11 Sustainable Travel Tips for the Conscious Explorer

Are you ready to take your travels to the next level? We're not talking about just ticking off bucket list destinations. We're talking about traveling in a way that's good for the planet. That's right. It's time to embark on an eco-friendly adventure!

From packing essentials to sustainable souvenirs, we've got you covered with our top Sustainable Travel Tips. So grab your reusable water bottle, and let's hit the road (or sky or sea) with Mother Nature in mind.

Easy Sustainable Travel Tips

According to the World Tourism Organization, tourism accounts for about 5% of global carbon emissions, which is expected to grow as more people travel. DYK, the average hotel guest, produces about 1 kg of waste per night, which can significantly increase over time!

1. Pack Sustainably

A white bag with the words "let the adventure begin" on it. Pin
Image: The Eco Hub

Packing sustainably before you take a trip is an important aspect of sustainable travel. It involves being mindful of what you pack and how you pack.

Pack reusable toiletries like bamboo toothbrushes, solid shampoo and conditioner bars, and refillable travel bottles for body wash and face wash products. You can also bring a reusable water bottle, utensils, and leftover containers to avoid using single-use plastic items on your trip.

I am sure you have heard about plastic's detrimental effects on the ocean by now. Over 8 million tons of it are floating around as I write this. Plastic sucks, but some of it is worse than others.

Items that we use once, like straws, are the worst offenders. They have a short lifespan, are normally discarded after only one use, and end up in landfills. Like other plastic items, they don’t biodegrade; they last hundreds of years and pollute our soil and water as they slowly break down.

Did you know?
Plastic straws are in the top ten items picked up in beach cleanups
– We burn a ton of fossil fuels to make plastic straws
– They normally contain Bisphenol A (a known carcinogen)

The best way to eliminate plastic straws is to stop buying them simply! Ask them to hold the straw if you are out at a restaurant!

Let’s talk about disposable utensils. Nicholas Mallos, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash-Free Seas Program, says, “Plastic utensils are an item that many people may not think of as posing a threat in a marine environment.”

He adds that plastic forks and knives can harm marine life both when they’re whole and later when they break down into smaller, sharper, indigestible pieces. Traveling with your utensils may seem weird, but you are doing great things for the planet.

You will also need a good pair of sustainable sneakers, a durable backpack, reef-safe sunscreen, summer sandals, a cute ethical dress, zero-waste camping gear, and an eco-friendly charger.

2. Book A Sustainable Hotel

A woman standing in front of a Yurt. Pin
Image: The Eco Hub (Me, in front of a Yurt)

Eco certifications, such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Green Globe, are a great way to identify hotels committed to sustainable practices. These certifications require hotels to meet certain environmental and social standards, such as reducing energy and water use, using environmentally friendly cleaning products, and supporting local communities.

Look for information on the hotel's website about their sustainability practices. This may include information on conserving water and energy and reducing waste.

Read reviews from other travelers to get an idea of the hotel's sustainability practices.

Choosing a hotel close to public transportation, bike paths, or walking trails can help reduce your carbon footprint while on vacation.

Look for hotels that offer sustainable amenities, such as toiletries made with natural and organic ingredients, in-room recycling, and refillable water bottles.

Couchsurfing is a hospitality and social networking service that allows members to stay as a guest at someone's home, host travelers, or organize events.

As a traveler, you can search for hosts in the city you're visiting and send them a request to stay with them. The host may offer you a spare room, a couch, or space to pitch your tent.

Couchsurfing is a great way to save money on accommodation, meet locals, learn about their culture and way of life, and make new friends worldwide.

To ensure safety and security, Couchsurfing has a verification system for both hosts and guests and a review system that allows members to rate and review their experiences with each other.

Some examples of eco-conscious Couchsurfing hosts include those who live in tiny homes, off-grid homes, or environmentally friendly communities.

However, it's important to note that not all Couchsurfing hosts are environmentally conscious, so it's always a good idea to communicate with potential hosts beforehand to ensure your values align.

Ecobnb: A website promoting eco-accommodations using ten sustainability criteria, with a ranking system of 1-5 and is carbon zero.

Bookitdifferent: Working with booking.com, it offers eco-friendly accommodations with a "stay green check" that rates them on four sustainable criteria.

3. Be Water Wise

Sustainable traveling means packing a reusable water bottle. Bottled water is expensive in many countries, and if you’re traveling with a family of four, it will cost you money, and it adds to the problem of too much plastic ending up in our environment.

If you go to a country where tap water is suspect, buy something like this. It will not only save you money, but it will also reduce plastic waste. A win-win! If you are worried about the weight of the bottles, you can always opt for foldable ones.

When you arrive at your location, think about water consumption. Ask the hotel staff not to change your sheets and towels daily. Reusing your sheets and towels will save energy, water, and detergents.

3. Be Energy Wise

a woman adjusting a thermostatPin
Image: The Eco Hub

Before leaving the hotel room, turn off the A/C (or heat), and don’t forget about the lights and TV. Just because you are not charged extra for electricity doesn’t mean you should waste it!

Take advantage of natural lighting and ventilation to save energy. Open the windows and let fresh air in instead of using air conditioning, and keep the curtains open during the day to let in natural light.

Unplug chargers and electronics when not in use to avoid wasting energy.

4. Don’t be a Litterbug

In many exotic locations worldwide, garbage left by tourists puts enormous pressure on an area and leads to impacts such as soil erosion, increased pollution, discharges into the sea, natural habitat loss, increased pressure on endangered species, and heightened vulnerability to forest fires.

Ask the hotel about their recycling programs and be mindful of your garbage and where you are putting it! Eco-friendly travel = reducing waste!

5. Shop Local

I love this concept when I am on a sustainable vacation. You get to meet local artisans, support the local economy and ask important questions like “what is this made from?”, This is especially important for endangered species.

Don’t buy items made from ivory or snakeskin, for example, and keep in mind if you do. They may be illegal in other places you are going.

Shopping directly from the artisans also ensures that the items you buy are sweatshop-free.

6. Be Animal-Friendly

Candice wearing a t-shirt that says save the Rhino. Pin
Image: The Eco Hub

Discover sustainable travel options by choosing local travel guides and tours prioritizing eco-friendliness.

Elephant riding is popular in Thailand, and the activity is spreading across Africa. For an elephant to accept a rider, it endures a cruel training program called the "crush" using pain, fear, and isolation. The trauma caused by this process can stay with the elephants their entire lives.

Lion and tiger cubs used for selfies with tourists are taken from their mothers at an early age and typically kept in isolation. Many animals, like monkeys, are forced to do unnatural things through painful training methods and, when not performing, are usually kept in small barren cages.

Don't take a selfie with animals; don't visit places where you can hold an animal or watch it do silly tricks.

Here are animal-friendly tourist spots you can feel good about visiting:

Happy Elephant Valley in Thailand previously allowed tourists to ride, bathe and take selfies with elephants. However, with World Animal Protection’s help, they decided to transition to an elephant-friendly park—the first of its kind.

Many elephants have been brought in from the logging industry and have suffered a cruel and intensive training process to become submissive.

The transition will see the elephants able to behave as naturally as possible, freely roam in the valley, graze and bathe in rivers as tourists experience these wonders, standing at a safe distance. Did you know that elephant in the wild play together all their lives?

Baby Elephant Running.Pin

Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF): Samboja Lestari Eco-Lodge in Indonesia

BOSF is a leading orangutan rescue organization that takes in and cares for orangutans who have lost their habitat, been orphaned in the wild, used in the entertainment industry, or kept illegally as pets.

BOSF’s Samboja Lestari site provides a home for some of these orangutans. Many live freely on seven designated man-made islands or Forest Schools. Tourists can stay at BOSF’s Samboja Lestari Eco-lodge, nestled in a 1,850-hectare reserve of regenerating rainforest.

Asociatia Milioane de Prieteni (AMP) Romanian bear sanctuary, partner sanctuary of World Animal Protection

In Romania, bears were once caught as cubs and illegally kept in small barren cages in restaurants and gas stations to attract and entertain customers. The Romanian Bear Sanctuary is a haven for former captive bears used for entertainment.

The sanctuary is home to 82 bears in large forested enclosures of around 30 hectares. There are hibernation dens, large freshwater pools, hundreds of trees, and lush natural vegetation. Because it mimics the wild as much as possible, bears are free to behave naturally. Well-informed guides take groups of tourists around the sanctuary to view the bears.

Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in California, USA

PAWS wildlife sanctuaries are home to various rescued animals who have been abused, neglected, or retired; many animals are rescued from the entertainment industry or a captive life as an exotic pets.

They provide peaceful and enriched habitats to animals, including Asian and African elephants, big cats, and bears, and they offer cruelty-free animal tourism experiences. You can go on a picnic lunch within view of the elephants and visit the habitat areas of the rescued big cats and bears.

7. Ditch the Car

Candice standing with a bicycle on the street. Pin
Image: The Eco Hub

Biking, walking, hiking, and taking a local bus or taxi are great ways to see the place you are visiting. Walking and biking tours offer a unique, local perspective. You can stumble upon shops and eateries you would not see in a car. This will also help to reduce your travel emissions!

If you have to rent a car, pick a hybrid. Also, ensure you stay on the designated path if you are hiking or walking!

8. Eat Locally (if you can)

I love going to different farmers' markets here at home, I can talk to the people who grow the food I eat directly, and now you can do it when you travel too.

Eat Well Everywhere allows you to map a route of sustainable food stores, farmers' markets, and B and B’s. They have over 25,000 hand-picked restaurants, farms, markets, and other local, sustainable food sources.

9. Plant a Tree

Planes, trains, and automobiles add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere; we certainly don’t need more! Consider planting a tree. Trees convert CO2 to oxygen, which we need to breathe. Find a program that works for you. This is a great place to start.

Remember, though, that planting trees is one way to reduce emissions but should not be used to make up for your emissions.

10. Carbon Offset

Carbon offset programs can be purchased from various organizations, such as Carbonfund.org, Terrapass, and NativeEnergy. They typically offer a range of options for individuals and businesses to offset their carbon emissions, such as supporting renewable energy projects, reforestation efforts, and investing in energy-efficient technologies.

Regrettably, forestry initiatives are the least efficient in mitigating carbon emissions, although they offer some benefits.

Some airlines and travel companies also offer carbon offset options for their customers. It's important to research the credibility and transparency of the carbon offset program before purchasing to ensure that your investment is making a real impact on reducing carbon emissions.

What is Sustainable travel?

Sustainable travel, also known as eco-friendly or responsible travel, considers tourism's environmental, social, and economic impacts on local communities and the planet.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, sustainable travel should "make optimal use of environmental resources that constitute a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity."

It should also "respect the sociocultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to intercultural understanding and tolerance".

While we can't be perfect, especially when it comes to travel, we can be mindful of our impact and shift our habits to reduce our environmental footprint and support sustainable tourism practices.

By choosing eco-friendly accommodations, supporting local businesses, and being conscious of our transportation choices, we can help preserve natural resources and reduce carbon emissions.

Why does traveling sustainably matter?

There are several negative environmental impacts associated with travel. One of the most significant is carbon emissions from transportation, including flights, cars, and other modes of transportation. The aviation industry is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions globally, and air travel continues to increase.

Other environmental impacts of travel include water and energy consumption, waste generation, and damage to natural habitats and ecosystems.

Mass tourism can also lead to overdevelopment, overcrowding, and degradation of natural and cultural heritage sites. Finally, tourism can exacerbate social and economic inequality by pushing out residents and businesses, driving up prices, and contributing to exploiting workers in the tourism industry.

A Final Word On Sustainable Travel

Sustainable travel is not just a buzzword or trend but a crucial step towards protecting and preserving our planet for future generations. By adopting sustainable travel practices, we can minimize our negative impact on the environment, support local communities, and promote cultural understanding and appreciation.

Whether choosing eco-friendly accommodations, packing light, reducing plastic waste, or supporting local businesses, every small step towards sustainable travel can make a big difference. So let's travel with purpose and respect and positively impact the world.

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