I have a confession: I love traveling, particularly taking road trips. Even as a teen, I’d hop in my car for any and every reason possible. But I know the environmental impact of traveling can be significant. Luckily, eco travel is a burgeoning trend on the rise, and it’s one of many ways to enjoy the world while being mindful of the natural environment.
Whether staying in your home country or diving headfirst into international travel, doing so sustainably and responsibly can be as simple as choosing a hotel with energy-efficient lighting, solar power, or water-saving fixtures, or looking for opportunities to spend time outdoors.
But hey, I found some easy ways to make sustainable travel more accessible than ever.
What are the best eco travel tips for 2023?
Prepare your house before you leave
The first step to eco tourism is making sure your home remains as environmentally friendly as possible while you’re gone. The goal of this is to cut down on your energy usage.
You can accomplish this by doing the following:
- Turn up/down your thermostat several degrees.
- Flip your lights off, utilize eco-friendly lighting, and use a spotlight camera to scare burglars away if that’s a concern.
- Unplug energy-draining electronics and appliances like toasters, microwaves, computers, televisions, etc. They draw power even when they’re not in use.
- Use something like a Phyn smart water monitor if water leaks are a concern.
Buy eco travel friendly suitcases and clothes
If you need to buy new luggage before your trip, and you don’t want to purchase something like that secondhand, go with a sustainable company that uses eco friendly materials.
Paravel is one such company. Their flagship suitcase–the Aviator–is carbon neutral because it’s made with upcycled/recycled materials, and the company offsets all emissions when making and shipping the luggage.
If you’re looking for a new outfit to wear while vacationing, Pact is known for its forward-thinking, sustainable clothing line, and they’ve got options for men, women, kids, and babies.
Vetta is another company that blends the concept of a capsule wardrobe with eco-friendly values, so check them out too.
Think about what you’ll need when you’re vacationing. Will you be hiking? Going on picnics? Spending a day at the beach? Buying a lot of food? Sustainable travel means packing in a way that treads lightly, uses non-toxic and earth-friendly materials, and doesn’t leave waste behind.
With that in mind, from green shopping to day hikes, some of the following will likely come in handy and be kind to the environment:
- reusable shopping bags
- reusable produce bags
- portable water filter
- collapsible water bottle
- collapsible glasses, cups, and bowls
- reusable straws
- travel shampoo and conditioner bars
- portable soap and shampoo bottles
- tin travel containers
- soap saver bags
- reef safe sunscreen
Travel by car (plane or train only when necessary)
A cross-country solo adventure by car will release, on average, about 1.26 metric tons of carbon emissions. If you fly the same route, your emissions will be about half that amount.
But the thing about flying is that carbon emissions are calculated per passenger, so if you’re traveling with one or more people, it’s much more eco-friendly to travel by car. And the environmental benefits go up if you drive a vehicle with superior gas mileage, like an electric or hybrid.
If you do end up flying, buy tickets from an airline that uses biofuel or is more efficient than other airlines, such as United Airlines or Frontier. You can also fly with airlines that are working to reduce their carbon footprint like KLM, Delta, and Alaska Airlines.
Another sustainable travel tip: traveling by train is also more eco-friendly, per passenger, than flying.
Bring your own food for the road
Eating out contributes to greenhouse gas emissions more so than eating a meal you prepped at home as far as food and packaging are concerned. Plus, consider how far those restaurant ingredients traveled before landing on your plate.
A homemade meal is also less likely to result in waste because you know how much you can eat. How many times have you NOT been able to finish your plate at a restaurant?
Taking a to-go container isn’t reasonable when traveling, and takeout containers aren’t eco friendly anyway.
Additionally, estimates show that a restaurant kitchen uses about 5% more energy per square foot than a residential kitchen. And lastly, most will agree that home-prepped meals are healthier overall.
Taking your own food is a great eco travel tip.
Find eco travel friendly destinations
Where you choose to spend your vacation can determine whether your trip is following the rules of basic eco travel. Here are some things for the eco-conscious traveler to keep in mind when narrowing down that perfect spot.
~ Avoid places where overtourism is an issue
Cities and local communities that are oversaturated with tourists can create problems for the environment in various ways.
For starters, it can put a strain on the ecosystem because crowds tend to scare away wildlife, and the surrounding area can degrade from heavy traffic, both by car and by foot, leading to litter and trash, noise and air pollution, and light pollution that can catastrophically interrupt the breeding patterns of wildlife.
Tourist crowds also tend to scare away the very people who came to see whatever landmark happens to be crowded, and in an ironic twist of fate, ends up ruining the experience for everyone.
Locals get fed up with more and more people coming into their city every year, and it leads to general dissatisfaction on various levels. Sometimes, supporting local communities means leaving them alone.
If you’re traveling internationally, check out these awesome destinations that are a great eco friendly alternative to overcrowded tourist destinations such as cities, islands, and beaches.
~ Pick a place close to home
If you don’t have your heart set on an extravagant getaway far from home, consider keeping your vacation as close to a “staycation” as you can get by remaining close to home.
You’ll keep your carbon footprint smaller by not driving or flying as far away, and if you remain in your home state, you’ll have the added effect of supporting locals.
~ Find an eco friendly hotel
Hotels can achieve eco-friendly status by incorporating sustainable practices, like reducing their water and energy consumption, implementing solar or smart lighting, pledging to reduce or eliminate plastic use, offering on-site recycling, etc. Some hotels with these qualities are considered eco hotels or eco resorts.
Discovering which places offer green accommodations can be as simple as visiting the website or reading reviews. But a simple way is to check out greenhotels.com for a directory of places that are working hard to move towards responsible behavior and environmentally friendly accommodations.
~ Find tours that contribute to conservation or eco causes that promote sustainability
Many people like to join in on tours when they arrive at their destination or travel in groups via tour companies. But it’s important to consider how the tourism industry impacts the surrounding ecosystem and community.
For example, some companies offer guided foot tours, where they might explain the history of a particular area or educate visitors on the local wildlife. But repeated trampling of the soil over time, not to mention the sporadic human presence, can frighten animals and negatively change the fragile ecosystem.
Instead, learn about the places you’re visiting by reading about them or watching informational videos instead of paying for tours that might cause long-term damage to the local environment.
Alternatively, participate in local tours that, at the very minimum, do their part to give back, maybe by participating in carbon offset programs.
Honestly, a lot of it comes down to a little common sense and perhaps a gut check if you’re unsure whether the tour is “impact-friendly.” Does it seem to disrupt the ecosystem? Local communities or businesses? Road traffic? Is there a greener, more eco friendly alternative you and your family could do instead? Like maybe visit a museum?
These are just some of my thoughts.
Avoid cruise ships.
There’s no easy way to say this because many travelers LOVE going on cruises, but I’m sorry … they wreak havoc on the environment.
Cruise ships are nothing more than floating cities, leaving behind a trail of harmful waste that destroys aquatic life and the air we breathe. And the evidence is right before us.
About 300 acres of coral reefs in the Grand Cayman islands have been destroyed by cruise ship anchors. And not long ago, a single cruise ship accidentally ran aground in Cancun, utterly decimating 80% of the coral reef there.
I’ve no shame in saying these kinds of things piss me off. I know it’s an accident, but there’s just no excuse for this sort of “accident” to occur. We should do better as a species!
While some cruise lines are working towards being more responsible and eco friendly, it’s just not a responsible way to vacation.
Despite all that, people will continue to take cruises regardless. If you do, please take the time to learn which lines are operating more ethically by visiting Friends of the Earth and looking at their cruise ship report card.
Or instead of taking a cruise, get your water fix by spending the day–or a few nights–on a non-motorized sailboat.
Use eco friendly travel agents and organizations
Yes, people are still using travel agents these days. Their expertise and knowledge can be incredibly valuable to those who want to save themselves the time and frustration of finding the best place at the best price.
Travel agents offer the expert advice they’re looking for, and those who love travel form long-term relationships with their travel agents. But if you’re into eco travel and sustainable tourism, you’ll want to find agents and companies that can help you plan a vacation that will leave a small footprint.
Intrepid, Much Better Adventures, and Better Places Travel are a few companies that keep sustainability in mind when helping people arrange a vacation. They consider conservation, carbon offset, transparency within their business practices, female empowerment, benefiting the local economy, and even flight options that cause the least amount of environmental damage possible.
Participate in voluntourism
If you’re into volunteering, you may think about becoming a volunteer. By doing this, you’ll travel to various international places that need assistance, whether helping save aquatic life, participating in a medical internship, or volunteering at a local animal conservatory.
Voluntourism catches a bit of heat because you’re not just volunteering; you’re paying to volunteer. And many companies that arrange this type of travel are nothing more than a middleman pocketing a LOT of money and not doing much good.
But here’s the thing.
With voluntourism, you get to be part of something that’s for the greater good, see a country you might not otherwise see, and participate in a project that benefits everyone.
Voluntourism is one of the best eco-friendly tourism examples, but unless you’re working with a company you know isn’t harming the local community, children, or environment, why not contact the agencies that need volunteers?
Then, you can arrange the perfect volunteer vacation, making it more eco travel friendly.
Visit a National or State Park
Wildlife, land and water resources, and natural habitats are all protected and preserved at national parks. If it weren’t for that federal protection, there’s no doubt that the 84 million acres of national parks in this country would fall victim to greedy developers.
I’m grateful for the National Parks near me, as well as the state parks, one of which is Carolina Beach State Park. And I go as often as I can when the weather permits.
Yellowstone National Park is recognized as the first one in the U.S., but the parks are scattered all over from coast to coast, like the Biscayne coral reefs, Yosemite, American Samoa, the arches in Utah, and Congaree Park in South Carolina.
National and state parks are critical to maintain in order to protect our country’s wildlife, natural environment, and natural resources. You can make a significant impact – and contribute to sustainable tourism – by visiting one or more of them on your vacation. Some are free to visit, but many cost money, either per visitor or car.
Please make a donation on top of your entrance fee to help support this cause. Or donate anyway, even if you can’t arrange a visit.
Tread lightly while you’re vacationing
We’ve already looked at several ways to keep your impact minimal while you’re on vacation, but here are some more simple tips for eco friendly travel:
- Find vegan restaurants near you. Plant-based diets are more enviro-friendly than meat-based diets, and a lot of all vegan restaurants source as much food locally as they can because they’re already aware of the ecological impacts of food choices. And if you just so happen to be traveling to Wilmington, NC, I have compiled a list of vegan restaurants in and around the city.
- Avoid takeout. Unless the restaurant provides biodegradable boxes, avoid takeout if you can. Food containers make up about 30% of municipal waste, and 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions come from said containers.
- Use digital tickets. Save some paper and have tickets sent to your email instead.
- Rent a hybrid car for your transportation. Using a hybrid over a gasoline car will slash greenhouse gas emissions almost in half. If you rent an all-electric, your savings will be even more significant.
- Take public transport. Plenty of places have city buses and taking one over driving your car can reduce your CO2 emissions by 45%.
- Ride some bikes. They’re more economical and better for your health.
- Don’t feed wild animals. It’s tempting to toss some bread or leftover snacks to local wildlife, but unfortunately, they can become dependent on human food over time. It can also attract other unwanted animals and potentially bring disease to the area, exposing yourself, your family, and other animals.
- Choose walking tours when possible. Please do NOT use horse-drawn carriage tours, even though they are considered more carbon-neutral than bus or trolley tours. These animals are treated awfully, forced to endure hours of heat, and often collapse from exhaustion.
- Clean up after yourself. I CANNOT stress this enough. I live in a coastal town, and during the summer, when the tourists are here, I see SOOOO many unattended towels, water bottles, chairs, plastic waste, you name it! When the tide comes back in, all that trash will be washed out to sea. Please take a few extra moments, think about the local community, and make sure you pick up after yourself before leaving the area.
Don’t buy or use fireworks
I’ve always loved watching fireworks. For the longest time, the 4th of July was my favorite holiday because of those beautiful, colorful explosives.
But not long ago, I began learning just how wretched they are for the environment. And a little over a year ago, my neighbor was killed in a homemade fireworks tragedy.
Since then, I’ve completely changed the way I view them.
Fireworks release toxins into the atmosphere that ultimately convert to greenhouse gases. And those dangerous chemicals ultimately make their way into the soil.
The sounds from the explosions can traumatize pets, people, and wild animals. Birds have been known to abandon their nests, and some animals run in sheer terror into roadways or even people’s homes.
While boycotting public fireworks on your vacation won’t stop them from taking place, if enough people become educated about the harm they do and enough stop attending, laws may change down the road. At least, that’s my hope.
Offset your carbon footprint when finished traveling
When you return home, find a carbon offset company to purchase credits from.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a carbon offset credit does, it basically intercepts one metric ton of carbon dioxide. That money goes to corporations or landowners as a monetary incentive to either cut down on emissions or replant trees.
There are many ways this is done, and the NRDC has some pretty good tips on how to go about it in an ethical and safe manner.
Frequently Asked Questions about Eco Travel
What is eco travel?
Simply put, eco travel means traveling away from home in such a way that you make a minimal impact on the environment. It’s a broad term that encompasses ideas of traveling green, sustainable travel, and eco-tourism.
What are the benefits of eco travel?
Eco travel is a great way to see the world while helping to preserve the environment. Traveling in eco-friendly and green ways can help reduce your carbon footprint and positively impact the planet, support local communities and organizations, and experience new cultures without disrupting their way of life or local agriculture.
Where are some of the best eco friendly destinations?
There are many eco friendly destinations around the world that prioritize sustainable practices and conservation efforts. Here are just a few of the best:
- Costa Rica – a leader in sustainable travel; home to many protected areas.
- Norway – high on the list of land preservation and conservation.
- New Zealand – a top eco friendly place in the tourism industry.
- Iceland – lost of carbon neutral hotels and and geothermal power plants.
- Belize – home to the world’s largest barrier reef; offers eco lodges and has initiatives for marine conservation.
- Slovenia – voted by NatGeo as the most eco friendly and sustainable country in the world.
What does the future of eco travel look like?
The future of eco travel looks massively bright and promising. More and more people are becoming aware of the importance of sustainability and are looking for ways to reduce their environmental impact.
There are many ways to approach sustainable tourism, and as awareness grows and eco travel becomes more popular, more affordable options will become available.