When you’re on vacation, you may be inclined to let all your sustainability habits slide. But, just because you’re going on a getaway doesn’t mean you have to leave your environmentally responsible practices behind. Of course, you should be able to get some much-deserved rest and relaxation on your trip. But, you might not realize how easy it is to travel with eco-friendly and socially responsible practices in mind. By putting in a bit of extra effort up front, you’ll be able to create a plan to reduce your carbon footprint and support the local community during your stay. Here are some sustainable travel tips you’ll want to keep in mind if you want to go green and give back.

Try for Green Transportation

Eco-friendly travel

If you’re flying, try to book with a carrier that’s a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Carriers who are members of this association offer carbon offset programs, which aim to neutralize their carbon emissions by investing in projects to reduce carbon in the environment. If you can, use green airports (like Boston Logan International Airport, the San Francisco International Airport, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, the Denver International Airport, or the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) to support sustainable practices.

In general, try to book cheap round trip flights that are large, full, and fuel-efficient. Reducing your connecting flights and layovers will reduce the number of takeoffs and landings. Fly coach whenever possible, as cushier accommodations come with a greater environmental impact. In fact, a World Bank study found that the carbon footprint of a business class passenger can be up to three times greater than that of a passenger in economy class. First-class is even worse, as these passengers can have a carbon footprint up to nine times greater than those who fly coach.

Once you arrive, seek out eco-friendly land transportation. According to Vacations by Rail, trains can be quite eco-friendly, as they use 30% less energy per passenger mile than cars and 20% less than planes. Vacations by Rail also emphasizes that rail operators around the world have made commitments to increase sustainability. For example, America’s Amtrak has reduced fuel consumption by utilizing green technology and adopting energy conservation practices such as lighter cars, better braking and operating systems, and the use of diesel fuels. In Europe, the train system is slower, which actually makes it more sustainable due to its decreased fuel consumption. And because European train stations are more centrally located, passengers are able to get to their final destination without using a second mode of transportation. Shinkansen, Japan’s high-speed rail, cut its energy consumption by 40% by changing the shape, length, and weight to be more aerodynamic. And because it’s so often utilized by the public at large, it’s inherently more environmentally friendly.

Of course, trains aren’t the only way to travel by land. Hybrid buses that carry a large number of passengers are great, as are fuel-efficient (i.e., hybrid or electric-powered) cars. And if you need to travel by water, opt for a sailboat or catamaran instead of a large vessel or cruise ship. While some cruise lines have made great strides in terms of sustainability, most still have a long way to go. But in terms of eco-friendly transport, you really can’t beat biking or walking. Assuming your destination is safe enough for you to sightsee on foot, you should opt for that whenever possible. Many municipalities offer bike-sharing systems or offer private bicycle rentals that will allow you to take in your surroundings at very little cost (to you or the environment).

Look for Eco-Friendly Lodgings

A wooden pathway at an eco lodge in the Tambopa province in Puerto Maldonado.

Fortunately, many boutique hotels and even large chains have embraced more eco-friendly operations to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers. But, it’s important to note you can’t necessarily take these establishments at their word; some talk the talk without walking the walk. You’ll need to do your research to ensure that the place you’re staying in is actually making sustainable efforts rather than simply using green marketing to attract guests. Green hotels based in the United States may have a LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council to designate they’ve made a commitment to indoor environmental quality, sustainable site development, energy and water efficiency, use of materials, and design innovation. There are also other programs that certify hotel sustainability in other countries, such as Green Tourism Business Scheme, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance, and EarthCheck.

Keep in mind that if hotels have spent a lot of time and effort on improving their sustainability, they’ll probably have information about it displayed proudly on their websites. If all else fails, contact the hotel front desk and ask directly about the causes that matter most to you. You should also inquire about how many of their resources they acquire locally. For example, if a large portion of their staff is native to the area and they source most of their foods from local farmers, they’re supporting their community and keeping carbon emissions lower by reducing transportation. If you’d rather not book a hotel at all, keep in mind that there are plenty of online rental sites that can help you book an affordable room (or even an entire house!) owned by someone who prioritizes eco-friendly practices. Not only will you be supporting a local resident, but you may also have an easier time sticking to your own sustainable travel routine.

You may also enjoy: 6 Amazing Eco-Destinations to Visit as a Sustainable Tourist (That You Won’t Ruin)

Make Changes to Your Travel Routine

men switching off the light ,saving concept

As much as possible, try to save water, energy, and other natural resources during your stay by taking short showers, turning off the lights and air conditioning when you leave, and reusing your towels and other linens. Rather than doing laundry on-site, try to wear outfits more than once (packing versatile items really helps here!). In addition, be sure to bring along refillable water containers instead of relying on plastic water bottles.

During your hotel stay, you may want to consider giving up maid services whenever possible. By keeping up the “do not disturb sign” throughout the entire time you’re there, you’ll ensure no cleaning staff will enter the room and use any harmful cleaning agents or waste electricity on vacuuming. If you enjoy any meals at the hotel, avoid using plastic utensils or cups; ask for real silverware, which can be washed and reused. If you’re given tiny toiletries to use during your stay, you can leave them for the next guest or bring them home with you to donate to a charitable organization. If you make souvenir purchases during your trip, ensure that your choices support local artisans and their economy (i.e., goods that are made within the community, rather than being imported). Instead of buying an item in a tourist trap gift shop, head to a local craft market and support small businesses there. Make sure to bring along reusable bags for any purchases you make to cut down on plastic bag usage!

Examine Your Activities


There’s no doubt that you’ll get to experience once-in-a-lifetime views and amazing activities while you’re on your trip. But really give these services some thought before you sign up. Take tours, for example. Although a guided tour can be an excellent way to get an insider’s view at a new location, you should be choosy about which tours you partake in. In general, you should opt for tours that involve smaller groups and a distinct focus on preservation and sustainability. Before you book, find out whether the guides are local and/or if the group gives back to the local community.

Remember the mantra: leave only footprints and take only photographs. Stick to marked trails when hiking and keep a safe distance from wild animals. When going underwater, be careful not to step on fragile coral or even disturb the sediment. Ask your snorkel operators in advance if their practice is to “chum” the water since this can be a health detriment to marine species. With any tour or other activity you do, inquire as to whether the organizers give back a portion of their proceeds to local charities, conservation groups, or non-profit entities.

Eat Authentically

Cornucopia of local vegetarian dishes of the Dusun ethnic of Sabah served in bamboo canister consist of tapioca leaves, yam tendril, bamboo shoots, wild fern stem and banana plan stem.

Tasting the local cuisine is one of the best ways to experience the true culture of the places you visit. It’s also a great way to support local businesses and agricultural enterprises. It encourages native crops to remain in the area and allows farmers, small businesses, and the economy in general to thrive. Eating Americanized food during your trip will just translate into higher prices, imported goods, and less money being put back into the economy there. In general, steer clear of tourist trap eateries. Instead, patronize small restaurants and visit food markets to save money, support locals, and get an authentic experience. 

Eat as much fresh, local produce as possible; your food will be delicious and in-season, thereby supporting local farmers. It also takes fewer resources to grow fresh fruits and vegetables than it does to produce meat and dairy products. Also, try to avoid pre-packaged meals and snacks when you can. Purchasing pre-packaged food not only encourages importing non-local goods but also worsens carbon emissions by increasing transportation and unnecessary packaging. Speaking of which, avoid getting take-out, delivery, or anything to-go during your trip. These options may be convenient, but most travel containers end up in the garbage. Be sure to put aside time in your itinerary to actually enjoy meals and even your first cup of coffee at a leisurely pace (and with reusable dishware).

Green travel does require a bit more planning, but it’s certainly not impossible. By making the preservation of the planet a top priority when you travel, you’ll be in a better position to look for accommodations, transportation, activities, and eateries that support that mission.

Do you have any other sustainable travel tips? We want to hear about it in the comments below!

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