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Is sustainable travel possible? Here are easy ways to travel green

Can sustainable travel and tourism co-exist? We outline how you can become a sustainable, green traveller with our list of tips below.

Though many of us are sheltering in place right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we still want to provide you with the information you need to plan your future travels. We hope to keep you inspired until you can get back out there again — but until that happens, we always recommend following your government guidelines and travel regulations.

What is sustainable travel?

Sustainable travel, or green travel, is more than just another travel trend; we are making efforts to lessen our footprint at home and on the road, and expanding our view of what it means to travel.

Why is sustainable travel important?

For me, personally, putting environmental and humanitarian issues as a priority during my trips has helped lead me to new and thrilling experiences I could only dream of. Aspects of travel such as shopping at local markets when I’m in a new city, choosing destinations that are paving the way for sustainable travel, and staying at green hotels and guesthouses, have all played a big part in transforming my life as a traveller.

Shop at local markets

How to travel sustainably in 2020

Looking to leave only footprints on your next trip? Responsible travel starts with just a few tiny steps. Here are some easy ways to practice a sustainable lifestyle at home and even while on a dream vacation.

1. Carry your own sustainable travel kit

Waste doesn’t just come from the fuel emitted during a flight, but also all of the single-use plastic and styrofoam used for your coffee, tea, drinks, meals, and snacks on the flight. Have a waste-free travel experience by bringing a kit with comes with all the sustainable travel essentials you’ll need for a trip. Try a reusable cutlery and straw set that comes with a reusable straw, fork, spoon, and even chopsticks. These kits are easy to pack and these utensils will also prove useful during your trip if you find yourself hitting up a local market and street food joint. 

2. Bring a travel towel

The quick-dry towel I bought three years ago comes with me everywhere! I use it as a beach towel or when I’m poolside, and usually as my towel in a guesthouse, hotel, or hostel. When offered a free towel during my stay at a hostel or for a day at a pool, I refuse it and just use my handy quick-dry. Think of all the laundry that has to be done because of all the free towels offered at hotels around the world. Quick-dry towels are so compact that they fit in any daypack or suitcase. They come in a variety of colours, materials, and styles, and this quality product is a must on any sustainable travel essentials list.

a train pulling up at a station
Take public transportation and practice sustainability

3. Shop and eat local

Shopping and eating local is one of the best ways to decrease your carbon footprint when on at home and abroad. It also is the best way to immerse yourself in a culture and experience something new. And if you find yourself low on something (forgot that extra tank top?) when you arrive, head to the local market and pick up a unique, handmade item. Another travel tip is to always ask the hostel staff or hotel concierge if there are any artisan markets or interesting food festivals happening when you arrive at a new destination.

4. Hire a local guide

See how ‘local’ is a recurring theme here when it comes to green travel? Research your destination beforehand for any grassroots travel companies that are offering tours and excursions. This is a common practice amongst many responsible travellers and also an opportunity to see something a little different. You will have a more unique and authentic experience that way!

5. Opt for eco flights

There are many ways for your flight to be labelled ‘eco’ or ‘green’, including the use of biofuel on an aircraft, flying on an aircraft that maximizes space, and an airline taking steps to eliminate single-use plastic. The availability of eco flights is only increasing and you can learn more about them here.

Take your sustainable travels a step further and consider investing in a carbon offset after you purchase a flight. This is an affordable way to offset the fuel emitted on your flight. Although it does take some investment at first, if you work the carbon offset into your travel budget it will eventually become natural.

view of a rocky beach and person in the distance during the day
Sustainable Tourism: Slow Travel Journeys

6. Travel with a sustainable water bottle

This item can be a part of your sustainable travel essentials. Bottled water is one of the biggest contributors of waste when we travel, so investing in a quality water bottle that can hold hot or cold water is one of the best things you can do for yourself, especially if you travel a lot. This useful, economical green travel item can be used to get hot or cold water at the airport (you can make tea!) or any places that have clean water refill stations. You’ll save money in the long run, and reduce your plastic consumption and waste along the way.

7. Travel slow

Slow travel is another travel trend for Canadians, and for good reason. Travelling at a slower pace usually involves a more quality experience, giving yourself more time to take everything in. If you only have a week or two for a vacation, then opt for a small trip to a beach town along the coast of Portugal rather than a non-stop sightseeing tour of Europe. Trips like these will save you money, are more eco-friendly, and you can make a more authentic connection with the destinations you choose to wander through.

8. Use reef-friendly sunscreen

Speaking of the beach, another sustainable travel item for your kit is reef-friendly sunscreen. What is reef-friendly sunscreen, you’re wondering? Also known as ‘mineral sunscreen’, this is a sun cream that doesn’t have certain chemicals that will ruin your skin and the ocean. You will see these items more in your local markets this upcoming year, as destinations like Hawaii and Florida’s Key West have even begun to ban sunscreens that contain reef-harming chemicals. Eco-warrior Laura in Waterland has some great tips for applying the sunscreen, and you can read more about her sustainable travel lifestyle here.

9. Buy quality luggage

It’s all about quality, not quantity. Consider buying a backpack or lightweight, sustainable travel suitcase that will stand the test of time and help make your eco journey a simple one. There are so many types of luggage on the market that are built to last for years, so it’s definitely a great investment and another way to reduce waste and travel green by replacing your suitcase less often. Check out more tips on picking the right luggage for your next trip.

10. Practice sustainable travel by staying at green hotels

Ok, not the colour green, but hotels that are sustainable! There are plenty of fun destinations that offer eco-friendly accommodations. Make sure to read the fine print to see what they do to make their hotel or ‘eco-lodge’ more environmentally friendly. And, be aware of greenwashing! This means that a company will be branded as ‘eco’ without actually backing themselves up with practices that aren’t harmful to the environment. The more there is a demand for green hotels around the world, the more every hotel chain and business will have to follow suit!

Practice Responsible Animal Tourism

11. Support responsible wildlife tourism

If you must see animals when visiting a new and exotic destination, then make sure your experience is a kind one. I’ve spent some time in Thailand and I can’t tell you how many people come to see elephants but opt for riding them or choosing a company that promotes itself as being a ‘sanctuary’. In reality, a lot of the animals are chained up at night and must be trained to deal with so many humans coming in and out of their space on a daily basis.

But don’t worry, you can still have an unforgettable encounter with an elephant (believe me, just observing them from a distance is awe-inspiring enough!) or go to see whales and dolphins in their natural habitat. There are so many tours that offer responsible wildlife experiences, just do some good research before your trip!

12. Choose a sustainable travel destination

Some destinations are greener than others, and there are some ways to tell if a place is more on the eco-friendly side. Read up if a vacation spot offers more local food, has locally-owned guesthouses rather than hotel chains, and small tours rather than big group excursions. And consider picking a place where you won’t have to drive everywhere to get around and take public transportation. With so many beautiful destinations out there, a sustainable travel experience is possible for anyone!

Ready to go green?

Let’s put the adventure back in travel, and some green back into our Earth! Here are some resources to help you become a better traveller.