How to travel sustainably

Traveling and sustainability appear to be two opposites. A trip from one place to another practically always includes the emission of CO2. However, there are multiple ways in which you can travel sustainably. Traveling sustainable means to think about the environment, about nature and about the local communities you visit. You’re a visitor in another area, so act respectful to the inhabitants and to nature.

These 17 tips will make your travel sustainable and a lot of fun.

Traveling sustainable: tips

I have divided these tips into three subsections: respect for people, respect for nature and respectful with money.

Respect peopletravel sustainably locals

  1. Respect local norms and values.

Be informed about the local norms, values and traditions in advance so you won’t unwillingly offend locals. Local customs might exist concerning dress codes, greetings, touching, eating habits, contact between people of the opposite sex or of another status, visiting religious places, etc. Take your time to discover new cultures en meet new people, but be respectfully. Remember you’re a visitor.

  1. Don’t make photos immediately.

Many people around the world don’t appreciate it if others make photos of them. Be respectful. First make contact and ask the person(s) if you could make a photo. Perhaps it’s reasonable to give money, especially to street musicians, street vendors or beggars. In some locations it can be forbidden, insulting or undesirable to make photos. Follow these rules out of respect for local customs.

  1. Don’t suddenly intrude and indigenous village.

First make clear agreements, preferably with the head of the village. Perhaps a compensation is appropriate. Better to plan these kind of trips with a local travel organization so you’re expected.

  1. Be careful with children and minors.

Sex with minors is illegal in most countries, including sex for a payment (either in money, goods or promises). It can lead to the death penalty or decades in prison. Be careful.

Don’t give money to children on the street, not donation nor to buy something. Trust me, mostly there is an older people around watching the children and to collect the income. Perhaps you haven’t seen this person, but it’s there. There is absolutely no way money helps these children. The more money they make, the more profitable it is for parents to keep their children out of school. Or the children use the money to buy alcohol, drugs or glue.

Respect for naturerespect nature when traveling

  1. Compensate and travel slowly.

Aim to compensate the carbon emissions (CO2) you cause while traveling. Some airlines have programs for compensation, like KLM. You might also want to compensate by supporting specialized organisations, such as CO2logic, Greenseat, Atmosfair or Treesforall. These organisations calculate the amount of compensation you should give for your flight CO2 emission. They invest the money in projects in renewable energy and reforestation.

Give preference to local public transport over domestic flights, short flights and using a car. If you are going to rent a car, consider an electric or hybrid car. The best solution is of course a vacation close(r) to home.

Try to lead a sustainable live at home to compensate extra emissions. How? You can read simply tips in this blog with tips for a sustainable life.

  1. Plan your trip.

When you travel far, choose to stay longer. Take your time to enjoy and explore. Try to find eco-friendly accommodation and/or ecological projects and initiatives to which you can contribute by volunteering.

Plan your route well so you wont take unnecessary detours. If you travel with a travel agency, choose an agency with a sustainability label. Do your research on internet and digitally and don’t use old fashioned paper travel brochures.

  1. Don’t consume energy unnecessarily.

Act as if you’re at home. Don’t use electronic devices when you don’t need them, turn off the lights, take short showers, use towels multiple days, etc.

  1. Take care of local nature.

Make sure you don’t leave a trail of waste. Remember, you’re a visitor. Don’t pollute the local ecological environment or water. Use biodegradable soup, don’t buy water in plastic bottles. Respect animals and plants. Be cautious with open fire. Don’t leave paths when not allowed.

  1. Don’t product unnecessary plastics as a visitor.

In the most beautiful, low populated areas in the world, with the most amazing nature, the presence of plastics is even more difficult to process than in your home country. Really, try to limit your consumption of plastics to close to nothing, as locals perhaps don’t have the tools to recycle it properly. Don’t buy bottled water, but prefer drinking water from the tap in your own drinking bottle. Don’t use plastic bags, but use your own sustainable bag every time you go out shopping. Every piece of plastic you throw in the garbage can might never leave the area you’re staying.

  1. Save water.

To produce clean drinking water costs a lot of energy. Don’t overuse this amenity. Take short showers and use hotel towels multiple days.

  1. Eat locally.

Food is culture. Eating locally allows you to fully experience local culture and meet locals. This food is also mostly produced locally, and hasn’t travelled the world like you did. This also allows you to support local businesses and eat wisely.

  1. Don’t bring illegal souvenirs.

This is really illegal in most countries. For example: endangered animals and plants, cultural heritage, wooden objects, fossils, arrowheads, corals, shells, etc. Just leave these where you’ve found them.

Respectful with moneysustainable travel money

  1. Use local facilities.

Avoid big international hotels chains, international companies and large all-inclusive resorts. A large part of the money you spend there, goes straight to some foreign firm. Therefor you could prefer to stay in small scale local family accommodations. Also prefer local tourism companies, like local guides. This allows you to have direct contact with locals and spend your money locally. Locals will profit most from your visit when you spend money on their products directly.

  1. Support local workers.

Allow locals to work for you, like for example the tuk tuk or a local taxi (as appose to international Uber). Pay a local guide, give a tip to local servers, etc. This way your money goes directly to locals.

  1. Give a tip.

A tip is extra and goes directly to the pocket of the local employee. Pay a reasonable tip. Reasonability depends on local customs, so be informed.

  1. Give to beggars when appropriate.

Life in other countries might be more difficult than you realize. Give when locals give as well. Don’t give to children, though. Adapt to local culture, also when giving to people in need.

  1. Buy souvenirs.

If possible, buy them from the makers themselves. Make sure the souvenirs are produced locally, as appose to in a big national souvenir factory or abroad. So no ‘made in China’. Of course you are allowed to bargain. In many countries this is expected. The seller will make sure to keep a good price. However, don’t go to the bottom price only to save a few euro’s. Remember that the local person can probably use the euro’s way better than you. Allow him to make a good profit without spending more than you want.