Sustainable Travel: A Path Towards a Greener Future

Image Source: As avid travelers, it's crucial for us to recognize the impact that our journeys have on our planet. The truth is, traditional forms of travel contribute to harmful CO2 emissions and the...

What is Sustainable Travel Image Source:

As avid travelers, it's crucial for us to recognize the impact that our journeys have on our planet. The truth is, traditional forms of travel contribute to harmful CO2 emissions and the commodification of natural areas. Our finite resources are at risk due to mass tourism, threatening the very essence of our beautiful, untouched landscapes. This is where sustainable travel comes into play.

Understanding Sustainable Travel

Sustainable travel is the answer to the negative impacts caused by tourism. It involves finding ways to maintain tourism in the long run without harming the natural and cultural environments. In other words, it aims to minimize the negative effects of tourism and ideally bring benefits to the areas we visit.

According to the World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism is about fulfilling the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunities for the future. It's all about managing resources in a way that fulfills economic, social, and aesthetic needs while maintaining cultural integrity, ecological processes, biodiversity, and life support systems.

In essence, sustainable travel is about valuing the environment, conserving natural resources, and respecting local communities and cultures. We need to be more aware of the pollution levels caused by travel and how they affect the environment and local wildlife. Furthermore, we must consider the social impact of tourism on local communities, businesses, and native cultures.

The Three Pillars of Sustainability

To fully grasp the concept of sustainability, we need to understand its three key principles, also known as the Three Pillars of Sustainability.

1. The Environmental Pillar focuses on reducing negative impacts on the environment and wildlife caused by travel. This includes minimizing our carbon footprint, conserving water, reducing packaging and plastic waste, and avoiding disturbance of wildlife. By carrying our own reusable items and seeking out hotels and restaurants that recycle and are built from sustainable materials, we can make a positive impact.

2. The Social Pillar highlights our impact on local people and communities. Supporting local businesses that employ and benefit local individuals, as well as engaging in community tourism projects, NGOs, social enterprises, and charities, are essential. Responsible travelers should strive to be involved in such initiatives, ensuring fair pay and safe work environments for local employees.

3. The Economic Pillar refers to using our money to positively contribute to the local economy. By giving our tourist pound to locally-run establishments, such as hotels, restaurants, and tour guides, we effectively support the sustainability of the local economy.

Addressing the Environmental Issues of Tourism

The environmental issues caused by tourism cannot be overlooked. Tourism relies heavily on burning fossil fuels, contributing to climate change. It is estimated that by 2050, tourism will account for 40% of the world's carbon emissions, with 72% coming from transportation, 24% from accommodation, and 4% from tourism activities.

While we should moderate how often and how far we fly to minimize our environmental impact, it is equally crucial to consider our choices once we reach our destination. Rapid development and overcapacity, often caused by increased tourism, lead to chaos that local communities must deal with, including waste management, carbon emissions, and water scarcity.

25 Ways To Be a Sustainable Traveler

As responsible travelers, we must take the initiative to advocate for sustainable travel and tourism. While there is no magic solution to the problems associated with tourism, we can strive for better, more sustainable practices. Here are some tips to help us become more sustainable travelers:

Travel Style

1. Be respectful of locals and communities: Remember that when we travel, we are guests in other people's homes. Respect local communities and their way of life, avoid being disruptive, and make an effort to learn a bit of the local language.

2. Be a slow traveler: Minimize the negative impact of air travel by flying less often and staying longer in destinations. Embrace the benefits of slow travel, including a deeper connection with the local community and a better understanding of the impacts of tourism.

3. Research sustainable travel destinations: Some destinations are more sustainable than others. Avoid places struggling with over-tourism and seek out destinations that have implemented measures to ensure sustainable tourism. Consider traveling during off-peak seasons to minimize footfall.

Traveling Sustainably Image Source:


4. Consider the most sustainable form of transport: When planning your journey, weigh the options of flying, driving, or taking a train or coach. Carpooling, taking the train, or using public transport are often greener alternatives to driving or flying.

5. Take direct flights whenever possible: Choose the shortest flight path to your destination, as takeoffs and landings contribute the most to a plane's carbon emissions. Opt for direct flights to minimize your environmental impact.

6. Fly economy class: Flying in economy class has a significantly smaller carbon footprint compared to business or first class. Choose the economy seat for the sake of your budget and the environment.

7. Use sustainable transport at your destination: Whenever possible, explore your destination on foot or by bike. These are the most eco-friendly modes of transportation. Utilize public transport, minibusses, or car shares for longer distances, avoiding private cars.


8. Stay in locally-owned accommodation: Support local businesses by choosing locally-owned accommodations such as guesthouses, B&Bs, couch surfing, and homestays. Ensure that your money circulates within the local economy, benefiting the community.

9. Check for green certifications at hotels and hostels: Look for accommodations committed to sustainability initiatives, such as solar power, energy-efficient lighting, and recycling programs. Find out if hotels employ local staff, source their food locally, and use sustainable materials in their construction.

10. Avoid large resorts: Large resorts consume excessive water and energy, leading to negative impacts on the local environment. Additionally, they often displace wildlife by covering natural habitats with guest rooms and swimming pools.

11. Avoid all-inclusive packages: All-inclusive holidays discourage tourists from exploring local businesses, restaurants, and cultural activities. To support the local economy, opt for locally-owned resorts and choose half-board options or activities that allow you to engage with local businesses.

12. Embrace camping: Camping is a sustainable option for nature enthusiasts. It not only reduces environmental impact but also provides an opportunity to connect with nature in a less built-up setting. If possible, consider wild camping for an even greener experience.

Sustainable Tours, Activities & Volun-tourism

13. Use sustainable tour operators: Do thorough research before booking tours and look for operators with green accreditations, such as GSTC, Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance, EarthCheck, and the Green Tourism Business Scheme. Read reviews from other travelers and reputable travel bloggers to ensure the operator's sustainability initiatives align with your values.

14. Beware of green washing: Some companies make unsubstantiated claims about their green credentials. To identify genuine sustainable businesses, use external resources like certifications provided by countries or independent organizations such as the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

15. Engage in responsible wildlife tourism: Avoid tours that promote unethical and close interactions with animals. Look for tours that prioritize animal welfare and ensure a certain distance is maintained between humans and wildlife. Research each type of wildlife tourism to ensure responsible practices.

16. Practice responsible snorkeling and scuba diving: Treat coral reefs with care, as they are fragile ecosystems. Avoid touching or feeding fish or marine animals, join smaller groups to minimize overcrowding, and opt for reef-friendly sunscreen to protect the marine environment.

17. Volunteer with NGOs and join community tourism projects: Support initiatives that positively contribute to local communities and their sustainable development. Research volunteering opportunities to ensure your time and money make a meaningful impact.

Local Environment

18. Eat in locally-owned establishments: Support local restaurants and cafes to contribute to the local economy. Enjoy the experience of trying authentic local cuisine and avoid international food chains that redirect money out of the local economy.

19. Embrace local cuisine: Opt for local food choices whenever possible. Local cuisine is often sourced locally, reducing carbon emissions associated with long-distance transportation. It's also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture.

20. Explore local street food: Street food vendors often offer homemade dishes unique to the local culture. However, ensure that the food is prepared in a hygienic environment to avoid foodborne illnesses.

21. Buy locally grown food and shop in local markets: Support local farmers by purchasing locally grown produce. This reduces carbon emissions associated with importing food from faraway places. Explore local farmers' markets for a truly authentic experience.

Charlie at Quepos farmers market - Charlie on Travel Image Source:

Sustainable Shopping

22. Buy gifts made by local artisans: Choose souvenirs created by local artisans rather than imported goods. This supports local economies and ensures that your purchases have a lower carbon footprint.

23. Practice a 'one in, one out' clothes policy: Adopt a sustainable approach to clothing by following a "one in, one out" rule. Only replace items when necessary to avoid contributing to the fast fashion industry. Choose higher quality, durable fabrics and consider the social and environmental impact of the clothes you buy.

Sustainable Travel Packing

24. Pack light: Packing lightly minimizes the weight carried by planes, resulting in reduced fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Travel light and be mindful of what you bring.

25. Pack eco-friendly essentials: Include reusable items such as a water bottle, reusable bag, and lunch box to minimize plastic waste during your travels. Opt for eco-friendly toiletries, like shampoo bars and natural deodorants, packaged in paper rather than plastic.

Speak Up for Sustainable Travel

26. Advocate for more sustainable travel: Encourage businesses, airlines, local governments, and host countries to prioritize sustainable tourism initiatives. Let them know that sustainable travel is important to you and that you support their efforts.

27. Share your sustainable travel experiences: Spread the word about your responsible travel experiences with friends, family, and on social media. The more we talk about sustainable travel, the more we reinforce its importance.

By adopting these sustainable travel practices, we can make a positive impact on the environment, support local communities, and preserve the natural and cultural wonders of our world for future generations. Let's make sustainable travel the only way we explore our beautiful planet.