Sustainable travel need not be hard.
Sustainable travel need not be a dirty phrase.
In fact, l would even go as far as to say that many ‘sustainable travel tips’ are simply those that locals recommend.
Usually long before the concept of ethnical/conscious/sustainable travel – whatever you call it, was ever mainstream.
For me, it comes down to choice. (You’ll hear me say that a lot).
Certainly, sometimes life gets ahead of us and we will be prone to making mistakes.
Or there will times when travelling when there simply isn’t any alternative, perhaps because of a limitation of choice or a risk to our safety.
But usually, we will, to some extent, have some power over how we travel.
It can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, but that’s what this Sustainable Travel: 10 surprisingly but seriously simple tips, is all about!
Seriously, these actions will seem so small to do but make a big difference.
Realise that everything connects to everything else
Leonardo Da Vinci
Intro – Sustainable Travel yea?
Again, what does sustainable travel actually mean?
Normally, we’ll imagine or perhaps assume at least, that travelling while being sustainably are, most often, diametrically opposed.
That they’re not meant to really be possible, simultaneously.
Take the obvious example: flying.
- Usually, the presumption will be that by travelling more, you are being less sustainable and contributing to carbon emissions.
- And sure, flying does remain to be the largest obstacle to sustainable travel.
Even flying nowadays, has an increasingly diverse range of options or arrangements potentially available to make those adventures less costly.
Certainly, the idea and the industry of sustainable travel has exploded in recent years, though the concept of ecotourism has existed since the late-20th century.
It has become more mainstream as the importance and awareness for sustainability have grown via social media and the expansion of the internet.
Ecotourism, itself has varying interpretations, as countries, communities and businesses consider how to incorporate it, but its widely defined as:
responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the conserves the wellbeing of local communities involving education and interpretation
An inspiring cause no?
Understanding Sustainable Travel
For me it is, and simply about having a little more delicacy, little more finesse with not only how you travel, but then how you either act or even interact with your destination.
Sustainable travel and ecotourism can both symbolise the ideas of:
Sure, you could much further. But the list could be exhaustive – and l have a word count to stick to if l want to remain SEO friendly.
But you’ll be wondering, how does this relate to me and my travels?
What can l do, as an individual, to employ sustainable travel?
Well it’s a good job you’re reading a guide on Sustainable Travel: 10 Straightforward & Simple Tips
1. Take a reusable bottle or flask
Now, l know what you’re thinking.
How cumbersome or how much of a nuisance will it be to lug around some bottle or flask?
Trust me, l understand.
Because l used to think the same thing.
Indeed, l used to think that travelling with one would just take up too much space, or l would leave it lying around in the airport.
But then, l began reflecting on how much of what l carried I actually rarely use and simply occupied empty space.
And the other big irony?
How that instead of the potential of forgetting a reusable water bottle, I forgot about the water limitations within airport security, so ended up waterless anyway…
And then having to pay those exorbitant airport prices if you want any water.
Who’s been there?
So, yes aside from the fact reusable bottles improve sustainability, they’re also a tremendous ease-of-access benefit.
We all need water, especially during travel, so having water readily available is just logical to me.
I’ve been using this example from —- which l genuinely can say is terrific. Not just for how it helps, but the way it looks.
It looks funky, right? And you can pick one up for less, using pk30 to see 30% off!
Now, that is going green!
2. Sustainable travel uses local businesses
Number 2 on sustainable travel tips involves using local travel businesses.
And not just local, but eco.
Rather obvious on a sustainability list, I know right.
But that distinction is important – just because a company is small, does not mean it is eco-friendly or even interested in sustainability.
You read more of an example within the diving industry.
Additionally, is the quality of the trips and experiences you will have by using such firms.
Some of my most humbling and enlightening excursions l have had the fortunate of experiencing have come by doing this.
From being kayaked on the Okavango Delta, to hot-air-ballooning over the Maasai Mara and jungle treks through Borneo, my most memorable travel moments usually include local enterprises.
Groups like Viator do offer some ideal examples of how to support local businesses and ensure your travels really are more sustainable!
- Sites like Sustaining Tourism have lists of green tour operators worldwide
- Omaze – one of my personal favourites, offers alternative ways to do some of the most activities and donates to local businesses
- Intrepid Travel, a site which hosts various trip ideas and were even the first tour company to achieve carbon neutrality!
By doing so, you help to support not only these local companies but the broader economy too.
This leads to sustainable travel tip 3.
3. Utilise the local over the global economy
So, yes, this 3rd tip is an expansion of the 2nd.
When you are supporting a local business or operator, you should aim to extend this to as much of what you as possible.
I mainly mean ensuring that what you spend goes to the local economy which then directly helps these businesses and communities to prosper.
Otherwise, most money will revert to larger, global operators, completely undermining any opportunities for eco-friendly companies to grow and also your efforts to support them.
This is known as capital flight.
And it’s a tragic side-effect, since so many travellers don’t realise this.
Yet believing, and rightly so overall, that tourism will help to significantly develop a community or country.
And so, when it looking to leverage the local economy this means:
Eating and shopping locally
You cannot simply shop in that multinational corporation just because its easier or has more choice.
Nor should you shop in Chinese or similar thrift stores, as these do nothing for the indigenous populations
Same goes for eating out.
This could sound trickier than it actually is.
Just think about Airbnb – though its not the most optimal way because it’s a large multinational, BUT it does allow locals to advertise their accommodation and so prosper from tourism.
Its also FAR more sustainable since its YOU who is in control of energy usage, waste accumulation etc
Love the local transport
This one is somewhat obvious – always useful to be reminded though eh?
Plus, if its somewhere like continental Europe taking local transport can be especially scenic. Think trams for instance.
That said, travelling publicly isn’t always feasible, or safe.
When travelling, especially alone like me, safety is a priority.
Take when l visited San Juan, Puerto Rico. Though it isn’t the craziest city, walking around after dark or taking public transport was ill-advised.
So, l stuck to uber.
But even then, l also stuck sharing. It was cheaper and l go to meet interesting people.
4. Ecotourism means different modes of transport
Piggybacking off from point 3 is to vary your transportation means.
By this l mean, use as many of different modes of transport as possible to maximise sustainable travel.
Not only does this minimise your impact it will also give you a cooler, immersive experience.
- Going everywhere via tax or uber only
- Or taking the tram, going for a cycle, walking and stop to look at places, heck even taking a water taxi if the option is there
See which sounds more fun?
AND more of a complete experience?
Again, as above, you can’t do this everywhere and should feel as though it’s an obligation – though it sort of is – if you truly want to be sustainable.
When it matters most is when safety comes into question, which in that case exceptions are necessary.
Refer to my San Juan post as an example.
But even then, if you are using uber for example there are ways to make it greener.
It not only allows you to help alleviate traffic congestion, reduce pressures on city infrastructure and ensure you commit to your sustainable travel.
But it also allows you to potentially meet new people, like-minded people exploring and enjoying the same destination as you.
I’ve met so many of my closest mates, had so many of my best experiences by travelling this way.
So, get out there and socialise.
5. When flying, fly direct
Now, l have kept flying apart from other transport.
- Its often not an optional mode of transport for us intrepid travellers who want to travel overseas
- Flying has such an unparalleled environmental impact, it deserves its own tip/point
Indeed, when it comes to flight preparations and preferences, ensure that you are minimising how many flights you are opting to take, even if it is cheaper.
Really a case of quality over quantity.
Sure, l am the same as anyone. I do not wish to fork out for absurdly high flights.
I cant justify it.
However, equally, l also prioritise my welfare and therefore, will consider paying slightly more if it means l save time and have a more pleasant, comfortable travel experience.
Including for sustainable travel.
Forking out for flights?
Now, you might think, but forking out for ‘greener flights’ will be more expensive, no?
And in certain ways, you’ll be right.
But equally, if you use a site like Skyscanner, you can refine your searches to list airlines that offer sustainable travel or offer carbon offsetting.
And they don’t have to premium carriers.
For instance, since living in the US, l have flown with Spirit Airlines – one of the cheapest US carriers, BUT also does so more sustainably, because of their efforts to be greener!
Seriously, it’s the best of both worlds!
And how is this achievable?
By being prepared.
By doing your research.
Its not as difficult as it may sound – once you begin doing it repeatedly, you’ll know what to look.
And you’ll become skilled in sustainable travel.
6. Bring multi-purpose plugs
Building on the previous point again is to invest in multi-purpose plugs.
I say this since l use them most frequently in airport settings.
Multi-purpose plugs are worth bringing, simply for the ease-of-access, let alone their contribution to being greener.
They fit every, if not, most socket globally and they save you space.
Sure, they can be costly – especially if you invest in Skross versions.
However, l have found very reasonable AND tastefully designed ones elsewhere.
Such as this blue, textured one:
And when it comes to sustainable travel, you can quickly see their advantages.
Their modern, sleek designs and construction, which use less energy than outdated, single-use plugs. Likely to be several times the size too.
Find a brand or design you like, invest in one, even two, and your set.
Seriously, I can’t recommend them enough!
7. Consider your energy and water use
While multipurpose plugs are useful for accessibility, consider efficiency too.
This goes for water and energy.
Granted, you’ll get dirty hiking, you’ll use water, to well, live.
But it’s likely you or others needn’t utilise as much as you do, especially to achieve sustainable travel.
A classic example is running water:
- I quickly learnt the simple, yet significant role that not running water when cleaning your teeth will have.
- It saves 100s, perhaps even 1000s of litres of water. Seriously.
A developing country uses ~500 litres per month, while a hotel, especially large resort, utilises 4x that per night.
Like seriously, the quantity of energy and water put into operational aspects of chain-hotels is unfathomable. Disturbing even.
You see all those towel signs in the bathroom, on the walls or bedside tables?
They’re there for a reason and they’re accurate.
They encourage you to keep your towels, reuse them and refrain from getting your beds changed daily f you happen to be staying in luxury resorts for instance.
So, if you are, indulge in not getting your rooms made every day.
And when it comes to energy?
Turn off your lights.
Simple as that.
Yet Again, it returns to about being proactive. In this case, enquiring with your hotel as to how they’re sustainable and what you can do too.
Or, doing the research before you go.
8. Respect local norms and values
Back to being sustainable at the destinations.
What l mean by respecting norms and values is to act and behave as the locals do.
To acknowledge local customs and not simply assume locals or their communities carry on as we do in say, Europe or North America.
Take, taking a photo – that sounded better in my head.
Out of pure decency, you should always ask or check before snapping away.
Asking whether taking a photo of, say a local market scene, is respected and considerate to those who will be in that photo and therefore, likely over Instagram.
How would you like it?
If you were just captured on a camera, then publicized in such a way that people from all backgrounds can see, that wouldn’t be ideal now would it?
Sure, it doesn’t mean something will happen.
It’s just not desirable for those who like their privacy or if it contradicts their customs and beliefs.
Another example – how you dress.
If you visit the Middle East or Southern Asian.
Both heavily cultural, ridiculously rich with heritage, these regions have very certain ways in how they dress and appear.
You should always respect them, by dressing appropriately.
Of course, you don’t have to necessarily dress as a monk or nun – its context-dependent.
But take cues from the locals around you and you should be fine.
Plus, in some cases, it will be made very evident to you. Be it through signs, guides or even people’s reactions if you’re really pushing it.
And in the case of the Middle East, for example, it will likely be law. So, no chance you overlook it.
Its about doing your research before you go.
9. Leave it like you wish to find it
Like point 7, is to respect the broader environment.
If you have or experience people visiting your community, your city, wherever.
You expect them to be respectful and not simply do as they please. Not to just go about their holiday with no consideration for the activities they do or the food they eat.
The most obvious?
Its not only tragic but infuriating – least for me, when l visit an area, a destination and people are going there to capture the perfect picture for social media…
Then in reality, leave it a complete bomb-site.
It becomes about being properly environmental and taking pride in oneself. You wouldn’t expect people to leave your community a mess, completely negligently?
So, don’t do it when you travel.
Its more than just doing sustainable travel or ecotourism.
It’s about being a decent person – like point 7.
10. Sustainable Travel repays by giving back
Again, this point builds on the previous!
It seriously does pay to say that if you give back to a community, be it through how you travel or by direct volunteering and donations.
This doesn’t have to be as complex as it may sound.
Simply, local economies are highly reliant on the ecotourism they will attract.
So, by willing to give back or do sustainable activities, not only will you support these amazing groups, but you will leave with much more authentic, charitable experiences.
One’s you’d likely have missed if you’d only gone conventionally.
And one’s far memorable too.
An example from Jamaica
So, l have tried to give back on many of my travels.
But one such example from Jamaica:
- I had gone as a sole-traveller, keen to visit this iconic island and indulge in its customs (not those ones),
- I’m an avid diver, so this was one of my intended activities,
- But then l discovered just how poorly managed the environment is around Montego Bay (amount of rubbish)
- Like most l could have just done the easier, cleaner boat-dives,
- But l chose to join the locals on clear-ups to clean the local reefs and shores of rubbish
Not only did l come away feeling satisfied; l made new friends and got invited to some locals houses to see how Jamaican culture first-hand.
It was amazing – just the immersive experience l wanted.
I even got a free dive as a thank-you.
So, you see?
Give back, and it may return to give back to you.
Takeaways – Sustainable Travel Simplified
Well, there you go.
My breakdown on Sustainable Travel: 10 surprisingly straight and simple tip.
See they’re not as complex or intimidating as they might initially sound.
It comes back to my oh so favourite point:
Its about choice. A choice to be more considerate to local customs. To do your research before you go. Or being more responsible with excursions you do, such as boating.
But l have said all that above.
And just to check you heeded them all, which tip was number 4?
On that, do you think l missed any tips? Or do you disagree with my assessments?
Leave me a comment below.