How to Become a Sustainable Traveler in 2020

Posted: 2/17/2020 | February 17th, 2020

After years on the sidelines, sustainable travel has made its way to the forefront of the travel industry. Environmentally friendly travel is now one of the fastest-growing movements in the industry, and I, for one, welcome this trend. It’s an incredibly important topic that I’ve been writing about for years.

After all, why destroy what you love? No one wants to see paradise paved over. We all cringe when we return to an overdeveloped, polluted destination. None of us want to contribute to that.

Being an eco-friendly traveler is simply being a respectful traveler.

As we strive to become more environmentally conscious, the questions for travelers become:

Just how do we “green” our travels?

What can we do to lower our carbon footprint as we travel the world?

How can we better interact with the communities we visit?

What changes can we make that are actually helpful?

Flight shaming people is not the answer, but do we all just stay home and quit traveling?

Fortunately, there’s actually a lot we can do as travelers to reduce our ecological footprint while contributing to the sustainability of the communities we visit.

Here are 13 concrete ways to reduce your environmental impact as a traveler:

1. Stay Close to Home

Though the exotic is always appealing, travel doesn’t have to be about going somewhere far away. Travel is the art of exploration and discovery — and that can just as well be nearby. Find somewhere close to home you haven’t been, get in your car (or better yet, take the bus), and go visit. You never know what you’ll come across!

“X” is always the most interesting place on the map.

2. Make Greener Transportation Choices

If you can, try to travel by train or bus. Not only does this reduce your carbon footprint but companies like FlixBus, Megabus, and Greyhound always have some cheap tickets, so you can save money too.

And when traveling by car, consider offering rides to other travelers to lower your collective emissions and cut costs. Many people will be happy to chip in for gas if it saves them time, which means you can save money and lower your carbon footprint at the same time. Win-win! That will cut your per-person transportation emissions in half (if not more). Use platforms like BlaBlaCar, Couchsurfing, and Craigslist to find rideshares near you.

Avoid flying or driving long distances by yourself whenever you can.

3. Travel Slow

When we travel abroad, we have a tendency to rush around from place to place, trying to soak in as many sights as possible. I get that. After all, not everyone can be permanent nomads, and when you have limited time and aren’t sure if you’re coming back again, I can see why people “travel fast.”

However, not only does this raise your transportation costs since you’re moving a lot, you end up increasing your carbon footprint. All those trains, buses, and planes add up. The fewer you take, the better.

Additionally, being a good traveler not only means reducing your carbon footprint but also doing good by the communities you visit. Day-tripping brings in very little money to communities but impacts their infrastructure heavily (it’s why the city of Hallstatt in Austria is restricting day tours). So try to stay at a destination for a least a night.

Traveling to fewer destinations is good not only for your wallet and the climate, it’s good for local communities as well.

(Plus, slowing your travels will let you get to know places in a deeper way, since you’ll get to spend more time there. In travel, less can be more.)

4. Pack Smart

While the specifics of will depend on where you’re going, there are a few things you’ll want to bring with you to help you travel more sustainably:

  • Reusable water bottle – Nalgene makes durable bottles that are BPA-free and made in the USA.
  • Water filter – Many destinations don’t have potable water, which means you’re going to be using tons of single-use plastic. Instead, bring a Lifestraw or SteriPen. These devices will purify your water so you can drink from practically anywhere, ensuring you can avoid single-use plastic bottles.
  • Tote bag/stuff sack – If you’re traveling long-term, bring a tote back or an extra stuff sack. You can use them for buying groceries and avoid plastic bags. At other times, they can be used to keep your bag organized.
  • Diva cup – This is a reusable menstrual cup. While I can’t speak from personal experience, it’s something our resident solo female travel expert packs when she travels, since menstrual products are not always available (and can also be quite wasteful).
  • Utensils – Travel cutlery (a fork, knife, and spoon, or just a spork or a set of chopsticks) can come in handy if you’re on a budget and plan on cooking your own meals. But they’re also useful for street food and eating out, as you can avoid plastic cutlery.

Additionally, bring a small Tupperware container for leftovers. I always find myself with extra food when I cook in…

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