15 Sustainable Travel Tips When You Can’t Stay Home

by | Jul 19, 2021

Travelling, whether for business or pleasure, is a lot of fun. It’s exciting to map out all the places you want to visit, the restaurants you’d like to try, and how much shopping you can stuff into your carryon.

As you get ready to head out on an adventure, sustainability might not necessarily be at the top of your mind. However our travel can have a huge influence and it’s imperative that we are conscious of the effect we have.

Why is sustainable travel important?

Sustainable travel means leaving as little of an environmental impact as possible. This includes human welfare, as well as the welfare of animals and nature. And this is so important to keep in mind as we venture to both new and familiar destinations.

Human activities are changing our climate at an alarming rate. NASA estimates that humans are responsible for increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration by 48% since the Industrial Revolution. In less than a century, the world’s temperature could rise more than 3°C.

Unfortunately for those of us who love globetrotting, travel is one of the biggest offenders. International travel has tripled since 1990, and tourism currently contributes 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even cutting a fraction of our travel emissions could slow down the projected temperature increases.

15 sustainable travel tips that almost anyone can do

For many of us, it’s not realistic to abstain entirely from travelling. Visiting new places and learning about different cultures is an important part of how we connect with the land and each other.

However there are actions we can take to make sure we have the lowest carbon footprint as possible when we travel. Below are 15 tips that almost anyone can follow to keep their travel as sustainable as possible. 

1. Pick your destination responsibly

Some countries rely on tourism revenue to support themselves, but also recognize the toll it can take on the environment. They take measures to protect their natural resources, safeguarding them for future generations to enjoy.

Research your destinations in advance to ensure they are giving back through rehabilitation and education programs. You can even check where a country ranks on the Environmental Performance Index and confirm if they follow sustainable practices. 

2. Consider your method of travel

Flying is one of the most energy-intensive ways to travel, and makes a large contribution to global CO2 emissions yearly. Despite it being a relatively small industry, it accounts for nearly 5% of man-made global warming!  

If you want to reduce your carbon output by as much as 90%, look into travelling by train instead.

3. Purchase carbon offsets

If you must fly, an option exists to take your journey carbon neutral – for about the same price as you paid to check your luggage. Carbon credits help cancel out greenhouse gas emissions by funding a sustainable program somewhere else in the world. You could help develop renewable energy in Peru, plant trees in the rainforest, or even distribute green cooking solutions.

Some airlines offer the option to purchase carbon offsets as a package with their tickets, but you can do this on your own through a reputable not-for-profit such as The Gold Standard.

4. Fly economy

Not all airplane rides are created equal. The carbon footprint of business and first class tickets is higher than that of economy tickets. That’s because the seats in first class take up more room, so fewer people can travel, making it a less efficient flight. The least impactful flights are those of large, fully loaded planes.

5. Take a direct flight

Most of a plane’s carbon output takes place during takeoff and landing. Where possible, take a direct flight rather than one that requires multiple stops or layovers. You’ll get to your destination faster, and reduce the amount of time spent waiting around in an airport.

6. Skip the golf course

Even in a temperate climate with good irrigation, golf is not a very sustainable activity. But the drain on natural resources becomes much worse in tropical climates.  The United Nations recognises golf as an increasing threat against biodiversity because of the amount of pesticides and fresh water it takes to maintain the course.

7. Use reef friendly sunscreen

If you’ve been to a coral reef lately, you may already know about reef friendly sunscreen. These mineral-based creams not only protect your skin from the sun, but prevent damage to reefs that the traditional blocks can cause. And that’s important when you consider that up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen make their way into the coral reefs around the globe each year.

8. Drive greener

In some circumstances, driving may be the most sustainable travel option, especially if there are multiple passengers. If your car is older or a gas guzzler, look into renting a newer, greener vehicle, which has much lower impact on the environment. You may even be able to rent a hybrid or electric model, depending on the distance you plan to travel.

9. Follow the wisdom of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams fans will know that carrying a towel is incredibly useful when you travel. And it can help you contribute to a sustainable trip as well. Think about the amount of towels one person uses on a trip, both from bathing and the pool. Using your own quick-drying towel will cut down massively on the amount of laundry you contribute.

10. Opt for a greener stay

Most of us don’t change our linens daily at home, but don’t think twice about going through seven sets of face cloths, towels, and sheets on vacation. Many hotels offer green stay programs, which allow you to use the same linens throughout your stay rather than having them replaced. This cuts down on energy and water waste significantly.

11. Stay in a LEED certified hotel

Hotels that have a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification are global leaders in providing sustainable accommodations. They protect the local people, neighborhoods, and the environment. These hotels, spread over 31 countries and on 4 continents, are designed to be green right from their design and construction to their daily operations. Find a certified hotel here.

12. Leave nothing behind

One of the best ways to keep your environmental impact low during your travels is to reduce your waste as much as possible. Many countries do not have the means to recycle plastic, and much of the waste from tourism will be dumped in landfill, incinerated, or worse – end up in the ocean. Do your part by using zero waste options such as a reusable water bottle or sustainable period products to eliminate any plastics.

13. Choose how you interact with wildlife

Wildlife tourism is popular in many countries. Done appropriately, it can be a way to educate tourists and raise money for conservation efforts. But there’s a very dark side to this type of tourism. Companies that promise close encounters and direct contact usually do not have the creature’s best interests at heart.

Choose to be responsible with how you interact with wildlife, and choose ethical companies that have a proven track record for protecting animals and their habitats.

14. Support local economies

Some countries rely more heavily on tourism than others. Take Macau for example, where more than half of the economy is directly supported by tourism. The more cash you can spend with local companies, tour guides, and restaurants – as opposed to international chains and conglomerates – the better.

15. Respect local monuments

The main goal for sustainable travel is to leave as little impact as possible, and allow these destinations to be available for future generations. There are many instances where large influxes of tourists have spoiled local monuments, intentionally or not.

Popular places like the Spanish Steps in Rome and Stonehenge in England have been known to be damaged by the sheer number of visitors. Be aware of what rules apply to the places you are visiting, and be careful as you get up close that your presence isn’t making a lasting impression.