Sustainable Travel: 10 Great Eco-Friendly Tips

Sustainable travel is difficult to achieve but with some focus and a few simple swaps it is possible.

What is sustainable travel? Sustainable tourism and, more broadly, sustainable travel minimizes the negative impacts on environmental, social and cultural aspects. It tries to take care to avoid pollution and degradation of resources, it respects local populations by paying attention to their culture as well as preserving knowledge about their history. And most importantly, sustainable tourism benefits visitors and the communities they are visiting, alike.

One of the biggest reasons I love to travel, especially visiting places abroad, is it gives me a better appreciation for the world, a different cultural perspective, and a chance to try new things and meet new people. What’s difficult is balancing that with a sustainable lifestyle.

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1. Bring a reusable water bottle and refill it at the airport or on your flight.

I started doing this several years ago and it has been an easy but great sustainable travel change! Many airports now have bottle filling stations built into their drinking fountains. Avoiding single-use water bottles not only helps save a ton of plastic waste, it also helps save you money, and for me at least have also helped me stay more hydrated as well.

2. Pack snacks in reusable containers to avoid plastic packaging

This can be as easy as a container of nuts and dried fruit, or more traditional travel foods like granola bars. I would encourage you to try making your own bars at home, it’s a much easier process than I originally thought and I actually enjoy them more. Bottom line, snacks and drinks at airports can produce a lot of waste if you think about the cumulative impact of all travelers. Making these small changes to your travel habits can help you in your sustainable travel goals while also saving you money.

3. Use eco-friendly products like bamboo toothbrushes and bamboo cutlery

Getting a travel set of bamboo cutlery is such an easy way to reduce your waste footprint when traveling or eating out. Especially now as many restaurants have switched to using disposable cutlery.

There are so many items you can swap to reduce the plastic in your life. A bamboo toothbrush is just one of these and is a great item to add to your sustainable travel toiletry bag or your bathroom at home.

4. Carry a travel-sized container for shampoo, conditioner, soap and sunscreen to avoid excess packaging

While I’m still going through the last of the bulk shampoo and conditioner I bought long ago, my wife has gone completely toward solid shampoo and conditioners. Packing these on trips is such a breeze, find a small metal container or tiffin and avoid using the tiny throwaway containers in hotel rooms.

There are lots of bathroom products you can look to swap out eventually making your toiletry bag even more eco-friendly.

For the products, like sunscreen, that typically come as a liquid, buying in bulk or larger quantities is a nice way to reduce the amount of plastic used. If you’re needing to fly, check out these travel-sized silicone tubes that you can throw in your carry on.

5. Bring your own coffee mug with you.

On the road many hotels allow you to use your own coffee mug. Avoiding the use of single-use paper or styrofoam cups which are difficult or impossible to recycle for a variety of reasons.

6. Ask for no straws

When ordering drinks at bars or restaurants, ask to hold the straws. Doing so mean that they don’t have to throw away straws after every drink order and can save them for future customers who need one. If you really do love to use a straw, there are many reusable options available. This isn’t just a change you can make for more sustainable travel but something you can do when at your favorite bar or restaurant back home.

7. Use cloth napkins instead of paper ones.

Cloth napkins can be used over and over again and are typically more absorbent than their paper counterparts. Paper napkins are so difficult to recycle not only because of their size – a used napkin is soiled, much like a greasy pizza box, and cannot be recycled in that form.

While it may be difficult to avoid paper napkins when ordering drinks at bars or restaurants. Bringing cloth napkins with you while out and about can definitely reduce your need for paper ones on the go.

8. Pack clothes that can be washed by hand

Clothes that can be washed quickly by hand in a hotel room sink help to reduce your environmental impact on the world. This is a great way to reduce or eliminate your use of dry-cleaning, which is typically not eco-friendly or cost effective.

It’s also worth noting that most hotels have washing machines and laundry detergents available for guests – you don’t always need to pack extra clothes with you just in case! Packing just what you need and being careful not to overpack are huge to sustainable travel – the less your bag weighs, the less energy you’re using to travel with it.

9. Don’t forget to bring your own bags for shopping trips!

Whether you’re planning to hit up a local farmer’s market or do some souvenir shopping for your friends and family, taking a few reusable bags with you is a super easy way to avoid unnecessary plastic. As an added bonus, it doesn’t take up a ton of room or add much weight to your bag.

While you can do a lot to reduce the impact of the things you bring and how you use them, there’s still an impact from the mode of transportation you use. Check out some of our favorite charities – some allow you to calculate the carbon footprint of your trip and it’s impact.

Even if you don’t use all of these tips, employing just a few of them can help you get one step closer to sustainable travel allowing you to see and learn about the world while reducing your impact.