How to be a Sustainable Traveller

Choosing the sustainable option is always important, and it’s no different when going on holiday. Learn what you can do to leave the smallest footprint by considering things like methods of transport, choosing the right hotel, activities, and much more.

Sustainable travel has become a hot topic in recent years. The concept encompasses finding a way that tourism can be maintained long-term without harming natural and cultural environments. Sustainable travel should minimize the negative impacts of tourism and ideally be beneficial to the area in which it takes place.

The World Tourism Organizaall resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support system.”

Choices for sustainable travel have become increasingly more transparent and easier to understand. As an example, carbon offsets can now be purchased not only by businesses but have also become available to individuals and can be comfortably p tion defines sustainable tourism as “development [which] meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future. It is envisaged as leading to management of urchased alongside the travel ticket. Third-party ratings for lodgings and sustainability-focused activities can now help travellers choose the best experiences that immerse one into various cultures.

Sustainable travel seeks to minimize negative impacts on the environment and aims to have a positive impact for local communities and economies. But what does this mean when looked at in detail?

The Environmental Pillar – The environmental pillar focuses on the matter of reducing negative impacts imposed on the environment and wildlife from travelling. This includes minimizing the carbon footprint from transportation emissions, especially from air travel, lowering water usage, minimizing plastic waste streams from packaging, and by minimizing human intervention on wildlife. As sustainable travellers, we can all adopt simple yet effect habits that would lower our personal environmental impact. Such habits may include - carrying our own reusables, looking for hotels and restaurants which have adopted sustainable practices, selecting rail over air travel, selecting nature tour operators that have made it their responsibility to educate and ensure their tours do not cause harm to the places, people, and cultures they visit

The Social Pillar – The social pillar focuses on the matter of our impact on local communities. This may include choosing to support local businesses that are run by, employ and strengthen the local population, as well as engage in community tourism projects, collaborate with NGOs, create social enterprises and fund charities. Responsible travellers can look for opportunities to be involved in these types of projects, as such programs are created in awareness towards fair employment and management practices.

The Economic Pillar – Traditionally, the economic pillar refers to the business strategies that make it possible to use available resources to their best advantage to ensure long-term business success. When it comes to sustainable travel, we can apply the economic pillar to deliberate on how to best streamline our money and achieve a positive contribution to the local economies. By making a conscientious choice we can express our support and make sure that the locally established responsible businesses can thrive and provide unforgettable experiences for years to come.

The Environmental Impact of Tourism – The Travel industry mainly relies on fossil fuels, which directly contributes to aggravating effects of climate change on our planet. It’s predicted that 40% of the world’s carbon emissions will be generated by tourism by 2050. To break this down, right now 72% of tourism’s CO2 emissions come from transportation, a further 24% from accommodation, and 4% from tourism activities. The science is showing us that the environmental issues caused by tourism cannot be overlooked.

The problem is that while our environmental consciousness tells us we should moderate how often and how far we fly or even fly at all, we rarely listen to it. Many of us are ‘binge flying’ – that is flying far more often than is necessary just because we can. We have the time, the money and the desire to learn about the greater world.

Many destinations do not have regulations or strategies in place to cope with the rapid development and overcapacity which is caused by increased tourism. Quite often foreign investors will come, build and leave chaos that the local communities must then deal with — including issues such as waste management, and water and sanitation.

As tourists, we should be mindful of how we travel and our behaviour when we arrive at our destination.

Ways to be a Sustainable Traveller

As travellers, we need to take responsibility for advocating sustainable tourism. This isn’t going to happen overnight. There isn’t a magical solution to solve the problems associated with tourism. But we can work towards adopting better and more sustainable travel habits and behaviours. Here are some tips for sustainable travellers:

Transport

1. Consider the most sustainable form of transport to get to your destination

Depending on where you’re going, you may have the option to fly, drive or take a train or bus. Weigh out your options. If you’re travelling in a group, it might make more sense to share a car whereas if you’re travelling on your own it may be a better option to bypass taking the car alone and rather choosing to take a train, bus or to fly. Taking the train or bus is often the more sustainable option than flying or driving your car, but of course it all depends on the circumstances and choices available to you. We advise you to weigh the pros and cons of the options available to you when making the most comfortable and sustainable choice.

2. Take direct flights where possible

Look for the shortest flight path to your destination. Take-offs and landings cause most of the plane’s carbon emissions, so it’s best to take a direct flight and avoid stopovers where possible.

3. Use the most sustainable form of transport when you’re at your destination

When you’ve arrived at your destination, go on foot or bike whenever possible. These are the greenest transport options. Use public transport, minibuses or car shares to get around instead of private cars when you’re going further.

4. Be a slow traveller

Mitigate the negative impact of air travel by flying less often and staying for longer in destinations.

5. Offset your travel CO2 with a third-party provider

There are multiple third-party, validated resources where you can easily offset the CO2 emissions of your journey at a small cost.

Accommodation

6. Stay in locally owned accommodation

Support local business owners by opting to stay in locally owned accommodation. This can include guesthouses, B&Bs, Couchsurfing and home stays. Read the ‘about’ pages on hotel websites and check out the host’s profiles to get a better idea of who owns and runs the accommodation. It’s more sustainable if your money contributes to the local economy, rather than being redirected out of the local economy by foreign-owned hotels and resorts.

7. Check for green certifications at hotels and hostels

Look for accommodation with a commitment to sustainability initiatives. These may include solar power, energy-efficient lighting, recycling and so on. Find out whether a hotel employs local staff, source their food locally and use nearby sourced building materials and decor.

GreenKey, a voluntary eco-rating for accommodations, offers a certification for lodgings based on their environmental sustainability practices. You can access a list of accommodations by location on their website.

8. Avoid large resorts

Large resorts have negative impacts on the local environment due to their water and energy consumption. Washing towels and changing bed sheets daily are common in large resorts and waste immense amounts of energy and water that could easily be avoided. Such resorts also usually take up huge amounts of land and make significant land-use changes that disrupt local ecosystems in order to build all the necessary amenities.

9. Avoid all-inclusive locations

All-inclusive package holidays mean you pay up-front for your accommodation, food and activities. This means tourists have little incentive to go elsewhere and often do not go out to local restaurants, hire local tour guides or participate in cultural activities. Resort accommodation in all-inclusive locations tends to be foreign-owned, meaning tourist money doesn’t benefit the local economy.

10. Go wild and camp

If you’re committed to sustainable travel accommodation and love the outdoors, then camping is another great accommodation option. Just be sure to follow leave-no-trace best practices.

Sustainable Activities

11. Use sustainable tour operators with green accreditations

Do your research before booking tours. Look for accreditations such as GSTC, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance, EarthCheck, Green Tourism Business Scheme (UK) and other regulatory bodies.

Read reviews on third party websites such as Google, TripAdvisor and TrustPilot reviews. Read reviews and blog posts from travel bloggers who you trust. If you can, get in touch with the tour company beforehand to ask them about their policies if it’s unclear from their website.

12. Watch out for ‘greenwashing’ by tour operators

Greenwashing is when a company makes unsubstantiated claims about their green credentials to appear more environmentally friendly than it really is.

13. Only participate in responsible wildlife tourism

Avoid any wildlife tours that promise up-close encounters with animals, as these may be unethical. You can usually get a sense of whether an animal tourism activity may be unethical based on the type of interaction with the animals. If you’re allowed to touch, cuddle or ride the animals, it is definitely a red flag.

Look for tours that won’t disturb wildlife and that ensure you are at a certain distance away from any animals. Do your research into each specific type of wildlife tourism to ensure you make the right choice of activity.

14. Snorkeling and scuba diving responsibly

If you’re snorkeling or scuba diving, be careful not to tread on the corals as this can damage their fragile ecosystem. 25% of coral reefs worldwide are now damaged beyond repair. When you snorkel or dive, go with smaller groups to avoid overcrowding. Do not try to touch or feed any types of. Make sure to wear reef-friendly sunscreen. Many supermarket shelf sunscreens contain titanium dioxide, this inorganic compound is insoluble in water, and reacts with warm seawater to form hydrogen peroxide which is harmful to all sea life.

15. Volunteer with NGOs and Join Community Tourism Projects

Take opportunities to involve yourself in projects with NGOs and community tourism organizations. These may be volunteering opportunities or a chance to learn about local life and practices. Always research volunteering opportunities and the organizers behind them to ensure that your time and money will be positively contributing to the place and/or people you are visiting.

Local Environment

16. Eat in restaurants and cafes owned by locals

As with accommodation, spend your tourist dollar in restaurants and cafes run by locals. In our experience, this is a great way to meet locals who are enthusiastic about you trying their traditional foods. Not to mention that home-cooking is often times the best, so try to find a ‘small hole-in –the-wall' type of place or join sharing economy apps like EatWith where you can have dinner with a local family, you’ll most likely be eating more delicious food too. Avoid international food chains, like McDonald’s, where your money doesn’t enter the local economy.

17. Eat local cuisine

Eat local cuisine, made from locally sourced ingredients, and if it’s organic, and comes from small farmers, it’s even better.

18. Don’t be (too) afraid of eating local street food

Street food vendors are often locals cooking up their own homemade dishes. We’ve eaten some of our favourite dishes abroad from street food carts. However, be careful of anywhere that looks unsanitary, as you don’t want to suffer from food poisoning.

19. Buy locally grown food and shop in local markets

Eat locally grown food from local producers. Avoid imported foods and international food chains where food has had to be transported from far away causing carbon emissions. You can shop for local fruits, vegetables and other produce at local farmers' markets.

Sustainable Shopping

20. Buy gifts made by local artisans

Buy locally made gifts to take home as souvenirs. Avoid imported souvenirs that will have been flown or shipped in and therefore have a larger carbon footprint. It’s better to take home souvenirs unique to the country where you’re travelling, rather than something from a factory elsewhere.

21. Have a ‘one in, one out’ rule for buying clothes

Shop sustainably and consider who made your clothes too. It’s better if you can source clothing made on an ethical production line where workers are safe and paid a fair wage.

Sustainable Packing

22. Pack light

Travel light, your luggage adds up to the carbon emissions.  A plane’s fuel consumption is greater if the weight its carrying is heavier.

23. Pack eco-friendly essentials

Packing a reusable water bottle, reusable bag and a lunch box will mean you can cut down on plastic waste when you travel.

Communicate!

24. Ask for more sustainable travel!

The responsibility of finding a more sustainable model of tourism doesn’t only fall with the traveller, but with the airlines, host countries, local municipalities, and business owners. Many of them realize that they need to work more on sustainable tourism initiatives but are concerned about upsetting the status quo by putting restrictions or taxes in place to mitigate the negative impacts of mass tourism. Speak up and let businesses know that you’re interested in sustainable travel and want to know their sustainability initiatives and goals.

25. Share your sustainable travel experiences

Share your responsible travel experiences with friends, family, people you meet, on social media and even in our comments section below! The more we talk about the way we travel and share our experiences, the more we raise our awareness of all the sustainable choices available, and likely raise the bar even higher for such businesses.


In conclusion, as we are nearing peak holiday season in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s vital that we remember that whether we travel for business or for leisure our choices can still be sustainable ones. With the right preparation we all can immerse ourselves in other cultures while uplifting the local economy and protecting our planet.

Should you need any assistance or recommendations, we are more than happy to share our insights with you!