As travelers, we see the damage that humans are doing to the planet in ways that we never could before. While living in America, we never saw the heaps of plastic that wash up on shore in Bali each day. We couldn’t see the clouds of particulate hovering over cities the way they do in places like Bangkok and Taipei.
We understand the way that our traveling contributes to this global problem, and are in the process of recognizing the ways we can reduce waste in our own lives. It's all about being willing to change old habits and mindsets in order to contribute to the global effort to save the planet.
We can’t change the world, before we change ourselves. So while we agree that there are many ways that the travel industry can evolve to promote more responsible travel. We know that by changing our own travel practices and spreading the word about the growing number of sustainable travel options we can do our part to reduce the negative impact travel has on the planet.
True “sustainable travel” is very difficult to achieve. But by making small changes to our mindset and our habits we can reduce the impact we have on ecosystems wherever we go.
We’re not writing this to make you feel like shit, and judge you based on your travel habits. This list of responsible travel tips isn’t meant to be a bunch of rules you must follow in order to be a “good traveler.” Heck, we don’t even do all of the things mentioned on this list.
Check out the sustainable travel tips that these frequent travelers are putting into practice, to change the way they affect the planet.
Together we'll provide you with a collection of ways you can travel responsibly. We’ll start small with personal travel items, and ways you can reduce plastic consumption, and work our way up to planning your travel accommodations and adventures, and ways you can reduce your footprint during your trip with eco-friendly transportation and shopping tactics.
These are just a few ways that you can be a more responsible traveler too. If you have other sustainable travel tips that aren't listed here, please add them in the comments section!
20 TRAVEL TIPS TO HELP YOU
ECO FRIENDLY TOILETRIES
TIP # 1 | PACK SOLID & ORGANIC TOILETRIES
Rohan of Travels of a Bookpacker
A great way to stay eco-friendly while you travel is to think about the toiletries you use. Firstly, make an effort to choose organic and eco-friendly brands so that using the products doesn’t cause any harm to the environment in places with poor water systems or where the water runs directly back into a river or the sea. Almost every product you use, shampoo, shower gel, toothpaste, sunscreen, hand sanitiser, can be bought in an eco-friendly variety.
A further step can be to switch some of these products for solid forms. This reduces plastic waste from the packaging and the products last a lot longer. Ethique has a great range of solid toiletries with everything from shampoo to moisturizer and tanning bars. Making sure you use your own products instead of the tiny bottles provided at hotels also saves the world from more plastic waste.
TIP # 2 | USE OCEAN FRIENDLY SUNSCREEN
Kate of Travel For Difference
Everyone knows that the ocean is generally the area of the planet that receives the most destruction. Of course, plastic is the main culprit, but believe it or not... The sunscreen we put on our bodies does a world of harm too.
The active ingredient used in most chemical sunscreens called "Oxy Benzone" is one of the largest offenders of coral bleaching. It's used in sunscreen to actively protect you from the sun's rays, but this tiny ingredient along with "Butylparaben, Octisalate and Octinoxate" are extremely destructive to our sea life and the ecosystems that live below the ocean's surface.
It sounds complicated, but it's an easy fix! Before you pack your suitcase for your summer holiday, simply replace the chemical sun protections with natural, reef friendly alternatives instead! Look for ingredients such as Zinc and Titanium Oxide... The ocean will thank you, and I'm sure your body will too!
TIP # 3 | M-CUPS FOR THE LADIES
Gabby of Local Nomads
One of the first things I did that that changed the way I think about traveling was to switch from using disposable feminine products to using a menstrual cup. I was so tired of carrying around a year’s supply of tampons, which made me think about all the plastic tubes I was discarding, how much precious room it was taking up with my bag, and what a hassle it would be to find more in some remote countries. In many parts of the world, tampons are elusive creatures, and often all you can find are pads and liners. Which can also quickly add up in your trash pile.
Since my switch, I’ve had many conversations about the glories of menstrual cups with my girl friends who travel. The consensus is that we’re so excited that there is a now a reusable, less wasteful, more compact, and healthier (no more toxic shock syndrome) way to care for ourselves during this natural process, while keeping the Mother Earth in mind.
HOW TO REDUCE PLASTIC WHILE TRAVELING
Tip # 4 | CARRY A REUSABLE BAG
Halef of The Round the World Guys
You've been there before – buying a few things from the souvenir street vendor or supermarket in Vietnam or Bulgaria, and they put your newly bought fridge magnet in a small single-use plastic bag. You carry it back back to your hotel, and take it out of the bag, and toss the plastic bag into the trash.
Who knows what happens to it after? Will it end up in a landfill, waiting to decompose in 200+ years with similar plastic bags that were, literally, used for 5-10 minutes? Many of these bags end up in the ocean. Plastic is currently one of the main killers of marine wildlife and it's clogging our planet. We’ve created a disgusting world of floating plastic.
One of the greenest and easiest things to do while traveling is to bring your own reusable bags. I always have my backpack with me while traveling, which can be a great place to carry around items, including groceries. Say no to single-use plastic bags. It’s one of the biggest good deeds you can do while you travel!
TIP # 5 | PICK UP RUBBISH WHERE EVER YOU GO
Crystal of Castaway with Crystal
If you haven’t heard for “3 for the Sea” you need to get into it! It’s the practice of picking up at least three pieces of rubbish every time you go to the beach and putting it in the bin so it doesn’t end up in the ocean.
Surely you’ve heard by now that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish? Yeah… We don’t want that.
But why only pick up rubbish near the sea? Pick up on hikes or on your morning run as well! ‘Plogging;’ the act of picking up trash while jogging is 2018’s hottest fitness trend! You don’t want to get left behind now, do you?
In all seriousness, I find it incredibly saddening to see nature’s spectacular sights covered in rubbish. I prefer to do a tiny bit to help out, wherever I can. And I find picking up rubbish very therapeutic. If I am sad or angry I like to walk it out near the ocean with a few bags just picking up rubbish.
Try it and let me know if you felt any better after?
TIP # 6 | CARRY A FILTERED WATER BOTTLE...
Sarah of ASocialNomad
I travel EVERYWHERE (and I mean even in my home country to the store) with a reusable filter water bottle. I upgraded by reusable water bottle to one with a filter several years ago and have never looked back.
This means I can not only avoid buying bottled water, which generally ends up in a landfill, but you can safely drink water from almost any source. (just not salt water). Filters – depending on their ratings will remove Giardia and Cryptosporidium from untreated or contaminated water and other bugs which can cause nasty gastrointestinal diseases.
Health concerns aside, between 8 and 12 millions of tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. Even if you do travel to a country that recycles its plastic, then there are very few that recycle anywhere near close to 100% of the plastic bottles purchased.
And then there’s the money. My filter water bottle saves me on average US$425 a year on buying bottled water. That’s a heck of a lot to spend on travelling more!
TIP # 7 | ...OR A WATER STERILIZER
Jane of Explore The Great Ocean Road
The Steripen is a lightweight water sterilizer that is rechargeable using a USB or solar system. It kills 99.9% of virus' in the water and is so simple to use. We take it on holiday and can filter a liter of water at a time in our wide topped drinking flasks which we also carry with us, it only takes a minute.
This is a fabulous item to travel with as it is lightweight and will save buying water in plastic bottles wherever we go, especially good as we are a family of 4. It is compact and easy to carry in hand luggage too. As travelers, it saves money on buying water as well as reducing the waste of plastic bottles.
Filtering about 8,000 litres of water over the lifespan of the unit, makes this an economical and environmental item for travelers.
TIP # 8 | PACK A REUSABLE STRAW
Clemens of Travellers Archive
As surfer and waterlover, I am a big fan of trying to avoid plastic wherever I can. I had this one moment in Bali where I went surfing, paddled out and was surrounded by plastic bottles, bags and anything else that you can imagine being thrown right into the water.
One of my favourite things that I take on my travels are alternatives to all these stupid plastic straws that you get for everything – especially in Asia, where even a small water bottle is served with a plastic straw. A couple of years ago, I got myself some bamboo straws that I keep on having in my backpack wherever I go.
It’s not only a nice thing to do in order to save plastic while travelling, but it’s also an eye-catcher and something that people, locals and tourists alike, keep on asking me about. Once, we get into the conversation, they mostly really start seeing how simple it is to save the environment.I then would tell them, how cheap and nice these straws are and what other options there are, such as glass straws, paper straws made of recycled paper or metal straws.
Tip # 9 | SHOP & EAT LOCAL
Katie of Feathery Travels
From farmers' markets in Portugal to street food in South East Asia, buying local food from small vendors is my favourite way to travel more sustainably. As well as helping small businesses grow and providing hard-working individuals with an income, it is often easier to reuse your own small bags and containers to save packaging and the food has a smaller carbon footprint.
From a more selfish point of view, buying street-food is generally the cheapest meal you will find, it's freshly cooked in front of you, and a great way to meet local people. If you have access to a kitchen, cooking with seasonal vegetables from the market is also always tastier than the imported produce found in supermarkets.
If you're not sure where to find one, learn the words for "food market" in the relevant language and ask around!
TIP # 10 | LOCALLY MADE AND ETHICAL SOUVENIRS
Andra of Our World To Wander
When we travel, we all want to take something back home with us. We get attached to the places that we visit, and we want to buy that perfect thing that will always carry us back. It’s this desire that fuels the souvenir industry. Unfortunately, a lot of souvenirs have a negative impact on the environment.
As travelers, we should focus more on what we decide to invest our money in. While I am sure that you would look great wearing those ivory bangles in Thailand, you should know that thousands of elephants die each day due to ivory poaching, and not to mention, it's illegal to have.
Sure, you could display some beautiful pieces of coral from Indonesia in your home or share a bag of their famous kopi luwak coffee with your family upon returning from your adventures. But you would be hurting one of the world’s greatest marine bio diversities, by buying that coral, and buy brewing a cup of kopi luwak, you'd be condoning the torture of civets to produce that "special" coffee.
So do your research, and don't purchase souvenirs at the cost of the environment and the unethical treatment of animals. Don’t just randomly choose a souvenir, buy something that will help the local economy, like locally made handicrafts.
SUSTAINABLE ACCOMMODATION TIPS
TIP # 11 | STAY IN LOCAL HOMESTAYS
Markus of The Roaming Fork
Where possible, we enjoy staying at homestays. In simple terms, a homestay is the practice of a local homeowner opening up their homes for travelling guests to stay. Although most hosts just open up rooms within their house, some enterprising homeowners are also building environmentally friendly bungalows in their gardens to cater for a few more visitors.
This practice has a number of wonderful benefits to the host and local community as well as to the traveler. The benefits are numerous for the homeowner and local community because the travelling monies stay local. Apart from some administrative fees, the homeowner will receive the full payment for the room, and will use these monies to locally purchase the ingredients for meals and other basic necessities.
On the other hand, the benefits for the traveler include being able to live like a local, with a local. A local host can provide great tips for things to do (and will sometimes provide bicycles to get there). They will be able to cook fresh and tasty meals, and share what it is like to live in their neighborhood. Homestays provide a great value, not just for the homeowner, but as an integral part of the community's economy, and equally important, in our experience, lots of fun for the homeowner and traveler alike.
Tip # 12 | BOOK ECO FRIENDLY ACCOMMODATION
Sandrina of The Wise Travellers
One of the main concerns when travelling is to find accommodation. People have been gradually changing the way they travel so, nowadays they try to find eco-friendly and sustainable places to stay. Most of these places are owned from local people so; if you stay here you are helping the local community and not a big name brand.
In order to find reputable eco friendly places to stay, there are some things you can do.
When searching for eco-friendly accommodations you can always check the reviews from others. The opinion of the guest in a hotel, hostels or local accommodation is very important to expand the word. If the place is branding was eco-friendly, sustainable, people will always talk about it in the reviews.
Another good way to find this type of accommodation is to use the right websites. A great website is www.bookdifferent.com. They classify accommodations by carbon footprint and if it is eco certified. Today you have lots of options so; there is no excuse to not book an eco-friendly accommodation. Always remember you are contributing to a better world.
TIP # 13 | DO NOT DISTURB
Bret Love of Green Global Travel
Our favorite, extremely simple sustainable travel tip is to put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the hotel room door and leave it there for the duration of our stay.
Most people don't clean their room every day at home, so why should we do it when we travel? This saves on the energy being used to vacuum the room, the harmful chemicals being used to clean the bathroom, and prevents sheets/towels from being changed out every day.
We also never use the hotel laundry, since they have to wash each guest's clothes separately, which wastes a ton of water.
USE SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORTATION WHILE TRAVELING
Tip # 14 | USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Natalia of My Trip Hack
Choosing public transport is one of the most responsible decisions you can take. Firstly, it helps to reduce pollution. While you might not feel a difference in the western world, cars have a huge impact in the densely populated countries in Asia and Africa.
Secondly, public transport helps to reduce traffic and noise pollution. All the big cities have traffic jams during peak hours mainly because of the cars which often have only a driver with no passengers. Imagine how much space could be reduced if these people chose the public transport?
In addition to this, going by public transport is a great way to meet common people and take a glimpse in their daily life and behavior. Want to take it further? Explore the cities by bicycle whenever possible. I’ve been cycling in India in several towns and villages, though this is not a country with a bicycle infrastructure. It is changing with time and I believe every individual can make a difference with small daily choices!
TIP # 15 | WALKING AND CYCLING
Thea of Zen Travellers
I absolutely love walking or cycling when travelling. Not only is it one of the best ways to truly experience a place when exploring since it requires you to take in all the sights at a slower pace, it is also one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. No fossil fuels are required for these people powered pursuits.
Walking or cycling is a great way to sneak in a workout when sightseeing which helps keep you healthy on the road too. Many cities offer free walking tours so you can learn some culture and history, and get your bearings at the same time. Some cities even have bike sharing programs which means you can easily pick up a bike and get riding.
For me, seeing a place by bike is Zen on two wheels!
TIP # 16 | HITCHHIKE
Korinna of Explorer on a Budget
1.5 people per car travel on the streets of Germany on average. This produces a lot of harmful greenhouse gases that can be easily cut in half if only more people would share a ride. My approach to this practice is to hitchhike across the country.
I love the casual conversations with drivers, changing their worldviews a bit. Hitchhiking teaches me to trust in humanity. Of course, you need to be a bit careful, especially if you’re a solo woman, so in the beginning, you might stick to women or families. I’ve traveled with single men many times without any problem.
The easiest way to get a ride is to approach people at a gas station. If you’re standing on the side of the road, I recommend observing the behavior of the driver, when they stop. It is more suspicious if they stop right next to you, then if they stop the car a little behind you. Think of it like this: not only you need to trust the driver, the driver also needs to be comfortable with having you. And by putting some distance between you, drivers can still make up their mind if they would like to take you while you approach the car.
Tip # 17 | SUSTAINABLE TOURS & EXCURSIONS
Lola of Miss Filatelista
A relatively easy way to become a more responsible traveler is to opt to book tours, excursions, and travel activities with sustainable travel companies. This can be as simple as opting to take a cooking class with a local cafe that provides hospitality training to at-risk children over going to a culinary demo at a mainstream hotel chain.
There are so many excellent companies out there that work with NGOs and social enterprises to create travel products that are immersive and impactful. This benefits the communities we're lucky enough to visit by putting tourism dollars directly into their hands instead of foreign operators.
As sustainable travel becomes more trendy there is the risk of falling into a greenwashing trap so be sure to only book travel experiences with brands that are fully transparent on their website about the breakdown of costs and who benefits from their tour offerings.
TIP # 18 | AVOID EXPLOITATIVE ANIMAL TOURISM
Emily and Aaron of Two Dusty Travelers
Everyone (myself included!) wants to get up close and personal with local wildlife when we travel. But many animal experiences are actually harmful to the creatures we're so excited to meet.
Riding elephants is a perfect example: Although it seems fine on the surface, elephants' backs are actually not meant to carry heavy weight. In order to make them submit to such treatment, they're often illegally captured from their mothers in the wild, beaten with bull hooks, and chained up like prisoners when they're not serving tourists.
So how do you know which animal tours are exploitative? Answering one question will put you on the right track: What is the main reason for the tour? If it's to help the animals (like sanctuaries that rescue threatened creatures and re-introduce them to the wild), great!
But if the point is to give tourists the coolest experience, regardless of harm to the animals (like taking selfies with sedated tigers in Thailand), take a pass. If you're feeling unsure, read through reviews on sites like Trip Advisor. If something shady is going on, someone has probably pointed it out.
Ethical animal tourism is not only good for the animals, but is also an exponentially better experience for travelers. I've swum with captive dolphins before I knew better, and I've also swum with whales in the wild on an ethical tour. There's just no comparison - one felt forced and exploitative, and the other felt like a true connection with creatures who were happy and free!
TIP # 19 | SUPPORT NATIONAL PARK CONSERVATION
Josh of The Lost Passport
One of the best ways to support sustainable travel is to pay your full entry fee for a national park. Don’t try to escape by hiding in the boot of the car, or pretend to be a local with a fake ID. This is your turn to contribute.
In Thailand, you may pay 300 THB to go see some amazing waterfalls deep in the jungle. An overnight camping spot under a glacier in one of New Zealand’s national parks is about 15 NZD. A day pass to some amazing beaches in Australia’s national parks ranges between 10-20 AUD.
You probably spend double the amount on dinner and a few drinks out at night. National parks are not free to maintain. Conservation efforts are not free to implement. The staff generally hand out numbered tickets, so the money is not being shoved into their pockets for a bottle of whiskey later in the night. The money is being used constructively.
The fact that expansive areas have been turned into national parks for conservation and our enjoyment should be reason enough for us to pay our way. If we stop paying for national parks, the whole world may as well be covered in Palm Oil plantations as has plagued much of Malaysia.
TIP # 20 | LEGIT VOLUNTOURISM
Alex of The Wayfaring Voyager
Volunteering is an activity that has become very important to a lot of travelers on their journeys. While sometimes this can be a great way to give back to a place that you are visiting, it can also cause a lot of damage if you are choosing the wrong organization to volunteer with.
The trick is to do some research before you jump right in. Take a look at other travelers’ experiences online, email the organization with any questions you might have about their legitimacy, and see how much they are asking you to pay. Volunteer groups generally don’t charge thousands of dollars for your help—you are volunteering your time, after all.
By taking a deeper look into which institution you work with, you are more likely to make the kind of impact you want and leave a destination with a clean conscience rather than wondering if you’ve helped.
SPREAD THE WORD, SHARE YOUR RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL TIPS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!