10 Ways to Travel More Sustainably

Taking your sustainable living habits on the road.

Traveling by train is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and see more of the place you are traveling through. Image Credit: Jonathan Combe. CC BY 2.0

Traveling by train is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and see more of the place you are traveling through. Image Credit: Jonathan Combe. CC BY 2.0

It is easy to get caught up in the beauty and newness of the places we travel through. While this element of escapism is part of the magic of travel, it often means forgetting to treat the place we are in as what it is: someone else’s home. Sustainable travel is important—not only because we need to protect the world that is our collective home, but because we need to respect the places that are someone else’s environment, their home. These ten ways to travel more sustainably explore actions we can all take to be greener travelers and to show respect to the places we are traveling through.

1. Avoid flights.

Sometimes this can be difficult to do. However, whenever possible try to opt for slower forms of travel like trains, buses, or boats. It may take you a bit longer to get to your final destination, but you will significantly reduce your carbon footprint and enjoy a richer sense of place. If you absolutely must fly, try to book a nonstop flight — taking off and landing only once uses less fuel. There’s one exception: if you’re traveling alone, driving has more of a negative impact on the environment than flying.

2. Stay in hostels.

There may be fewer amenities, but that means less waste. Many hostels even use renewable energy and recycle. Hostels are also cheaper, and the connections you’ll end up making with your roomates will be priceless.

3. Stay in green hotels.

If hostels are simply not available (or not for you), try to stay in a green hotel. When traveling in the US look for a hotels with a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The certification means that the building is green and energy efficient.

4. Bring your reusable water bottle.

This one is just common sense, but we could all use a reminder. Single use plastics (water bottles and other packaging) are harmful to the environment because they are difficult to recycle and don’t decompose naturally. To learn more, check out 5 everyday products that hurt the environment, or this video, following travel producer Marie McGrory as she attempts to spend a week in Belize without using any single use plastics.

5. Hang up your towels.

Hanging up towels in a hotel is pretty much a universally accepted sign that you’d like to re-use them. Chances are, you probably don’t use a fresh towel every time you shower at home, and it takes a lot of energy, water, and other resources for the hotel to launder everyone's towels, every day.

6. Support the local economy.

According to the World Tourism Organization, out of every $100 spent on a trip, only $5 will have a positive impact on the destination. This is partly due to the uber cheap, made in China merchandise available at almost every popular destination. Instead of buying a cheap sweatshirt, support your destinations “real” economy by purchasing souvenirs from local shops, created by local artisans.

7. Partner with nonprofits.

If you have extra space in your luggage, try to give back to the communities you visit. Partner with organizations like Pack for a Purpose that give the school supplies and other items you pack to local communities. Partnering with a non-profit means knowing what people need, and where they need it, bypassing the negative effects of well-intentioned but harmful gifts.

8. Go on tours run by local guides.

Do your research to make sure you are supporting the local economy and not something that is endangering local communities or their environment.

9. Don’t buy wildlife products.

Again, this one is common sense. When you purchase wildlife products you’re supporting (consciously or not) an industry that trafficks rare and endangered wildlife.

10. Remember: sustainable travel isn’t just about the environment.

Kelley Louise, executive director of the Impact Travel Alliance put it best when she wrote in the New York Times that, “Sustainability has a positive impact not only on the environment, but the culture and the economy of the destination you’re visiting.” While excessive tourism does much to hurt the environment and culture of a place, sustainable travel can begin to reverse that damage.



EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her. 

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