“Travel brings us up close to some of our planet’s most stunning natural wonders and connects us with cultures around the globe. It also has the power to change places and the lives of the people who live there – for better or worse” – sustainabletravel.org
Being able to travel the world is an incredible privilege and one that I don’t take lightly. I have been fortunate enough to travel to so many amazing places all across the globe for over 10 years now.
However, in the past year or so my perspective on travel has changed. When I first started visiting new cities or countries years ago, I only thought about me and the people I was with. I wanted the best experiences not thinking about the consequences of what was involved in those experiences.
With so much more research out there now about overtourism and its impact, how coral reefs are being irrevocably damaged and how plastic consumption has led to detrimental effects on the environment – I knew my approach to travel had to change.
In this post, you will find lots of ideas on how to be a more sustainable traveller and how easy it can be. I’m working on them too.
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What Exactly is Sustainable Travel?
We hear the words eco-friendly travel, travelling sustainably, responsible travel and over-tourism all the time but what exactly does it all mean?
While there is no concrete definition, I like to think that travelling sustainably means that you are socially, culturally and environmentally aware of your actions as a traveller. It’s about ensuring that the travel we do has very little negative impacts on the destinations we visit.
But its also about trying to contribute positively to the places we visit with immersive travel; supporting local enterprises, eating local, staying longer and in locally run places and of course, showing respect no matter what.
I’ll be the first to hold my hands up and say that I am still learning, I make mistakes all the time and that’s okay. We are all human and I think that by even incorporating some of the tips below, then it will definitely make a difference.
So what can you do to be a more sustainable traveller in 2020? Keep reading to find out some great tips on how to be a more responsible traveller.
Think About Your Mode of Transport
It is incredibly important to think about the way in which you travel to your destination of choice. While flying might be the easier option, it is also the most damaging mode of transport to the environment. CO2 emissions from aviation are a huge contributor to climate change.
Wherever possible and where time permits, try to opt for a more eco-friendly way of travelling such as using an electric car or travelling by train/bus. This is something that I am really trying to implement more this year as offsetting my carbon footprint is one of my main goals for 2020 and beyond.
If you absolutely need to fly, another way to travel sustainably is to take advantage of a carbon offset program. These programs will give you the option to invest in carbon reduction projects to help neutralize or reduce your carbon footprint caused by travel.
If You Can, Walk To Nearby Attractions
Once you arrive at your destination, rather than catching public transport or a taxi to nearby attractions, try walking to them instead. Not only is this a great way to do a small part in being a sustainable traveller, but you will also see and experience so much more of the area you are visiting.
Alongside that, you will see more of the daily lives of the locals and have a better chance of interacting with them. It allows for spontaneous exploring too. If you see something interesting down a side street you can go and have a look, rather than driving past and wondering what it was you saw.
Walking around also allows for fantastic photo opportunities and you are not restricted to a schedule. And finally, there is the added bonus of the exercise, allowing you to eat more of the tasty local cuisine during your travels without taking home some extra weight as a souvenir.
Don’t Bring Oversized Luggage
A great way to travel green is to ditch the oversized luggage and get a travel backpack. Travel backpacks up to 45 litres in size, weigh less than a rolling suitcase and can be brought with you as a carry-on.
Not only does this save you time and money, but it also means less weight for the aircraft. Less weight means less fuel needed. Using a luggage-conscious system like Frontier Airlines – they were able to save 102 million gallons of fuel in 2018!
By being more aware of what you need and what you don’t, you can save yourself money and reduce greenhouse emissions for the planet. Another benefit of travel backpacks is that by travelling lighter, you will be able to walk or take local public transportation, instead of having to rely on private vehicles. This further helps reduce local emissions and makes your life easier, a win-win!
Try to Use Solid Toiletries
An easy way to be more sustainable while travelling in 2020 is to switch out those travel toiletries for more eco-friendly options. For instance, instead of using a travel tube of toothpaste, and then throwing that tube out, consider using toothpaste tablets, like Bite Toothpaste Bits.
Instead of using numerous shampoo and body lotion bottles picked up from hotels (I know I’m guilty of this too), switch to solid shampoo and conditioner bars and solid deodorant which lasts so much longer and they are much more environmentally friendly.
Not only will this cut down on the number of those plastic bottles in landfills, but it will also save you money too. By making small changes that don’t take much effort will help you on your path to becoming a more sustainable traveller.
Eat Vegetarian/Vegan Food When Possible
One of the easiest and most effective ways to be more sustainable when travelling is to eat local vegan or vegetarian food. It might not sound like a lot, but it makes a lot of impact down to the grassroots.
Trying new food in a new place is an inseparable part of travel, just because you are vegan, you don’t have to settle for French fries or salad. You can also experience local food; it is just that at some places local vegan or vegetarian food is not as popular.
I have been vegetarian all my life and I am recently exploring a vegan lifestyle and so far, I had no issues in my decades of travelling. This has motivated me to travel and write about local vegan food. Travelling to Eastern Europe? Try meatless Borscht or Vareniki (without the sour crème, if vegan). Going to Japan? Try the authentic Buddhist way of eating – Shojin Ryori. Travelling to Africa? Different African cuisine consists of lentil soups. There is vegan goodness everywhere, you just have to do a little bit of research.
Bring Your Own Reusable Cutlery
By Athul From Our Backpack Tales | Facebook
Single-use plastics are a huge issue across the entire world. On our recent trip to Hogenakkal Falls from Bangalore, we found a lot of litter, especially food packaging, water bottles and single-use plastic cutlery. When we visited food stalls, everything we ordered came with plastic cutlery and plastic straws. It had a huge impact on us.
This is a huge global issue and we need to think about what happens to these throwaway plastics after use. They are simply thrown aside until they pile up, and then they’re dumped elsewhere creating so much pollution and contributing massively to the climate crisis.
So as tourists, one important way of combatting this is to carry your own sustainable cutlery. This reusable cutlery set fits neatly in your bag and will make a difference. It will help to reduce litter and if at least a few of us start this trend, it’ll bring about a big drop in our plastic footprint!
Buy Travel Gear That Will Last A Long Time
One of my favourite ways of being environmentally conscious while travelling is buying durable and good quality gear. Have you ever thought about what happens to old, damaged suitcases and bags that you throw away?
They produce so much unnecessary waste that most will most likely end up in the landfill. When shopping for my travel luggage I always choose brands that share planet-friendly principles and make their products from cruelty-free, durable materials.
I carefully research the travel gear that I buy; items that will serve me well through multiple airport check-ins and long train trips. I also choose timeless designs that won’t go out of fashion next season. The same applies when shopping for travel clothes – I always try to choose sustainable fashion brands. High-quality gear may not always be the cheapest, but it will last you so much longer, thus reducing your impact on the environment!
Wear Reef Friendly Sun Cream
Living on the sea has made me ultra-aware of just how important it is to protect it and all of the incredible wildlife that calls the sea home. While we spend our days swimming with dolphins and diving through brightly coloured shoals of fish, it’s terrifying to think of the damage we could be doing just from trying to protect our skin from harmful UV rays.
14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans each year and the toxic chemicals found in most off the shelf sun creams are contributing to destroying the world’s coral reefs. So much so that certain mindful countries are banning the use of harmful sun creams altogether.
There is an answer to staying safe in the sun and protecting our oceans, but you’ll need to be willing to do a little label reading. Unfortunately, not all ‘reef-friendly’ sun creams are regulated. The only truly reef-friendly active ingredients are non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide, so give the ingredients label a quick scan before you buy to make sure you’re staying eco-friendly.
If being eco-friendly isn’t persuasion enough, then do it for you. Research is beginning to show that the same chemicals harming our coral reefs can also harm us, so picking a reef-friendly sun cream is a good choice all round!
I wouldn’t travel without my eco-friendly sun cream for my life on the sea, and it’s the first thing I pack for a holiday in the sun! Keep our oceans clean by making sure you do the same in 2020!
For Women: Use A Mooncup If You Can
For women travellers, a great way to be more sustainable during your travels involves your menstrual cycle. It’s always a pain and comes at the wrong time, but it now no longer has to negatively affect the environment.
To lessen the waste you leave behind, try using either a menstrual cup or period underwear. I know several female travellers who swear by menstrual cups. Inserted, it collects your period and then you empty it out. It’s that easy. Plus it can be worn for up to 12 hours!
Personally, I opt for period underwear from ModiBodi. It looks just like normal underwear, but it has an absorbing like a pad. It never feels heavy nor do you ever feel wet. I’ve worn them on gruelling long day hikes and never once had a leak. I love them. And you just rinse out and then wash. Either way, both are great options for practising a more sustainable lifestyle when travelling. They take up hardly any precious room in your luggage too. Take memories and leave no waste behind!
Always Carry a Filter Water Bottle
By Sarah from A Social Nomad | Facebook
Unfortunately, many countries around the world do not have access to clean water. Tap water is undrinkable even in countries in Europe and often the only alternative is bottled water.
Bottled water mainly comes in single-use plastic bottles – and plastic recycling isn’t always available. That’s why we always travel with a filter water bottle. It means that we can top up our bottles from any freshwater source (saltwater tends to kill the filters pretty quickly) and be sure that we’re not only healthy but also going a way towards being a sustainable traveller. The dollars we save on buying bottled water soon mount up as well! There are a big variety of filter water bottles available today – just make sure you get one that’s filtering for bugs and nasties as well as a bad taste too and you’ll be helping not just the environment but also your wallet!
Try Eco-Friendly Accommodation
A great way of adapting to a more eco-friendly travel lifestyle is to look at the type of accommodation you are booking. In recent years more and more eco-friendly lodging has been popping up and they are not as expensive as you may think.
From small boutique hotels to large chains, they have all been looking to make changes to steer more towards the new eco-traveller mindset. So how do you find these accommodations? I usually like to start with Tripadvisor and check off the “Green” in the Style section. While this doesn’t always guarantee a completely “GREEN” accommodation, it’s a great start. From here, you will want to go directly to the hotel’s website to find direct information that speaks to their environmental commitments.
If Eco-lodges fall out of your budget, there are still ways you can continue to be more eco-friendly during your stay:
- Leave a note for housekeeping not to take towels and sheets every day.
- Use your own quick-dry towel to reduce the amount of laundry that needs to be cleaned.
- Bring your own toiletries to reduce waste at the hotel.
- Reduce aircon/heating use where possible.
- Avoid using the bottled water provided by the hotel and bring your own reusable bottle instead.
- Place the ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door to reduce unnecessary cleaning and vacuuming.
Say No To Animal Tourism
I can’t emphasise this strongly enough but please do not support animal tourism. Thinking about riding that elephant or eating at an animal cafe? Please don’t. The suffering endured by these animals is simply horrific, a recent study by World Animal Protection found that 75% of wildlife tourist attractions are having a negative impact on wild animals.
There are some ethical ways to visit animal sanctuaries but always make sure to do a lot of research and ask lots of questions. Ask about the attractions they offer and if they support and are signed up to any wildlife protection bodies. If you are allowed to touch the animals or take photos with them then get out of there!
As travellers, we have a big responsibility to be aware of these practices and to make informed choices on what we do, there are no excuses.
Over To You….
Do you have any other sustainable travel tips? Are you trying to be a more sustainable traveller? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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