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Let’s talk Planet Earth. If you know anything about me, you know I very obviously love exploring this incredible planet. Whether it’s cities mere hours from my home in New York City or far-flung destinations that top many peoples’ bucket lists, there’s a reason I’ve been in the travel industry for so long.
And as someone who’s traveled everywhere for decades, I can see just how increasingly important it is to be an eco-friendly traveler and to look for more ways to practice sustainability when I pick and plan my vacations. We only get one world, and it’s our job to protect it.
I promise this doesn’t have to be difficult! Consider these easy sustainable travel tips to explore more consciously from now on, and your small changes will go a long way in helping keep our world healthy and beautiful.
6 Sustainable Travel Tips to Consider for Your Next Trip
Visit a Destination that Prioritizes Responsible Tourism
Nearly five years ago, I talked about a huge issue many countries were beginning to grapple with – overtourism. This is a phenomenon that happens when a destination becomes too popular.
Charming cities and hidden tropical gems are suddenly burdened with gridlock traffic and unprecedented pollution problems. Local shops and restaurants are driven out of business from massive chains and franchises. Nature is irreversibly damaged. In many cases, keeping up with this overtourism begins to strip away the natural beauty of these places!
Luckily, many destinations have put in massive efforts to not only curb this destruction but to prioritize protecting their famous landmarks and local communities.
Take for example, Scotland, who was the very first country to sign up for the Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency initiative. They’ve also implemented the Green Tourism certificate, which rates a business based on a number of factors from energy efficiency to community involvement, and has established the Sustainable Scotland Network which connects over 600 members as they strive for net-zero. Doesn’t hurt that Scotland has some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world!
With so many stunning countries focused on sustainability in terms of eco-friendliness and ethical practices, why not prioritize visiting one of them?
Practice More Eco-Friendliness at Hotels
As you might guess, hotels can be big culprits of wasteful practices. Think about it. All those little toiletry bottles and soaps waiting for you in your bathroom. They don’t refill them or keep them as-is for the next guest. They throw them all away.
And what about bedding and towels? The old standard practice used to be fresh new towels every day for guests! Even toilet paper! When have you stayed in a hotel where there isn’t a brand new roll of toilet paper?
There are two ways you can combat this. The first is to choose hotels that are truly focused on sustainability. So many hotels, from budget-friendly hostels to luxury resorts, have shifted their practices to focus on lessening their carbon footprint.
Some have made small changes, like replacing their plastic water bottles for water coolers or reusable glass bottles. Others have made huge changes, such as re-organizing their entire food waste systems or re-doing their electrical systems to be more energy-efficient. An easy way to find these hotels is to look for ones that are GSTC-Recognized, and most hotels will proudly have a sustainability section on their websites with all the information you could possibly want.
The other way you can practice more eco-friendliness at hotels is in your own decisions. Most hotels, even the ones least interested in the environment, have a sign in the bathroom that lets you know you can forgo new towels by simply hanging yours up instead of leaving them on the ground.
You can also skip the little plastic toiletry bottles and bring your own with you to the hotel. In fact, you could request a hotel not include toiletries in your room. Another way is to bring your own reusable utensils, cups, and straws instead of using any of the disposable options a hotel might offer. These practices are small and easy but can go a long way in helping the earth!
Consider Carbon Offsetting Your Trip
While some businesses do this, you can offset your own carbon footprint when traveling as well. Basically, carbon offsetting allows you to pay for the greenhouse emissions your trip will emit. This money is then put into a variety of programs that focus on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, protecting various ecosystems and their biodiversity, or helping local communities.
It’s very easy to do. Just check using a reputable carbon offsetting company, like this one. Calculate the carbon footprint of your trip with their calculator, pay the cost, and they’ll use that money in one of their projects or programs.
Support Local Businesses When You Travel
Not only does supporting local businesses directly benefit the communities you’re visiting, but it’s also an even better way to get a truly authentic experience. Think about the experience of getting a meal at McDonald’s vs. a local burger joint. McDonald’s will be the same as anywhere in the world you go with similar decor and the same ingredients and food. There are a series of owners who will get a cut of the profits and very little of the money you’ve just spent will go towards the community you’re visiting. The local burger joint, though? That’s owned by someone who probably grew up down the street. It’s filled with people who’ve been coming here for years, and the ingredients and offerings are usually unique to the restaurant itself. And because it’s a small business, the money you’ve just spent will stay within the community.
Now copy and paste that for all sorts of businesses that are involved when you travel – tours, cafes, accommodations, boutiques, and more. Think about the difference not just in your impact on the place you’re visiting but also your experience.
There are so many ways you can make sure you support local businesses when you travel.
There are so many ways to do this. Start with where you want to stay. Look for independently-owned boutique hotels where you can put a face to the owner, and the hotel staff comes from the nearby community. When you look into where to eat, skip the major franchises and head to mom and pop shops
Cut Down on Single-Use Plastics
Just say no to plastic forks, straws, and cups! While it’d be pretty impossible to simply avoid all restaurants and coffee shops that only use disposable plastic, you can be proactive yourself.
Bring your own reusable bottles, mugs, and/or tumblers. You can also buy a travel utensil set to have on hand. There are really quite a lot of reusable options out there now from straws to ziploc bags and more, so you can pack a whole little arsenal to prevent single-use plastics anywhere you travel.
Pick an Overland Adventure
As I mentioned above, it’s no secret that flying is by far the most harmful of all the transportation options. Think about how much energy it takes to get a giant piece of metal up in the sky safely.
Why not pick an overland adventure instead of flying? If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I love a good road trip. Let’s say instead of flying to Disney World, you road trip down and plan stops along the way. If I drove down from New York City to Orlando, I’d have the whole east coast to explore. Cars are significantly less harmful than flying, and by forcing you to slow your trip down, you’re able to explore places you would’ve just flown over before.
And there you have it. All my best sustainable travel tips to become an eco-friendly traveler. Anything you’d add? Let me know!