Sustainable Travel: 7 Ways to Make Your Next Trip More Eco-Friendly

Mammoth hot springs at yellowstone national park - sustainable travel

Have you ever felt so carefree on a trip that money just seemed like it didn’t matter? $20 for a drink? Sure, we’re on vacation! $100 for a cab ride? Totally fine!

And then you get back home, look at your expenses, and realize you spent waaay more than you had planned on.

I’ve been there and the fall back to reality can be a harsh one.

I have a working theory that people feel the same way about the Earth and sustainability. We’re so much more conscious of how we’re impacting the Earth when we’re at home, in our routine, and when it’s convenient for us.

Why not make our travel a little more sustainable? If it were up to many of us, the number of days we travel in a year would be pretty high. So, if that’s the case, I’ve been feeling more and more lately that I should be just as conscious when I travel as when I’m at home.

I’m making this sustainable travel guide for myself to come back to again and again and for you to use on your next trip!

1. Avoid air travel as much as possible

I’m not into making sustainable travel a cut and dry practice. Obviously, if you’re traveling from the US to Europe, you could take a boat, but flying is quicker, more convenient, and sometimes the only practical option if you only have a few days to work with.

However, once you’re in Europe, if you want to travel to a few different countries or cities, consider taking a train instead of a plane. Airplanes are huge contributors of pollution and trains allow you to see some beautiful landscapes along the way!

If we’re continuing with the Europe example, their train system is phenomenal and can often only take a couple of hours to get you to a new country!

If you’re in a situation where you have to fly, consider an airline using Aviation biofuels to help reduce their carbon emissions. A few airlines doing this are United, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, KLM, and more. This webpage has a lot more information on this with credible sources.

One more option is to try to fly direct when possible. One flight is better than two.

2. Consider public transportation

Instead of renting a car and driving around to different destinations, consider trains, busses, trams, car sharing, or anything else available in the area you’re visiting. It’ll likely be cheaper and you’re keeping one more car from releasing emissions into the air.

Admittedly, this is hard for us because Austin gets motion sickness pretty easily, so if we’re sitting on a bus or in the back of a car, it can put a huge damper on our day.

That’s okay, though. Like I said, you don’t have to do everything on this list to be a “sustainable traveler,” just do what you can.

3. Volunteer where you travel

What a wonderful way to show your appreciation for the places you travel! I haven’t actually done this before, but it’s something I’m really interested in.

It might be hard to squeeze this in if your itinerary is jam packed, but if you have an extra day (or even an extra few hours), consider volunteering and give back to the community that’s giving you so much joy!

Volunteer Forever has a lot of great resources about volunteering abroad!

4. Research your accommodations

One of the easiest things you can do to sustainably travel is make sure you’re staying at and supporting eco-friendly hotels. You don’t even have to do anything yourself, you’re simply holding the accommodations accountable!

I did a quick Google search for “eco-friendly hotels in Germany” and found a ton of resources, so research for this seems relatively straightforward.

The website Green Pearls seems to give sustainable travel/hotel options all over the world.

When you’re doing your own research, look for things like:

  • Environmental protection for the surrounding community
  • Offering local, authentic experiences
  • Giving back to the community in the form of any kind of “green” project
  • Local produce grown on site or nearby

The main thing is to understand whether the hotel you’re planning to stay at is an asset or a hindrance to the surrounding community. If the local people are benefitting from the money you’re spending at the hotel, you’re in a good spot.

5. Reduce plastic waste and remember to recycle

The three R’s we all learned in school: reduce, reuse, and recycle still apply when we’re traveling! If you have room in your luggage, try bringing along a few tupperware containers for leftovers at restaurants. You can also bring reusable silverware instead of grabbing plastic forks at street fairs.

Here are a few things I found that might help you out:

Travel Silverware set on Amazon – even includes a reuseable straw!
Travel food storage set – they collapse to fit easier into luggage!

6. Choose eco-friendly activities or tours by locals

This is where we (I) don’t often think about the impact on the environment. I won’t usually think twice about a helicopter or bush plane ride to see the landscape below me. But why not hike to the top of a mountain to see it instead?

Obviously, it depends on where you’re traveling to, but there are usually eco-friendly activities you can do when you travel. REI offers a ton of resources and itineraries for hiking and adventure trips that you should check out!

I’d also make sure any tours you’re embarking on are hosted by locals or benefiting them in some way. A good way to do this is by booking directly with a local on sites like Airbnb Experiences.

7. Conserve water and energy use

This one is quite simple – treat your accommodation like your home. Turn off the lights when you’re not using them. Don’t leave the water running when you’re brushing your teeth. I know you know this, but it’s often something we forget when traveling.

Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park - sustainable travel

All this seem a bit scary?

It can definitely be intimidating to start a journey to becoming a sustainable traveler. This is only heightened by constantly feeling like you’re not doing enough because other people are doing more. I also sometimes get the feeling that I’m just one person out of billions. I’m not going to have an impact!

My advice is to take it slow. I don’t do all of these things on this list – at least not yet. But I’ll get there and you will, too!

If you’re interested in diving into this world and you’re not sure how to start, you can also consider booking a trip with companies that are committed to ethical and sustainable travel such as Intrepid Travel and Trova Trip.

These companies organize entire trips for you and make sure that everything is sustainable along the way.

I wrote a blog post about the blogger retreat I went on in 2019 with Trova Trip – click here to read my review!

No matter what you do on this list, if you do something to make your next trip more sustainable, you’re doing well in my book. Tell me in the comments how you’ll make your next adventure just a tad more eco-friendly than the last!

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The Comments

  • Laurel
    September 23, 2020

    You are so right about this! I do tend to relax my sustainable habits on vacation and I need to do better. These are some great tips! I’ll be using this list for help next time I travel. 🙂

    • saraharnstein
      > Laurel
      September 23, 2020

      Glad it was useful for you! I need to add some of these into my travel planning process, too 😅

  • Shelbs
    September 23, 2020

    I love the idea of volunteering where I travel! It’s something I’ve done before but I think it could be a great way to reduce our carbon footprint since we’re going to be traveling!!!!

    • saraharnstein
      > Shelbs
      September 24, 2020

      That’s awesome! I haven’t done it yet, but I definitely want to!

  • Lekha
    September 24, 2020

    I have never researched eco-friendly hotels. That’s a great idea, I didn’t know it was a thing. Thank you for the suggestions! Lately, I have been going on a lot of road trips. It has opened my eyes to so many new things.

    • saraharnstein
      > Lekha
      September 24, 2020

      Same! Road trips have been my jam lately!