Learning ways to travel sustainably is so important. The way we travel benefits not only the environment around us, but both the social and economical well-being of the people and countries we visit too.
8 ways to travel sustainably
Over the last few decades, there has been a substantial increase in the use of the world’s resources. It’s important we know how to look after the places we visit as we travel, so we’re going to cover it all here.
Travelling sustainably can be a daunting prospect, but there’s plenty of small changes you can make that can build up to big changes. In this article, we’re going to cover a few tips on how to travel sustainably as a backpacker- including looking for the best travel companies, buying the right souvenirs, and even how to protect marine wildlife.
1. Beware of greenwashing when booking
Greenwashing is used to describe companies who market themselves as “green” when they’re actually not. This is done intentionally to lure in consumers who are looking for ways to travel sustainably.
In the travel industry, many companies commit to greenwashing when they advertise eco-friendly tours. To determine which companies are sincere and which aren’t, here are a few questions you can ask:
- How much of the profits of this company go to wildlife or environmental conservation?
- Is there a limit to the number of people allowed on tours?
- What has the company done for the local community to show they are committed to sustainability?
- Does the company employ locals?
- Are they involved in any local projects or charities?
- Are they affiliated with any well-known environmental agencies?
Asking these questions will help you to weed out which companies are using greenwashing marketing techniques, and which companies are actually promoting sustainable tourism.
2. Take a look at your transportation
Depending on your destination, it’s likely you are going to have to fly to get there, which in turn comes with its own sustainability issues. In this case, you should definitely check out alternativeairlines.com.
This site gives information on which airlines are the most eco-friendly and why, which is handy for knowing how to travel sustainably. It offers up information on each airline’s carbon emission levels, and what they’re doing to reduce them.
It’s kind of like the environmentally-friendly version of Skyscanner – enter your trip details and search through hundreds of flight options. You can then book your flights through the site in confidence.
For shorter trips, the most responsible way to travel is by bus, train, or boat. Sharing transportation is not only a great way to cut back on your carbon footprint, but also usually the cheapest way to travel!
3. Book eco-friendly accommodation
It’s important to do a little research on the accommodation you’d like to book for your backpacking trip.
First, check to see if your destination country has a certification program for eco-friendly accommodation. If not, inquire whether your chosen accommodation participates in simple sustainability practices like recycling or other initiatives.
Many hostels and hotels are starting to move towards the use of energy-efficient lighting, low-flow or dual flush toilets, and some are even collecting rainwater and incorporating solar and wind harnessing methods.
You can also look for eco-lodge style accommodation, which is generally off the beaten track and mostly, if not entirely, off-grid. We have a full post on how to prepare for your next backpacking trip if you’d like more tips.
4. Do your part to save water
There are multiple ways you can save water when backpacking.
Assuming you have the option, it is much more environmentally friendly to shower rather than have a bath. Additionally, try to remember to turn the water off while brushing your teeth or doing other things around the bathroom.
Most hostels and hotels will give you the option to reuse towels and linens, so make sure you read the instructions carefully to help prevent unnecessary washing.
For other ways to travel sustainably, bring your own (BPA-free) water bottle on your trips. This water bottle from Fretree is completely BPA-free and non-toxic. You can fill this up wherever you have the opportunity, and save yourself from having to throw away unnecessary plastic.
5. Conserve energy
Did your mother ever tell you to turn the lights out when you leave a room? Make sure you remember to do this while travelling!
You should also turn off any fans, electronics, heating, and air conditioning when you go out, choosing instead to close the curtains to act as an insulator.
Another important thing to remember is to do all these things in your own home before you leave on your trip! If you want to leave lights on for security purposes, set your lights up on a timer.
A lot of ways to travel sustainably can be set up before you leave your home, and a little bit of organisation can go a long way.
6. Choose responsible wildlife experiences
In many countries, wildlife experiences are a huge part of local tourism.
Avoid companies who offer hands-on experiences with animals, as no matter how they advertise themselves they are not ‘sanctuaries’.
To be docile enough to be around humans, these animals are trained, often chained, and treated inhumanely. Some are even drugged to remain calm around tourists.
Look for programs that offer to teach visitors about the animals, offering a safe experience for both animal and human. Make sure to never book tours offering experiences such as elephant riding.
7. Shop and eat local
We all want to bring souvenirs home from our backpacking trips, but you need to be aware of exactly what you’re purchasing.
Avoid bringing home any products that come from endangered resources or species, such as woods, corals, plants, and other artefacts.
It is also better to try and purchase locally crafted items, rather than buying souvenirs that come from other countries and don’t support the native economy. Bring a reusable day bag to put all your items in, and make sure to take a break and experience some local food. There’s also plenty of other ways to document your travels that don’t involve purchasing souvenirs.
Eating local is often the cheapest option, and as an added bonus the ingredients are likely grown nearby- and everyone knows that fresh is best.
8. Mind the Reef
If you are lucky enough to be able to swim, snorkel, or scuba dive a coral reef, you need to know how to look after it.
An easy way to protect a coral reef is to wear reef-friendly sunscreen. New Layer Sunscreen is free of oxybenzones, avobenzones and nanoparticles often found in other sun creams that can have a negative effect on sea life.
You should also be careful to only look, and not touch, the reef as this can cause irreparable damage to the corals and their inhabitants.
Avoid any trips where the operators chum (add bait to) the water, as this can be dangerous. Fish (and sharks) begin to rely on this feeding process, and it has been shown to change their behaviour over time.
Ways to travel sustainably
Right now, more and more people are becoming lucky enough to be able to travel the world. Learning how to travel sustainably will help ensure that the beautiful sites and cities you explore will remain the same for future generations to experience.
One of the benefits of being a green traveller is that you will also have the opportunity to help teach and encourage others. Even if you can only manage a few ways to travel sustainably on this list, every little bit helps.
How to travel sustainably
- Beware of greenwashing
- Take a look at your transportation
- Book eco-friendly accommodation
- Do your part to save water
- Conserve energy when you can
- Choose responsible wildlife experiences
- Shop and eat local
- Mind the Reef