When I first started learning about sustainable travel, I was totally overwhelmed by the abundance of information. I know how hard it can be to absorb new knowledge and go against everything that you’ve been told in the past… But fret not! I’m here to help you.
If you’re looking to start travelling sustainably, I thought I’d make it easier for you with a list of simple sustainable travel tips to help you get started.
I know that this post might still seem like a lot to absorb, but I encourage you to take it one small step at a time. Most of these sustainable travel tips are things that everyone can do, it just takes time to turn them into habits.
So don’t beat yourself up — just try your best!
Stay, Eat and Shop Locally
This is by far the most important sustainable travel tip!
Sustainability isn’t just about the environment, it’s about balancing the economic and social aspects too. Hence why supporting the local community is absolutely vital.
No one wants to go to a new place and have a negative impact, so before you visit any restaurant, shop or accommodation always ask yourself – is this run by the local people? Or is it run by a foreigner? I think you know which option is best!
Huge international chains may seem glamorous and a safe alternative, but they are doing the opposite of what travel is all about. So shop, eat and stay in independent places that support the community and uplift the local economy instead — it’s so important!
Question Yourself Before Volunteering
Although I have never personally volunteered abroad, I can say with my hand on my heart that I have considered some unethical trips in the past. But after learning a lot about the number of issues that come along with this, I can definitely say that this type of volunteering is not a good idea for 95% of travellers… at all!
What I’m talking about here is specifically the volunteer trips where you want to go and help children in orphanages or build a school in Africa etc.
Travelling to a country in the Global South with the intent of fixing their problems, with no idea of what the community requires, what they truly need and with no prior knowledge or qualifications is not helpful in the slightest. Especially if you intend on staying for a week and leaving without any further connection. I understand good intentions, I really do! But as I’ve recently learnt, they unfortunately aren’t always enough and the impact you have is far more important. So unless you can answer ‘Yes’ to all the questions in Two Dusty Travelers post, I strongly (and kindly) suggest that you leave the volunteering behind.
Just experience the country for all that it has, not for all that it lacks! I can guarantee that you’ll be helping the locals far more this way than if you went into their community intending to ‘save them’.
For more knowledge on this, I encourage you to follow @NoWhiteSaviours on Instagram.
Cut the Excessive Haggling
Yes, in some destinations bargaining is part of the local culture, but unfortunately, there are many situations in which bartering is totally out of control.
If someone is asking you for a few extra dollars on top of the ridiculously cheap price they’ve already offered, give it to them. Remember to put things into perspective and realise that those couple of dollars more than likely mean very little to you, but it could potentially mean the world to them.
Be Respectful of other Cultures
Ask before taking someone’s picture, even if it’s a simple gesture. Wear appropriate clothing for your destination. Learn basic cultural mannerisms and etiquette. Do your research and try your best to be as respectful as entirely possible!
Bring Reusable Products
By now I think you all know about the huge waste issue we’ve been facing in recent times, so I don’t aim to ramble on about it.
To avoid personally contributing to this global problem any further, the best thing to do is to bring your reusable products and refuse single-use plastic where possible; a reusable straw, water bottle, coffee mug, tote bag and cutlery are the main ones to consider.
By carrying these few things in your bag during your travels, you’ll be able to save a whole lot of unnecessary waste from ending up in landfill or floating around the ocean.
This is even more important when in countries where sustainable waste disposal isn’t overly immense. If you can personally avoid a few pieces from inevitably ending up where they shouldn’t be, that’s a huge success!
Take 3 for the Sea
I obviously don’t expect everyone to spend hours collecting garbage bags full of waste everywhere they go, but if everyone picked up a few pieces of rubbish every day, the world would undoubtedly be a much cleaner place!
It only takes a few seconds, and you don’t even need to go out of your way! It’s as simple as picking up the trash you walk past on your way to the shops or during your beautiful hike, and placing it in the bin.
Obey the Signs
Signs are there for a reason, and 99% of the time they are filled with valuable information to keep you safe and the surroundings thriving. I can no longer count the number of times that I’ve seen tourists ignore the warnings and destroy fragile flora, risk their lives, or damage landmarks for the sake of a good photo…
It’s not ok! So stick to the paths, obey the signs, don’t jump the barriers, stay in the recommended areas and treat destinations with respect.
Don’t get your room cleaned every day
If you don’t wash your towels, change your sheets and vacuum your floor every day at home, why do you need to do it when you’re away?
By putting the ‘DO NOT DISTURB‘ sign on your door during the day, you are stopping so much unnecessary energy and water usage. So, make your own bed, hang up your towels, tidy up after yourself, turn off all the lights/AC when you leave your room, and be as kind to the environment as possible!
Ditch the Hotel Laundry Service
Hotel laundry services generally wash every guest’s clothes separately, so if you don’t have an entire load of clothes to be cleaned, that’s a whole lot of wasted water. So instead, wash your own clothes when you’re in the shower and hang them out to dry whilst you’re out during the day!
Use Ocean-friendly Sunscreen
Coral reefs are incredibly important ecosystems, and research has found that as little as one drop of toxic sunscreen in the ocean can be fatal to the homes that lie below the surface.
Oxybenzone is one of the biggest culprits, but Octisalate and Octinoxate are nasty ingredients too. So before you pack your bag for your next tropical holiday, check the ingredients of your sunscreen and look for titanium oxide or zinc oxide alternatives instead!
My personal favourite is Sunbutter Oceans! <— Click the link to read all about it!
Reduce your Meat Consumption
A quick and easy way to lower your footprint is by reducing the amount of meat you consume. Animal agriculture is one of the most polluting and consuming industries on the planet, not to mention that in many countries around the world, animals are treated very poorly with very low welfare standards (this is most prevalent in wealthy nations, don’t forget).
Diet is a very personal topic, so I will never tell you what to do. But if you have the ability/privilege to substitute meat for some Vegetarian or Vegan meals throughout your trip, you’ll undoubtedly be doing a whole world of good!
But please make sure that you’re eating local dishes and local produce too — So important!
Eat ALL of your food
It sounds very simple, but no one likes food waste… In countries where composting more than likely isn’t an option, try your best to eat ALL of your meal. I struggle with this sometimes because I have a very small appetite (so my partner generally eats all of my leftovers haha), but all you can do is try your best.
Everything that you leave behind is more than likely going to end up in landfill where it will turn into greenhouse gas, or it will end up outside the back door of the restaurant where it will contribute to the prevalent waste issues even further.
Take Alternative Transport Methods where Possible
It’s a well-known fact that planes are not the most sustainable mode of transport… So if you have the option to take an over-land alternative, you’ll be saving a lot of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere. This obviously isn’t possible for everyone or in every situation, so just try your best to fly sustainably and reduce the impact of your air travel wherever possible.
When you’ve reached your destination, use public transport or WALK! Walking around new places is such a great way to see a destination for all that it really is.
Carry Less Luggage
The lighter the plane, the less fuel it uses, and in return, the fewer emissions it releases into the atmosphere! As mentioned above, alternative transport methods are obviously the best option, but I’m very realistic about this, and I know that cutting out air travel just simply isn’t possible for everyone.
SO, to help reduce the impact that air travel has on the planet, simply lighten up your load. Take less stuff and if you can, always pack as light as possible — if you can fit it into a carry-on bag, by all means, do!
Book Direct Flights
The most simple sustainable travel tip! Most fuel is burned during takeoff and landing… If you can get to your destination in one go, that’s by far the best choice.
Offset your Carbon Footprint
I’ve written an entire blog post about carbon offsetting, but to summarize, this process is when you calculate how many emissions you’ve released during your travels, and compensate that by removing or reducing CO2 or greenhouse gases elsewhere.
You are basically balancing out your footprint by investing in organisations that remove or prevent emissions from being released into the atmosphere. It’s not a perfect solution by any means, but if you have the ability to do so, it’s certainly a very helpful initiative!
Ticking off a huge number of countries on your bucket list might sound important, but it’s really not! Don’t rush — spend time actually exploring your destination instead of rushing from country to country and only seeing the major tourist attractions.
Not only is it much better for your mind, but it’s also 100X better for the environment too.
Travel with Ethical Tour Groups
If you prefer to travel with tour groups, make sure you choose one that supports the local community, cares for the environment and one that only participates in ethical practices. There are many companies that do much the opposite, so take some time to research whether your chosen operator is a responsible one.
Intrepid, GAdventures and Responsible Travel are great companies to start with.
Choose Sustainable Travel Insurance
Many insurance companies have been known to invest in the coal industry, which as everyone knows, is a huge contributing source of climate change…
So before you book your travel insurance (which is incredibly important) it’s best to check whether the company you’re supporting is working against climate change, or ultimately contributing to it.
This isn’t always easy information to find, but as mentioned in this article:
“AXA, Allianz, Aviva, Lloyds, Munich Re, SCOR and Swiss Re are among those to have divested from coal companies from their investment portfolios, and/or restricted underwriting to the coal industry.”
These are the companies we should be supporting!
Speak up if you see something wrong
Tourists have a lot of power, so don’t be afraid to encourage companies and organisations to reconsider their choices.
If you’ve been on a tour where they’ve encouraged something unethical, send them an email telling them why it upset you. If you stayed at an accommodation that had poor waste disposal, leave them some feedback. If you experienced a “sustainable” company that did the opposite of what it suggested, let them know why you find it immoral.
Remember that your voice is powerful!
But please, always be conscious of what you’re demanding. It would be very unethical to march into a developing country asking them to change their ways to suit western ideologies. You need to make sure that you’re asking for something that’s actually realistic for the destination that you’re in.
Research, research, research!
Before you go anywhere in the world, it’s vital that you take the time to research your destination. Learn about respectful etiquette, ethical attractions, local initiatives, current issues etc.
Travel is never going to be 100% sustainable… But before you book anything, always ask yourself if what you’re doing is the best alternative for the local people, the animals and the environment in general.
You always want your choices to be aligned with your morals. Being sustainable is much more simple if we take the time to learn!
Wonderful, thorough post! Thank you for covering this important topic! 🙂
Thank you so much for reading Sara!
I love everything about this post! You make so many good points. I try my best to travel sustainably, particularly with eating locally and not using single-use plastics, but there’s always more you can do! Thanks so much for the really helpful article 🙂
Another great blog post, Kate! Just goes to show how many things we can all be doing to ensure tourism has a positive impact for everyone and the environment! On the point of volunteering, I think you’re referring to one specific kind of volunteering here (helping children or people in need in less developed countries, for example) and the questions that Two Dusty Travellers pose are definitely things that people should ask themselves before they go off on those trips. The kind of volunteering that we do via Workaway is quite different and we feel that we’ve had some amazing opportunities to visit less touristy regions, immerse ourselves in new cultures, try traditional homemade cuisine, and both learn new skills as well as offer our own expertise in places that can benefit from it! It’s something that we recommend people try – though we recognise that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea! 🙂
Linda & Caleb
Hi Linda! Thank you so much for your kind words, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And yes, you are ABSOLUTELY right that I was talking about a specific type of volunteering, I definitely should have specified that in the post, but I just added it!!! Thank you for bringing that to my attention ♡
I think that the volunteering you do is amazing, and definitely something I would also recommend. It sounds like you have had amazing opportunities and are doing great things for the communities and the organisations that you work with. I’m terribly sorry if you took that tip the wrong way, I’m sure you know that it wasn’t my intention XX
I didn’t take it the wrong way at all! Just wanted to mention it in case other people didn’t consider other types of volunteering – for example, I didn’t even know the kind of volunteering we do even existed until Caleb told me about it! I think you’ve put together a really great list of tips 🙂
There are some tips in this list that I had never heard of! I particularly like the tip of choosing a sustainable travel insurance. My Master’s thesis was on the divestment of pension funds (so I know a fair bit about the subject), but for some reason I never made the connection to travel insurance. Thanks for sharing ?
Thank you so much Lizzy, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! The travel insurance tip is definitely one that I don’t see mentioned very often, but I think it’s very important. Just as much as ensuring your bank doesn’t invest in fossil fuels too. There’s so much to learn when it comes to sustainable travel, but all we can do is try our best to take in as much knowledge as possible XX