Environmentally-conscious people constantly search for ways to make daily eco-friendly choices. Ultimately, the goal is to live an eco-friendly lifestyle. From making sustainable swaps to shopping locally, there are a plethora of choices you can make. However, the need to make conscious decisions transcends our homes and immediate environment. We also need to consider the way we travel.
The travel and tourism industry remains one of the key contributors to environmental challenges. Its impact is present from the carbon emissions from planes down to how hotels are run.
So, what does this mean for travelers? As much as the big industry players have big roles to play, we as individuals should also hold ourselves accountable. This is where eco-friendly or green travel comes to play.
Eco-friendly travel, sometimes substituted for sustainable or green travel, refers to a greener travel alternative. Sustainable travel recognizes the environmental, social, and economic impacts of traveling. It seeks to minimize these effects. As a way to curb the adverse effects of travel, eco-travelers prioritize responsible and sustainable practices.
Many people incorporate the wider practice of responsible travel, which emphasizes individual actions within each local community. Through this, responsible travel addresses the negative environmental impact of travel and its effects on local economies.
It also seeks to protect the local people by respecting local customs, the local language, the local culture, and the destination's local cultural traditions at large.
Travel and tourism have significant environmental effects. The travel industry's carbon footprint plays a role in climate change. In turn, climate change also affects global tourism2.
The sector contributes to air pollution, land pollution, waste problems, and overconsumption of resources. Between 2009 and 2013, research shows that tourism contributed about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions3. With aviation alone, a paper suggests that its emissions can be equated to the total emissions that Germany produces4.
Apart from carbon emissions, tourism also plays a role in the depletion of local resources, thereby putting pressure on local communities. Through collective effort that begins with individuals, we can make a difference to make travel greener.
When we travel sustainably, we protect the people and the planet. If you're on a journey as a sustainable traveler, we've written a guide with sustainable travel tips.
Read more: What is Sustainable Tourism? Exploring Sustainability in Travel.
We've provided a guide if you're looking for ways to have a less negative environmental impact when you travel.
By adopting these eco-friendly tips, you're on your way to supporting sustainable living through responsible travel practices. ABesidesits environmental benefits, eco-friendly traveling also provides you with the satisfaction of protecting the host communities.
One of the most important travel tips is first to explore your locality. Local traveling is a great way to explore your city, country, and its environs. Also, it contributes to building and supporting the nearby economy.
If you're searching for a holiday destination or just a weekend getaway, sometimes the places close to home can be your best bet. When more people begin to explore their host communities, it reduces an aircraft's carbon emissions. Local travel doesn't mean you can't explore other parts of the world. Instead, it also gives room to consider exploring your home or neighboring country.
As a local, sustainable traveler, you can also save money that would otherwise go to flights. When you're going local, airplanes are a big no-no. Choosing public transportation options like the train helps with energy consumption and reduces your carbon footprint.
So, next time you feel tempted by airlines' low-price offerings, first consider the green travel experience of exploring local areas.
Whether you're traveling locally or internationally, your transport choices matter. As much as it seems luxurious to use private cars and the likes, this leads to more carbon emissions.
Public transport is a great way to reduce the number of cars or vehicles on the road. As a result, it presents an environmentally-friendly option for moving around when in a new place. Taking the train or public bus is a great way to reduce emissions in the atmosphere.
When possible, you can also use rental bikes to move around towns or cities. Through individual efforts come collective changes. These types of transport modes also enhance your sightseeing experience. You'll feel closer to the locals and enjoy the full tourist experience.
For private experiences, you can rent a hybrid or electric vehicle. This makes a huge difference compared with petrol cars because it translates to less fuel and lower emissions.
In the event that flying is necessary, opt for a direct flight. Non-stop flights present a more fuel-efficient mode of airplane transportation. Plus, it saves much of the time you'd spend stopping over in different places. Similarly, budget airlines often have a lesser carbon footprint due to more passengers per flight.
Tour operators play a significant role in promoting sustainable tourism and preserving (or harming) the natural environment. Whenever you want to book through a tour operator, choose those that support eco-friendly traveling.
You should also recognize that many companies use greenwashing to attract customers. To know more about a tour operator or company, check their website and reviews for their eco-friendly policies. A sustainable tour company will take on carbon reduction projects and provide its tourists with green travel tips. Many of them also offset their carbon footprint as a way to restore balance and reduce the impact of climate change.
Apart from sustainable companies, you can also support local tour guides. Many local tour guides also have sustainability initiatives that seek to protect the local people and communities. As a result, you'll get the satisfaction that your money is going towards just causes.
Furthermore, many local and sustainable tour companies will also not support the endangerment of wild animals for profits. A good portion of the funds they receive go towards sustainable projects like building renewable energy and planting trees. So, it's important to consider the practices these companies adopt.
Traveling always requires essentials. There's no denying you'll need items like your toothbrush, shampoo, bottle, and bag.
When people are preparing to travel, there's usually the tendency to purchase new items. As a result, it can lead to stocking up on things with negative environmental impacts. Such items include toiletries, travel bags, and other items they deem necessary.
When preparing to travel, always go along with a sustainable travel kit. This should include necessities such as an environmentally-friendly toothbrush, toothpaste, cotton pads, and shampoo and conditioner bars.
Also, it's important to carry along items like a reusable bag and reusable water bottle. Taking such products along will prevent you from needing to reach for plastic bags or disposable plastic bottles. And whereas it may seem a small step, grab a reusable straw for your backpack so that every time you grab a soda or cold drink, you'll also grab fewer plastic straws and help reduce plastic waste.
If you're in a new country, there's a high chance you'd want to try out their local produce and drinks. If unprepared, this can lead to you patronizing items like plastic bottles, cups, and cutleries.
Tourism significantly contributes to waste and pollution when a country's recycling program isn't strong. A sustainable kit will go a long way in reducing your waste.
The same way this applies to in-home practices is how it applies when not at home. Always use energy-saving tips when you're residing in a hotel or local residency.
Remembering to switch off appliances is one of the most important sustainable travel tips. Consider practices like switching off the television when not watching and unplugging your devices when not charging. When leaving your hotel room or accommodation, make it a habit to switch off the air conditioners and fans. Also, be mindful of small appliances like the lights.
These practices help to save power and energy.
If camping, consider solar power chargers and solar lanterns; it all helps. This, in turn, reduces the pressure of generating more power, thereby reducing emissions.
An eco-friendly traveler should also consider taking shorter showers and air drying your clothes.
When staying in places like hotels, it's normal to access service providers. The service providers are the people who regularly come in to switch your sheets and vacuum the floors. As part of the hotel practices, these people tend to come in quite regularly to do their jobs.
You'll probably notice that they change your sheets or towels every other day or regularly. As a result, the accumulated impact of these practices leads to more energy and water consumption. It also creates more waste. Consider the fact that it's not just your room they're servicing.
On a grand scale, these practices create more environmental effects than you can imagine. If you're staying at a hotel for some days, you can tell them not to change your sheets so often. This also applies to services like constant vacuuming.
On the other hand, you can simply place a 'do not disturb' sign on your door. If more people take up this practice, hotels will generate less waste, use less water, and less chemical cleansing agents. This sustainable travel tip also helps to support energy efficiency and means they won't needlessly replace all those bathroom amenities helping reduce plastic consumption.
Further, depending on your destination and budget, seek our sustainable hotels going the extra mile to reduce their environmental impact.
Patronizing local markers and businesses are one of the important sustainable travel tips. When you go to local markets or buy from the locals, it helps you reduce your environmental footprint. Also, shopping locally allows you to interact with people, meet other tourists and contribute to the economy. It opens up your perspective of the people's cultural heritage as well.
Often, money spent through tourism ends up leaving the travel destination to benefit big corporations. When you patronize local businesses, you'll positively impact the people and the economy.
Whether it's the need to eat local, drink, or shop, always consider patronizing the locals. Look for fair trade goods if you're buying souvenirs from the bigger stores, which means they haven't been produced in unethical working conditions.
Visiting places like the local market is a sustainable travel practice. You also get the opportunity to eat local food and find gems that are unique to each destination.
It's only normal that you'll want to seek adventure when you travel. Before leaving your hometown, you'll have probably created an itinerary for all the activities you want to participate in.
When it comes to eco-friendly traveling, it's essential to consider environmentally-friendly activities. Anytime you travel, make it a priority to preserve the places you visit. When making your bucket list, why not fill it with activities that you're sure have less impact on the environment? Things like hiking and cycling are great ways to reduce vehicle emissions.
For instance, when on such trips, always remember to stay on the marked hiking trails. This helps you avoid harming native flora and protects you from potential harm. Responsible water activities that don't affect marine life, camping, and picnics are some other fun and eco-conscious activities.
When traveling or engaging in travel activities, remember to reduce your waste as much as possible. This ties into practices such as having a reusable water bottle to hand, cloth bags, and reusable produce bags.
For instance, avoid tossing waste from foods you eat or drink on a hiking trip, and definitely avoid throwing them away in a plastic bag. Another good point to note is asking around about local recycling programs.
When you know their recycling guidelines, you can contribute to reducing waste sent to landfills. As much as the goal is to be zero-waste, this can be difficult to execute flawlessly. In this light, it becomes crucial to take on responsible efforts that make a difference.
Another one of the important sustainable travel tips is paying attention to the airline you use. It's no news that airplanes contribute a significant amount of emissions that cause air pollution. Over time, this continues to contribute to the climate crisis.
Many airlines use petroleum-derived fuels1, which create large amounts of emissions. In response, some airlines are making sustainable changes to use renewable biofuels. Sustainable, renewable, or alternative biofuels come from renewable feedstock like crops and agricultural waste.
Progressive airlines contribute to the solution of curbing the emissions generated by petroleum-derived fuels. Although the first option is traveling using transport modes with minimal impact, there are cases where airplanes are needed.
So, as an eco-conscious traveler, always look out for progressive airlines that use renewable biofuels. In this instance, the responsibility lies in the hands of both the airlines and also travelers seeking airlines to use. It is not enough for airlines to make the switch but for people to also make choices to support sustainability initiatives that have a positive impact.
When looking for places to stay, as much as possible, stay local. Hotels continue to make a significant environmental impact in the tourism industry. They stock lots of disposable products, which, when people use them halfway, they throw away.
Apart from that, they also have large energy consumption and contribute to water waste. Since many of these large chains are profit-driven, they're not wholly concerned with eco-consciousness.
Here, the responsibility lies on the consumers to choose sustainable accommodations. In this light, you should choose local residences when possible.
Large hotel chains and big corporations often channel the profits out of the local destinations to their countries. This economic leakage means these places are exploited without contributing to their local economies. Always ask questions about their sustainable and ethical initiatives whenever you're staying in place. Your best bet is to always research before booking a place.
Choose accommodations that prioritize sustainable and ethical practices. Such practices include using energy-efficient lighting and providing products in bulk containers. Eco-accommodations also change sheets less often. When people begin to demand more environmentally-friendly accommodations, it'll encourage hotels to make changes.
When traveling, especially by plane, look out for carbon offset programs. It's nearly impossible to have zero environmental footprints when you travel. So, offset programs allow you to invest in carbon reduction projects. Carbon offset programs help create a balance or help you reduce the number of emissions in the atmosphere. Various programs allow you to buy offset equivalents to your footprint.
Apart from solo non-profit organizations that run these programs, some airlines have offset partnerships. All you have to do is find the information on the airline's site. Although carbon offset programs may not solve emission problems, they make a difference. You'll support initiatives that reduce emissions and save energy by supporting these programs.
Related: How to Reduce your Carbon Footprint
Instead of taking multiple vacations at once, why not choose a particular destination and fully immerse yourself in it? Visiting various places within a short period often leads to more environmental effects. This practice is associated with traveling slowly because it considers consciousness and intentionality. It's normal to want to visit as many places as possible. However, constantly taking flights and vehicles from one destination to another affects the environment.
When you stay in a city or a far-flung destination like Costa Rica or Thailand for longer, you can explore the place fully. It gives you great insight into the people's cultural heritage and all the area offers. On the other hand, constantly switching destinations doesn't allow you to experience a place entirely.
Constantly switching also means more money, stress, packing, and less intimacy with a place. When you embrace slow travel, you can immerse yourself in the destination's culture. Ultimately, it cuts down the adverse effects of transportation and embraces sustainable hotel practices.
You can also seek out volunteer abroad opportunities with an eye on those that genuinely make a difference.
When preparing to travel, there's usually the tendency to buy new items. However, this can lead to an accumulation of new pieces that you may not need. When preparing to travel, choose items from your wardrobe with multipurpose functions.
Even if you need to purchase new clothes, pick sustainable items with palettes that you can mix and match. It's also vital that you choose durable and timeless pieces. This practice relieves the stress of over-packing and spending unnecessary money on new pieces.
Also, when you pack too many things, it affects the energy required to transport items. When you pack lightly and only what you need, it makes your items easier to transport. Less luggage's effect on transport systems is that it reduces the energy they need and curbs emissions.
Over the years, many cities and countries have been making changes to support a sustainable world. Such places offer things like eco-friendly transportation, eco-tourism, and the promotion of local businesses.
When you visit sustainable travel destinations, you can always learn a lot from their practices. Firstly, it makes it easier for you to practice eco-friendly traveling.
Secondly, you can take things you've learned and apply them when you return to your country. What you learn during your stay in one country can also help you positively impact another destination you visit.
Travelling and tourism have many benefits to world economies and individual experiences. On the other hand, it's one of the major culprits of unsustainable practices that affect the environment and people.
So, what's the solution? Since people recognize the damaging effects of travel, it's essential to identify ways to become more sustainable. With the green travel tips we've shared, you're on your way to becoming a better advocate for both travel and sustainability.
Unlu, D., & Hilmioglu, N. D. (2018). Review of Renewable Biofuels in the Aviation Sector. In Advances in Sustainable Aviation (pp. 25-39). Springer, Cham.
Sunlu, U. (2003). Environmental impacts of tourism. In Conference on the Relationships between Global Trades and Local Resources in the Mediterranean Region (pp. 263-270)
Lenzen, M., Sun, Y. Y., Faturay, F., Ting, Y. P., Geschke, A., & Malik, A. (2018). The carbon footprint of global tourism. Nature Climate Change, 8(6), 522-528
Holloway, J. C., & Humphreys, C. (2019). The business of tourism. Sage
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.