The world is full of hidden treasures. As travellers, we romanticise about finding our own ‘perfect’ gem. The untouched white beach with blue rolling waves, the vista view of a mountain top with fresh pine air, the interaction with locals and receiving that heart warming smile, or just the curious observation of unknown wildlife.
The truth is, with the recent boom in tourism, many of nature’s beautiful landscapes and the cultures that inhabit them are quickly becoming destroyed.
This is why understanding sustainable travel is not only important – it’s crucial! With a topic gathering so much international attention, it’s time for an introduction. Let’s grab some must needed tips on how to incorporate sustainable travel into your life.
What is sustainable travel?
There’s often debate about if the words “sustainable” and “travel” can coexist in the same sentence without contradiction. After all, flying is one of the worst culprits of CO2 emissions. But CO2 is not the only problem as buckets of plastic pour out from the sewers of Indonesia. You might be hopping over to Bali to get your surf on, but this ocean pollution can even mean you’ll end up with an ear infection for life.
Let’s face it, we’re not going to stop flying anytime soon. But we can minimise our CO2 footprint while reducing our waste and respecting the local environment as any guest should.
Sustainable travel is more about treating the environment with as much respect as possible. And this includes how we can look after our resources, and give back to the communities.
So in this article, we’ll share with you 13 simple ways to travel sustainably. So you can see as much as possible without impacting on the beautiful nature and leaving a negative footprint.
13 Simple Ways to Travel More Sustainably
1. Consider your mode of transport
Planes are the worst mode of transport when it comes to how they harm our environment. They release a huge amount of carbon emissions into our air which contribute to global warming.
Flying might be the easiest or fast option, but is it necessary? Can you reach the same destination via bus, train or boat? This is a sure-fire way to reduce your carbon footprint… It also might be cheaper too!
2. If you do fly – go direct
If taking a plane is the only way to go, then book direct flights instead of flights with a stop-over. Planes release the most carbon emissions during the take-off and landing, so if you can get a direct flight rather than one with a stop-over, that will reduce your carbon emissions by half.
3. Offset your carbon emissions
One thing you can do to reduce the amount of CO2 you produce is to offset your carbon emissions.
There are multiple carbon offset schemes which allow you to work out how much carbon dioxide you produce and then invest in multiple environmental projects like My Climate or Reforestum to balance out the carbon footprint. The funds proceed directly to supporting projects that produce clean energy and in reducing carbon emissions.
4. Pack lightly
The more luggage you have, the heavier the plane will be. That means the plane will use more fuel, and therefore release more carbon emissions into the air.
Try to adopt a more minimalist approach and just take the bare essentials.
You’ll have extra space in your bag in case you want to pick up any handmade souvenirs from local communities along the way. Buying locally is so much better than buying from the fast fashion stores, as you can be sure the money will go directly back to support the community.
Not only will less luggage be easier to carry – but it will save you money on luggage fees. And it allows you to support the locals and gives you space to pick up a few unique numbers at the same time.
5. Reduce your energy consumption
When you’re traveling, you probably won’t be paying for your electricity bills while you’re away. Whether you sleep with the air con blazing in your room, or leave the light on while you’re out – it’s pretty unlikely that your hotel will charge you extra.
However, just because you’re not paying for it, doesn’t mean you’re not using it! Can you make do with the fan instead of the air con? Air con absolutely rinses electricity which takes its toll on the environment. Don’t forget to turn everything off if you’re heading out for the day.
One final tip… Make sure you’ve turned off all your plugs back at home before you leave to go traveling. That will cut down your power bill while you’re away and will save on the energy that you use.
6. Toiletry Tips
Let’s be real, ‘travel-sized’ products don’t last long. If you’re anything like me – you’ll need multiple mini shampoos and conditioners just to last one trip. And when they are packaged in plastic – well, that’s a lot of unnecessary plastic.
Here are a few tips to make your travel toiletries a bit more sustainable:
- Replace your plastic bottled shampoo and conditioner for a shampoo and conditioner bar. These last typically for around 90 washes, are light, and are solid too so you don’t need to worry about liquids on hand luggage
- Use chemical-free & plastic-free sunscreen. Most standard sunscreens contain a toxic chemical called oxybenzone. Studies show that it is killing our reefs and when applied to our skin, can even increase our chances of developing a life-threatening disease. That’s why we recommend this zero waste sunscreen which will help protect your skin, save the reef and even comes in a plastic-free tin!
- If you do need to take liquids with you, decant what you already have at home into smaller bottles. This will save you buying extra packs and will mean you can use up what you’ve already got.
7. Swap your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo toothbrush
One of the major culprits that ends up polluting our beaches and oceans is the plastic toothbrush.
By swapping your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo toothbrush, you can brush your teeth without fear of contributing to added waste. You can even get a bamboo toothbrush case too, which is perfect for traveling as it keeps the bristles clean.
8. Go Slow
It’s quite common for travelers to try to cram in as much sightseeing as possible in a very short amount of time. Often this way of traveling can be exhausting and you don’t get to explore the real hidden gems in these communities.
Not only is this very costly on your wallet – it’s also costly on the environment. Traveling fast means more transport, more hotels, and less time to get to know the new community around you.
By contrast – slow travel means staying in one place for longer… and it has heaps of environmental benefits. Instead of racing through four countries in South-East Asia, slow down and perhaps focus only on ecotourism spots in Sri Lanka – a country filled with stunning train routes. Slow travel needs to fit your personality, but can ensure you leave a country more fulfilled.
You’ll have more time to really get-to-know the place. You’ll understand the culture better, find the best restaurants and shop at the artisanal stalls. Plus, you’ll be able to give more back into the community. Who knows, you might even befriend the locals who own and/or run your accommodation and get some sweet tips few tourists know.
9. Stay in one place
Tied to the idea of slow travel is also staying in one place too. Some people like to hotel hop and make the most of the luxurious holiday homes on offer – but each time you check into a new hotel, you’ll get a clean room with crisp bed sheets… Is this really necessary?
For example, if you moved each day – it might be a fun way to explore, but this also creates 7x the amount of laundry in comparison to if you stayed in the same place for a week.
Oh, and it’s okay to tell the hotel staff that you’re fine with using one towel for your stay. This reduces water and energy usage on excessive laundry.
Consider choosing one place as a base and doing smaller day trips around, rather than checking into somewhere new every day. To inspire, here are five countries that are on the right track to serve as your next sustainable tourism destination.
10. Purify the water
Traveling to third world countries often means clean water isn’t available from the tap. The easy thing to do is to buy tons of bottled water… but instead of this, try purifying the water yourself with tablets so it’s safe to drink.
Always keep a reusable bottle with you, and make sure you follow the instructions to ensure it’s fully safe to drink.
You can find water purifying tablets in most local pharmacies worldwide.
11. Be conscious of your water consumption
We might be used to long, warm, power showers – but access to water is often a struggle for less developed countries.
Even if you’re in a modern city that doesn’t seem to be struggling with water availability, you never know if there’s a nearby small village reliant on that water.
So skip the long showers and don’t leave the tap running while brushing your teeth. It all adds up.
12. Buy local goods
There are so many incredible flavors and foods local to these different regions, which you can’t taste back home… So it’s such a shame to travel worldwide and not support the local produce.
Not only is it cheaper as you won’t be paying import costs, but it will be fresher and will have traveled less to reach you (so will keep your carbon footprint down!)
Head to the local food market stalls, dig deep into the different colors and flavors of the region, and it’s also a nice opportunity to meet the locals too. Traveling this way will tell you more about how these products are part of their culture. But of course, don’t forget to bring your own shopping bag to avoid the plastic ones they’ll likely offer you.
13. Don’t support tourism where animals are treated inhumanely
One of the most common activities for travelers is to take photos, make friends, or enjoy ‘rides’ with native animals. Whether it’s camels in Morocco, monkeys in Bali, or dolphins in America… it’s fun to meet new animals but make sure they are treated in a humane way.
Wildlife are called ‘wild’ because they run free… So stay away from animals that are tied up or are so chilled they might be sedated. As humans, we don’t want to be tied up – so we shouldn’t treat our animals like that too.
Be relentless in your search for things-to-do while traveling, especially when animals are involved.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas and inspiration about how you can travel sustainably. It’s totally possible to travel without leaving a negative footprint.
Just remember a few key pointers: Reduce your plastic, be mindful of your carbon footprint, always consider the methods of transport, and take cues from how locals live.
With these 13 sustainable travel tips, you won’t just have more fun on your travels – they’ll be all the more meaningful, too.
About the author
Harriet Simonis is a co-founder of Zero Waste Cartel, an eco-friendly brand which she set up after falling in love with surfing in Bali and wanting to reduce the plastic pollution in the sea. When she’s not working in a cafe or writing her travel blog Hats Off, you can find her on (or under) a surfboard.