Sustainable tourism is a popular concept in the travel industry these days. It’s fairly common now for travelers and tour operators to try and find a balance between the health of the environment, respect for cultures, and the economics of the tourism industry. Those who are committed to traveling sustainably understand that, while it does require more effort (and often higher costs), sticking to the principles of sustainability while on trips can greatly benefit the planet and local communities while also delivering unique experiences.  But it can seem daunting to even know where to start. So here are the essential steps one must take on a trip to travel sustainably.

Pick the Right Destination

Your commitment to sustainable travel begins with your choice of destination. This means skipping the usual tourist traps and choosing destinations that are located off of the beaten path. Exploring the lesser-known locales will prevent the phenomenon known as over-tourism. If you do choose to visit more popular spots, make an effort to avoid the peak travel times and to stay longer to mitigate the transportation impacts. As a bonus, you will likely enjoy a more authentic travel experience if you are not at the destination with hordes of tourists doing the same thing.

Book with Sustainable Operators and Airlines with Sustainable Practices

While it is not always possible to avoid flying when traveling, there are ways that you can travel sustainability if you need to take to the friendly skies. The key is to research what airlines are the most eco-friendly and choose them for your travel needs. For example, some airlines are intentional about investing in clean biofuel technology. These types of renewable rules reduce carbon emissions, helping the environment along the way. There is also a bevy of responsible tour operators that boast sustainable practices meant to protect the environment.

Go Slow and Use Public Transport

Public transportation is always a good choice when your goal is to travel sustainably. Whether you choose trains, busses, or subways, public transport is one of the best ways to mitigate your impact on the environment. It is also a good plan to concentrate your travels on one specific destination for each trip. For instance, instead of hopping around to different locations, spend a little more time in one spot so that you reduce your travel needs. This method of tourism, known as “slow travel,” can help you to truly experience the everyday magic of a specific destination.

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Eat and Shop Local

When it comes to sustainability, local is the key. You will naturally reduce your own carbon footprint if you are purposeful about eating and shopping locally while away from home. Rather than choosing big box stores for your purchases, go with the mom-and-pop boutique so that you support the local economy. This same philosophy also applies to your dining choices. By choosing locally owned and operated restaurants, you will provide locals with more economic opportunities as well as reduce the environmental impacts of shipping and pollution.

Be Respectful of Local Cultures and Wildlife

Whenever you’re traveling — whether you’re taking cheap flights in April or October — it’s important to remember that you are a guest. This means that you need to be respectful of the local cultures. Do not assume that your way is the best way. It is good practice to ask locals before taking their pictures and to respect all cultural norms and dress codes. And that respect stretches to the local wildlife. While it may be tempting to want to interact with local animals that are exotic to you, it is important that you don’t play a part in disrupting their ecosystem. So it’s important to not only find and follow the advice of wildlife guides but also make sure that any attraction or experience is ethical in its treatment of animals.

Mind Your Footprint

At the end of the day, it’s important that you mind your footprint. This means that you need to minimize your energy consumption, use your own water bottle, and choose travel providers that value the same commitment to the world as you do. While each little step may not seem significant, all of these small choices can add up over time. Whether it be helping to create local jobs, conserving endangered species, or reducing greenhouse gases through thoughtful decisions, you can make a difference by focusing on sustainability when traveling.

Think we missed some other essential steps to travel sustainably?  

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About The Author

Dave Odegard is an ex-army brat turned internet word person, whose work has been published on Maxim Online, USAToday, Buzzfeed, and more. He is currently the Senior Content Writer at Fareportal (CheapOair's parent company) and spends his free time exploring the wilds of Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Sweden.