Travelling has many perks. From the chance to see fantastic natural landscapes to relishing exotic cuisines, it can also be hard on mother nature. From leaving trash on remote islands to greenhouse emissions produced by long-distance flights. There are hundreds of reasons why conscientious green travel decisions can make a difference.
Luckily, there’s a growing trend to reduce our carbon and ecological footprint in every aspect of life. It is no different when it comes to holidays. This can apply to flights, hotels, activities, and even food.
As you plan your next trip, use this as a list of tips on reducing your carbon emissions and ecological footprint. To discover more about sustainable travel for a certain part of your trip, click on the category below.
Where you choose to visit determines the options you have to be eco-friendly. Different cities offer different resources and have varying regulations.
Staycations are one of the most eco-friendly ways to take a vacation because you’re cutting out the carbon emissions from high-intensity emission travelling (i.e. planes).
You can find many hidden gems and local adventures nearby during a staycation. One of the greenest ways is to seek out local activities, such as wandering around undiscovered areas of your neighbourhood or visiting local museums. If you want to go a little farther, think about driving to a beach, park, or forest for a few hours. You don’t have to go far to have an enjoyable holiday.
Look for cities that promote greener, cleaner practices and work to improve the quality of life for their inhabitants. Some indicators of a sustainable city are if they have a governing body to manage sustainability, encourage reduced energy consumption, focus on reducing their local and global impact and show commitment to protecting natural resources, people and heritage.
For example, the Island of Palau requires visitors to pledge to protect the natural and cultural heritage before entering.
You can also look at official certifications and awards given to countries to indicate their pledge toward sustainability. For example, the European Commission each year awards a European city the Green Capital and Green Leaf Award. To date, 14 cities have won the European Green Capital Award.
The most visited cities aren’t always sustainable, so if you travel to a more popular and busy city, consider travelling outside the peak season. Remember that a destination’s high season is mainly dictated by local schools’ break periods, not necessarily the best time to be there.
Travelling in the off-season means you not only benefit from cheaper flights and hotels, but you are also helping to stimulate economic growth and jobs. The tourism industry’s seasonality presents a global challenge for job security as workers are not often laid off post-high-season.
Second-city travelling is about including a lesser-known city on your holiday itinerary, so you’re travelling beyond just the most popular city and tourism hot spots. This way, you can still visit famous landmarks, but you’re not contributing as much to over-tourism and pollution as you’re bringing attention to other lesser-known places.
For instance, travelling to Italy to visit Rome is an ideal vacation destination for many. But you should also try experiencing what other Italian cities have to offer. Over-tourism, similar to overfishing, can deplete a region’s resources and leave it more polluted than before.
With the threat of global warming and climate change, we’re not unfamiliar with the devastating impact of natural disasters. It’s exceptionally hard-hitting for countries heavily reliant on the tourism industry. In some cases, it’s beneficial for you to travel to some of these destinations to help with reparation or stimulate the economy.
For example, Mexico receives 15.5% of its GDP from tourism. So when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit right outside Mexico City’s centre, it’s understandable that many were focused on quickly resuming local tourism so that it could bring a faster recovery to the city, even while parts of the city were still under repair.
Volunteering in reparation projects is also possible, like the trips organised after Hurricane Maria hit Dominica in 2017. Laurie Myers, the project lead for the Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council, said that “Travellers can help further by volunteering in environmental and social projects helping to rebuild devastated communities.”
But it’s important to do your research on the status of the recovery effort. Sometimes you do more harm than good by going. Choosing if you should visit a post-disaster area also depends on whether it’s safe if the infrastructure is in place for you to go, and how the locals will receive it. It’s not a decision to be made on a whim.
Don’t underestimate the environmental impact of the tourist accommodation you stay at. Where you stay accounts for 1% of global and 20% of emissions from the tourism industry.
While many of us have good intentions and try to reduce our environmental footprint as much as possible, you need to be aware of not falling victim to greenwashing. Greenwashing is when a business states false eco-friendly claims to create the perception that they’re doing more to protect the environment rather than doing the work it takes to be sustainable and preserve the environment from their impact.
In 2021, Booking.com released a Sustainable Travel Report, which revealed that 81% of travellers said they would like to stay in a sustainable accommodation, a 19% increase from 2016.
Many standards for defining a sustainable accommodation focus on specific sustainability areas, such as energy management. One standard that stands out because of its holistic approach is the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). Their criteria ensure that the accommodation complies with environmental and social standards, such as sustaining natural resources, before being certified.
So the next time you’re looking for accommodation, ask the business if they have green certification and check if the GSTC approves that certifier. Some countries, such as Costa Rica, have their own certification programs to rate sustainability initiatives. Other certification programs include EarthCheck (Australia), Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance (Latin America, Caribbean), and Green Tourism Business Scheme (UK).
Many of the significant accommodation booking websites fall short of being able to serve eco-conscious travellers looking to reduce their footprint. But there are many websites nowadays that are filling this important gap.
For example, if you’re looking for sustainable accommodation in Europe, try using Bookitgreen, which calculates the carbon footprint of each accommodation per night. If you’re looking for a more global website to book on, try Bookdifferent, a social enterprise affiliate of booking.com whose purpose is to “make the travel sector greener.”
Just as your house can use energy-efficient appliances and energy sources, accommodations you rent for holidays can also. You can reduce your environmental footprint by staying in an accommodation that uses renewable energy and water/energy efficient technology.
These technologies tend to be in higher-end accommodations, so another way to be more energy efficient is to choose a place that isn’t bigger than you need. If you’re travelling as a pair, chances are that you don’t need a massive amount of space. The more space you have, the more energy is spent to power electricity, heating, and cooling.
If the word “hostel” immediately invokes negative feelings, then it’s time for you to reconsider them as a plausible accommodation option on your next trip. Not only are hostels a social space that is usually more embedded in the city’s culture, but they are also much greener when compared to home rentals and hotels. This is because of the shared facilities, which allow the travel industry to use less water and energy per person, thus having a lower environmental impact.
As a more affordable and greener accommodation alternative, hostels are one of the most realistic sustainable housing options for budget travellers.
Before booking your accommodation, ask the host if they have projects or initiatives that go towards being more sustainable. For example, you can ask if they have a recycling programme, solar power, energy-efficient lighting, and rainwater harvesting. If they don’t, you can encourage them to start by contacting them or leaving suggestions on comment cards at checkout.
How your accommodation interacts with its local environment, and businesses can indicate that they are more sustainable if they support the community’s economy.
Information on your hotel may be hard to find online, so you can always ask them directly. Some questions to ask are:
Hotels typically either wash each guest’s clothes separately or send them off to the dry cleaners. Both options leave a larger carbon footprint than you would use at home, so if you only have a short stay, it’s recommended to forego the laundry service.
For delicates or items that need to be washed, you can consider washing the clothes in the shower or sink and then hanging them up overnight to dry.
When staying in a hotel, it’s common practice to hang your towels on a rack to signify that you would like to continue to reuse them. And then, towels left unfolded on the floor or bathroom countertop are considered dirty and will be taken by the cleaning service to be washed.
If you don’t wash your towels every day at home, why would you do it while travelling? Washing machines consume much energy and water, increasing tourist footprint.
Hotels often supply small soap bars and containers of shampoo for their patrons as a complimentary amenity so that you don’t need to bring your own. But those little open bottles of soap you leave behind aren’t refilled like you might’ve assumed. Instead, they’re thrown out. This adds to the unsustainable waste that hotels produce. So the next time you check out your hotel room, grab those open amenities.
Take every precaution to preserve the water and energy resources of the area while you are on vacation. Beyond transportation to your destination, energy is needed for heating, lighting, and power in the tourism industry. The local water and energy infrastructure may be severely strained in some areas, such as South Africa. Some areas struggle to meet demand since tourists consume substantially more water and energy than locals. This issue will worsen as global temperatures rise and the human population increases.
Some things you can do are turn off the lights, TV, and any other electronic devices while not in use. Also, instead of taking a bath, consider taking a quick shower. Hand wash your clothing and hang the “Do not disturb” sign to save needless laundry and cleaning. When setting the thermostat, the optimal range is between 20°C and 22°C, but it is also just as important to remember to switch it off when leaving the hotel.
A Navy shower, also called a “combat shower,” “military shower,” and “staggered shower), is a showering method that allows you to save a lot of water because you turn off the water during different parts of your shower, such as while lathering. With this method, the total running time of a shower can last less than two minutes.
This showering method came first from sailors on naval showers where clean water was a limited resource. But it’s since become a way of life for some period. During the peak water shortage, residents and visitors to Cape Town, South Africa, were encouraged to limit their showers to 90 seconds. People who have developed the habit of taking shorter showers have found it a hard habit to break. Which is best off for the planet, anyhow?
Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. That’s equivalent to a full garbage truck being dumped into the ocean every single minute of every single day. You can avoid using and leaving single-use plastics by carefully choosing what you pack.
The durability of your travel gear, and hence the lifespan, largely depends on the quality of the luggage you buy. Spend a little more now, and you can use them for years. It’s also worth looking into the warranty of the luggage as some companies may come with a lifetime warranty, and others may offer repairs to extend the lifespan.
If your baggage has truly reached the end of its use, then reusing or recycling is the best way to continue to get the most value for your money. Try finding a local drop-off point, Salvation Army, or a recycling box for general baggage or your specific luggage brand. You may be able to recycle and reuse the valuable parts of the broken luggage.
By now, you probably have at least one reusable water bottle that you can refill repeatedly. They save money, protect the environment, and build good hydration habits. It must be in everyone’s luggage because it removes the need to buy disposable plastic water bottles. It’s also becoming more convenient to refill them as many airports now have free water dispensers.
Investing in a high-quality stainless steel, BPA-free water bottle that can last a lifetime will save money and reduce your single-use plastic usage. If you were to buy disposable bottled water every day, it’ll cost you at least £30 monthly, and it’ll take 405 years for each bottle to decompose. And even if you reuse disposable water bottles – which you shouldn’t because of bacteria – you’ll still save money in the long run with a stainless steel bottle.
Since shampoo bars don’t come in plastic packaging and they tend to be made from more natural ingredients, they are considered better for the environment. Furthermore, they don’t take up as much room in your baggage. Simply get a handy container to carry your shampoo bar in.
The impact of a single plastic straw may not mean much to you when having fun sipping a drink, but in mass, plastic straws can be very destructive to plants and wildlife, especially when they end up in the ocean. Even paper straws are not much better than plastic straws because producing paper straws requires more energy and produces more greenhouse gas emissions.
While travelling abroad and in your daily use, you should make saying no to straws a habit. If refraining from using straws isn’t possible, try getting a travel-size reusable stainless steel one.
Bringing a reusable or cloth shopping bag is becoming common when grocery shopping, but it’s also a handy tip for travelling because they take up very little space yet can hold a lot when unfolded.
As a bonus, buy a bag made from sustainable organic cotton material.
Sunscreen is essential for preventing sunburn when travelling to sunny places, especially places near the equator where the sun’s rays are strongest. Using sunscreen while swimming, diving, snorkelling, and other outside activities are expected. But much of the everyday sunscreen sold in stores can contain chemicals and particles that harm the environment, especially coral reefs.
By buying reef-safe sunscreen, you can prevent harmful chemicals from entering the ocean. Research has found that the chemicals in regular commercial sunscreen can bleach and harm coral DNA. This interferes with how the coral reefs can reproduce.
Many airlines still offer complimentary earphones to use the aeroplane’s entertainment system. They’re typically of cheap quality and get used only once. If millions of people travel by plane yearly, then many single-use airline earphones end up in landfills and oceans.
The problem is also exacerbated by the increase in Bluetooth headphones that aren’t compatible with in-flight entertainment systems, as they typically have a headphone jack to connect to. So, the next time you fly, bring your wired headphones so you never have to use low-quality airline earphones again.
Depending on your trip (e.g. camping, beach, hiking, cultural, etc.), you’ll need different tools. But that’s not to say that they also can’t be eco-friendly. Some more specific items to consider bringing are:
Depending on where you’re travelling to and how, sometimes packing lighter isn’t the easiest. But for every baggage and extra weight in your bag that you pack, the more you’re contributing to the overall weight of the car or plane. The heavier a vehicle, the more fuel it burns to run and thus resulting in more significant emissions.
Not only does packing lighter cause fewer emissions but there are also more benefits to travelling light. If you’re flying with only a carry-on, you can skip the baggage check-in queue, baggage fees, and baggage claim wait. And it makes carrying your bags around easier at your destination so you can start enjoying your holiday quicker.
Air travel alone makes up 20% of the tourist industry’s carbon emissions, but our reliance on air travel can be mitigated by using alternative modes of transportation.
Whenever you can, refrain from flying domestic flights in favour of alternative modes of public transportation, such as a bus, train, or even a car. Short flights aren’t efficient because most emissions come from the takeoff and landing of a plane. That’s also why direct flights are more environmentally friendly than flights with layovers. Therefore, if you’re considering a domestic flight, consider if there’s anything closer that allows you to do the same thing or similar.
Sometimes avoiding flying isn’t realistic. Because 2.4% of global CO2 emissions come from the aviation industry, the second best thing is to research and fly on an airline actively investing in clean, biofuel technology. For example, in 2019, KLM became the first airline to offer a commercial biofuel flight from Amsterdam to Paris.
Biofuels can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% compared to fossil fuels. They are better than typical fuel because they contain plant oils, wood chips, or agricultural waste.
Non-stop flights are exponentially better for the environment than flights with layovers. But it’s not just because you travel fewer kilometres on a direct flight. Instead, it’s because as much as 50% of carbon emissions can come from the takeoff and landing, especially on short flights.
Because air travel emissions comprise 20% of the tourist industry’s global carbon footprint, it’s essential to consider whether and how to fly. If you need an example, then a non-stop 1,800km flight uses 13% of its fuel for taxi, takeoff, climbing, and descending. But if you made a layover, that number would jump to 23%. So the next time you book a flight, ask yourself if saving £50 is worth the environmental cost.
Cruise ships bring passengers across the sea on a multi-stop journey to several popular port destinations, eliminating the need to plan individual flights. However cruise ships may seem like a good alternative to flying, but they can be even more polluting. Research suggests that even the most efficient cruise ships emit 3 to 4x more carbon dioxide per person (per kilometre) than commercial flights.
And while with flying, you have the option of choosing airlines that use biofuel, cruise ships tend to burn highly polluting fossil fuels. But they don’t only cause environmental pollution. They also are a nuisance to highly popular destinations, such as Venice, because they take up the skyline and crowd the city.
A road trip is a fun way to see many attractions and visit different cities at your own leisure. It’s one of the perfect ways to practice slow travel. And it also releases 62g less emissions than a domestic plane per kilometre and 6g less than a long-haul flight!
But there are first some tips about choosing an eco-friendly car you should know to maximise your emission efficiency. First, if you want to drive to your destination but don’t have an eco-car, consider hiring a hybrid or electric hybrid, as they are more fuel efficient and produce less emissions. Second, hire a car that is only as big as you need it, not bigger, as they will need more fuel to carry more weight for the same amount of people. This increases your emissions footprint. Lastly, travel with friends and family! But we’ll go more in detail on this in the next tip.
Even driving emits less carbon than flying, and it can produce even less with the more people you’re sharing a ride with. When driven alone, a medium-sized petrol automobile emits roughly 192g of CO2 per kilometre. However, this may be shared with other people.
For instance, if you were travelling with one other person, your CO2 emissions would be roughly 96g per person per kilometre. But add 2 more people, and your carbon footprint is now 48g per person for each kilometre driven.
So, if the destination is nearby and you’re going with family or friends, you might want to consider a road trip. But you also need to consider that flying can be more environmentally friendly if you’re going alone, depending on the distance and car.
But what if you’re going alone and don’t want to fly? Don’t worry! There are car-sharing platforms intending to help people travel longer distances. For example, blablacar.com and carpoolworld.com help drivers and riders go to the same destination who want to share a car. It’s a win-win because you’re both lowering your carbon footprint.
You’re probably familiar with the convenient ride-hailing apps that get you to where you want to go over short distances. But you’re probably not using the rideshare or carpool feature, especially while travelling in a place that doesn’t have good public transportation.
Similar to how you can use carpooling and ridesharing apps for long distances, you can also use them for shorter rides. They pair multiple parties in the same direction with one of their drivers. The carpool option saves you money, reduces your carbon footprint, and takes more cars off the road, especially in busy cities.
Train travel is the most ecologically friendly option, aside from walking or bicycling. They emit 66-75% less carbon emissions than other forms of transportation, even if they’re electric. Trains are more sustainable and better than other modes of transportation in terms of energy use, space usage, and noise levels.
Trains offer another opportunity to slow travel as you read a book or take in the scenery. But trains can also be more convenient for you as a traveller because they’ll connect you directly between city centres, not out of the town as many airports do.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you need to figure out how you’ll get around. If the city centre is compact, we highly recommend walking around. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the streets of where you are, and it doesn’t cost the earth a cent.
But it’s not always easy to get around on foot because the city may be spread far apart or it’s unsafe to walk. In that case, renting a bike or scooter is your next best bet to get around without leaving a large footprint behind.
While choosing the travel option with the least carbon emissions is ideal, it’s unavoidable sometimes. Whenever you can, you should choose to offset any part of the journey by investing in an environmental project that is helping to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Remember that offsets tend to be unregulated when offsetting your journey, so the quality of projects and investments can vary.
A carbon emissions calculator can help you calculate your carbon footprint from travelling. It can also help you identify how much carbon you’ll need to offset. There are carbon calculators specific for one mode of transportation, such as this ICAO carbon emissions calculator for aeroplanes, and others that can also calculate other modes of transportation or even your footprint when you’re back home.
While on holiday, the possibilities of what you can do are endless. The key is to find a way to continue to be environmentally friendly while enjoying the most of your trip.
Slow tourism is a practice that got renewed in the aftermath of the 2021 pandemic, with many wanting to take their time to explore leisurely. In contrast to mass tourism, slow tourism is a part of the sustainable tourism family, emphasising the connections made to local people, cultures, food, and music.
In practice, it can include spending a longer duration in a place, not emphasising a checklist of things to see, taking leisure time, and taking more time to educate yourself and gain more awareness.
And in terms of being more environmentally friendly, travelling slower puts less environmental pressure and can decrease your footprint because you’re taking flights and bus trips over a short period of time.
We’ve already established that walking around is one of the best ways to get around for the environment. A city walking tour allows you to see a city from a local’s perspective while still being eco-friendly because you’re not using a large tour bus. You gain historical and cultural insight into not only the big attractions in a city but also the lesser-known smaller ones you see as you walk.
And in many cities, you can find these city walking tours for free as some locals are passionate enough about their city to show it off. This is an excellent option for budget travellers as the tour guides work off tips, so you can tip however much. And in some experiences, they can be an invaluable part of your trip.
As much as how we get there and what we leave behind is essential, what we bring home is equally important. Here are some quick tips to consider before buying souvenirs and other items to bring back.
When we go on holiday, it’s often assumed that most of the money we spend is filtrating back through the local economy of the area visited. But in many cases, it’s quite the opposite. As much as 90% of money spent on tourism leaks out of the travel destination. Instead, this money is going to large global, corporate tourism companies. This process is called tourism leakage.
The money you spend on holiday can leak out of the local economy and to large corporations in many ways. For example, if you flew to your destination, what airline did you fly to, and where is the airline from?
What you can do to help combat this is to shop from local stores and use local services, as we discussed in the previous tip.
While travelling is a great way to glimpse new cultures and experience new activities, always remember that you visit someone else’s home wherever you go. A good mentality is to treat the city as you would your own home.
Respect all city regulations and laws governing health, safety, and traffic. Be mindful of your waste disposal habits and try your best to leave areas in the same condition that you found them so that visitors and locals in the future can enjoy them as well. Respecting and treating the locals decently goes a long way and builds a good relationship between the tourism industry and locals.
While you’re on vacation, take your time to enjoy it. Rather than getting a coffee to-go and carrying it around when you travel, please sit and enjoy it. But if you’re short on time in the morning for coffee, consider carrying a reusable coffee cup to avoid the single-use takeaway cups.
When you grab maps, brochures, and other tourist materials, keep them in good condition so that when you are finished using them, you can put them back where you found them so that others can reuse them.
If you’re travelling long enough and you have your own kitchen, try cooking a meal with local produce! When buying ingredients from a supermarket or in local markets, you should consider what is local versus what is imported. The local ingredients tend to be the freshest and have a smaller carbon footprint, while the imported food tends to be more expensive, less fresh, and have a higher carbon footprint.
It also allows you to try to cook a well-known recipe in the region. This wouldn’t be possible if you were travelling faster and for a shorter period of time.
Knowledge is power, and what better way to use all the information you learned in this list than to share it? When encountering other tourists on your trip, share some of the top sustainability tips you’ve been using.
When travelling, you’ll find that not everyone has the same knowledge of sustainability as each other, so there’s always something left to be learned.
As more tourists are prioritising the importance of travelling sustainably, the downside is that many tour companies are taking advantage of this by greenwashing their company’s impact. Of course, not all tour companies do this, but as a traveller, this is something to be aware of.
Make sure you research and ask questions about how the company gives back to the local community and how they handle wildlife encounters. Research the company’s websites and see how open and transparent they are about their commitment to eco-tourism. Usually, some promising signs of an ecotourism tour company are those that travel with some groups, encourage you to pick up litter, and find ways to offset the carbon they emit.
Going on holiday is a great time to get back to basics and spend time in nature, but nature can be delicate. Hence, finding a responsible way to include and interact with nature on your trip is essential.
While specific wildlife interactions, such as those with wild dolphins with a reputable tour operator, are ethical and can help with animal conservation, most businesses, for example, provide rides on elephants or tigers, for instance, do not prioritise the welfare of the animals. By riding elephants or petting tigers, you’re inadvertently aiding animal abuse of animals that plays a prominent role in maintaining a healthy ecological balance.
You should avoid touching or feeding wild animals, even in nature, because you make them more accustomed and dependent on humans. They can also lead to dangerous situations if you’re not cautious.
Protected areas like national parks and marine sanctuaries protect Earth’s biodiversity and natural resources. They’re so important that during the 2021 UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a new global biodiversity framework was agreed upon to steer actions worldwide through 2030. One of the goals included in the framework is to “ensure that at least 30% globally of land areas and sea areas are conserved.”
However, many of these protected areas rely on tourists to continue to support and fund the area. By visiting and paying entrance fees, you contribute to the conservation efforts required to preserve these locations while generating income for nearby communities.
Remember that the marked trails are there for a reason when hiking or walking a path. Venturing off the footpath may seem like a good idea at a time when your adventurous spirits are high. Still, you risk damaging native flora and discovering unexpected animals or bugs.
You should leave as little trace as possible during these hikes through nature. The environmental consequences over time can lead to erosion to the extent that the footpaths become usable.
As simple as this tip may seem, it goes a long way toward protecting the environment. Litter not only negatively impacts the scenery of a city or trail and poses a danger to animals, but it can also end up in our rivers and seas.
By removing trash from our environment, we can stop it from ending up in other ecosystems and stop it from increasing the microplastics in our food and products.
The next time you’re travelling and see litter on the ground, pick it up and ensure it gets disposed of properly. You can even make it a friendly competition! Ten pieces of trash may sound like a small number, but if everyone starts to do this, the collective power can have a monumental positive impact. It all adds up.