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How to Be a Sustainable Traveler

Learn how to travel more sustainably

|July 18, 2022
Gabija is passionate about traveling and writing. In her free time, she likes to read, try out different cuisines, or embark on outdoor adventures.

With a big wave of emphasis on a sustainable lifestyle, we also talk a lot more about sustainable travel. That's why we'll share some tips and tricks on how to make travel more sustainable.


What Is Sustainable Travel

What does sustainable travel mean? Before we dig into it, it's important to define what sustainable travel is in the first place. UN World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as "tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities."

Why Is Sustainable Travel Important?

Why should we care about sustainability while traveling? With the number of international travelers increasing, the impact on local communities and the environment also rises. For example, Iceland, a small nation of only 300,000 people, hosted 2,342,241 tourists in the year 2018. You can imagine the tremendous effect it has on the local environment.

Woman Posing for Picture on Icelandic Road

How to Be Sustainable While Traveling

Now that we've settled on what is sustainable travel and why is it important, we can discuss the most simple ways to stay sustainable while traveling in a foreign (or home) country.

1. Reduce plastic usage

Man with Hiking Equipment Drinking Water

Reduce plastic usage by drinking water from your bottle

Plastic is one of the main enemies of the environment. It fills our ground and oceans, and it takes hundreds of years for it to break down. Single-use plastics that are immediately thrown away live for years on our planet. How can we avoid that?

One of the easiest ways to avoid single-use plastics is to carry your own water bottle and fill it up. For example, Iceland has some of the purest drinking water in the world. For countries that don't have a clear water supply, you can use filters or water purifiers.

2. Support local businesses

Wooden Cabins in Iceland by the Mountains

Wooden cabins in Vik village in South of Iceland

Up to 90% of tourism money leaves the destination country and goes to big international corporations. Shop from local suppliers and eat at locally-owned restaurants to support the local economy.

If possible, try to stay at local accommodations (such as Airbnb) or eco-friendly accommodations instead of big chain hotels. Sites like bookdifferent.com can help calculate the carbon footprint generated per night based on your chosen accommodation.

3. Choose an eco-friendly, local tour company

Guide Hiking on Glacier with Group in Iceland

Guided glacier hiking tour by Arctic Adventures at Sólheimajökull glacier in Iceland

Choose a local tour company with sustainable values. Arctic Adventures is a local tour operator in Iceland that cares about the environment. It operates tours to minimize the carbon footprint and promotes sustainable travel.

Also, you can choose tours that not only take you to famous sites but also educate you on sustainability. For example, this sustainable glacier hike will not only take you on a thrilling hike on an ice cap but also will let you learn about the receding glaciers.

4. Pack lightly

 Man Hiking in Icelandic Lava Fields

Trekking in Icelandic lava fields

You've probably heard about pre-vacation shopping. And you have maybe done it yourself. Everyone wants to look their best on vacation, which leads to last-minute shopping for new wardrobes, cosmetics, etc. But do we really need all of this?

The term "capsule wardrobe" is getting more popular these days. It means owning only the essential pieces of clothing that go well together. Essentially, this type of wardrobe requires pre-planning, but it helps to reduce "impulsive shopping".

But how does lighter luggage save the environment? First of all, packing light and avoiding last-minute shopping helps to reduce waste since there would probably be a lot of items you would only wear once or twice. Also, packing lightly will also help to reduce carbon footprint since more luggage means more weight being carried on transportation, which will eventually require more fuel to carry a bigger load.

5. Act respectfully towards nature

Woman Touching Huge Iceberg in Iceland

Giant icebergs at Diamond beach in South Coast of Iceland

This one's particularly important when traveling in a foreign country or back home. Acting respectfully towards nature includes a lot of things. One of the most obvious, of course, is no littering. Try to leave everything as you found it (or better). Respect the signs, especially in the preserved places, such as national or regional parks - they've been put there for a reason.

Care about the family welfare since it's the habitat you're visiting. Choose ethical experiences, especially when they are linked to animals. Sustainable Travel International warns to be aware of any activities linked to wild animals, such as lion petting, elephant rides, or selfies with wild animals. These animals usually live under horrific conditions and are not treated well by their masters.

What Is the Most Sustainable Way to Travel?

Transport is usually one of the biggest enemies of sustainability. It accumulates greenhouse gasses and pollutes the air. That's why it is necessary to consider the greenest way to travel to your destination. Here we will discuss the impact of each means of travel.

Traveling by flying

Man in Airport Waiting for Flight

Traveling by plane

Even though flying allows us to get long distances in a relatively short period of time, it is one of the most harmful ways to travel for our environment. The aviation industry releases a number of harmful emissions into our atmosphere. The shorter the flight, the less efficient it is, so if you're traveling shorter distances consider reaching them by other means of transportation.

How to make air travel more sustainable?

If you cannot avoid flying, you can consider offsetting your journey by investing in carbon offset programs.

Are boats a better alternative?

Cruise Ship in Sea at Sunset

Cruise ship in the open sea

If air travel is so harmful to the environment, then how about getting to your destination by boat? According to experts, boats (and especially huge cruise ships) can cause even more damage to the environment. Ships also use the lowest quality and most polluting fuel, which can harm not only the environment, but passengers and crew as well.

Besides the air and water pollution, cruise ships can have an even more direct impact on the sensitive destination. They were linked to larger waves or even caused erosion of the island in certain destinations, such as Venice in Italy.

Then how about trains?

High Speed Bullet Train in Station

CRH high-speed bullet train

You've probably heard already that trains are the greenest means of traveling, which is absolutely right! Trains generate the lowest level of greenhouse gases, even if they're diesel, not electric-powered. Traveling by train also allows you to see the changing landscape and relax. Fast trains are also getting more and more popular. Some of the fastest trains in the world can reach the speed up to 460 kph/286 mph!

Making car travel more efficient

Woman Drives in Jeep with Open Window

Travel in Iceland by super jeep

Cars are also not a friend to the environment, but there are some ways of making traveling by car more efficient. For example, a greater number of passengers generates a lower carbon footprint for each person per travel. If you're traveling without companions, you can find people to share the ride with through dedicated apps or websites, such BananaCar.

This list includes just a few of many things you could do to make your travel more sustainable. But it's a good starting point! Did we leave out something? Share your tips on how to travel sustainably in the comment section!

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