What Is Sustainable Travel? Let’s Find Out

What Is Sustainable Travel? Let’s Find Out

Sustainable travel, also called eco-tourism or simply responsible travel, means making choices that reduce harm to a place you visit. Each choice may not seem big on its own, but together they can make a positive difference.

Think of sustainable travel like this: Say you’re staying overnight at a friend’s house. Obviously, you want to be a good guest. You’re kind to your hosts and their homes. You don’t want to hog their food, use too much hot water in the shower, or leave your mess behind. Above all, you don’t want to break anything.

Practicing sustainable travel is just taking this attitude everywhere you’re lucky enough to visit.

Travel is a privilege. When you’re visiting a new town, city, or country, you are a guest in a home. Sustainable travelers take this to heart. We can explore a place while protecting its wonder so that future visitors can have the same thrilling experience.

Here are a few key aspects of eco-friendly travel:

  • Make Green Choices: Being an eco-friendly traveler means your choices benefit the planet at every stage of your trip. These choices include using eco-friendly transportation, reducing waste, and showing respect for nature.
  • Support Local: Sustainable travelers put their money where their heart is. Choosing to spend money on local businesses supports local economies and communities. For example, you might choose locally-owned hotels, buy souvenirs from local artists, or eat in family-owned restaurants.
  • Respect Culture: Travel gives us a chance to discover other cultures. Responsible travel means being mindful and respectful of the customs, traditions, and people.
  • Protect & Conserve: Eco-friendly travel can protect nature and preserve endangered cultures. When you join in on the conservation efforts of the communities you’re visiting, you can make a lasting difference.

Sustainable travel means exploring and enjoying our world responsibly, so future generations can do the same.

Why Responsible Travel Matters? 

When we travel, especially by plane or cruise ship, we need to think about how it impacts the environment. To really understand the negative impact careless travel has caused, we need to look at the data.

  • The global tourism industry contributes about 8% of total worldwide carbon emissions, across transportation, lodging, and other related services.
  • Done responsibly, wildlife tourism helps conservation, but it can do harm if these experiences aren’t sustainable. Lack of rules or guidance in these places can lead to habitat destruction and a lot of stress for the animals.
  • Cruise ships produce waste, like sewage and greywater (used for showers, laundry, food prep, and even spa services). In just one week, a medium-sized ship can produce 210,000 gallons of sewage and 1 million gallons of greywater. Greywater lowers oxygen. It can also increase nutrient levels in the ecosystems.

At first, this seems positive. Nutrients are good, right? Unfortunately, greywater creates an excess of algae and disrupts the natural food chain.

  • Depending transportation. For instance, a train journey typically emits 6 times less CO2 than an equivalent flight.
  • Tourism can exacerbate plastic pollution, especially in marine environments. Plastic is the most common type of litter in the Mediterranean Sea. According to the U.N. Environmental Programme, plastic accounts for nearly all surface-level garbage. What’s more, plastics make up over 50% of seabed litter.

This gives us just a snapshot of how travel can harm the environment if we’re not careful. It’s also a call to action for travelers to make sustainable travel a priority.

Make Sustainable Travel Part of Your Trip: A Step-by-Step Guide  

Every journey should be a thrilling experience, filled with new sights, cultures, and adventures. But how often do we think about the impact of our travels on the environment and local communities? Sustainable travel is the answer to exploring the world responsibly and ethically. Let’s dive into how you can weave sustainability into every step of your journey!

Planning Your Eco-Friendly Trip

Table full of travel accessories, like a backpack, a journal, a camera, money. Hands reach into the backpack.

Before you even step out of your door, you can start practicing sustainable travel. Choose your destination, plan your stops and activities, and think about how these may impact the environment.

Research is Key

  • If you’re a note-taker or want to write out every step of your journey, keep them electronic.
  • Choose Eco-Friendly Destinations: Pick places known for their conservation efforts.
  • Learn Local Customs: Understanding and respecting local traditions enhances cultural sustainability.

Consider the Best Times to Travel

  • Travel during off-peak seasons so you don’t contribute to over-crowding.
  • Some destinations are begging for tourists while others may want to limit it. So, pay attention to how the local authorities and people feel about tourists visiting their land.

Book Your Tickets, Hotels & Travel Insurance

How you book your travel and stay can impact your carbon footprint. Choosing eco-friendly lodging and transportation reduces your travel impact and supports businesses in the process.

Choose Green Travel Options

  • Green hotels: Book hotels that have eco-certifications.
  • Sustainable Transport: Choose airlines and transport companies that have robust environmental policies.

Secure Your Journey with Travel Insurance

  • Buy travel insurance from travel insurance companies with good environmental and ethical track records.
  • Remember, you don’t have to print out your policy. You should be able to access everything you need directly on your phone.
  • American residents can get a trip insurance plan with a Cancel For Any Reason coverage. That way, if you do have to cancel your trip, you can get some of your money back. This also benefits your fellow travelers who can now book the plane seats and hotel rooms you freed up.

Pack with Care

  • Buy lighter luggage. It helps reduce fuel use in transport.
  • Pack reusable water bottles, bags, and containers. Find more eco-friendly travel accessories to take with you.

Head to the Airport

Your adventure begins the moment you head to the airport. Choose sustainable items for your luggage to reduce waste and energy use.

Sustainable Tourism Begins at The Airport

Picture of a toy airplane leaving five spear-shaped leaves in its wake.

Airports are bustling hubs of activity. They’re also hubs for a ton of waste. Navigating through them with a sustainable mindset involves reducing your waste, saving energy, and making eco-friendly choices wherever you can.

Minimize Waste

  • Avoid Single-Use Plastics: Opt for reusable items for snacks and drinks.
  • Digital Boarding Passes: Use your mobile device for boarding passes and tickets.
  • Bring your own snacks.

During the Flight

Soaring Through the Skies Sustainably

Flights are often the most carbon-intensive aspect of travel. Choose eco-friendly airlines and be a mindful passenger to reduce your impact on the environment during flights.

Conscious Choices

  • Carbon Offsetting: Choose airlines that offer carbon offset programs.
  • Mindful Consumption: Limit in-flight purchases and waste.

At the Hotel

Family arriving in hotel lobby with suitcases.

Your choice of where to stay is key. Opting for eco-friendly hotels and being mindful of the resources you’re using. Before you book, make sure the lodging supports local communities and conservation.

Conserve Resources

  • Save Energy by turning off lights and electronics when not in use.
  • Reuse towels and avoid requesting sheet changes daily.
  • Take quick showers
  • Ask the hotel about their sustainability efforts
  • Recycle everything you can
  • Take your own shampoo and body wash. Tell the hotel that you won’t be using the mini product bottles they provide.

Responsible Sight-Seeing

Hikers on top of a mountain taking in the view of trees below and around them.

Sightseeing is usually the best part of any trip. Doing it sustainably means respecting nature, helping local economies, and preserving the beauty so that future visitors can experience it.

Respect Nature and Culture

  • Leave No Trace: Ensure you do not harm natural habitats during excursions.
  • Don’t feed the wildlife. It may seem like a nice thing to do, but it can disrupt the animal’s instincts. Find more tips for responsible wildlife viewing.
  • Support Local Guides: Choose tour operators who employ and benefit local communities.
  • If you’re visiting historical or spiritual sites like cathedrals or mosques, be especially respectful. Be sure to follow the dress code and the conduct codes.


Hands holding a homemade dish of food over a table with other dishes of food.

Trying the local dishes is always one of the most exciting parts of the whole trip. There are a lot of things you can do to make your dining more eco-friendly.

  • Local Cuisine: Choose dishes made with local and organic ingredients.
  • Reduce Waste: Avoid food waste and single-use plastics.
  • Pack snacks in your day bag for walking around.
  • Discard any wrappers in recycling bins if possible.

Souvenir Shopping

Woman browsing at a vendor's stall.

Souvenir shopping can be a fun way to take a piece of your journey home with you. Whether you’re buying something for yourself or want to surprise someone back home, you can practice green gifting. Support local artists, buy ethically, and consider the environmental impact of your choices as you shop.

  • Buy Local: Purchase from local makers to support the community.
  • Ethical Products: Ensure that souvenirs do not come from endangered species or resources.

Saying Goodbye

After a vacation filled with sightseeing, dining, and shopping, it’s now time to head home. As you pack up there are just a few things to keep in mind.

  • Discard any extra bags or packaging responsibly.
  • Think you’ve got everything? Do one last walk around the room just to be sure. Don’t forget to check the shower.

Leave Positively

  • If you notice anything broken in your room, inform the staff.
  • Provide feedback to your hotel about their sustainability practices.
  • Leave online reviews to let other eco-friendly travelers know how sustainable the hotel is.

Sustainable travel is not about perfection. It’s about practice. The more you do it, the easier it will get. When we make responsible choices, we help protect and enhance the stunning places we visit.

Let’s travel responsibly and protect the world’s wonders for future generations to enjoy.