Anyone who’s truly immersed themselves in the art of traveling knows that exploring a foreign destination is a beautiful way of discovering themselves.
It’s like unlocking a part of your personality that has been caged in the basement, waiting to be set free.
Self-discovery through traveling comes from the accumulation of the simplest moments: sitting on a sand dune in silence while watching the blue waves crash on the reef, seeing the sunrise over a volcano from the top of a mountain, or trading smiles with the most heartwarming locals. There is no price we can put on the experiential wealth that comes from traveling.
And yet, we are in danger of spoiling this experience with our lack of awareness.
If you’ve been to places like Bali, Morocco, or the Philippines, you might have been looking forward to swimming in a clear blue sea with white sandy beaches, but have been shocked to find a brown, plastic-polluted ocean, or hundreds of plastic toothbrushes and bottles littering the sand.
This is why understanding the art of sustainable travel is not only important; it is crucial.
Some people argue that “sustainable travel” is a contradictory term in itself. Because, after all, planes release an alarming amount of carbon dioxide into the air. But it’s not just about whether to fly or not. There are other things we can do to create a smaller impact on our environment, whether it’s taking a public bus over a car, turning off the lights, or creating less waste in general.
Sustainable travel is all about treating the environment with as much respect as possible while leaving the smallest footprint behind. It’s not just the amount of carbon emissions we release into the air; it’s also about leaving the least amount of waste, using as little energy as possible, and supporting local communities.
So in this article, I’ll share seven simple—yet actionable ways—to help you travel more sustainably, so you can explore as much of the world as possible without impacting its beautiful nature.
1. Consider how you travel
Whether you take a flight, boat, train, bus, bike, or go by foot, it’s always worth thinking about how much carbon footprint you are producing, wherever you go.
We know that planes are often the only way to travel if you’re going further afield, but they do release the most amount of carbon emissions into our atmosphere. So if you can swap your flight for another mode of transport, it could really help to reduce the carbon emissions that you produce.
However, if you do have to fly, there are a few things you can do to lessen the impact on our environment:
>> Choose a direct flight
This is because planes release the most amount of carbon emissions during take-off and landing as it’s when they use up most of their fuel. Traveling directly will hugely reduce your carbon emissions, plus it’s more convenient, too.
>> And offset your carbon emissions
Offsetting your carbon emissions allows you to reduce your carbon footprint in other areas to compensate for the Co2 you produce in other areas. While it’s not perfect, at least it helps reduce the level of Co2 in the air, overall.
There are multiple carbon offset schemes (like Reforestum or My Climate), which calculate the amount of carbon dioxide you produce and then invest in environmental projects like planting trees or supporting a local community. The funds proceed directly to supporting projects that produce clean energy and reduce carbon emissions.
And when you’re traveling around, always ask yourself: is this a sustainable mode of transport? What’s often the fastest isn’t always the best for the environment or the cheapest, so save a few cents and embrace the local in you.
Can you go via bus, train, or boat? Or if you don’t have to travel too far, can you walk? That’s the winner in terms of producing the least carbon footprint. If you set off a little bit earlier, it can be a nice way to get to know the new surroundings. Who knows? You might stumble across a hidden gem that most tourists don’t know about.
2. Travel slowly
It’s pretty common for travelers to visit a new country and want to see it all. There are so many new and exciting places around that they end up spending a few days in one place, then move to the next, and then the next. But not only can this be quite tiring (not much of vacation!), it’s also more costly on our environment.
So instead of covering a huge amount of ground, try spending longer in one place. It’ll give you the time to really get to know the place. You’ll understand the culture better, find the best restaurants, meet the locals, and shop at the artisanal stalls. It will also enable you to give back to the community.
Additionally, by staying in one place (rather than in multiple hotels), you’ll reduce your energy consumption too. Why? Because every time you check into a new place, you’ll have new sheets and a freshly cleaned room. Hotel hopping might be a fun way to explore, but if you move every day for a week, you will create seven times more laundry than if you had stayed in the same place.
Another tip is to ask the hotel staff not to wash your towels daily. This will reduce water and energy usage on excessive laundry, and it isn’t necessary either.
If you do want to travel around to explore your new surroundings, you could book one place as your base and take smaller day trips to explore.
3. Pack efficiently
Did you know that the lighter the bag, the better it is for the environment? That’s because planes need more fuel to transport heavier bags. And when more fuel is used, more Co2 is released.
While we suggest taking the most minimalist approach possible, here’s a list of some useful things to pack to help you travel more sustainably:
>> Shampoo and conditioner bars
Traditional liquid shampoo and conditioner can take up a lot of valuable space in the bag, plus they often come in plastic. With bars, you don’t need to worry about them getting confiscated in hand luggage. They last for months and are super small and light, so they are convenient when traveling. If you do need to take liquids with you, decant what you already have at home into smaller bottles. This will save you buying extra packs and will mean you can use up what you’ve already got.
>> Plastic-free sunscreen
Most standard sunscreens are not only packaged in plastic but they contain a toxic chemical called oxybenzone. This has been proven to be harmful to both our reef and our skin, too. That’s why we recommend this zero waste sunscreen—it’s made of natural ingredients to help protect your skin and the reef. Plus it comes in a plastic-free tin.
>> Bamboo toothbrush
One of the worst offenders of plastic pollution is the plastic toothbrush. If you ever find yourself at a beach clean-up, you’re likely to find hundreds of plastic toothbrushes littered all around. By swapping your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo toothbrush, you can brush your teeth without fear of contributing to this unnecessary waste. And you can even get a bamboo toothbrush case too, which is perfect for traveling as it keeps the bristles clean.
>> Reusable bamboo utensil set
Plastic utensils are often handed out on planes, tours, or even in restaurants and cafes. By going prepared with one set of reusable bamboo utensils, you can be fully equipped to never have to use these single-use plastics again. This reusable utensil set is handmade in Bali and includes a knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks, and straw—all in one small carry case, which you can take with you everywhere you go. You can even use it on the plane!
4. Purify water
Clean water is often not available from the tap in third-world countries.
The easiest thing might be to buy bottles of water; however, buying a new bottle every time you’re thirsty is contributing to a huge amount of plastic waste.
It’s been said that 20,000 plastic bottles are used every second, and more than 1,000,000 bottles are being added to landfills around the world—every single minute.
So save yourself from having to buy bottled water by purifying the water yourself. You can get purifying tablets from local pharmacies. Make sure you follow the instructions to ensure it’s safe to drink from.
5. Buy local
One of our favorite things to do when traveling is sampling the amazing flavors of the local regions.
Whether you’re in Italy and have the opportunity to sample the famous pizza and pasta, Japan with their sushi, or Spain with the tapas, there are so many exciting and exotic foods to tickle those taste buds, which you can’t get at home.
Not only are local foods often tastier because they’re fresher and locally-grown, but they’re also often cheaper. You won’t be paying import costs and it will have traveled less far to reach you (another way to keep your carbon footprint down!).
Head to the local food market stalls, dig deep into the different colors and flavors of the region, and ask the vendors how they make their goods. It’s a nice opportunity to meet the locals too and understand more about their culture.
Oh, and make sure you take a reusable produce bag with you, so you don’t have to pack your goods in plastic bags.
6. Be kind to the animals
It can be fun to make friends with the local animals —whether you’re swimming with dolphins, taking a camel ride, or hopping on an elephant. But often these animals are treated inhumanely by being caged, kept on a rope, or even sedated. Supporting tourism that treats animals badly will only keep it going for longer. So make sure you do your research if you’re looking for activities that involve animals.
7. Reduce your use of energy
Last but not least, try to always consider the amount of energy you’re using.
You might not pay more if you leave the lights on in your bedroom or the air con blazing through the night, but it’ll certainly cost more on the environment.
So don’t forget to turn those appliances off, as it all adds up. If it’s hot, can you use a fan instead? Even an old-school hand fan can be super-efficient when it’s really hot—and it uses up less energy, too.
And one final tip: before your travel, make sure you’ve turned off all the plugs back at your home. This will reduce your power bill at home while you’re not around and it’ll save the amount of energy you use, too.
Hopefully, you can implement a few of these things to help you travel a little more sustainably. If we can all make a few small changes, it’ll make a big difference.
And remember, sustainable travel goes far beyond whether to fly or not. Reduce your plastic, always consider the best modes of transport (however far you’re going), and support the local communities.
With these tips, you won’t just have more fun on your travels, but they’ll be all the more meaningful, too.