- Booking with sustainable tour operators reduces environmental impact by supporting the local economy and environment instead of exploiting it for personal gain.
- Choosing to travel overland whenever possible reduces CO2 emissions by 50-80% compared to short flights, contributing to a lower carbon footprint.
- Shopping locally while traveling helps reduce environmental impact by limiting carbon emissions required to provide goods and services, cutting out the transportation of goods from other countries.
Environmentally friendly travel seems daunting because it’s such a big concept, but at its core, it’s a simple idea. How can travelers move through the world with a little more intention and a little less impact? There are many ways to reduce and limit the effects of travel on the environment, all starting with decisions made at the time of booking the trip, right up to the moment when travelers are face-to-face with a wild animal in a foreign country.
Also, thinking about where they are traveling can help globetrotters be more eco-friendly. The small decisions travelers make daily can ultimately reduce their environmental impact. Here are some useful tips for getting started with environmentally-friendly travel.
Book With Sustainable Tour Operators
Group of tourists with a guide in Amazon rainforest
Traveling the world in a more eco-friendly way starts with the decisions travelers make before leaving home. When booking tours or scheduling trips with travel agencies, consider the values and practices of that tour operator.
How does booking sustainably reduce environmental impact?
Booking with a sustainable tour operator can reduce a traveler’s environmental impact in a couple of different ways. Sustainability can mean a number of things, but in this context, tour operators are focused on supporting the local economy and environment rather than exploiting it for personal gain.
This means booking with tour operators who hire local guides, are conscious of their resource consumption, and give back to the community.
Travel Overland Whenever Possible
Train station in Himeji
It’s no secret that airplanes produce significant emissions that can be harmful to the environment. While there’s often no way to cut out air travel entirely with world travel, opting for alternative transportation when it’s available goes a long way to reducing a person’s carbon footprint.
How does traveling overland reduce environmental impact?
Choosing to travel between cities by train or bus rather than taking a short flight can reduce CO2 emissions by 50% to 80%, according to climate change research from the BBC.
For longer journeys between cities, consider booking overnight trains and buses. This is better for the environment, and travelers’ budgets; it’s the cost of accommodation for a night and transportation combined! One example is Europe’s sleeper train routes, which offer amazing views and comfortable accommodations.
Gwangjang Market, one of the most popular places for Korean street food, Seoul.
Shopping locally means purchasing goods that are sourced, grown, or made within the region. This can look like buying produce that is in season for the destination (not imported from abroad) or going to a local craft market and buying a handmade bracelet rather than a mass-produced souvenir at the airport.
How does shopping locally reduce environmental impact?
It’s a small action with a big impact – shopping locally while embarking on world travel helps travelers reduce their environmental impact by limiting the amount of carbon emissions required to provide them with the good or service.
For example, shopping locally means cutting out the transportation of goods from another country to reach the point of sale.
Bring A Reusable Water Bottle
Stainless steel reusable water bottle
Travelers have undoubtedly heard the call from climate activists in their home country to do away with single-use plastics and embrace the reusable water bottle. This is just as important when on the road, and it’s more doable today than ever.
How does this reduce environmental impact?
Choosing to travel with a reusable water bottle reduces the amount of single-use plastic a person consumes (because many water bottles are not recycled properly).
Book Eco-Conscious Accommodation
Eco Lodge in the Costa Rica Rainforest
Travelers can choose to stay at eco-conscious hotels and hostels during their travels as another way to be eco-friendly. Since the hospitality and tourism industry is increasingly aware of travelers’ desire to be eco-conscious, many hotels are promoting their sustainability initiatives and pushing for ecotourism on their websites. Be sure to do research before booking.
How does this reduce environmental impact?
Booking at an eco-conscious hotel or hostel means supporting a business that is also doing its part to be environmentally friendly. Depending on the hotel/hostel, they may be conserving water by washing sheets and towels less frequently, or they might be providing reusable amenities in the rooms. They may have eliminated the use of plastics in favor of biodegradable materials.
Some hotels, in Hong Kong for example, are helping guests conserve energy by providing them with a key card that turns on lights and AC in their hotel room. When they leave, they need the key card to re-enter the room, so they have to remember to take it, automatically turning off the lights and AC in their absence.
Book Non-Stop Flights (If Possible)
An airplane wing seen from the plane window during a flight above the clouds
For many travelers, flying is a frequent occurrence. In an effort to be more environmentally friendly, frequent flyers can focus on booking non-stop flights rather than those with one or multiple layovers.
How does flying non-stop reduce environmental impact?
Flying is not good for the planet, but travelers might not realize that flying directly can drastically reduce the total carbon emissions they contribute to each flight.
According to NASA research reported by the New York Times, 25% of the plane’s total carbon emissions come from take-off and landing. By eliminating multiple take-offs and landings with a direct flight, travelers make their trips more eco-friendly.
Eat At Local Restaurants (Avoid Chains)
Mexican cuisine at a restaurant
Similar to the idea of shopping locally is eating locally. Travelers can support the local economy by dining at restaurants that are operated as independent businesses by local residents of the town or city.
How does eating locally reduce environmental impact?
Choosing a local restaurant means opting for locally sourced ingredients, supporting sustainable tourism (rather than mass tourism), and not giving business to a company that mass produces its products.
Hang Dry Clothing
Clothes on a drying line
Many Airbnb and hotels offer washers and dryers either in the suite or in a laundry room. While this might seem convenient, it’s a huge energy waste to use them while traveling. Washing clothing is necessary, but the drying process can be done naturally.
How does hang drying reduce environmental impact?
Every time a person chooses to hang dry their clothes rather than running a load in the dryer, they are saving energy equivalent to keeping three pounds of coal in the ground.
Man in bathrobe looking out into the ocean in the Maldives
Fresh water isn’t infinite, which is why the push for water conservation has become so urgent in the last two decades. There are many ways to conserve water while traveling, including taking showers instead of baths and opting into hotel programs like skipping housekeeping.
How does conserving water reduce environmental impact?
Conserving water helps reduce a traveler’s environmental impact both by limiting the chance of them polluting clean water and by saving energy.
Do Not Feed Wild Animals
A kangaroo in the middle of a road in Australia
To be a more environmentally friendly visitor to a region, travelers can respect wildlife. Specifically, this means not feeding wild animals while hiking, staying at resorts, or visiting nature parks.
It also means treading lightly and viewing animals in their natural habitats (such as careful observation of penguin colonies).
How does respecting wildlife reduce environmental impact?
Feeding wildlife has lasting impacts on the ecosystem. It can make animals sick or worse, which can ultimately change the biodiversity in a region. Refraining from feeding wildlife is the best way to avoid negatively impacting them.