“People say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, but the truth is you just never thought you’d ever lose it.” – Taylor Swift
Toilet paper is a good example of the meaning of that quote.
Ok, all jokes aside.
We can all agree that the years of pandemics taught us a lesson or two. The hard way. Life as we knew before changed dramatically and many people lost their jobs. Myself included. Traveling seemed like a mission impossible.
Before the whole world was put on hold, the Travel and Tourism Industry generated more than 10% of global GDP in 2019. In 2020 that number decreased to 5,5%. (data source: World Travel & Tourism Council). At the same time, this same industry was also guilty of around 10% of all the greenhouse emissions (data source: Nature).
The Pandemic, even if we don’t want to admit it yet, did have some positive impacts on our planet. Working from home and less commute resulted in cleaner air in the cities. Fewer (or no) tourists were great for the ecosystems since they had the time to recover briefly.
In 2021, travel and tourism’s direct contribution to GDP, was approximately 5.8 billion US dollars globally. More than 2020, with 4,7 billion US dollars, and still way less than in 2019, when tourism contributed 9,6 billion US dollars. (data source: Statista)
Now, the world is slowly returning back to the previous path. Travelers are desperate to explore new/old destinations that are waiting on their bucket lists.
Though pandemics may be over, there is another threat that we have all gotten familiar with. Climate change with rising temperatures, endangered animal species, rising sea levels, weather extremes …
This does not mean you have to abandon your travel plans! I am not abandoning mine.
Reopening travel is giving us the opportunity to change the way how we think and how we travel.
A sign for a change.
A time where we can learn how to travel in a more responsible way.
If you still want to see the World and go on a vacation, there are many ways that will minimize your environmental impact and reduce your carbon footprint. This post is going to cover the ways that you can incorporate next time when traveling abroad, that will make you a more sustainable traveler.
Don’t have time to read now? Pin it for later!
Do you want to travel like me?
Here are some of my favorite travel tips and resources;
FLIGHTS: I use Google Flights or Skyscanner to find the best flight deals. The destination everywhere feature is perfect to find some cheap deals!
ACCOMMODATION: Booking.com is my favorite site for finding great hotel deals.
TOURS & ACTIVITIES: I like to wander around on my own, but when I want to explore with a group I book a tour with GetYourGuide.
Something to think about
Before we get to the ways how to travel and pollute less, let’s get something out of the way and make things clear.
There is not only one right way or answer to what sustainable travel is. The place you are coming from, where you are traveling to, and the number of people traveling, all affect answering what environmentally-friendly travel really is.
While the actions stated below are a great start, there are some that will work better in some places than in others. For example, saving water is a lot more important in dry areas than in the middle of the tropical rainforest.
Also, if you think that traveling in an environmentally friendly way is all about climate change, I will sadly have to tell you that it is not. It is the main idea. But it also includes respecting local culture. It includes ways of saving water and dealing with waste. It involves wages and working conditions of those in tourism and hospitality. It shows where the tourism dollars are going and if the local communities are getting something back.
Read along for 13 simple ways you can do to be a more sustainable traveler.
1. Consider how you get there; plane, train, bus or car
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
How you get to desired location will highly depend on the destination and the number of travelers. When I travel with a group as their guide the logistics are usually a bit different than when I travel solo. But more often than not, the general rules apply.
When you are going to destination that is close to your home, consider transportation that is more eco-friendly. If you are traveling in a group, then driving can be a good idea. Even busses or trains are more ecologically friendly than flying. But if you are traveling solo, a train or even flying can be a greener option.
Don’t forget to save this for later!
2. Think how you fly; non-stop and on biofuels
“Do what is right, even if you’re flying solo.”
When flying is the only available option, you can still lessen your carbon footprint. One way you can reduce it by booking a non-stop flight. Those flights have the most direct route and require less fuel. This is because airplanes produce the most carbon emissions during landing and taking off. Fewer flight legs, fewer emissions, and less travel time.
Another great way to be more eco-friendly is to book economy flight tickets. Business and first-class are the dream. And no one can deny that having extra legroom and actually being able to sleep is not on our wish list. But flying coach is better for your wallet and for the planet. Now you are thinking, “How is that possible if we are all on the same plane?” Confused? That is because the emissions of an airplane passenger are calculated by the size of space a passenger takes up on a plane.
One more thing that can make air travel greener is if you choose airlines that are investing in aviation biofuels and clean technology. There are more than 30 airlines that use biofuel. Some of them are; Lufthansa, SAS, KLM, Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, United, British Airways, and one of my top carriers, Turkish Airlines.
A plane like a Boeing 747 uses approximately 4 liters (around 1 gallon) of fuel every second. Over the course of a 10-hour flight, it might burn 150,000 liters (36,000 gallons). Gas consumption at its worst, right? Well, not exactly. A 747 is, on average, transporting 500 people, and uses 12 liters of fuel for 1 km (5 gallons per mile). Which would get the fuel consumption of around 3 to 4 liters per passenger per 100 kilometers (approximately 100 miles per gallon per person). Which is better than a car carrying one person, and compares favorably even if there are four people in the car. (data source: OpenAirlines)
3. Stay longer & Travel slower
“If we slow down, everything lasts longer.” – Paulo Coelho
Constantly running from place to place. From site to site. Not having the time to enjoy the destination leads to coming home exhausted. Going on a vacation should be about exploring, getting away from all the rushing and stress of daily life.
So, travel slower and stay longer. Don’t plan your trip and run around all frantic without any time to stop and rest. You are on a holiday. It is perfectly fine if you don’t see every must-see or take a photo in all the ‘instagrammable’ places there are.
First and last days of all my trips (or the trips I guide with the agency) are always planned to do nothing. To get accustomed. To enjoy and relax. To slow down. To have a coffee. To watch people in a park. To spend a day on the beach or by the pool. You want to get home refreshed and relaxed, with your batteries full, not exhausted and tired needing another vacation.
Pin this for later!
4. Travel and pack light
“Travel light, Arrive quickly.” – Sathya Sai Baba
Only bringing a carry-on will 100% make you more mobile and give you more freedom when moving around. Less luggage means you will be able to move faster and reduce the carbon offprint. Think how long you have to wait for your suitcase when getting off the plane, especially because you are always the lucky one who gets it last. 🙂 Plus, less luggage means there is less fuel required to bring your belongings from point A to point B.
When I travel for 3 weeks or less, I travel with my carry-on only. That was on my trip to Dubai & Greece, USA, Japan, Philippines, Vanuatu and other places. If you consider doing the same, choose a lightweight backpack or suitcase that fits the carry-on measurements. The most common measurements are 55x40x20 cm or 21.5×15.7×8 in. To be completely on the safe side, check with your carrier. For my travels, I use Duchebags backpacks. To maximize the space I always roll all my clothes, bring light ones that can be worn multiple times and are easy to wash.
5. Choose eco-friendly accommodation
“Check-in with Plastic; Check-out with Dinner.” – Rowe Downtown, Dubai
When choosing accommodation, select an eco-friendly place to stay. That doesn’t mean you have to omit luxury. A lot of eco accomodations have a far more luxurious feel than not-so-green ones. A great place to find one is ECOBNB. You can also look for certifications. If you are booking through Booking.com, look for Travel Sustainable badge.
Most hotels will have their sustainability measures written on their pages, so you will know what they are trying to achieve. Those may include ways how they are trying to reduce waste, save water, what they are doing for the local community, wages of their employees and how can you as a guest be involved in that process too.
I know you will remember, but just in case, Pin those!
6. Save energy
“How would you feel, if someone turned you on and then left?”
This is the easiest way we can all make a difference. It goes something like this, less energy we use, less carbon emissions we produce. And it rhyms. There are many more ways to save energy when traveling. The most obvious one would be switching off the lights before leaving the room.
Depending on the destination (mine are usually in hot and humid climates) it can be tempting to leave the air conditioning (heating) on. Please, don’t. Switch them both off when you are out and about exploring. Another very obvious one is to turn off all the appliances that you don’t plan to use. In some hotel rooms, there is a nice toggle next to them.
In addition you can minimize the energy consumption in your home. Unplug appliances you won’t be using and adjust the thermostat when abroad.
7. Save water
“Save water! shower with a friend!”
While showering with a friend can not be an option when traveling solo (or is it?), there are ways you can lower your water consumption.
Water is scarce in many areas of the World. Don’t let water endlessly run before taking a shower. Close the tap when brushing your teeth.
And really, do you change towels and linen every day when you are at home? I don’t think so. So, there is no need to change them daily at the accommodation you are staying at.
Pinning is winning!
8. Reduce plastic use and carry a water bottle
“Skip a straw, save a turtle.”
I am positive we all came across photos of marine life wrapped in plastic. Not a pretty image. I admit it is hard to not use plastic at all. But we can reduce their use or reuse the ones we already have. There are so many ways how we can do this.
Use a bar of soap instead of shampoo bottles. Or reuse shampoo bottles that you are carrying with you in your carry-on. You can also bring reusable bags. When going for a well-deserved cocktail, omit the straw. But if you must have one, use the one made from paper, or wood. The same goes for coffee cups. If you don’t have time to have a coffee at the coffee shop, go for a paper cup, that can be more easily degradable than plastic.
When I worked as a barista, we had a special offer. If a customer brought their own takeaway cup, coffee was cheaper. How about that for saving the environment! The ultimate goal was to not only reduce plastics but also paper, clothes and daily waste. There are some easy tips for Zero Waste to help you get started.
Another very basic yet effective way to reduce plastic is to carry a water bottle. You can easily refill it at every airport (water there is SO overpriced) and reuse as needed. Hydrate – Refill – Reuse. Have a water bottle.
Hydrate – Refill – Reuse
Have a water bottle!
9. Explore in a green and efficient way
“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.” – Erol Ozan
When choosing the form of transportation on destination, try to select the greener ones.
Hop on a bus (in Samoa). Go Paddleboarding (in Thailand). Rent a bike (in Seychelles). Explore bigger cities (Paris, Rome, London) with the metro. Join a walking tour (in Kyoto). Jump on a Ferry (in Sydney). Ride shinkansen (in Japan) and tuk tuk (in Indonesia).
Traveling that way will add up to your experience and enhance understanding of the destination.
Pinning is winning!
10. Support local economy and local experiences
“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy local and that’s kind of the same thing.”
Even if you travel solo, there still might be some tours you would like to do while at your destination. The best way to support local communities is by choosing authentic excursions run by them. That way travel dollars will go where they are supposed to.
In most cases, I book my tours on the spot with locals. Like hiring a guide in the Philippines to show rice terraces, having a cooking class in Japan and Thailand, and a volcano tour in Vanuatu. When I book in advance (like visiting Antelope canyon) I still book with locals. If I only need a guide to show me around a city I use GetYourGuide. The most memorable one I got was in Nara, Japan.
Whether you are a fan of organized tours or you don’t have the time to plan your own trip, I would recommend booking with Intrepid of G adventures. I worked with both of them before as a travel agent. What they do is that they work with local leaders so they help to ensure tourist dollars go directly to the communities.
You can also support locals when buying souvenirs from their artists. And by that, I mean to buy the things that you need, not because you will bring them home and leave them in the drawer.
11. Eat local
“Eat local, eat fresh.”
There is nothing better than tasting grandmother’s food. She knows how to mix those ingredients and make the most delicious dish. Agreed? So why not try those local dishes, made from secret recipes passed on through generations?
Enjoying food from the region where it originates should be part of your learning about the destination. Besides, local food always tastes better and will be fresher. It will also result in lowering the environmental footprint since the food didn’t have to travel far. Moreover, you will show support to the locals and their community.
When I travel I always visit a local fruit market and I always look for bars/pubs where all the locals are going to have a meal. This way I can try local dishes that I usually wouldn’t be able to get at home. And tasting food there will be the most pristine experience. Two experiences that are still most alive in my memory. First one is the lady in Kyoto that made the best okonomiyaki. The second one visiting the market in Port vila in Vanuatu.
Save those! Just in case.
12. Respect nature & wildlife
“Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos, kill nothing but time.”
When on an adventure, we come across things that would be perfect for our ‘collection’. As tempting as it is, don’t take anything from the environment. That means leaving the corals on the beach. Leaving sand on the beach. Leaving fallen leaves under the trees. Rocks on the ground. Don’t stack them. It is tempting, but don’t do it. It seems very insignificant if you only take a few, but a few multiplied by 1000 adds up. They play a role in the environment and the ecosystem. Plus you could pay a HUGE fine if they catch you carrying it. (Don’t say you were not warned.)
If you are lucky enough to visit a destination with wildlife, pay respect. Don’t feed the animals, don’t disturb them, and don’t get too close! Don’t disturb their sleep because you want that perfect photo with them. Wildlife is crucial for the planet and sadly more and more species are getting endangered.
When on a hike stay on a trail. Don’t touch or break plants. Pay respect to nature and don’t litter. Whatever came with you on a hike should also come back. And if you see litter alongside the road, pick it up and carry it back with you. If you have to use the bathroom, a general rule is to get at least 50m away from any water source (river or a lake).
13. Offset your carbon emissions
The sad truth is that no matter what you do, there will always be some carbon emissions that you can not avoid. So, if you really want to make a mark you can compensate for that by purchasing a carbon offset.
When you buy carbon offsets you help to make the world greener. There are several organizations offering a range of different projects that you can choose to invest in. Best carbon offset projects are generally focused on; forests and biodiversity, getting clean energy, local communities, coastal areas, and recycling.
There are many sites that give you the option to invest in a project that is dear to you. It can be for trees in Kenya, drinkable water in Rwanda, getting solar and wind energy in India, or to help protect the area from deforestation in Brazil. What are you going to choose?
Pinning is winning and sharing is caring! What are you choosing?
All of the above in a nutshell
“No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” – Max Lucado
We all want to enjoy a well-deserved holiday break after a rough couple of years.
It is a fact that travel has many benefits. But just like all things in life, there are always two sides of a coin. Even if we try our best there will still be some environmental impact done that can not be avoided. By following sustainable travel tips we can all decrease how much we leave behind. And lower our carbon footprint.
A few of the sustainable practices are; saving energy and water, bringing water bottles, reducing single plastic use, traveling lighter and staying longer. Applying those will only mean a minimal yet simple switch one could make in the way of travel, but the sum of them can make a significant difference when those changes combine.They would benefit the environment and the communities, but still make sure you return home with an amazing experience. Following them will be even more essential in the coming years. We can already see how our planet is changing and keeping the same thing that we did in the past just doesn’t work anymore.
What do you do to travel more sustainable?
How many from the ways above do you practice?
I would love to discover new and effective ways to travel more eco-friendly.
Skipped to the good part? Here is the gist
Climate change is happening while you are reading this if you like it or not. Because of it, we all have to change the way we travel. Some of the ways how you can be a more sustainable traveler are; booking direct flights, traveling with carry-on only, using a water bottle, booking activities with locals, lowering energy consumption, reducing single plastic use and more. We know that small changes lead to big results. So why not start now?
I hope this article gave you some ideas on how to make you more sustainable traveler.
If you found this blog helpful, follow me on Instagram and Pinterest. Or you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. Here you will find a lot of travel tips, itineraries, and packing hacks completely for free. If you want to see more of it and would like to encourage me to post even more, you can say thanks and buy me a coffee.
How are you making your travel more environmentally friendly?
Which practices do you use?
Let me know in the comments.