This post and the photos within it may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a commission at no extra charge to you.
Traveling is very dear to my heart and something that I love doing. With that said, I know firsthand that it can be super easy to generate extra emissions and waste if you don’t practice sustainable travel tips.
Since I don’t want to stop exploring the world, I decided to collect the most powerful and effective ways to make my journeys more sustainable.
The tips below will reduce waste, make your travels much more valuable & filled with impactful experiences. I will divide the sustainable travel tips into the following categories:
- Eating, shopping & activities
Before we start, let’s take a quick look at what’s sustainable tourism and why you should care about it.
What Is Sustainable Tourism
Sustainable tourism refers to sustainable practices in and by the tourism industry but goes beyond the environment. It also considers the economic and social impacts, plus the communities in the area.
Sustainable tourism aims to reduce the harmful effects of tourism activities through:
- responsible consumption and production
- ecological conservation
- creating jobs
- promoting local culture and products
- implementing various policies to promote sustainable tourism
You can become a responsible traveler by planning, practicing ethical thinking, and focusing on what’s good for communities and the natural world.
Why Is Sustainable Travel Important
- For the planet: Making better and more eco-friendly choices will help preserve and protect our planet for future generations.
- For the community: They will generate income from visitors, which can aid in the development of better infrastructure and standards of living and preserving culture.
- For you or me (the traveler): Your experience will be more authentic, and you will be immersed in the culture.
23 Sustainable Travel Tips:
1. Choose a nearby destination
I know you might want to explore different cultures further away, and that’s okay! If you can spare at least 3 or more weeks, it will make sense to go somewhere far. But going just for a few days won’t make that much sense.
You will become too tired and overwhelmed and probably need to go back again since it will be hard to see a completely new culture for a few days.
For short-time vacations and trips, choose destinations you can reach by bus or train. For example, I am currently based in Zagreb, just a few hours away from many great European countries and cities – Ljubljana, Vienna, Budapest, etc.
Whenever I feel like going away for a day or two, I plan a short trip to one of those places. The last time we went to Ljubliana, it was super fun!
2. Take fewer but longer holidays
When you do that, you can reduce transportation emissions, get to know the local community, support local businesses, and contribute to the economy more than if you go only for a few days.
For example, I went to Costa Rica for two months, where I volunteered for most of the period, and I could do all of those things, which was great.
3. Lesser-known destinations
Lesser-known destinations may have fewer tourists and less infrastructure, which can reduce the overall environmental impact of tourism.
Some places that struggle with over-tourism are Venice, Dubrovnik, and Prague. Others, like Gaborone (Botswana), and Vientiane (Laos), struggle with under-tourism.
Visiting less touristy destinations is also an excellent way to support small businesses and fully immerse yourself in the local culture.
4. Go out of season
If you want to visit a place that usually has a lot of tourists, you can still do it but out of season! This will allow you to avoid crows, have a much better experience, and explore an area better while supporting small businesses that may struggle during the off-peak season.
5. Choose a green hotel
There are more and more eco-friendly hotels and lodges that can make your stay more environmentally friendly. Such places implement energy conservation practices, like led lighting or solar panels, water conservation, recycling, and waste reduction.
They also hire local people, source food locally, or even grow food on their property. So you can quickly search for the destination you are going to and see what options you have.
Here are two websites that I found that offer eco-friendly stays:
6. Sustainable tour operator
Many fantastic tour operators have sustainable initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, conserve natural resources, and support local communities with eco-friendly transportation options, activities, and accommodations. You can check out the following ones:
- ROW Adventures (US)
- Gondwana Eco Tours (US)
- Responsible Travel (UK)
- Naturetrek (UK)
- Intrepid Travel (Australia)
- Wilderness safaris (Botswana)
Search online for eco-friendly tour operators & local options.
7. Avoid mini toiletries
Mini toiletries create lots of waste. They are often used for just a few days and then thrown away. Instead of purchasing mini toiletries for your trip, you can bring eco-friendly alternatives, like:
- Shampoo bar and conditioner bar in a metal tin
- Soap for the body in a tin
- Toothpaste tablets or DIY toothpaste powder in a glass jar
- Eco-friendly deodorant or DIY deodorant in a glass jar
- Reef safe sunscreen
- Safety razor (without the razor blade if you fly)
- DIY body lotion bar
Alternatively, consider purchasing the products you need from local businesses once you arrive.
8. Get sustainable travel products
To avoid unnecessary waste while traveling, you can prepare yourself by getting a few essential reusable products, like:
- Reusable water bottle
- Reusable coffee mug
- Isolated food jar
- Reusable bags (for sure, you already have some at home) & produce bags for shopping
- Reusable utensils & straw
9. Invest in a water filtration system
When traveling, it’s always important to take precautions and ensure the water you’re drinking is safe.
Unfortunately, in many developing countries, tap water is often undrinkable, making it difficult to avoid purchasing plastic water bottles.
Luckily, the following options can help you stay hydrated and eliminate the need to purchase water in plastic bottles:
- Invest in a water filtration system – Plenty of affordable and portable water filtration systems help purify tap water and make it safe to drink. A while ago, I got the GRAYL GeoPress purifier as a gift for my birthday, and I love it! For other options, read my article, including more affordable & reusable bottles that purify water.
- Look for alternatives to single-use plastic bottles – Some countries may offer refillable water stations where you can refill your water bottle, or you may be able to purchase large containers of water that can be refilled rather than buying many small plastic bottles.
- Consider water in plastic-free packaging – If you cannot find a refillable option, you can opt for water in glass bottles or aluminum cans.
- Boil and treat water – In some cases, boiling and treating the water with purification tablets may be an option. Still, it’s essential to research the local water conditions and recommendations for treatment before trying this method. Once, a friend tried this method in Mexico, and in the end – she and her boyfriend got sick, so make sure you do some research beforehand!
10. Pack food from home
Most food you can find in airports is wrapped in plastic, isn’t the healthiest, and costs much more. Preparing food in advance can save you money and lots of unnecessary waste. Some easy-to-carry foods include:
- Sandwiches or wraps
- Homemade granola bars, nuts, and dried fruit
- Homemade cookies or DIY no-bake protein bars
- Fruits or veggies, like apples, carrots, bell peppers, and grapes
11. Choose a green transportation
If you can, pick eco-friendly ways of transportation, such as buses, trains, hitchhiking, or shared transport.
Flying is generaly unsustainable for many reasons. However, it is the only option when you are going somewhere far. Below, you can see some tips on how to fly more efficiently.
12. Fly direct
Direct flights can help to reduce the overall emissions of your travel.
13. Pack lightly
Packing light can reduce the overall weight of the aircraft. It may seem insignificant, especially if it is done by a single person, but imagine if all people considered this – there would be much fewer emissions and lower fuel consumption.
14. Fly economy
Another tip is to fly in economy class since it also results in fewer emissions per person compared to flying business or first class.
15. Offset your emissions
You can offset your carbon emissions through various carbon offset programs. For example, when I traveled to Costa Rica, I offset my flight with tentree Climate+ packages.
Such programs typically involve investing in projects that reduce or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as renewable energy or reforestation projects.
16. Walk, cycle, and take public transport
Once you reach your destination, walk, bike, or use public transportation (buses, trains, or subways) to get around.
Those options are best since they can reduce the number of vehicles on the road and the associated emissions and save you money. You can also consider carpooling or hitchhiking.
Eating, Shopping & Activities
17. Eat in local restaurants
Dine at locally-owned restaurants and cafes, rather than big chain restaurants or fast food places, to support the local economy and try authentic local cuisine. Even if you have dietary restrictions, you can still find traditional dishes that you can eat.
For example, when I was in Costa Rica, I quickly realized that even though I’m vegan, I can have a nice lunch in most places – a plate with rice & beans, plantains, and a small fresh salad was always on the menu.
Choose organic veggies and locally harvested ingredients if you prefer to cook your meals. You can even try to find local bulk stores. For example, I found this one in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, which was pretty packed:
18. Choose plant-based dishes
Eating a plant-based diet has many benefits for the environment, and it is the single most significant step to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and soil degradation.
So whenever you have the option, pick the plant-based dish. And don’t worry – this doesn’t mean you will have to sacrifice your trip or have a less valuable cultural experience.
That is because most cuisines in the world have dishes that are naturally free from animal products (like Ethiopian, South Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican, etc.)
Furthermore, many progressive places offer veganized options for local dishes and foods.
For example, I went on a trip to Lisbon, Portugal, and they have a very famous pasty called Pastéis de Nata, which originally contains eggs and dairy milk.
After some research, I quickly found a local place called Vegan Nata, which makes a vegan version of Pastéis de Nata. After reading the reviews, I saw that it is nearly identical to the original recipe. 🙂
You can always use one of these apps to find plant-based restaurants and vegan-friendly places.
19. Buy local goods
Buy locally made souvenirs, gifts, and products made by small and local artisans rather than things that have been imported. This helps support the local economy and allows you to bring home unique and locally-made items.
20. Use locally-based tour operators
If you want to plan a fun day, pick some local tour operators. Many offer eco-friendly activities, such as visiting traditional villages, national parks, zip lining, chocolate making, etc., with local guides.
21. Volunteer or work exchange
Consider volunteering or doing a work exchange at a local organization, eco-lodge, or sanctuary, in exchange for accommodation and meals.
This is a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture, meet more local people, practice a new language, help with your skills, and positively impact the local community.
I volunteered for two months in Costa Rica and had a beautiful experience. I share more about my volunteering experience here.
Also, you can find a list of the best free volunteering websites here.
22. Support conservation initiatives
Look for ways to support local conservation initiatives, such as beach cleanups, tree planting, habitat restoration projects, eco-friendly businesses, etc.
You can also find local charities or non-profit organizations that focus on environmental conservation and consider donating to support their work.
23. Energy & water saving tips
Finally, here are perhaps obvious but good reminders when it comes to saving energy & water:
- Collect enough for an entire machine if you want to wash your clothes. If you have just a few things, handwash them and then hang them up overnight so they’re dry the next day.
- Water conservation is essential, especially in areas experiencing water shortages. Consider taking short showers to reduce your water consumption.
- Take cold showers.
- Remember to turn off lights and appliances when you leave your hotel room or vacation rental.
- Opt for air-drying your laundry instead of using the dryer.
There you have it – 23 of the most effective tips on sustainable travel to help reduce your environmental impact while traveling.
By following these tips, you can have an eco-friendly vacation while positively impacting the destinations you visit.
Did I miss a sustainable travel tip you think is essential? Let me know in the comments below!