Tourism around the world is booming more now than ever before. At the same time, our planet suffers more than ever. There’s no secret that traveling affects climate change negatively.
By flying, taking the train, bus or ferry, we contribute to carbon emissions. While tourism can be beneficial for the economy, mass tourism can also be damaging for local communities and their environment.
So how can we change these negative effects? How can we as travellers reduce our carbon footprint while making a positive impact on the travel industry? How can we help communities and preserve our planet for future generations?
The answer is sustainable travel, also known as conscious travel, or more simply green travel. Following green travel tips is the best way to travel positively.
What is green travel?
Green travel focuses on how your actions impact on the environment and local communities. It asks you to be more conscious in the decisions you make and how your actions have an impact when you travel. It takes extra effort and planning to ensure you're doing the right thing.
We've identified 21 green travel tips that you can implement easily when you go on your next trip. We've implemented these tips ourselves while travelling full-time in Oceania, Asia, and Europe. It hasn't always been easy, especially being vegan in some countries, but we're doing our best and we believe everyone else can too!
1. Choose the carbon offset option on your flights
Flights account for around 2.5% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) production. Offsetting this carbon emission is the easiest way to leave no trace when you book your tickets. Many airlines and search engines have the option available when you book your flight.
How does carbon offset work?
After you have chosen your flight, your carbon emissions are calculated in the amount of tonnes of CO2 produced by the flight. You pay a small amount that is invested in a project to reduce CO2 levels by the same amount to balance it out.
2. Use the greenest transport possible
While air travel may be the only option when traveling to many countries, there are many other destinations where you can catch a train, bus or ferry.
Always choose public transportation over renting a car, especially in cities. This will reduce the carbon emissions as well as keeping the parking spots available for locals that have to travel to town for work. If you are now going to rent a car, optimise for hybrid or electric cars. Electric cars have three times less emissions than fuel driven cars. Using public transport is also a great way to feel like a local and connect with their culture. And from the traveler’s perspective, it’s a great way to save money!
Choose to cycle when it's possible. Cycling is a great way to get to know a new place. Usually it doesn’t cost as much as renting a car or scooter. Besides manufacturing, cycling has no impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Cycling around it’s a great way to exercise and spend more time outdoors to keep your body and mind healthy. If you travel far, you can also rent an electric bike.
Even better, explore the area by foot. This is by far our favourite way to travel and it has zero impact on the environment while keeping you healthy.
3. Choose a plant-based diet
Going completely plant-based is the most effective way to minimise the impact on our planet as an individual. Below we show some statistics based on research at the University of Oxford to show why going vegan or at least vegetarian will save the planet.
Greenhouse gas emissions
Removing meat and dairy products from the diet could reduce the carbon footprint of an individual up to a staggering 73%.
Furthermore, the global use of farmland could be reduced by a massive 75%. To put that into perspective, that’s an area the size of the US, China, Australia, and the EU combined.
According to the journal Science, meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are responsible for 83% of the world’s farmland. Just think about it, producing just 5% of the world’s calories creates 40% of global environmental misfortune! Most of the land that is used today is to grow animal feed, if we stop eating meat we cut the middle man.
Research shows that livestock is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions. Global livestock production contributes an estimated 18% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions mainly in terms of methane and nitrous oxide.
The agriculture industry consumes about 70% of global water use. Based on a study published in Water Resources Research, an estimated 41% of water used in agriculture is to grow livestock feed. Mean, especially beef is among the most water demanding products.
To produce 1 kg of beef, you need around 15,000 litres of water. That’s equal to 132 showers if your average shower is 10 min long. Mind-blowing isn’t it?!
According to The World Counts, water use for 1 kilogram of the product:
- Chocolate: 24,000 litres
- Coffee beans: 21,000 litres
- Beef: 15,500 litres
- Sheep and goat meat: 8,800 litres
- Pig meat: 6,000 litres
- Cereals: 1,600 litres
- Fruit: 1000 litres
- Vegetables: 300 litres
Large resources are needed to produce meat, which affects biodiversity and causes the extinction of some species. WWF states that meat-based diets cause 60% of global biodiversity loss.
4. Be a sustainable fashion shopper
We all love to wear something new and appropriate to the destination we visit. With Instagram on our mind, we always want to look good and not appear like we are wearing the same clothes. Janna used to be a huge shopaholic and deeply inside still is!
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for about 10% of global carbon emissions. This is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined!
But there are ways to achieve a great look without damaging our planet. The best sustainable clothes are the clothes in your closet. You can always give your favorite clothes a new life by tailoring, or maybe redesigning something that you already have.
Our second favourite option is pre-loved fashion. Next time you are hunting for a change, check out a vintage shop or a second-hand shop in your city. Alternatively check out Facebook Marketplace. You’ll be surprised what you may find there.
There are also companies that offer renting clothes instead of buying them.
Consider sustainability when buying new clothes
If you’re not interested in wearing pre-loved clothes, we totally understand. Then try your best to choose more ethical and sustainable brands. Look for natural and bio fabrics that have minimum impact on our planet.
Examples of natural fabrics are hemp, linen, bamboo, and recycled/organic cotton. There are also bio-fabricated textiles, which are materials grown from live microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, algae and fungi.
5. Shop locally
Buy your groceries from a local market. If you’re road tripping in a rural area, you are most likely to find farms and farm markets on your way.
Stop there to buy whatever is in season to support the local economy and reduce carbon emissions. When we travel, we love to visit local markets to get homemade jams and fresh fruits and vegetables.
We also love to visit small shops with local produce and handcrafted goods. Instead of buying mainstream gifts, research what the area is famous for and get something authentic made by locals instead of investing in big overseas companies.
6. Reuse bottles, bags, cutlery, and other products
Traveling around the world has really opened our eyes to how much plastic we use on a daily basis. One way to reduce it is by using reusable travel products.
130,000 tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year. With time, hard plastic breaks into small particles called micro plastic that is too small to see. Micro plastic contaminates the water and sea life including the fish that you may end up eating. That’s another reason to go vegetarian or vegan.
Even if the plastic doesn’t end up in the ocean, it will take 20 to 500 years to break down depending on the type of plastic. The most common plastic bottles take around 450 years to break down.
The energy required to produce and transport plastic bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year. But approximately 75% of plastic water bottles are not recycled. They end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans.
There is a very simple solution to that problem. Take a reusable water bottle with you everywhere you go instead of buying one. Just simply fill it up with tap water before you leave. Some countries also have public drinking fountains where you can get a refill.
If you travel in a country where drinking water from a tap is not safe, you can purchase a water bottle with a filter system that kills 99% of bacteria. You can fill it up where you’re staying or at waterfalls, rivers and streams when you go out for an adventure.
Pack your own food for the airplane. Airplane meals usually use a lot of single-use plastic.
If you’re planning your trip from home, reuse your small bottles of cosmetics and fill them up with cosmetics from the items that you bought in bigger packages.
Here is our list of our favourite travel essentials:
- Reusable water bottle
- Coffee cup
- Bags for grocery shopping
- Cutlery and straw
- Reusable take-away container
Even when you don't have a reusable item with you, you can still decline to use plastic. Drink from the cup instead of through a plastic straw. Carry the few items with you instead of accepting a plastic bag.
7. Collect rubbish
Carry a reusable bag with you every time you go out hiking, camping, swimming or even diving. Mountains, oceans, rivers and lakes are full of our trash. It causes problems for wild animals and the ecosystem.
You can pick up plastic and trash you see on your way back, it really doesn't take that long. You will be surprised how many people will appreciate your effort and learn from your behaviour.
8. Use ethical tour operators
More companies are jumping on the ecotourism bandwagon in recent years. It definitely requires some research, but it’s important to make sure they're operating ethically especially when planning to see wildlife.
It's our responsibility to make sure that the company we choose does the right thing. If you notice otherwise, reach out to the manager and leave a review on Google to let other people know about your experience.
How do I find out if a tour is ethical?
Go to their website to conduct some basic research. Bigger tour operators often have some kind of license or been involved in certification programs. If it’s a small tour operator, look up their values and ‘About Us’ page to find out what they stand for. If you aren't sure, reach out to them and ask questions.
When we travel, we always try to support local family businesses instead of booking things online with passive tour operators that take a big cut.
We also like to do Airbnb experiences to support local people. Sometimes you can find the same guide on a different platform where you can contact them independently.
9. Be kind to all animals
Most of us have seen circuses and zoos in our lifetime, but it seemed innocent to us at that time. As kids we never received the right education about animals being captured or abused. Any business that involves animals for recreational, entertainment or any other purposes is considered unethical.
That includes animal cafes like you will find in Japan or Korea and businesses that exploit animals for photos. You have probably come across photos with dopey tigers, baby tigers, owls and eagles. These are wild animals and they should be in their natural environment.
But how about non-profit organizations like sanctuaries? Visiting sanctuaries instead of zoos can be a great alternative, but always research if they actually rescue animals. Many sanctuaries claim to be non-profit but still invite tourists to come and feed them, pet them and have your photos taken.
The true purpose of any sanctuary is to ensure that after animals have been rescued and once they are rehabilitated, they should be released into nature if possible. A real sanctuary usually relies on government support, donations from public organizations and sometimes daily visits. If it's a true sanctuary, usually you watch the animals from a distance living in their natural habitat without any close participation. That's how you know that wild animals are getting ready to be released.
Don’t ride animals
Most of us know that riding elephants is extremely unethical. Debates arise when it comes to domesticated animals like horses, camels, donkeys and huskies. After some research, we came across a few blog articles where horse riders were explaining how to ride a horse the ‘correct’ way to avoid hurting it. It became clear that if you aren’t a great rider, which when you travel is often the case, you shouldn't ride a horse.
So all the ranch places and eco hotels offering horse riding in the forest, mountains and the beach are all unethical and damaging both physically and mentally for the horses. We were still not sure that riding a horse in the first place was an ethical thing to do. While horse races and commercialised horse riding was a clearer example, not till we came across Emily’s website we made the conclusion that even if you own a horse and treat it like your best friend but still take it for rides, you exploit it.
Don’t feed wild animals
This is probably the hardest thing to do because our human nature just can’t help but wanting to feed and get closer to animals. Something that innocent can cause big problems for an animal’s health and cause an imbalance in the ecosystem.
Human food is not good for wild animals and wild animals shouldn't depend on humans for their survival. Wild animals can get dependent on human help and lose their natural skills of finding and hunting food. Feeding wild animals is also dangerous for humans, as animals often carry hantavirus and rabies, and are unpredictable in their behaviour.
As a reminder, don't eat animals either not just because of ethical and sustainable reasons but also because a lot of them carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans.
10. Travel in the off-peak or shoulder season
Visiting a popular destination in the off-peak or shoulder season not only means empty streets and more photo opportunities, but also lower prices. You will most likely have more interactions with locals and learn more about their lifestyle.
Visiting popular destinations during the peak season takes away space from locals. Locals suffer from overpriced properties, fully packed public transport, museums, and booked restaurants. Over visited places usually also suffer from over pollution and excess garbage.
11. Avoid going to hyped destinations, there are always alternatives
If your Instagram feed is constantly showing you Bali, that means it's a hyped destination. There are always alternatives either within the country or in the region.
So rather than going to Bali, how about visiting the neighbouring islands of Lombok or Java? Instead of Mallorca, try Menorca. Instead of the Bahamas, try St. Vincent. Instead of Mykonos, go to Syros or Samos. Instead of Rome, visit small regional towns that are full of charm.
Instead of choosing a country based on its popularity in the Instagram feed, choose a country recognised for its sustainable practices. For example, Denmark and Sweden have been ranked as top countries due to having the most amount of eco hotels, plant-based restaurants, green buildings, bike lanes, recycling, and other environmentally friendly initiatives.
Volunteering can be a great way of experiencing a new country and culture. There are lots of different environmental and social projects around the globe that always need volunteers to help support local communities, protect cultural heritage, save native animals, or conserve natural resources.
Some organisations provide accommodation and food in exchange for your conservation efforts.
You can use the following websites to find your dream volunteer work:
13. Slow travel
Slow travel is a great way to minimise our footprint when traveling. Choose a slower type of transportation and stay longer in one country or location. Slow traveling not only reduces our greenhouse gas emissions, it also gives us more time to truly connect with people and the environment. Slow traveling often allows you to find more off-the-beaten-track destinations.
Travelling can be a very stressful journey, but when you slow travel you minimise your stress levels by not having to move to a new destination every few days. We understand that not everyone has months of vacation, but let's say instead of visiting five countries in Europe in two weeks, choose two countries and travel around regional areas and smaller towns to see how people live there.
14. Leave no trace
According to the National Park Services, there are 7 principles that you should follow to leave a minimum impact on the environment.
These principles are mostly aimed at adventure travellers who love to hike and camp in national parks to ensure they remain protected. But they should be applied everywhere where people interact with nature.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
15. Travel short distances
The shorter the trip is from home, the less carbon emissions we leave. Exploring your homeland and region is a great example of sustainable travel. But what if I want to see somewhere like South America but I live in Europe? Make sure to take as direct a route as possible and choose non-stop flights.
If you are doing a stopover, take it as a chance to explore a new destination. Travel to the furthest destinations for as long as you can to maximise the trip rather than making shorter trips.
16. Housesitting is a great option for conscious travel
The concept is to look after someone’s house or their pet(s) while the owners are away. This is one of the most sustainable ways of traveling because you don't affect local housing pricing by staying in an already occupied apartment/house.
You also have more opportunities to learn how to live in a country like a local. There are plenty of websites available to get started. Most of them require some kind of paid membership, but it’s really not that expensive considering that your stays will be completely free. We are currently using Trusted Housesitter and find it very easy to use.
17. Stay in eco hotels and home stays for your accommodation
Staying in hotels that have values to help minimise their footprint is always a better choice.
You can always find proof on their websites. Look for a sustainability page that mentions the use of renewable energy like solar power and how they conserve water. They may also have other initiatives such as restorative programs and donations. You want to support a business that does something good for the planet, their local community, and not just take profit.
Less developed countries will often have a big range of home stays and guesthouses. This is a great way for you to interact with locals and learn their culture while helping the families.
Maximize the use of towels. How often do you change your sheets and towels at home? Even in a non-eco-friendly hotel room, you can request the staff to not wash your towels and sheets every day. Turn off the air conditioner and be mindful of water consumption when taking a bath or shower.
Make sure to ask where their recycling is located. In some places you may have to ask around and travel to another location if it's not available where you're staying.
18. Pack light
The less you bring with you, the less carbon dioxide will be consumed on each airfare.
Small luggage may also affect your choices. Instead of taking a taxi, you can take public transport as it's way easier to carry your backpack or a small suitcase when traveling by bus or train.
Plastic-free toiletries usually weigh less and take less space. Pack thin clothes as much as possible.
19. Research and learn about the local customs of the destination you're visiting
So many tourists have offended local culture or religion by their inappropriate and sometimes vulgar behaviour. Researching and learning about the culture you are about to visit is essential.
You always have to start with researching the safety situation. Some countries have very strict regimes. Breaking their laws can lead to a lifetime in prison or even the death penalty.
It's important to know the religion of the country and what is appropriate clothing. Research how to dress appropriately in their places of worship so you don't appear disrespectful. Pack what you need for the trip in advance.
For example, Samoan women and men have to wear a sarong when they are in public places, especially in villages. Swimming in a Brazilian-style bikini in public places would be considered disrespectful.
Some countries also have their own unique gestures and manners. For example, Indonesians never shake with their left hand because that’s considered a dirty hand (used to wash with a bidet).
Always carefully read the rules of the places you are visiting. Follow the trails and don’t jump any fences. Follow the dress code before entering a place of worship.
20. Educate yourself and others on green travel tips
By sharing our knowledge with our family, friends and via social media channels, we help to spread the message of sustainable travel and living. By doing the right thing as an individual, we create positive behavior in our neighborhood and our community.
People have been learning things from each other for decades without relying on the government, now it's easier to do it than ever before with so many tools available. It's important to educate yourself and question everything, be curious and research. We never stop learning!
Just be aware of brands that are deceptively claiming to be sustainable when they're not. Known as greenwashing, they may make claims that don't hold up under some basic scrutiny and questioning.
21. Buy eco-friendly travel gear for your trip
The number one rule is the same for your travel gear as it is for fashion. If you already have someting that is good enough, reuse it.
The second-best option is to buy things you need for your travels that are made ethically and sustainably.
Shampoo and conditioner bars are now available in almost all supermarkets and pharmacies around the globe.
Below is the list of our travel essentials and some of the sustainable brands we like to support.
As we always travel with our camera gear, here are some of the brands that are more thoughtful of the environment:
Camera lens filters