Tips for Sustainable Travel

We go on holidays for pleasure, to discover new horizons, to relax, to meet people and to learn about different cultures. Most of the time, we are not aware that the holiday choices we make can have an impact on our destination and on the people that live there. We are often equally unaware of the implications our travel has on global environmental issues, especially climate change.

Author Jenny Louise Becker:

Translation Rima Hanano, 03.05.10

We go on holidays for pleasure, to discover new horizons, to relax, to meet people and to learn about different cultures. Most of the time, we are not aware that the holiday choices we make can have an impact on our destination and on the people that live there. We are often equally unaware of the implications our travel has on global environmental issues, especially climate change. Here are some of the things you can do to help make tourism a sustainable activity.

Some Tips to Make Your Trip Sustainable

Choosing a destination

  • When choosing your destination, give preference to places that have demonstrated responsible practices, including their human and environmental conservation records, commitment to peace, etc. You can check the website Ethical Traveller about this.
  • Choose accomodation and transport providers that demonstrate efficient and sustainable management of energy, waste and water.
  • Opt for a travel service provider who is a local (or long-term resident) of the country and/or one who ploughs profits back into the country.
  • Look for websites specialising in responsible travel, ecotourism or sustainable tourism.
  • If you end up booking something like an authentic homestay experience, you should ensure that a substantial percentage of the money you pay will go back to the community in which you will be staying.

Learning about where you are going

  • When choosing a destination, bear in mind that some environments have local restrictions on use of natural resources such as water and energy. Bear in mind that some destinations have local restrictions on the use of natural resources such as water and energy. Your hot bath could mean no water for the local community
  • Choose destinations that care for local people and the environment.
  • Learn a few words of the local language and make sure you know what´s considered polite and what´s not in terms of eating, greeting and local values.

Packing: travel light

  • When packing, think carefully about what you really need to take with you. Waste disposal systems in many counties are ill-equipped to deal with increased pressures that tourism brings. A few simple measures can make an enormous difference to the effect you have on your destination. Where possible, remove the wrapping of packaged goods before you leave.

How to get there: travel slow

Travel slowly: take the train or bus, ask for a ride, cycle or walk

  • Flying now enables millions to travel far more cheaply than by rail or road but it is also the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming. A new trend is emerging: ‘slow travel’. For some, this is about spending more time at a destination, mingling with people, getting to know the local flora and fauna, taking long walks and exploring, instead of rushing from one glitzy tourist trap to another. It can also include choosing not to fly, taking the time to savour experiences and landscapes along the way. Jet-setters miss it all—and get jet lag!  When flying, opt for online carbon offset. Click here for a carbon offset calculator.
  •  Motorised travel is now the major source of pollution in the tourism sector. Alternatively, simply walking to the top of a hill offers the same view.
  • Ride a bike! If just one million people replaced an eight km car trip with a bike ride once a week, global CO2 emissions would be reduced by nearly 100, 000 tonnes a year
  • Use your car only if you really need to. Public transport, bicycles and walking are ‘greener’ modes of transport and great ways to meet locals
  • If you do take your car to get around, share your ride and don’t drive solo.
  • If you fly, choose an airline that is committed to sustainable aviation. There are many ways that aircrafts can reduce CO2 emissions, e.g. avoiding routes with stopovers (it is during take off and landing that the highest emissions occur). You can also help by staying longer once you’ve reached your destination.

Getting around: travel right

Meeting people

  • Don’t abuse – local standards of living will often be very different from your own. Be aware that your economic power is comparatively great and don´t abuse it.
  • Be sensitive to the feelings of others. Learning a little of the local language and customs as well as taking note of dress codes can help reduce barriers.
  • Respect others people´s cultures and avoid imposing your beliefs.
  • Child sex tourism is a crime in all destinations. If you wish to report an incident, contact the local authority, your embassy or ECPAT in your destination country. ECPAT, standing for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, is an international network of organisations and individuals working to eliminate the commercial sexual exploitation of children.


  • Whether it’s for a weekend getaway or a week-long stay, make sure your accommodation has green habits. Hotels are very large consumers of resources. The hospitality industry spends 3.7 billion USD a year on energy and a typical hotel uses 826 litres of water per day per occupied room, so it is especially important that you support environmentally conscious businesses whenever possible.
  • While you are using the accommodation, bear in mind that water is an increasingly scarce resource and that the production of electricity from non-renewable energy sources contributes to global warming.
  • Prevent heat– and air-conditioned cooling – escaping from your hotel room by keeping doors and windows shut, closing curtains, and stopping draughts

Eating: don’t put the ecosystem on your plate

  • Try the local food and specialties. By eating locally produced goods, you will reduce the CO2 emissions from the transportation of imported goods as well as help local farmers and the local economy.
  • Check menus for products that can impact the local biodiversity and environment. For example, cultivation of the heart of a palm is causing deforestation in large areas of tropical forest in several countries. When on the tropics, you will find that virtually all restaurants have seafood on the menu. Bear in mind that fishing of certain species however is subject to restrictions in many countries. Be aware of what’s on your plate. The Seafood Watch cards or the WWF’s Interactive Menu can point you towards the right choices or check out Sustainable Table‘s website for further information.

Discovering the local environment: in the water

  • Don’t touch the wildlife. Human contact causes damages.
  • Never walk on coral.
  • Do not collect shells, corals or other natural items.
  • Using banana boats, jet skis and other water recreational activities can affect the coastal and marine environment.
  • If bathing or swimming, consider the sensibilities of local people – both regarding what you wear and the fact that you’re using “their” water. Bathe downstream or away from water collection points (wells, natural pools or dams) or villages and avoid using soaps (particularly those containing phosphates) in waterways.

Discovering the local environment: wildlife watching

  • Never feed or bait animals to lure them closer. Many species can be dangerous if surprised, fed, or cornered, not to mention the fact that some carry deadly diseases such as hanta virus, rabies or bubonic plague
  • Never try to get too close to an animal. Each species has its own tolerance levels for interaction with humans.
  • If you find a young animal or eggs, whatever you do DON’T TOUCH! Parents may reject their young if they detect human odour on them or in the nest. If possible, seek expert help (park rangers/guides, animal protection societies, etc.)

Wasteful holidays

  • Take a strong water bottle and boil or purify your drinking water, rather than buying bottled water.
  • Avoid the use of cleaning products, soaps, detergents and toothpaste near or in freshwater
  • Collect all the waste generated during your trip and take toxic waste back to your home country. This includes used batteries, ointment tubes, aerosols and photographic film packaging
  • The term “biodegradable” is almost meaningless in desert settings since organic matter takes an extremely long time to decompose. By way of illustration, here are the average times needed for certain “standard” types of waste to disappear in most geographical areas (from UNEP’s Green Passport initiative):

Before going back

In the souvenir shop: look at the cost to the destination, not just to your wallet

  • Do not buy Neolithic relics (tools and fossils) as this encourages the looting of sites. Generally avoid buying live animals or plants. Be careful when buying souvenirs made from wild species. If you are not careful when buying wildlife souvenirs, the souvenirs you buy could end up costing a lot more than the price you paid for them. Think before you buy! The survival of the reef ecosystem depends on your decision For more information, check out our guide to buying good souvenirs.
  •  Buy locally made crafts and support local skills. Don’t buy just on price but on value to you.
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