How to Travel More Sustainably | 10 Easy Steps

Part of being a Clean Energy Lifer is enjoying clean and eco-friendly travel. While there are many new trends in green travel, including biofuel planes and sustainable hotels, most people can travel sustainably through simple and cost-effective travel choices. This article will help you plan your next eco-friendly trip to save money, live more cleanly, immerse yourself in the places you’re traveling to, and be a good steward of the earth.

The Importance of Sustainable Travel

Unbeknownst to many people, travel represents the number one largest industrial polluter in the United States. 

According to the EPA, 27% of the total US greenhouse gas emissions come from travel and transportation. 

Among those emissions, the IEA estimates that roughly ¾ of those emissions come from road travel (i.e., passenger cars, trucks, etc.)

While travel may not represent as large of a carbon footprint as heating or generating electricity for your home, it can comprise up to 15% or more of an individual’s carbon footprint. 

Promoting sustainable forms of travel can help you significantly reduce your carbon footprint and involve easy-to-adopt lifestyle changes that won’t break the bank. 

Furthermore, there are several additional benefits to sustainable travel that can positively impact your wallet and your lifestyle.

The Benefits of Sustainable Travel

There are many reasons why your personal carbon footprint is important, many of which offer direct personal and collective benefits, such as within these areas of The Clean Energy Life:

With these benefits in mind, let’s explore 11 ways to travel more sustainably and how each tip can directly benefit you and local communities.  

10 Tips for Sustainable Travel

1. Choosing Your Destination

Choosing the right destination for travel is essential in determining your travel options and itinerary. As most experts recommend, staying local will provide the most sustainable opportunities. 

However, if you want to travel abroad, many destinations offer sustainable options. For example, visitors to the Palau region in Micronesia must take a sustainability pledge to protect the local environment and community before visiting. 

Globally, many Airbnbs, hostels, and hotels also offer sustainable stay options, including self-sufficient dwellings powered by renewable energy. 

Another aspect to consider is your itinerary. Avoiding tourist traps like a city zoo in favor of UNESCO world heritage sites or protected wildlife reserves helps finance these operations and ensures their survival in the future. 

Furthermore, these destinations offer a much more unique experience with better-quality pictures for your social media. 

As a final note, you also need to consider what type of trip you want to take. While cruises may seem fuel efficient, cruise ships contribute to a whopping 24% of maritime waste and are massive GHG emitters. 

Instead, consider ways to engage with the local community, such as going on hikes, surfing on the beach, or anything else that is natural and free of carbon pollution.

2. Extend Your Trip

Experts also recommend travelers extend their trips to reduce the amount of physical travel they take within a year. 

“Green travel” can mean taking less frequent but longer trips, which may be more cost-effective than taking several vacations within a year, and the longer you stay, the more you can support a local community. 

3. Go During the Off-Season

Traveling during the off or shoulder season helps support local communities throughout the year and eases the environmental pressure from waste and energy use that can compound during peak months. 

The off-season is also the perfect time of year to avoid crowds and experience local attractions like they were meant to be experienced. 

4. Leverage Public Transportation

Similarly, we always recommend using public transportation when available. According to one estimate, taking public transportation reduces CO2 emissions by 45% compared to driving alone. 

Virtually every country and tourist destination offers affordable public transit options, which are often ideal in helping you get to your destination when you don’t understand the language or the road networks. Public transit is also cheaper and more reliable. 

5. Upgrade to an EV

If you’re traveling to your destination by car, consider using an Electric Vehicle (EV.) With some EVs available for ~$20,000-$30,000 and with charges well over 300 miles, upgrading to an EV will become an increasingly more affordable and efficient option for everyday travel and holidays. Even a Hybrid vehicle is more sustainable when it comes to gas mileage.

6. Reduce Plastics While Traveling

Another consideration many travelers overlook is their plastic consumption. Packing disposable toothbrushes, cosmetics, and even travel bags can all greatly contribute to your carbon waste.

Instead, buy a reusable travel kit or storage organizers for your luggage. Pack yourself a reusable water bottle and monitor how much plastic you consume on your trips to reduce your consumption. 

7. Conserve Energy During Travel

Equally important is the amount of water and energy you use at hotels and other destinations. While you most likely won’t get charged for these amenities, it should be a common courtesy to limit your energy consumption when not necessary.

Developing these habits can also translate to your home consumption and help you save money in your day-to-day life. 

8. Indulge in Local Delicacies

Eating locally grown and harvested foods abroad is a great way to integrate yourself in the local culture and also help reduce your carbon footprint. Try to avoid big chains or international restaurants that import ingredients from abroad. 

Your palette and wallet will most likely thank you, as well as the planet. 

If local options are thin, consider following the low-carbon diet, which emphasizes locally grown and plant-based foods. It’s a healthy, affordable, and carbon-neutral way to live. 

9. Shop Locally

Similarly, we recommend shopping for local souvenirs and gifts to bring back home. Not only are they more authentic, but they produce less embodied carbon and help benefit local businesses. 

So skip the international chains and consider buying locally made clothes and artistry items, which are most likely built with better quality and more healthy materials. 

10. Offset Your Emissions

Similarly, we recommend shopping for local souvenirs and gifts to bring back home. Not only are they more authentic, but they produce less embodied carbon and help benefit local businesses. 

So skip the international chains and consider buying locally made clothes and artistry items, which are most likely built with better quality and more healthy materials. 

To learn more about ways to counter your carbon emissions as part of your goals to travel sustainably, read about Using Carbon Offsets to Reduce Travel Emissions. 

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