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Sustainable Travel Tips for the Conscious Traveler in 2024

Staying sustainable is important to an increasing number of people now, and that isn’t limited to our everyday work and home routines.

The travel industry is a big polluter and finding ways to explore the world without doing harm is high on so many people’s priority lists. Whether local or international, keep these sustainable travel tips in mind for guilt-free traveling and a safer, healthier planet for all:

What is Sustainable Travel, and Why Do We Need It?

Whether you realize it or not, we all have an impact on the places we visit, no matter how long or short we stay. Sometimes that may have a positive effect, such as bolstering the economy to create new jobs or putting pressure on local authorities to protect the environment.

However, there are instances when tourism can have a downside, like leaving litter in natural areas or using too many resources at resorts.

Sustainable travel is traveling with the intention of having a positive impact on the places you visit by protecting the natural world, combating climate change, eliminating waste, and supporting the local communities.

Traveling with this conscious mindset is essential if we’re to combat the negative aspects of the travel industry. This way of exploring the world ensures people can continue to visit places, immerse themselves in new cultures and meet with communities without doing harm. 

In the past, tourism has had a negative effect on the people living in areas around the world. For example, Thailand had to temporarily close Maya Beach on Phi Phi island when the coral reef became damaged by tourists and only reopened to the public again earlier this year.

Sustainable Travel - Maya Beach Phi Phi Island

Once damage like this has been done, it’s often too late to rectify the harm caused, such as in the case of the 16th century King Dom Sebastian statue in Lisbon, which was destroyed by a tourist climbing it for a selfie. 

So many local authorities have yet to make laws and regulations to protect their cultural heritage and the landmarks that make their destinations so desirable to tourists.

So it stands to us as individuals to do our part and protect those destinations when we visit so that they can be preserved for future generations to enjoy and wildlife to thrive in. 

5 Tips for Sustainable Travel and Eco-friendly Adventuring

1. Invest in Carbon Offset Programs

It’s not always possible to travel in an eco-friendly way. If your travel aspirations take you halfway around the world, chances are you’ll be getting there and back on a plane. But we know that flying is incredibly toxic for the environment and pollutes the atmosphere, so how do we do both? Carbon offsetting is one way to reduce the impact your flight has on the planet. This is the process of calculating the carbon emissions of your travel and offsetting it with a program that does good for the environment. 

Sustainable Travel - carbon offset concept image

With carbon offsetting, you reduce emissions somewhere else in the world to the value of the carbon footprint of your trip. There are calculators online that will calculate the carbon footprint of your travel adventures, and then you purchase offsets such as protecting a tropical rainforest from being cut down or contributing money to a project that will build a wind farm to create renewable power. 

Carbon offsetting creates other benefits besides just reducing your emissions, such as conserving natural landscapes and creating jobs. Just make sure you use a reputable provider for the greatest impact. 

2. Choose Secondhand Equipment

We’ve all experienced the pull to go all-out when we plan a trip, buying new clothes, swim gear, camping and RV equipment, and more. It’s an exciting time, but all these new items can have a detrimental impact on the planet, especially when it comes to items that you’ll use once and then dispose of. It increases the likelihood of products winding up in landfills, which is obviously bad news for the environment. 

From clothing and rucksacks for hiking to secondhand photography equipment for capturing your memories, buying used ones doesn’t have to mean poor quality, but it could save new resources from being wasted unnecessarily. It could also save you money which is extra cash to be put towards your trip, which is a win-win for everyone. 

Sustainable Travel - secondhand backpacks

3. Consider Your Mode of Transport

We know that flying is bad for the planet, so consider other ways you can travel if possible that will do less harm. If time permits, why not take a bus or a train? It can be a great way to see more of the local area, and you can often choose your own route to take in local stops along the way and really get a feel for a destination. Trains are one of the most eco-friendly options, carrying 8% of the world’s passengers but representing only 2% of the world’s transport energy.

Sustainable Travel - train

Surprisingly, even driving and carpooling can actually be better for the planet compared to flying when it comes to a carbon footprint perspective, so maybe consider traveling in a van and exploring on four wheels. 

Traveling slowly is one of the most effective ways you can minimize your carbon emissions. Spend longer in the places you visit and use the local transport to get around. This will not only reduce the carbon footprint of your trip but also bring a welcome contribution to the local economy. For sustainable travel, how you get to and around a destination makes all the difference to the impact your trip has on the planet. 

4. Spend Locally

Local communities can suffer as a result of tourism, but over the past couple of years, with travel extremely limited as a result of the pandemic, they’ve suffered even more. However, you can do good when you travel by making sure that when you spend money, it is with local businesses and communities. 

There are various ways you can do this. For example, you could consider staying in locally-owned homes and guesthouses instead of chain hotels or dining at local, off-the-beaten-path restaurants and cafes instead of global restaurants. Or maybe you skip the main shopping areas and check out the smaller markets instead for artisanal goods and food grown by farmers and book excursions led by local guides and experts.

5. Leave No Trace

Lastly, be respectful of the local communities and cultures. You’re a guest in a destination when you travel, so be mindful of what you’re leaving behind when you visit somewhere new.

Try to minimize pollution by walking or cycling where possible, avoid single-use plastics like water bottles and food packets, take shorter showers, so you’re not overusing resources, and turn off lights and air conditioners when you’re out of the room. 

Single-use plastics have made a comeback over the past few years, as the pandemic relied on single-use packaging for masks and gloves, and we increased our usage of takeout containers, grocery bags, and more. While hygiene is still a concern, try to be mindful of how you’re using items and whether there’s a suitable alternative. 

Many countries lack the infrastructure to handle large amounts of plastic waste, and as a result, they can wind up in oceans and landfills. Do what you can to avoid single-use items and think about how you’d act in your own home country before taking action elsewhere. 

Sustainable Travel - sign that says 'leave no trace' next to a hiking trail

We only have one planet, and the more we can do to protect the natural landscapes and rich cultures within it, the better it will be for the future. So much damage has already taken place, but it is possible to explore the many wonders around the globe and still do your part to protect it. Sustainable travel is about so much more than just visiting major cities and theme parks and ticking off those tourist traps. It is about diving into a culture, getting to know what makes local communities different, and seeing the natural beauty of a destination.

From initiatives designed to protect the environment to minimizing your carbon footprint by switching out one mode of transport for another or reducing your plastic waste, there’s so much each of us can do to make a positive impact on an industry renowned for its environmental damage.  

About the Author

Eco-friendly Agriculture - About the Author - Annie ButtonAnnie Button is a freelance writer who has written for various online and print publications specializing in lifestyle, business, branding, and career development.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I focus on travel?

Around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions are from flights, and with the other pollutants caused by aircraft, the industry accounts for around 5% of global warming. Making changes here can have a huge impact and make significant contributions to reducing the climate crisis. 

Which are the most sustainable destinations?

There are several destinations making big strides for the planet, including Ljubljana in Slovenia, Fogo Island in Canada, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Monteverde in Costa Rica, and Raukumara Forest in New Zealand. These destinations prioritize local culture and heritage with eco-friendly solutions to tourism. 

What if I want to visit a popular city?

If you choose a popular city, travel outside of peak times and stay longer to contribute more to the economy and local businesses. Find activities you can do that give back to residents and avoid the tourist traps — in other words, vote with your wallet and avoid funding large corporations over small businesses.


Lonely Planet: Thailand’s iconic Maya Beach reopens

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