The food industry is a very damaging industry to our environment. Choosing what to eat  and where to eat while away on holiday can definitely impact your environmental footprint. Here are my tips on eating more sustainable during your next trip:

  • Eat less meat;

From the entire food- industry, the meat industry is responsible for 57% of its total greenhouse gas emissions. Besides its high emission rates, the meat industry is responsible for abusing animals in the most horrific ways. If you are a vegan, this will be easy.

  • Eat less fish;

The fishing industry has shown to be incredibly damaging to our oceans. Overfishing and plastic pollution form a huge threat to our marine life. 

  • Eat at local restaurants;

With local restaurants, I mean restaurants owned by people that are local to the area. The money you spend at a local restaurant will directly go into the local community. The local economy will benefit greatly from spending your money at local restaurants.

  • Eat local food;

Eating food that has been locally grown or caught is always better for the environment. You skip the step of transportation from one place to the other, which in turn prevents harmful greenhouse gas emissions. You also support local farmers. 

  • Don’t order more than you can eat (limit your food waste);

Food waste is a huge problem. In many countries recycling is not yet prioritized so much of the organic wood waste simply ends up with the rest of the trash. This often ends up at landfills. Ordering more than you can eat contributes to food waste. Think before you order, and you can always order more later!

Souvenirs

Buy a souvenir that was locally crafted.
Buy a souvenir that was locally crafted.

Who doesn’t like a good souvenir? I used to collect magnets from all the places I visited only to find out later that maybe 90% of these magnets were made in China instead of the country where I bought them. Wouldn’t you much rather come home with something locally made? When you buy souvenirs that are locally crafted, you contribute to the local economy. You also reduce your carbon footprint as your souvenir was not flown in by plane or brought by boat. Here are some tips on how to find a sustainable souvenir for you to take home:

  • Buy locally made souvenirs;

You will support the local economy and your purchase can in some cases sustain an entire family. 

  • Buy your souvenir at en eco tourist activity;

By buying at an eco- tourist location, you invest in that organization. You may help conserve the area or protect the wildlife. 

  • Buy something useful;

Over- consumerism is a problem. We already have a ‘’shopping’’ problem in the world. If you want to buy a souvenir, sure! But maybe look into something that you might actually use so that your purchase won’t go to waste. 

  • Sometimes,,, just pay the price;

Negotiating for the right price might seem like a very common thing at some destinations. However, your money may be worth a lot more to some of the locals than it could ever be to you. If you feel like it’s worth it, maybe just pay the price and make someone’s day. 

What to do next?

Traveling is great and I believe part of us as human beings. Although traveling might never be 100% sustainable, your actions can definitely have a positive impact on our planet. Invest your money wisely when traveling and do your research before you book your next trip. This list consists of just a fraction of all the tips on how to travel sustainably. I still hope it gave you some insight into the world of sustainable travel. I created this website to encourage others to travel more sustainably. I hope this article gave you some helpful tips to achieve this. 

Veerle van Beest

Veerle van Beest

contact@greentravelgoods.com

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