Travel Insights Blog
Travel Insights Blog
Sustainability can feel overwhelming, but here are some simple steps you can take to make your next trip a little more eco-friendly.
There’s so much we get from traveling: new friendships, fun souvenirs, endless rows of photos that fill up your phone storage. And of course, the wisdom that comes from getting to know different people, places and cultures. Post-pandemic, we’ve all learned not to take these opportunities for granted, and to be a little more mindful of the impacts of travel on the world around us. Today, this also means minimizing our impact on the communities and ecosystems we visit, and on the planet as a whole.
This summer has been the hottest on record. Climate experts agree that major changes are needed to avoid the worst of climate change and create a more sustainable future. Environmental problems can feel overwhelming; governments and corporations, not individuals alone, need to cooperate to create lasting solutions.
Still, there’s a lot an individual can do when it comes to traveling more sustainably. Greener travel may take a bit more planning up-front, but it definitely pays off — not just for the planet, but also for you. When you choose to travel mindfully and sustainably, you give yourself the chance to build deeper connections with the places you visit and the communities that live there. So the next time you plan a trip, consider taking some of these simple steps towards more sustainable travel.
The first step of any trip is choosing a destination. If you’re visiting tourist hotspots like Venice, Barcelona, or Paris, plan your trip for the off-season to avoid contributing to “overtourism”, which can place extra stress on the environment. Plus, you’ll have a much better time without all the crowds. Or, check out a sustainability hub, a country or city known for its pioneering commitment to eco-friendly living. Staying there lets you experience this lifestyle first-hand, as sustainability is baked into many of the tourist experiences, whether it’s biking around Amsterdam, taking a dip in the geothermal-powered Blue Lagoon in Iceland, or visiting the Danish Architecture Center in Copenhagen to learn about the country’s work on sustainable design.
If you’re aiming for sustainability, consider exploring closer to home. Transportation is the most emissions-heavy part of travel, so cutting down travel distance and choosing greener modes of transport are the simplest way to lessen your environmental impact. This means avoiding planes and cars whenever possible, since the two produce the most emissions per passenger. Instead, check out train routes near you — trains produce the least emissions per passenger — or if that’s not possible, opt for a road trip closer to home, carpool with some friends, and take the most fuel-efficient car available.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can never fly again; start by being more mindful about when and where you do it. This might mean saving the long flights for special occasions and planning more trips in your region. For those distant, bucket-list trips, consider saving up a few destinations for one multi-week trip instead of breaking it up into several smaller trips, as much as budgets and schedules allow.
When you do fly, reduce connecting flights and book direct whenever possible, as take-off and landing are the most fuel-intensive parts of a flight. Some booking platforms, like Google Flights, even allow you to compare emissions levels between trips. And for shorter distances, like getting from city to city on a trip, go for trains over flights. Many parts of the world have highly developed rail systems with speeds and prices that rival air travel. It’s not just more sustainable, but also a lot more peaceful and convenient: no long slog to the airport, more leg room, freedom to walk around, and premium views of the surrounding areas.
Same thing goes when you arrive: opt for green modes of transport as much as possible. For example, instead of calling a taxi or an Uber, take the train or metro from the airport into town; it’s also usually cheaper, and you won’t get stuck in traffic. Braving the local metro or bus system is worth it on many levels, not only environmental. After the initial challenge, you’ll get the satisfaction of learning something new — maybe even a few words in a different language — and you’ll get to experience the place like a local. With apps like Google maps making it easier than ever to plan a route anywhere in the world, there’s really no excuse.
Or, better yet, be your own mode of transportation and explore on foot or on a bike. These can be great activities in themselves — grab a notebook, a camera, or just your phone and become an urban explorer. When you set out without a specific end goal, you become more open to the space around you, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of the city and discovering new hidden gems along the way.
And when you do need a car — sometimes there’s just no way around it — some cities and platforms let you choose electric.
As sustainability becomes more and more mainstream, hotels and resorts billing themselves as eco-friendly are popping up around the world, many of them blending sustainability into trendy brands and luxury experiences. You can even stay at an eco-lodge or resort that, in addition to running sustainably, might be active in wildlife conservation, work closely with local communities, and educate guests about the local environment and indigenous cultures.
If you don’t want to go for an entire eco-themed vacation, there are always greener options available, from boutique eco-hotels to farm stays. As you browse, look for third-party certifications like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Green Key, and Rainforest Alliance. Some of these platforms allow you to search directly through their website, but businesses will usually highlight the seals or logos on their websites and brand materials. You can also search through a platform like bookdifferent.com, a directory of eco-friendly accommodations around the world.
Since certification isn’t always accessible, especially for smaller, local businesses, it’s worth doing your own research. Before booking, browse the website or reach out directly and ask about their sustainability program — how are they cutting emissions? do they have a zero-waste initiative? how do they support local communities? This will give you a sense of the depth of the commitment and weed out any green-washing.
Then again, some types of accommodations are eco-friendly by definition; think rental property with solar panels, a tiny home, a campsite (or a glampsite!), a local bed and breakfast or even a farmstay. If you’re feeling more adventurous and have a little time on your hands, you can try a program like WWOOF, where volunteers trade their labor for accommodations on an organic farm. No matter where you stay, opting for local businesses can enrich both you and the community you visit. You get to support the local economy and have a more unique travel experience in the process.
Finally, the activities you choose can make your trip more sustainable. Start by looking for tours, activities, or businesses run by locals to put money back into the community while learning about it from an insider’s perspective. One great way to get your bearings in a new place is to take a free walking tour; they’re usually run by passionate volunteers who are not only incredibly knowledgeable about the history and culture of the place — standard tour stuff — but love to share their own fun facts, personal anecdotes, and tips for places to get food or drinks after. It’s inexpensive, and since tours are usually pretty small, a more personalized way to connect with the place and at least one of its inhabitants.
When it comes to food, be sure to sample the local cuisine — do a little research and don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten path. As a general rule, avoid the neighborhoods closest to the big tourist attractions; they’re usually overpriced and mediocre at best. Instead, ask a local — and if you don’t have one on hand, just hop on Yelp or TripAdvisor and scan the reviews and photos.
You can also seek out restaurants and cafes that cater towards sustainability; a simple Google will do the trick, but there are also apps like Happy Cow, which compiles vegan and vegetarian restaurants around the world. Even if you’re not vegan or veg, cutting down on meat is a simple way to reduce your carbon footprint, whether you’re at home or on the go.
Finally, try incorporating some sustainability-themed activities into your itinerary, whether it’s visiting a museum exhibit with an environmental theme, checking out a nature preserve or a botanical garden, or simply going for a hike or a bike ride.
To travel more sustainability, it’s best to take baby steps: do what’s easiest for you first, and let it naturally become a part of your lifestyle. First identify the things you already like doing on vacation, then get a little creative to put a green twist on it. For example, if you love a good burger on the road, check out a trendy new vegan burger place. If you’re a road trip fan, plan your next adventure on the rails — the views are just as good, and the seats a lot comfier. Instead of a hop-on hop-off bus tour, go for a walking tour. Book an eco-hostel instead of a regular one. You get the idea.
You don’t have to single-handedly save the planet on one vacation — in fact, it’s highly discouraged that you try — but in the spirit of solidarity, we can all start setting good examples for each other — and through collective action, put pressure on industries to shift their practices so we can all have a healthier world to explore for years to come.
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