How to Be a More Sustainable Traveler?

Girl on a meadow hiking

How to be a sustainable traveler? A topic that has become increasingly important since people started recognizing the impact of tourism on the environment. Now, more than ever, it’s important to make sustainable choices in every aspect of our lives in order to minimize our impact on the planet.

So, without further ado, let’s dive in and learn how you can make a positive impact on the environment and the communities you visit through sustainable traveling.


Slow Down & Stay Awhile

Although a packed itinerary may seem attractive on paper, you may feel rushed trying to cover everything on your list. Slowing down is an option that gives you more time to explore your destination and it’s, of course, much more sustainable. Here are some ways you can do so:

  • Opt for just one long vacation a year instead of taking multiple, shorter trips.
  • Wherever your destination is, try to stay in one area for a while instead of hopping from one place to the next.
  • Take a cooking class and savor the culinary delights of the region. Great food is a sure way to tie you down in staying in one region longer.
  • Spend a day walking or cycling around town and visit small local shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Slowing down will allow you to experience the place you are visiting. You can build deeper connections with the locals and get to know the destinations better. It brings you more authentic, memorable, and meaningful travel experiences. It also reduces pressure on the main attractions and has greater benefits for the local economy.

Guy standing on top of a mountain

Use Sustainable Modes of Transportation

In order to be a more sustainable traveler, try to use the most sustainable form of transportation as much as possible.

  • Compared with any other mode of transport, flying produces the most amount of carbon per passenger. Did you know that you can actually go from Portugal to China by train? Of course, you need time, but it can be part of the journey. If you really have no other choice aside from flying, fly economy class instead of business, or first class, where you have more space per passenger. Also, always prefer direct flights.
  • Traveling by bus or train is a lot more efficient and environmentally friendly than either driving or flying. Both buses and trains not only use significantly less fuel but also release lower amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Traveling by bus rather than flying can decrease your carbon footprint by a factor of 13. And with one bus, it can take as many as 55 cars off the road.
  • Aside from taking public transportation, you can also go on foot or by bike. They are the greenest ways to move around.
  • Traveling light causes fewer carbon emissions because a plane consumes less fuel when the weight it carries is lighter.

Train in the woods

Get Off the Beaten Path

Historic cities, beaches, cultural sites, and other tourist hotspots are usually occupied by a huge number of visitors. This phenomenon is known as “over-tourism”. Over-tourism can put a strain on the local people and the environment so skipping certain places which contribute to it may be a good idea. Getting off the beaten path, which means visiting lesser-known or popular places, is an alternative and allows you to have a more authentic and unique experience. Visiting less visited places can even be more memorable.

  • It does require that you do some extra research to find these places. Explore using Google Maps or ask other travelers for recommendations.
  • Talk with locals and ask for their advice.
  • Visit smaller cities or head to more rural areas instead of staying in major tourist centers.

Traveling to less-visited places will reduce the load on over-visited destinations. It will also spread tourism benefits to other, local communities.


Avoid Single-Use Plastics

Items commonly used by tourists are plastic and single-use. So packing reusable items will help you cut down on plastic waste when you travel. Here are some things to consider:

  • Use your travel mug for takeaway coffee.
  • Have your reusable bottle to drink water on the go.
  • For families with babies or small children where hot, sterilized water is a must, remember to carry a flask as it is the safest option.
  • When going to a restaurant, dine in rather than take away. Takeaways typically come with plastic bags, containers, cups, and utensils.
  • Visit street markets and purchase local foods with minimal or no packaging.
  • Ask the bartender to skip the straw. This request may even trigger the restaurant or bar’s operations to transition away from single-use plastic.

Plastic cutlery on a table



Choose Sustainable Accommodations & Tour Operators

Another way of traveling sustainably is by supporting businesses that are reducing their environmental impact. You can do the following:

  • Eat and shop locally.
  • Stay in local & eco-friendly accommodations.
  • Travel with local transport providers, rather than big, travel companies.

Regarding the tour operators, keep in mind that just because a company markets itself as “green” or “sustainable” does not necessarily mean they are. Look for information about the specific practices and policies that they have implemented. Have they eliminated single-use plastics? Do they hire locals? Do they prioritize local suppliers and producers? Do they promote responsible interactions with wildlife? Sustaining Tourism has an extensive list of sustainable tour operators from around the world.


Stay in Locally-Owned Accommodation

Support local business owners by opting to stay in locally-owned accommodations such as guesthouses, Couchsurfing, or homestays.


Eat in Restaurants & Cafes Owned By Locals

Spend money in restaurants and cafes run by locals. This is a great way to meet locals and also try the local food. Try to avoid international food chains, as it’s highly unlikely that your money enters the local economy. Also, they rarely pay taxes in the local country, and so, do not participate in building and maintaining infrastructures like streets, hospitals, schools, etc. that you – directly or indirectly – benefit from.

Buy Hand-Made Gifts from Locals 

A sustainable traveler avoids imported souvenirs that would have been flown or shipped in as this ultimately translates to a larger carbon footprint. Prefer to take home souvenirs that are unique to the country you are traveling in, rather than something from a faraway factory.


Final Words on Sustainable Travel

Being able to travel the world is an extreme privilege. Remember how lucky you are to enjoy it. We hope that the tips above will inspire you to enjoy your travel – while acting in a responsible and sustainable way. To get deeper into the topic of why you should think about your carbon footprint in the first place, “Why Should We Care About Our Carbon Footprint” sums it up perfectly.

For all other tips and tricks on how to live a more sustainable life, check out our magazine.