Sustainable travel: 50 ways to make your next trip more eco-friendly

Siobháin Spear
Apr 22, 2020

Sustainable travel tips to help you to become more eco-conscious as you explore the world.

Celebrated around the world on April 22, Earth Day is the largest environmental movement on the planet. It aims to draw global attention to the need to take climate action and cultivate sustainable solutions that will protect our planet and build a better world for the generations to come.

This year’s Earth Day marks a 50-year milestone, and never has our collective responsibility been so important. The pandemic is a humbling reminder of the vulnerability of humans and the planet in the face of global threats, and while COVID-19 continues to dominate the headlines, the need for climate action remains just as important.

But what does that mean for those of us who want to travel? When it comes to travel, we need to start looking more closely at the ways we can minimize negative impacts and harm to the planet by adopting an eco-conscious mindset. There are so many small, sustainable choices that we can make as part of our travel routines and our day-to-day lives, so let’s try to embrace positive habits for our planet.

Of course, we can’t expect lifestyles to change overnight; however, if we can all make just a handful of sustainable choices, our collective efforts will certainly go a long way.

In celebration of Earth Day 2020, we’ve put together 50 sustainable travel tips that will help you to travel more sustainably when travel restrictions are lifted.

1. Opt for an electronic boarding pass over a paper ticket when checking-in online.

2. Choose to carpool, whether going to the airport or road-tripping around the country, you will be lowering carbon emissions.

3. If a car is necessary while abroad, consider renting an electric car as it’s a cleaner and better option for the environment.

4. Use tour companies that have eco-friendly policies; do your research and check the company’s stance on sustainable travel on their website.

5. Where possible, explore by bike rather than opting to save time with a quick taxi ride or a moped; it’s one of the best ways you can help reduce harmful carbon emissions.

6. Travel with a tote bag, so that you can shop without having to use plastic bags. Plus, travel tote bags last forever and there are lots of trendy options.

7. Book a ‘green hotel’ that prides itself on sustainability; you’ll notice that many use alternative energy sources, offer recycling options, focus on hiring local employees, give back to the community, and use locally-sourced products. There are plenty of eco-friendly hotels that blend luxury with sustainability.

8. Unplug: make sure the lights, air-conditioning, TV and other digital products are switched off when you leave your hotel room — and when you leave the house to go on vacation.

9. Use public transport wherever possible. Not only is it better for the environment, but it is also a more affordable way to get around.

10. If going on a road trip, remove excess weight from your car. The heavier the load, the more fuel you use. The more fuel you use, the more your emissions are harming the environment.

11. Walk places. The best way to discover a new city is to explore on foot. Exercise, wander, and offset your carbon emissions while you explore.

12. Invest in rechargeable batteries. Alkaline batteries are not good for the planet; especially when very few places around the world recycle disposable alkaline batteries correctly.

13. Looking for souvenirs? Shop local. Take the time to seek out local artisans and learn about their craft and culture.

14. Stay on marked paths to avoid damaging native flora and to protect nature.

15. Travel with refillable water bottles. Think about all those plastic bottles you use while on holiday. Plan ahead and make your next purchase a reusable water bottle.

16. As tempting as it may be to get over-excited about your luxury hotel amenities, opt to use just one bar of soap for both the sink and the shower, and take any leftover soap with you. Remember that the hotel will throw any used amenities away.

17. Billions of paper cups go to waste every year. Seek out eco-friendly coffee shops when exploring new cities, and avoid those takeaway cups.

18. Reuse hotel towels and bathrobes. Let’s be real, you don’t need fresh towels and robes every day just “because you paid for it”. Think about the environment a little more.

19. Leave the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door when leaving your hotel for the day. This will save all the cleaning and electrical supplies that go into vacuuming, washing bed linen and more.

20. Be curious and ask questions to find out if things are made from recyclable materials, whether the company has green values or what the hotel does for sustainability.

21. Pack light for that flight. If everyone packed a little less rather than thinking about how they can ‘max out’ their airline baggage limit, there would be a lot less fuel burned and fewer emissions.

22. Travel hygiene is certainly going to become more of ‘a thing’. Get yourself a handkerchief rather than purchasing travel tissues that will impact the environment.

23. Find recycling bins. Don’t let your standards drop just because you are on holiday. Many cities now have public recycling bins, and it is important to keep up your household habits while away.

24. If you are camping and in need of a campfire, put effort into building a low-impact fire. Use dead branches that have already fallen and never leave flames unattended or create risks of forest fires.

25. Take shorter showers. Yes, that dreamy rain shower in your luxury hideaway might be screaming your name, but remember that water has to be treated and transported. Think about the energy and carbon emissions, then take a shorter shower to help the planet.

26. Volunteer. Giving back to a community or country you are visiting is great, so why not spend a couple of hours doing something rewarding that helps to encourage sustainable travel.

27. Avoid domestic flights. While it may save time, these short flights have an unnecessary impact on the environment. Look at the train options instead.

28. Pick up litter. If you notice that the country you are visiting is not well-versed in green living and clean streets or beaches, do your bit and pick up the rubbish rather than walking past it.

30. Carry a shampoo bar in your travel bag. Not only have shampoo bars risen in popularity because they don’t come in plastic packaging, but many are made from natural materials, which is also better than massaging chemicals into your hair.

31. Swap your shower gel for a soap bar; it uses a lot less packaging and you will find you’ll use it a lot more sparingly than shower gel.

32. Get yourself a bamboo toothbrush. Eco-friendly toothbrushes are a far better lifestyle choice than plastic ones that end up in a landfill or in our oceans.

33. Avoid straws. Do you really need that straw to make that sundowner taste better while you sit on that white-sand beach? Not really. But if you really feel you do, carry a reusable straw instead.

34. Another green travel tip is to eat local. The further the ingredients have to travel, the bigger the carbon impact. Look for restaurants that are committed to locally-sourced ingredients and sustainable policies.

35. Purchase a travel towel made from bamboo or sustainable organic cotton; natural ingredients are always better for the environment.

36. Avoid airline earphones and bring your own. Ever thought about all that wasted plastic onboard flights? Single-use earphones are not the answer to sustainable travel.

37. Look for airlines that use renewable biofuels; using renewable biofuel can reduce carbon emissions significantly.

38. Don’t engage in animal tourism. Animal conservation is great, but animal tourism that include wild encounters with exotic animals is simply not ethical or responsible when it comes to making sustainable choices.

39. Opt for organic sunscreen. Not only is this green travel tip better for the planet, it is also better for your skin.

40. Return maps, brochures and reading materials when you are finished with them; they can then be reused.

41. Invest in solar-powered travel gadgets. Whether it’s a speaker for your beach getaway or a charger for your phone, a splash-proof and shockproof solar option can be much more convenient when you are out exploring for the day.

42. When it comes to sustainable tourism, some countries are much further ahead than others. Check out eco-destinations, such as Denmark or Costa Rica, for your next getaway.

43. Consume less meat. Day-to-day life can quickly become synonymous with ‘convenience’. Why not try a clean-eating, meat-free getaway to detox and to help the planet?

44. Rethink that cruise. A cruise is probably not top of the list after recent news stories surrounding COVID-19, so why not keep it that way? Cruise ships are notorious for polluting oceans and often the local towns don’t benefit due to all-inclusive deals onboard.

45. Slow down. Travel doesn’t have to mean packing in as many places as possible during your two-week getaway. Slow travel is all about opting for experiences over sights, and immersing yourself in one place rather than hopping around to tick it all off the list.

46. Avoid places that suffer from over-tourism. Don’t let that insta-worthy shot be your purpose for travel. Not only will you be left disappointed, but you will also find that such places are jammed with tourist vehicles, wildlife is scared away and nature is destroyed by new buildings.

47. Brave the budget airlines. They might have a bad rep, but take a second to think about it. While you might have a lot less space, the plane is carrying a lot more passengers, therefore, reducing the carbon footprint per person.

48. Switch up your social habits. Rather than sharing that #LivingMyBestLife selfie from your overwater villa in the Maldives, why not use your platform to educate others about small sustainable choices you are making while travelling the world?

49. Stay closer to home. If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it is that there is a lot to discover on our doorsteps. Support local businesses and explore your surroundings for at least one of your trips in the coming year.

50. Offset your carbon footprint from the travel adventures by donating to tree-planting schemes, carbon-offsetting schemes, volunteering your time to green initiative and using a carbon calculator to continue to reduce your own footprint as you explore the world.

We certainly shouldn’t be waiting for Earth Day to become more conscious of the impact we are individually having on the planet, but if you can dedicate your efforts to applying just a handful of the green travel tips to your everyday lifestyle choices, then we are all moving in the right direction. Celebrate sustainable tourism today, so that our travel habits become more eco-conscious tomorrow.

Adjusting to the idea of travelling from home? Here are 10 travel documentaries to watch and  10 iconic museums you can visit online. If that’s not your thing, why not go to the Opera in your pajamas or explore top national parks with Google Earth. Whatever you do, stay inspired while you stay inside.