We try our hardest to be more eco-friendly in our travels. As we learn more about our impact on our planet, it’s apparent we face almost certain peril if we fail to address climate change and preserve our natural planet. It’s why we often voice our opinion about more sustainable travel. While in our daily lives, we strive to maintain a small footprint at home.
In our travels, we camp, volunteer, participate in cleaning, participate in conservation efforts, support non-profits, and celebrate the eco-lodges. We also make an effort to reduce our waste and choose companies whose ethos aligns with our own. Of course, we are not perfect by any means, but we are conscious of our choices and always look to change for the better.
Previously, we’ve talked about the best eco-friendly products and shared tips in a large number of posts about reducing your travel impact. However, there are so many ways you can become a more environmentally conscious traveler we decided to compile them all here.
It all starts with simple easy fixes that anyone can do! You’ve probably at least one or two of these tips, but we hope everyone takes away a new idea for eco-friendly travel.
Why Care About Eco Friendly Travel?
It has to do with what we’ve seen in life and what is left on our “bucket list.” We’ve seen hummingbirds in the Ecuadorian rainforests, followed elephants traversing the desert, dove into the wonders of the Indian Ocean, and wandered serene bamboo forests in Japan. The list could go on.
Then I think about what lies in store for future generations. Those who may not have the opportunity to witness snowfall peacefully in the backyard, dive on the Great Barrier Reef, or canoe down a wild Zambezi River.
I grew up in Michigan and every year we had snow on Christmas, and winters lasted a little too long for my liking — I even had to move South to escape the cold. The past few years, though? Temperatures during the holiday season are hitting record highs. On my last Christmas in Michigan, the ground was no longer covered in white, but instead, it was a mushy brown mess.
I took the snow for granted, and none of us have protected our winters. This all has a much larger impact than some people in the midwest no longer having to complain about the trudge through knee-deep snow. The soil below that is now more prone to freeze without the snow for insulation which can have a large impact on the farmer’s crops of the midwest. This is just a localized example — on a global scale, the implications are massive.
It makes us sad for our planet, for our future generations, and for the naysayers who claim this is all just a “hoax.” However, there are many things that we can collectively do to be more conscious of our world when we are traveling and in our everyday lives.
Eco-Friendly Travel Tips
Turn Off the Lights
This is probably the most brainless simple eco-friendly travel thing to do. Turn off the lights when you are not using them, there’s no reason to have them on. One billion people live without electricity, and that is usually what I think about when I see unneeded lights on.
If you’re reading this, my guess is you are not one of those one billion people and can make a push for more eco-friendly travel habits. While you’re at it make sure to conserve A/C or heat in your home and unplug your electronics when you are not using them.
Vote with Your Tourism Dollars
This is quite possibly how you can make the largest difference when you travel. Whether we want to admit it or not money makes the world go round. Almost all of our most environmentally destructive actions stem from financial gains. There is a flip side here. This means that choosing where you spend your money can make a big difference in how the tourism market grows.
For example, choosing to go with an environmentally conscious tour operator even if it means paying a bit more, participating in conservation efforts, or staying at eco-lodges can make a big difference. A lodge we visited, Wolwedans, was almost entirely self-sufficient in the middle of a desert and had made extraordinary efforts in conservation. They are only one example of many companies that exemplify sustainable travel and make the world a better place.
When you choose to spend your tourism dollars with eco-friendly businesses it paves the way for more businesses to follow suit.
Reduce Your Beef Intake
If you want to really be environmentally friendly this tip is critical and one of the top ways you can reduce your footprint in the world. According to the Worldwatch Institute, 51% of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. The land, water, and all other variables that go into the livestock sector in the US generate as many greenhouse gas emissions as all vehicles combined.
In one of my favorite documentaries, Before the Flood, Leonardo Dicaprio states that a half-pound of beef is the equivalent of running the air-conditioner! About two years ago we made the choice to go pescatarian for a plethora of reasons, but the environmental impacts of the beef and livestock industry were definitely the number one contributor. Honestly, we don’t eat much fish anymore either…which brings me to my next point.
Reduce your Seafood Intake
Although we will still indulge in sushi in Japan (I told you we are not perfect), we pretty much live a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. Once I made the decision to give up meat I knew that I didn’t want to give up seafood too. I absolutely love sushi and do indulge in a good shrimp cocktail. And beyond that, we don’t really care for seafood too much.
and then I learned…
Most fish on our dinner plates is a product of destructive fishing practices. We are overfishing through horrible methods that damage sensitive habitats and often catch marine wildlife that ends in their deaths. Commercial fishing is responsible for the death of countless numbers of sharks, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles as they’re unable to breathe in the nets and die by the time they pull them on the boat.
Some of the destructive fishing methods you may have heard of are bottom trawling, cyanide fishing, and dynamite fishing.
- Bottom Trawling is the most destructive industrial fishing practice there is. Bottom Trawling is where a large net with heavy weights is dragged across the ocean floor picking up everything in it’s path from dolphins to turtles. When they are dragged up the fishing boats take what they came to fish and throw the rest of the now dead marine life back into the ocean. Bottom trawling also destroys the coral reef and disrupts sediment. The effects of this can be seen from space!
- Cyanide Fishing is a method of fishing where fishermen literally squirt sodium cyanide into the water to stun fish without killing them and make them easier to fish. This destroys the coral. This practice is seen frequently in China, Singapore, and Hong Kong eating live fish is common.
- Dynamite Fishing is another terrible technique where explosives are set off underwater destroying everything. The dead fish float to the top to be collected and then served for dinner.
90% of world fish stocks are overexploiting the fishing industry. We are simply killing too many fish for the ocean to replenish and we could lose important species if we are not careful. Supply not meeting demand.
I’m not saying you should go completely vegan here, that is a personal choice to make. However, I am saying that limiting your beef and seafood intake to one or two times a week is a good start. Other ways you can help make sure you are eating sustainably sourced meat and seafood is to ask where your seafood and meat are coming from and to look for eco-labels. If you enjoy line fishing and want to eat the fish that you catch this is also an alternative method.
Switch to Solar Power
We’ve stayed in many lodges that have switched to solar power – and love it! It’s initially very expensive to set up, but the long-term cost is small. The sun rises in most places every day for no charge at all! We should make use of it. We always opt for accommodation with solar panels rather than grid powered if possible.
On a smaller scale try switching to solar-powered products. We’ve been traveling with the Little Sun for years and love it! (The company also gives back). Little Sun is a high-quality solar-powered LED lamp lantern. We used it camping all over Africa and it was amazing. But there are tons of products like the Little Sun! We also like to purchase products like solar-powered lanterns instead of flashlights for camping.
Not only are they cheaper than battery-operated lanterns, but they are more durable. Now, we don’t have to worry about buying batteries!
Ditch the Hair Dryer
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used a blow drier in the past four years and I must say I love how healthy it feels. Aside, from that time a crazy Serbian hairdresser trashed it.
Hair dryers take up a ridiculous amount of electricity, and space in your suitcase, and they dry out your hair. Consider ditching them and going all-natural. It’s an easy fix and such a small part to play. It’s not going to save the world, but every single step counts.
Turn off the Taps
Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and take shorter showers. Many people in the world don’t have the luxury of having water come out of their tap conveniently as we do in the west. Making a conscious effort to conserve water can go a long way. This is a no-brainer when it comes to living an eco-friendly life.
Decline Plastic Bags
Always always always decline plastic bags while shopping. We travel with reusable bags for grocery store trips, or opt to carry our groceries when we don’t have a bag.
I love companies like Trader Joe’s which only use paper bags and I wish more supermarkets in North America would follow suit. I also love how grocery stores across Europe charge you for each plastic bag used, which makes the consumer more conscious and think about if they really need that damn plastic bag.
Until big retailers do away with plastic bags across the globe it’s up to us to keep resisting that plastic. In North America, grocers provide you with as many bags as you want when you don’t really need them (and it drives me insane). We personally would rather stuff our hands full and walk out of the store than waste a plastic bag.
Also, purchase some reusable produce bags when you get those reusable grocery bags too, please. Nothing makes me cringe more than people putting bananas in a plastic bag. Seriously, bananas already have protection on them. If I have to use unnecessary plastic for my produce shopping I won’t buy the item.
In Southeast Asia, the 7-11 will give you a plastic bag handle just for your iced coffee – because actually holding the cup is too inconvenient. I’m not just picking on these places though, plastic consumption is rampant everywhere and it’s up to us to demand a change.
Single-use plastic really gets me worked up – can you tell?
Invest in Eco-Friendly Products.
There is no reason to accept a plastic straw today. There are so many alternative straws that I can’t believe plastic straws are still a thing. We have silicone, metal, bamboo, and paper straws. (our favorite are silicone). This was a very simple fix that can have a big impact on your plastic consumption.
It’s not just straws though. It’s disposable razors, coffee cups, and lids, shampoo bottles, plastic cutlery, etc. The list goes on and on. Purchase some small eco friendly travel products that will cut back on your waste.
Purchase Fair Trade Clothing
Who makes the clothes we wear every day and what kind of conditions do they work in? Have you ever asked yourself this question?
It’s very tempting to buy clothing from Old Navy and H&M. I mean who doesn’t love $10 yoga pants?
However the reality of this that many of these affordable large scale clothing companies pay their employees. The fashion industry is a culprit of depleting the earth’s resources and pretty much-using cheap slave labor to get us our cheap clothes. It’s important to think about these things when purchasing clothing and opt to go for fair trade clothing.
Just a few of my favorite eco-friendly clothing brands are:
Help Educate People
Going off this, many people around the world aren’t aware of the effects of plastic, littering, meat consumption, cheap labor, and soil degradation. Companies like LUSH do a great job informing them. But as travelers, we can help too. Next time someone insists on giving you a plastic bag tell them that plastic doesn’t decompose. When someone has that extra large bbq platter tell them about how harmful the meat industry is to our environment (but not in a douchy I’m a vegan way).
When you see someone littering
try not to scream inform them that a wild animal could die from their waste. We all are people of this earth and should work together to protect it.
Remember though not to be condescending in your help. Be informative and help educate in a productive way.
Travel with a Water Bottle
We both have a collection of travel water bottles and we never forget to bring them on a trip. I do not purchase plastic water bottles anywhere. Always having a waterbottle greatly limits our plastic water bottle purchases. Saving us money and saving the world from yet another wasteful piece of one-time use plastic.
We are big fans of refilling our water bottles from the tap. When we are at restaurants we ask for tap water in a glass. If we are in a country where the water is questionable we either buy large water tanks and refill from there as these are typically reused or we trust that either our Lifestraw Go or Grayl waterbottle will do the job.
I’ve only gotten sick from water once and it was in Uganda a day after we rafted down the Nile river and drank a gallon of Nile river water while thinking I was going to grown.
If you’re having a tough decision about the best travel water bottle on the market we’ve made a post to help you out!
Always Ask for Tap Water
If we are anywhere outside of North America and ask for water with our meals we are almost always given a bottle of water. This is not only completely wasteful but will also cost us an additional $2-$3 per meal. Always specify that you want tap water at restaurants to avoid this (it’s free!).
Pick Up the Trash
Pick up any trash that you see floating about and dispose of it properly. Every little bit counts and it sets an example for others. I can’t even say its the most simple eco-friendly travel tip, but it certainly isn’t hard. Wherever we travel we find ourselves picking up trash even if it’s not ours. You should do the same! Leave a destination better than you found it.
Make Eco Friendly Travel Choices at the Market
If there is an option then try to avoid any plastic at the grocery store. I usually find it easy with things like milk – where there are plastic and paper containers that the milk is filled in. Paper although slowly is degradable, plastic is not. And say NO to businesses that make wasteful decisions. Such as, individually wrapping every single apple/broccoli/pepper in plastic wrap. Ridiculous!
Reuse your Towels
Avoid unnecessary washing and reuse the towels you are given in a hotel or guesthouse (or at home!). In most hotels, this simply just means hanging up your towel so the maid knows that you will use it again and not wash it. You can read about the best travel towels on our site as well. We like to travel with the Youphoria Travel Towel, which dries quickly and folds up small when traveling.
It’s dead simple things like packing a travel towel to become more eco-friendly. If we start out with baby steps and we can make big gains in becoming more environmentally friendly travelers.
Road Trip and Carpool
This is one of my top eco friendly travel tips. Consider taking a road trip instead of flying to help cut down on your carbon emissions. This is especially true when you are a group. Plus it saves on travel costs and provides breathtaking scenery. See our favorite road trips here.
Use Public Transport
When traveling you can help save on carbon emissions by not renting a car and utilizing public transport. Take the bus or train, bike, or walk instead of driving. Also, have yo unheard of BlaBlaCar? It’s a rideshare app that connects travelers looking for rides to similar destinations.
At home in Canmore, we are part of a few Alberta Rideshare groups and people frequently post in there to offer rides and split gas. I’m sure your local hometown has a similar group too!
Return brochures and maps
Destinations spend quite a bit of money, plastic, and paper to provide tourists with glossy brochures and maps. Instead of throwing these out leave them for the next traveler or return them to where you picked them up.
Don’t use Hotel Toiletries
I love when we stay at hotels that have refillable shampoo and soap dispensers! When I see the small little bottles of shampoo, lotion, and soap in hotel bathrooms it makes me cringe because I know that ultimately all those little bottles are used once and then are ending up in the landfill.
I like to travel with my own toiletries, not only because they are always 100% better than what the hotel provides but also because then I’m not wasting these plastic bottles.
If you do end up finding yourself needing to use these just remember to take the unused portion with you. As hotels have to throw these out if even just a little bit is used.
Going off that point if you like or don’t like the way a hotel is doing something leave feedback. Feedback forms and reviews are the best way to get your opinion across to the right person. This also goes for restaurants, coffee shops, and tour operators too.
When I see a coffee shop using metal straws I compliment them on it, note it in a review, recommend it on this blog, and also will return to the establishment. When I see a hotel chain or restaurant being wasteful I will leave constructive criticism with hopes that it will get to the manager and they can make a change.
Avoid Large Scale Cruising
Cruising is one of the most popular ways to take a leisurely carefree vacation. They are relatively inexpensive, provide you with all your food, plan out your days for you, get you from point A to point B, have round the clock entertainment, and make it simple to eat new people. What’s not to love right?
We have made a conscious decision to avoid large scale cruising and you will never see it promoted on this website. However, I have to admit from an outsiders perspective I totally see the appeal of a cruise vacation. Most people don’t have an unlimited amount of vacation time and definitely, don’t have the time to plan a full trip especially if there are kids involved. Cruises do all of that for you and provide day care!
The reality is that large scale cruising is terrible for the environment for so many reasons. First cruises are responsible for dumping all your lovely sewage into the ocean. It’s estimated that 25,000 gallons of sewage waste is dumped per cruise ship a day! They pollute the air and are pretty much floating cities. It’s estimated that a cruiseliner such as Queen Mary 2 emits 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile, compared with 0.257kg for a long-haul flight.
On top of dumping waste into the ocean and polluting the air cruises wreak havoc on the ports they visit and give almost nothing back. Every day thousands of people get off on little tiny islands or cities like Venice, and the economies and environment can’t cope with the numbers. Cruise passengers are given a few hours to explore and maybe invest in a few dollars into a souvenir.
Since all food is covered on the ship, most passengers don’t buy food or beverage where they visit. Most cruise companies also persuade you to book their excursions and often times scare you from going with someone local. While it may seem that the cruise passengers are giving back to the economy in the ports they frequent the economic gain is very little in reality.
In addition, as opposed to the cruise liners working with the places they port, many cruises invest in terminals that only benefit their own economic interests and threaten the ports if they try to raise their prices. The worst news is that it’s projected that over 27 million people will take a cruise this year, so if we really want to be more eco-friendly consider limiting your cruising.
Leave Your Trace
Remember when you are out on trails and hiking to stay on the path if there is one. Be careful where you step and don’t damage the precious ecosystem. Try not to pick flowers and harm plant life. It’s important to follow the rules. If there is a sign saying keep out it’s there for a reason and you should abide by those rules. Don’t be that person ruining sunflowers for the sake of an Instagram photo.
Don’t Touch the Coral
When in the water scuba diving or snorkeling it’s also important not to touch or harm marine life. This is not only harmful to coral, but you could also put yourself in harm’s way by touching something poisonous. Also, make sure to mind your fins and not kick or step on coral and disrupt sediment.
Whether you are on an African safari, sailing around the Mediterranean, or seeing penguins in Antarctica it’s crucial you respect the wildlife. Don’t touch the wildlife and definitely do not feed them. Doing this encourages animals to rely on humans for food and not their own natural diet. Keep the wild! You are in their home and only their to be an observer and revel in their magnificence.
Don’t Engage in Unethical Animal Activities
The World Animal Protection believes at least 550,000 wild animals are suffering in unethical tourist attractions globally and that 110 million people will still visit these attractions per year.
In the last two years of our travels, we’ve found ourselves in many places famed for their wildlife like Africa and Asia. The travels on these two continents have been incredible; however, we’ve noticed a reoccurring theme of questionable animals encounters specifically designed for tourists.
Recently it was promotions for elephant rides in Thailand, and before that donkeys and camels whipped into submission to haul fat tourists around Jordan. Then there were the instances of caged civets in Bali for Luwak coffee or lion walks in South Africa.
To be fair I understand why people want to do things like pet a lion, ride on the back of a dolphin, or sit like a prince on top of an elephant. Travelers are very curious and the chance to get up close and personal with another species is appealing.
The truth is that many of these animals are kept in appalling conditions, beaten to submission, caged, and looked after by (most of the time) inexperienced and poor locals just trying to put food on the table, not a zoologist or scientist. Wildlife interactions are inherently questionable as it forces the wild animal to act in an unnatural way, elephants weren’t made for rides.
Our desire to be close to wild animals could be killing them. To avoid unethical animal encounters make sure to always do your research before booking with a tour operator. Anyone that guarantees wildlife encounters you should be wary about booking. Book with reputable tour operators who are not exploiting animals for profit when you travel. You can find more about ethical animal activities that we recommend here.
When you’re traveling and considering souvenirs, restaurants, cafes, and hotels try to make a conscious effort and buy local products.
Stay away from big chains like TGI Fridays, Marriot Hotels, and Starbucks and instead put your dollars into a local cafe, a hip coffee shop, or a boutique hotel. We like to buy our souvenirs from co-ops when they are around and would always rather give money directly to a local artisan or small shop than a large store.
Just a few of our favorite places around the world have been:
- Upendo in Zanzibar
- Neema Craft Center in Iringa, Tanzania
- Go Kigali in Kigali, Rwanda
- Mulberry Mongoose in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
- Yellow Flower Cafe in Bali
- Circle Coffee Bar in Hanoi
- Bitty and Beau in Wilmington, North Carolina
Flying, road tripping, train travel, and bus travel all do their damage on the earth. If you are traveling every three days as opposed to every three months your carbon footprint is significantly more. Travel slower, stay in one place, and get to know a destination better instead of hopping around so much.
Offset Your Flying
Both short and long haul flights use a massive amount of C02. Frequent travelers have a huge carbon footprint because of this and we are no exception. Of course, you can travel slower and pledge to take fewer flights, but another thing you can do to give back is offset your flying. Almost everything we do from driving a car to heating our house contributes to our carbon footprint.
Thankfully, you can offset the carbon you produce by purchasing carbon offsets through a number of programs. For those that don’t know what this is, a carbon offset is a financial contribution to projects that help reduce CO2 emissions, like tree planting and reforestation. The Nature Conservancy and The Carbon Footprint calculator have free CO2 emission calculators that let you punch in your flights and it will tell you how much you need to donate to offset your carbon.
Ready to do your part and do more eco friendly travel?
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get ultra low.
- Book a Rental Car: We use Discover Car to book all our rental cars! You can also read our top tips for renting a car abroad here.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.