34 Sustainable Travel tips you need to be Using doing now
34 Sustainable Travel Tips You Need to Be Doing Right Now
Traveling the world is the greatest gift and education anyone can ever receive, but if we want it to be here for our children, and our grandchildren, we need to start learning more about sustainable travel.
Sure, being able to jump on a plane and be nearly anywhere on Earth in less than a day is awesome, but at what cost? Since we began our trip around the world in 2018, we’ve tested and tried to implement the following 34 tips to sustainable travel - and we hope you do the same! Some are no-brainers, others a bit more of a surprise, but all of them will hopefully allow you to think about traveling a bit more sustainably and help to reduce your footprint the next time you travel, as well as making your next adventure a bit more meaningful. Often when we think about how to be more mindful while traveling it leads to more meaningful connections, more genuine experiences and will get you off the beaten path more than you would have otherwise - and isn’t that why we all travel in the first place? Let’s go!
1 - Bring a Reusable Water Bottle/Coffee Cup Everywhere You Go
This is on the top of the list for a reason, because if travelers are guilty of one thing it is absolutely using far too much single-use plastic and the main culprits are plastic water bottles and non-recycled coffee cups. We travel with reusable water bottles and coffee cups wherever we go and use them both multiple times a day.
Travel is exhausting and tiring and air travel is very dehydrating, so always knowing your water is on your back, and you aren’t ruining the planet), are great feelings.
2 - Walk Everywhere in a New City
We average about 10km walking per day when traveling, and as much as we’d like to say it is another way we try to stick to sustainable travel, it is also simply the best way to see and explore a new city, town or country.
Most of us have two perfectly good legs and nothing is better after a long flight or bus ride than taking a nice long walk through an unexplored city - it is simply one of our favorite things to do while traveling!
Forget the trains, buses, taxis and Ubers and just head out and get lost, we promise you won’t regret it!
3 - Avoid a Rental Car and Rent a Bike, Electric Car, or use Day-Use Rental Cars
We get it, not everywhere you want to go is within walking distance (although we have clocked in 25-30km in a day so a lot more than you think is doable by foot), make sure to think about how you’re traveling to get where you want to go.
Many cities now have hourly or daily bike rental options (come to Amsterdam, they are literally on every corner) and many rental car companies are now offering green or electric options. Many cities also have day-use rental cars if you just need a ride for a day and not the entire length of your trip.
4 - Buy Durable and Long Lasting Clothes and Travel Gear
If you know us at all you know we often go by #teambackpack or #backpacklife and there is a very good reason for that. We believe that less is more when traveling, and on most trips, if we can’t fit in in a backpack and carry-on bag we simply don’t bring it.
Having good quality, durable and long-lasting clothes and gear is the only way to go when traveling. Patagonia offers free repairs on all their clothes and all Eastpak gear comes with a 30-year warranty.
So, spend the money on good quality products you truly love and they’ll be with you all around the world for decades to come. No more buying cheap replacements every time you leave for a holiday. Win/win!
5 - Only Fly Carry-On to Avoid Excess Weight
Not only do you want to travel light to save your poor self from having to lug around a bunch of stuff you’ll never use when traveling, but a huge sustainable travel tip must is reducing the overall weight you carry, especially for airplanes. The fewer fossil fuels burned because you couldn’t live without those spare boots or extra books the better!
Pack everything you want to bring and then take out half and double the money you’re planning to bring - it never fails :)
6 - Pay Your Carbon Offset Fee
One of the single most important impacts we’re all having on the drastically changing climate is our individual carbon footprint. You’ve probably heard about this but weren’t sure what you could do other than not drive an SUV or leave the lights on all day and night, but there are some pretty easy ways to help reduce, or even reverse, your carbon footprint. Websites like Carbonfund and MyClimate can help you donate a specific amount towards green projects around the world to directly off-set your carbon footprint whether by calculating your carbon usage on a single flights (offset for a RT flight from Amsterdam to Dubai is about €50), or calculating your annual car, house, and other usages.
We get it, travel is expensive. But the next time you take a flight, think about paying a little more to off-set the CO2 emissions you’ve created by getting on that airplane - it’s something we should all be thinking about.
7 - Volunteer When You Arrive
This one is an obvious great sustainable travel tip, but just a generally great travel tip regardless. Any volunteering brings you face to face with new people, new struggles and new perspectives so whether doing this around the block from your house or across the world, volunteering is a fantastic way to interact with the world around you. However, when traveling this is an exceptionally great way to learn about a local community, give back and leave a destination better (hopefully) than you found it.
Make sure to research your volunteer projects in detail and make sure the work, or money, you donate really goes to those in need and NEVER pay to volunteer. Shy away from the big corporations and look for the local school, food kitchen or beach clean-up instead - they’ll all have way more impact. Most tourist offices, hotels or restaurants should be able to give you good info here so we’ll shy away from posting links to any organizations to keep this organic and genuine per location.
8 - Eat Local When Traveling
Do you want to know one of the worst meals I ever ate in my life? It was at the Hard Rock Cafe in Bangalore, India… on soft rock night. A couple of years later I ended up at a TGI Friday’s in Santiago, Chile and decided then and there to never eat at chain restaurants when I travel. Have we broken this a few times over the years? Of course. But we always try and find the best local restaurants, markets and food options when traveling and they always, without fail, impress us. Eating local cuisine while traveling is one of the best parts of travel and if you’re shying away from this and sticking to the cornflakes and pancakes at the hotel buffet we feel very, very sorry for you.
Eat where the locals eat, ask where the best hole in the wall restaurants are or better yet, go get lost, discover them for yourself and then tell us about them.
Our pick? If you're ever in Phuket, Thailand visit the Red Onion in Karon Beach - hands down the best Thai food you’ll ever eat, we promise.
9 - Explore Close to Home
What is the most sustainable travel you ask? Not leaving your neighborhood! Obviously, you haven’t come to this post to be told to only ever walk around your block, but I’d bet that wherever you live there is somewhere, something, close to your house that you’ve always wanted to visit and explore but haven’t yet. We now live in Amsterdam, and while Schiphol has nearly more direct flights than any airport in the world there is a TON of Holland that we have yet to explore and are planning a short train ride weekend escape to the beach, a trip to Leiden, Utrecht and others - all a short train ride away. Better yet? We could bike there if we really wanted to.
So look for places close to home, commit to a mini staycation and keep that carbon footprint small - as well as the footprint on your wallet.
10 - Bring Your Own Toiletries, Hang Towels So They Don't Replace Them
Unless you started traveling yesterday, I promise you have dozens of travel-sized toiletries at the bottom of many different bags so make sure the next time you travel to get that dop kit ready, bring all your own mini soaps, shampoos, and body lotions and save the planet one tiny shampoo bottle at a time. Or, at the very least, steal them all from the next hotel you’re at and then keep them for a very long time, refilling them all at home before your next trip.
Second, bring a towel with you when you travel. I know this takes up much-needed space in small carry-on bags, but my guess is if you’ve ever stayed at a hostel before you’re already doing this because those towels are seeeeriously nasty, or you have to pay for them, or both.
Even if you don’t care about the environment, a towel comes in handy so many times when traveling whether at the beach, the park, on a plane or for putting on those burning hot motorbike seats anywhere in Asia.
11 - Don't Use Airplane Headphones (plus they suck anyway...)
I seriously cannot remember the last time either Anne or I used airplane headphone, and honestly not just because we’re trying to travel more sustainably, but because they just downright suck. These single-use, terrible plastic headphones are thrown away the second they are handed back at the end of the flight and were only good to half-hear that terrible CBS sitcom you were watching anyway.
If you’re like us, you travel with either Bose Quiet Comfort II headphones (which come with an airplane adaptor) or your Apple Airpods and have so many dan podcast episodes to catch up on you don’t ever have time to watch a movie anyway, but if you must please bring your own.
12 - Fly on Airlines That Invest in Biofuels Which Can Cut Emissions by 80% (Qantas, American Airlines, JetBlue, Lufthansa, and KLM)
Sustainable air travel is simply an oxymoron (like someone who does CrossFit and doesn’t talk about it), they just don’t exist. However, there are certain airlines who are doing much more than others to develop and invest in biofuels and sustainable research to try and at least begin to reduce the carbon emissions of their fleets. KLM, Qantas, and Lufthansa are the bigger international airlines who have made this a priority and we hope to see the technology develop quick and fast going into the future.
Can someone get Elon Musk on this? He said it wasn’t a priority at the moment, but we’d beg to differ.
13 - Bring Your Own Adapters and Converters (one of the things people buy the most times while traveling)
Easily the number one thing international travelers buy as soon as they get to the airport and panic that their iPhone charger from Portland won’t work in Prague, and we get it, we’ve all been there. But think ahead a little, buy a good one before you travel and then never leave home without it again.
This is one of the most annoying things to have to spend an insane €35 on at the airport so make sure you always have it with you wherever you go. It’s one very annoying little piece of plastic that makes a world of difference.
14 - Travel by Land When Possible (car, bus, taxi, Uber, train)
We know most of you aren’t going to be trying to get from Los Angeles to Laos overland, but how about Amsterdam to Paris? Only a short 3-hour train ride, from door to door it takes exactly the same amount of time as flying and is a vastly better experience, not to mention how much more sustainable it is. Especially in Europe, look from train options if you have the time and if you can, try and take the local metro or bus as well - all much, much better than flying.
Many cities have rideshare options to easily get between destinations as well, and as long as you’re smart and safe, this can be a great way to travel not only cheaper but more sustainably as well.
15 - Stay Longer in Each Destination
The real traveler out there will tell you the only true way to get to know a destination is to stay there long enough to really appreciate it - and they’re right. The difference in experience a city for an afternoon or for a month is the difference between economy and first-class when it comes to truly appreciate a place.
There is no better feeling than walking down the small streets, parks or city center of a city which upon arriving felt so unfamiliar but know for some reason sort of feels like home. After a couple of weeks you have your favorite restaurant, cafe, laundry shop and know the little backroads and best kept hidden gems, and you probably at least smile to some of the locals you see on a regular basis, heck maybe you’ve even learned a few words in Czech too.
Not only does staying longer in each destination help you to appreciate travel more, but it saves you money and helps the environment at the same time.
But don’t take our word for it, we’re the people who are popular for filming 48-hour adventure travel video guides.
16 - Book Tours With Sustainable Tourism Travel Companies
The big lesson here is to learn that if you’re staying at a 5 star resort of popular brand hotel chain, the chances are that any tours, excursions or activities you book through them do not contribute a single dollar to the local community and all that money is just being sucked out of the community and sent back to the big, corporate bank accounts.
There are tons of sustainable and locally run tourism companies operating all over the world and if you take 10-seconds to look for one instead of just signing up for some tour sold to you at the front desk when you arrive we promise you’ll have a more intentional, meaningful and impactful trip - and you’ll feel better about it too!
Our pick? The Jambangan cooking school in Ubud, Bali. They are friendly, family-run, welcome you into their home and pick up and drop off from anywhere in Ubud. A truly local experience and the food is delicious! (No affiliate here, we just really loved our morning cooking!)
17 - Fly Non-Stop if Possible
This one is a no-brainer but bears repeating. The most costly fuel emission process is taking off and landing a plane, so the fewer stops you have, the fewer pollutants are going into the air, plain and simple. Plus, layovers suck anyway.
18 - Bring Your Own Reusable Shopping Bag or Small Backpack Instead of Using Plastic
We heard this tip from a friend once and never travel without a small fold-up backpack anymore, it is a major game-changer. We used to completely empty our carefully packed backpacks full of clothes, books, snacks, and electronics simply to use for a hike in the woods but never again! We prefer the Eastpak instant collection which is a version of their classic and durable backpack in a more simple form which comes packed inside a bag folded inside itself. It easily slides into any bigger bag we’re traveling with and we use it nearly daily when we’re traveling, especially on short day trips or going to the grocery store.
Tourists cause enough problems as it is, contributing to single-use plastic waste shouldn’t be another one so let’s help solve, or drastically reduce, that problem.
19 - Bring Your Own Cutlery
No, we’re not telling you to whip out your own spoon and fork at a fancy restaurant, but just think about how many cheap plastic forks and knives we’ve all gone through, many times just grabbing for habit at a cheap hotel buffet and then throwing away without them even touching food - I think we can do better than that!
We tend to end up in the middle of nowhere pretty quick when we travel and if you’ve ever tried to eat an avocado with a bottle cap or a pen you’ll quickly agree with this sustainable travel tip as well. You might now be able to get away with sneaking a knife in your carry-on but there are plenty of sustainable or green travel forks and spoons which will come in handy a thousand times over once you add them to your travel bag.
20 - Bring a Kindle Instead of Buying Books (saves weight and paper)
There is something timeless, classic and romantic about reading an old, beat-up book on the beach in a hammock, and we did it, there is nothing better smelling than opening a new book as soon as you sit down in an airplane. But chances are you bought that book at the airport and it wasn’t really your first choice anyway was it? Either way, the added weight of each passenger bringing just one book on an airplane is a staggering…I have no idea, but probably a lot. However, with most books not being printed on recycled paper, these are two reasons it is better to boot up the ole’ Kindle and throw as many books on there as you want.
It might not be as sexy to ready laying in a hammock on a tablet, but you can sleep better knowing you’re doing all you can to make sure that beach is there for your grandkids to enjoy too.
21 - Pick Up Trash on the Trails or Join a Beach Clean Up
Nothing pisses me off more than when we’re 10km into the woods, purely lost in nature, smelling the smells, feeling the feels and rejoicing in the quiet solitude of Mother Earth when I see a damn soda can or candy wrapper on the trail in front of us! While it annoys me to no end that some people can be so careless and thoughtless, surely some people (including us) have accidentally dropped rubbish on the trails and we’ll all be better off helping to pick it up. So grab that soda can or candy wrapper, throw it in your pocket or bag and throw it out so hopefully, no other hikers have to see the same thing you did.
Another great way to help the environment while traveling, and meet some people at the same time, is volunteering to help clean a local beach when traveling. Let me make a bold prediction here and say the kinds of people you meet at an early morning beach clean up in Thailand are going to be a more… authentic? Genuine? Less trashy (get it?) version of the same travelers who stayed up until sunrise on Khoa San road in Bangkok - so hopefully you’ll meet some new friends too!
Plus, if you’ve traveled anywhere in your life chances are you, like us, have been in Thailand and probably not left the best impact, or impression on the locals either, so this is a great way to help reverse that.
22 - Eat Street Food!
This is one of our all-time favorite sustainable travel tips because not only is street food cheap, but it is delicious - and by far the best way to taste the local cuisine anywhere when you travel. We’re strong believers of jumping headfirst into any culture you visit and eating what the locals eat is one of the best ways to do that. Not only is the food tasty and cheap, but usually all locally sourced and will directly help the local community instead of going back into a chain restaurant of hotel brand corporate account.
And second, it’s always best to get a let your stomach get used to the local flavors, spices and germs right when you land, avoiding any super upsets stomachs by avoiding almost everything “local” for days and then getting caught off guard but ice in a restaurant. Just go for it! Our tip, eat yogurt every morning while traveling and that will not only balance your gut biome but help you handle any local funk in the food at the same time.
23 - Drink Locally Brewed Beers and Wines
Who thought drinking could be on a list of ways to travel most sustainably? This goes back to trying to stick to consuming as much locally produced food and drink as possible, but seriously, who wants a Corona in Bali when you could be drinking a local microbrew instead? You didn’t fly halfway around the world to drink the same thing you have in your fridge! Again, this helps support the local community far more and massively reduces the cargo emissions flying that cheap beer you're used to halfway around the world in the first place. Win/win!
24 - Ditch the Straws!
You should be doing this in your daily like anyway. Assuming you’re over the age of 9 you should have learned to drink like an adult by now and have literally no need for a straw. We’ve all seen the horrible video of a turtle with a straw stuck in its nose and don’t need to contribute to any more of that nonsense, either.
Straws are one of the most wasteful and pointless single-use plastic items in use today around the world, and while many companies have banned them in their hotels and restaurants, along with some airlines, they are still almost everywhere.
So take the extra 5 seconds to request your drink has no straw, and if you’ve never learned how to drink without one, now is a great time to learn! Up next, we’ll help you put your socks on.
25 - Unplug Chargers, Turn Off Lights and AC When You Leave the Hotel
We’ve been known to be guilty of this one in the past, but no more! With all the traveling and filming we do, we often forget to unplug chargers from laptops, camera batteries, GoPros, iPhones, etc when we leave the hotel room but we’re trying to be much more mindful of this. The bigger waste, however, is leaving your AC on full blast while you’re not even in the room.
I get it, we’ve all be in Thailand when it feels like it’s 150 degrees outside and we want to come back to a freezing cold room, but let’s think about the planet once again here and decide we can blast that AC as soon as we walk back in the door and save a whole ton of electricity in the process. Again, small things add up to big changes.
26 - Take Public Transportation (buses, metro, tram)
Often far more cheap and way more direct, you have no excuse not to jump on the local public transportation when exploring a new city. Think twice about it before renting a car how badly you really need it, and how much you’ll actually use it. I know, road trip karaoke is a blast, but so is jumping on a chicken bus in Bolivia with the locals and immersing yourself in the local culture a bit more.
This is a great way to explore a city, see parts you may not otherwise be exposed to, save a few dollars, meet more people and overall feel more connected to the city you're in while doing at least a tiny bit to not waste as much as many tourists do on rental cars and petrol.
27 - Donate Travel Goods to Other Travellers at the End of a Trip
Honestly, go into your closet right now and open the last suitcase you traveled with? When was it? Five years ago when you took that family trip to Rome? What else is in the bag, let us guess. A few Euro coins, sunscreen, bug spray, a used map? I know, we’re geniuses. But think about how many people you could have left all those within Rome either at a hotel, hostel, etc who could have used them and saved them from buying more themselves. Let’s try and be more of a circular economy and pass these little things along when we can.
Even if you hold on to them and bring them home, keep them in the back of your mind to offer to other travelers heading off on the road on their own trip, I’m sure they’ll be thankful for them and it’ll save a little more plastic from being bought.
28 - Avoid Destinations Suffering from Over-Tourism
We get it, everyone wants to go to Vegas, Paris and that island in Thailand where they filmed The Beach. If you clicked on that link you’d see the Thai government has had to close the beach because of tourists nearly ruining the entire island. Too much sunscreen and trash in the water has caused a local endangered species of shark to nearly disappear and the coral to almost completely die off. Over tourism is literally killing the planet. Obviously, the best way to travel sustainably is to not even travel in the first place, but we’re realistic that people will always want to go out and explore the world as we do, and we just hope people will think twice about where they are going next.
Instead of visiting Bali maybe visit one of the close islands just a boat ride away like Nusa Penida which is doing everything it can to not only welcome visitors but has a number of eco, green and sustainable guest houses, restaurants, cafes, and hotels as well as eco-friendly activities. Making a small change like this doesn’t mean you miss the beauty of a place like Indonesia but rather that you still enjoy all of it, more so without all the tourists and get an even deeper connection to the place, people and culture.
29 - Stay Local
This is a no-brainer and can drastically increase your experience and takeaway from a trip to a new country and culture. Staying at a local guesthouse, Airbnb, hostel or motel will at least mean your money will be getting back into the local community and allowing the tourism dollars you’re spending to go to them and not some big corporate office on another continent.
Staying locally increases your chance of having meaningful connections with locals, getting way better local tips on food, sights, etc and is usually going to be way cheaper as well. We get it, a nice 5* hotel is really nice, but maybe just stay there a couple of nights and spend the rest somewhere more authentic? Just an idea.
30 - Carry Everything on Your Back
If you know us at all, you know that we’re #teambackpack and damn proud of it! After converting Anne to that #backpack life she has come full circle and we pack absolutely as light as we can when traveling. We buy our backpacks, suitcases, and bumbags from Eastpak because they all allow Jeff to look (somewhat) stylish but more importantly all come with a 30-year guarantee and are extremely practical and durable - another important factor in buying gear for sustainable travel.
If we can’t fit everything in a backpack and bumbag, we bring a carry-on but never, ever, check a bag. Along with the pain in the butt of added time checking in at the airport, the added weight and chance of your bag going missing or delayed, having everything with you on the plane makes the travel process so much easier and saves the planet a lot of CO2 emissions with you aren’t also hauling a 50kg suitcase with clothes you will never, ever wear on your trip.
Want to know where I got those sexy underwear from? Check out their insanely stupid, appalling and downright absurdly comfortable underwear and tell me it’s not the best pair you’ve ever worn. Not many things make it to the top 5 list in every backpack I carry, but comfortable clean undies to travel in is a must.
Take the time to look at all the stuff you’re bringing, remove half of it and bring twice the money - that’s the golden rule! You’ll be very glad you did.
31 - Avoid Cruises at All Costs
Cruises are hands down the most harmful mode of transportation to the planet that exist today. Not only do these cruise ships give absolutely nothing back to the local communities they stop into for a couple of hours but they pump out over 10 times as much pollution in one year than all the 260 million cars in Europe do combined - and that’s just SIX ships!
Think about that for a second and let it sink in.
Sure, the idea of sailing on a floating city with pools, gyms, nightclubs, spas and endless buffets and fruity cocktails may seem like a dream, think about it more as a floating waste dump providing literally nothing to the places it visits while destroying many and causing the Earth a great deal of harm in the process.
32 - Leave No Trace
There is no reason to be leaving litter or single-use items anywhere when you travel. If you’ve got plastic, paper or other waste to get rid of, at least do it yourself and find the proper place to throw it away. Yes, take off your own trash from the airplane and recycle it, or better yet bring your own water bottle and fill it up after security. This is mostly to help those around you and has more to do with being a decent human being than traveling more sustainably.
However, where this really matters is when you’re out exploring nature. If you are heading into the forest or up to a mountain for a day hike out exploring nature, please for the love of all that is holy make sure to bring anything you carry into nature back out with you. Or better yet, bring MORE out with you by helping to pick up the trash that others have left behind. Leave no trace is one of the most basic and simple ways to travel more sustainably, just leave everywhere you go better than when you found it and our kids will have a fighting chance of seeing the same beauty around the world that we were able to experience.
Seeing locals littering in their own countries can really sting sometimes, but taking a minute to educate them or at least help to clean it up can go a long way.
33 - Avoid All-Inclusive Resorts/Package Deals
These types of holidays are similar to cruise ships in the sense that the ENTIRE experience will be contained within a single environment, completely controlled and run by a big brand which also benefits exclusively from you being there. No money will ever get back into the local community, and what is worse is most of the tourists on these Club Med type of holidays rarely ever leave the walls and actually experience the local culture which is just behind the wall of the resort they’ve hidden themselves in.
We get it, all-inclusive comfort is just that, comfort. And it is way more convenient, easy and carefree than planning many of the logistics yourself, but just take a second and think about why you are traveling and the impact it will have on the world, and community, around you.
34 - Invest in a Transparent Cosmetics/Toiletry Bag
Last but not least, travel with a transparent cosmetic or toiletry bag. This simple tip alone will not only save you the hassle every time going through airport security of taking out all your gels and liquids but will save a plastic bag every single time you go through security.
Did you know that each year over 14 million plastic bags are used at airports - most only for 30 seconds before being thrown away? Ok, we made that stat up, but you believed it didn’t you?
Phew! We got through them all gang, our 34 tips to sustainable travel you need to start using right now and we hope you learned a thing or two, got a few ideas or at least a couple ways you may update how you travel in the future. We love to travel, but we also love the planet and we don’t have another one, so let’s all try and do our best to each take a little bit of responsibility of this one and help to make sure it hangs on for a few more years.
Happy travels ya’ll!