21 Travel Tips: Sustainable Tourism Best Practices

A road and green surroundings, showing some sustainable tourism
A road and green surroundings, showing some sustainable tourism

Sustainable travel is travel that is conscious of its impact on the environment, economy, and society. It is really important to use sustainable tourism best practices. If you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint while exploring the world, you’ve come to the right place. 

Sustainable travel is also known as sustainable tourism. The 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”. 

When we make a conscious effort to use sustainable tourism best practices then we seek to minimise negative impacts and maximise positive ones. While still providing a meaningful and enjoyable experience. The good news is many of these sustainable options are actually cheaper!

Why Is Sustainable Travel Important?

Travel is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The world would produce much less waste if no one ever travelled! However people need to be realistic and must be able to travel, both for work and for leisure. We have to be mindful of our sustainable tourism best practices while we are travelling. This will minimise the impact we leave behind.

Sustainable tourism best practices encourage you to promote the conservation of natural resources such as water and energy. We also want to conserve wildlife habitats, do no harm, protect ecosystems and encourage biodiversity. Both for the local environment and wildlife but also the local human communities. These practices also include minimising air and water pollution by prioritising transportation that is as eco friendly as possible. Also choosing accommodation that is the least wasteful and also choosing experiences, dining options and activities that have the least footprint.

We also want to keep in mind the culture and heritage of the destinations we visit. Let’s respect and preserve the identity and authenticity of the local community and participate in it as well. We want to engage with local businesses and art as well of course. In these ways we can boost the local economy and learn from the locals. 

All these things increase the long term viability of both the local destinations and the travel and tourism industry and lead to a more sustainable future.

Here are some sustainable tourism best practices to make your travels more sustainable:

A nice cosy accomodation example for sustainable tourism best practices

Sustainable Accommodation Best Practices

  1. First thing’s first, when looking at sustainable tourism best practices, let’s start by looking at sustainable accommodation. Look for home stays, camping opportunities, cabins, sustainable retreats, and especially off-grid cottages or tiny homes. Hostels and shared accommodation are good as well if you’re up for that. Look for a business that advertises their sustainable and ethical practices. The smaller and more shared facilities place you book, the less environmental impact you will contribute to.
    Booking.com has search filter for accommodation with sustainability certification. Read more here
    Google has eco-certified hotels and hostels with sustainable practices. Read more here
    Airbnb doesn’t have a specific sustainable search option, but you can filter your results by clicking camping, off-grid and containers, to see what’s in your destination.

    Look up a few options in the area you want to stay, and then compare the ethical and sustainable options that the hosts offer. Email the hosts and ask them some questions and see what they say, and then choose the most sustainable accommodation. Look for a place that considers and minimises their environmental impact and their sustainable tourism best practices.
  2. Consider house sitting, as there are websites that can hook you up with a host in the city you want to visit. The host will be planning a trip themselves and need someone to look after their home while they’re away. You may need to look after some plants or pets, but you’ll get free (or close to free) accommodation in exchange.
    House sitting is a good option as the house would otherwise sit unoccupied. The host has to pay the bills and the use of it anyway. So instead of wasting that space, at least having you stay uses the space.
    You can find house sitting opportunities by:
    -Joining a free Facebook group
    -For more security joining a paid site such as TrustedHousesitters
  3. Look at how you can continue recycling and composting while you are travelling. Message your host to ask what they provide at the accommodation. If they don’t have access to recycling or composting there, you can gently let me know that it would be important to you if they considered adding those options to their service. But for this time, find out what options the local council has for community recycling and composting. There should be a local drop off point where you can take your waste in containers. This may seem like a hassle, but consider how much it would decrease your environmental impact while you are away.
  4. Try to find accommodation with access to cooking facilities such as kettle, microwave, or kitchen. This will allow you to cook for yourself and therefore choose more sustainable and ethically sourced foods. There are many amazing things that can be cooked in a microwave. If you can’t find accommodation with these amenities, that’s okay. Just bring a collapsible travel kettle or electric coffee pot so you still have access to hot water. This will mean you can make your tea, coffee, and simple meals like noodles.
    Not to mention, if you can cook in your accommodation for some of the time, then you will save more money for nicer and more sustainable dining options when you do choose to go out.

  1. For sustainable dining, eat and get your groceries at local markets or bulk food stores, like Providence Foods. Whether it’s a farmer’s market or local fresh food market, this is where you’ll find fresh, local food. Which already means it’s more sustainable than a franchise or big company that is more focused on getting people through their door than the food quality and origins.
    Markets and their vendors tend to sell more sustainable products, and use less plastic packaging. You can often bring your own containers to markets. Although some countries still find this a foreign concept, it is still worth asking. Also remember to bring your own carry bag as well.
    Market food is usually locally sourced, which means less emission from transportation costs. The food is fresher and often cheaper as well.
  2. Look up sustainable restaurants in the city/town you’re staying at. Try opening up Google Maps and typing in sustainable dining, sustainable cafe, sustainable restaurant and sustainable brewery.
    Look for signage and marketing from the cafe explaining how they use sustainable tourism best practices. Like how they lower their waste, use sustainable or biodegradable materials, stay away from single use plastics, and source good quality suppliers. These are all signs that they really are sustainable. Stay away from “green” marketing that isn’t backed up by sustainable actions. Sometimes the word Green might be on advertising material but there is no other sign of sustainability.
  3. Try to order food that’s local and in season, and look for restaurants who are upfront about where they source their food. Only order what you will eat or take a reusable container with you so that you can bring leftovers home and then actually eat the leftovers later!

A computer with the recycle logo, showing we are searching for sustainable air travel

How to Make Air Travel More Sustainable

  1. There are a few principles on how to make air travel more sustainable. Fly economy, fly the most direct route and only fly when there is no train or other transport option for your trip. This means you are keeping the emissions from air travel to an absolute minimum. Also, pack as light as possible, as this uses less fuel as well (more on this later).
  2. Finding greener flights – Look for ‘green’ options when you book your flight through sites like SkyScanner. SkyScanner will show you greener options in your search results which are more eco friendly and have less emissions.
    Some carriers own more eco-friendly planes. Have a read about aircrafts with less emissions here.
  3. Despite your best attempts, even greener flights still produce a lot of carbon emissions, so you can use a flight calculator to work out a carbon offset for your trip. A carbon offset is an action you can take to compensate for the emissions of carbon dioxide that you have used for your flight. Your offset will be a donation to a not for profit organisation that works on climate protection projects. The idea is that you calculate a dollar amount of the contribution you have made to environmental damage, and you donate that amount to either remove or prevent the same amount we just emitted.

    Read more about carbon offsets here. Here is a comparison of carbon emission calculators Here is the main carbon emission calculator recommended by the article. Type in your trip details and the website will give you a dollar amount, then give you the option to donate that amount to their environmental projects.

An overnight bus, which is an examples of sustainable tourism

Other Sustainable Transportation Best Practices

  1. Transportation is important to consider when you are looking at sustainable tourism best practices. First of all, if you can… walk! Take a stroll, enjoy the view, jog there for a bit of exercise and if you run out of time, use public transport or think of a sustainable option mentioned below. Walking is amazing as it emits no emission, beside the C02 you breathe and you really get to experience the place you are in. Sometimes the most unique experiences come from going with the flow. Don’t be afraid to change your plans or try something new, in general, but also with getting around
  2. Not walking? Then choose your transportation wisely. Consider which way of getting around is the most sustainable for every part of the journey.
    For short trips, if you can’t or don’t want to walk, hire a bike, e-bike or e-scooter.
    Taking a bus is more sustainable than a train as long as the bus doesn’t use diesel fuel, so ask the bus company what fuel they use.
    A train is more sustainable than a plane.
    A ferry can be an option if it offers a shortcut to your destination, however ferries generally use fossil fuel and high speed ferries use a higher amount, higher than what a plane would use. However if you have the option of a sailboat or electric boat instead of an engine boat, say yes to that!
  3. Use electric vehicles (EVs) where possible. EVs as a general rule are more sustainable than their non-electric counterparts. Choose trams! Choose electric trains and subways over other trains. If using Uber, choose Uber Green, they currently use hybrids as well as EVs, but Uber has a goal to be all electric in the future.
    If you must hire a car, try to hire an electric car. using electricity as your preferred fuel type is a great way to feed into sustainable tourism best practices while you are away!
    In Australia: www.evee.com.au is the go to website for hiring an electric vehicle.
    If you can’t find a fully electric vehicle to hire, try to find a hybrid car, and use the electric option as much as possible.

A bag with items someone will pack for their sustainable travel trip

Packing Tips for Travelling Sustainably

  1. Pack light. This will use less fuel, and have less waste. Check with your airline about what’s allowed for carry-on baggage. Figure out your non-negotiables and pack those, but try to cut down on everything else. Look for multi-purpose travel items, such as a light scarf that can be used as a blanket, belt, or even a baby blanket. Don’t bring items you’re unsure about, as you can always find laundry options wherever you’re staying and do a quick hand wash of something in the bathroom sink.
  2. Buy second-hand travel items, repurpose things you have at home, or borrow from friends. You don’t need to buy everything new for your trip.
  3. Bring a refillable water bottle, and avoid buying bottled water. Fill up in the morning at your accommodation before leaving for the day and throughout the day look for places to refill. If you’re in a destination that doesn’t always have drinking water available, you can fill your drink bottle with cooled boiled water in the morning, or have a drink bottle with a filter in it.
    Even on your flight – bring the water bottle empty, then after you have boarded you can ask your flight attendant to fill it up with water.
  4. Bring a few elastic bands or hair ties on your trip, they are super handy and can be a lifesaver when you travel. When you buy a bag of chips or biscuits, and want to save some for later, use a it to close up the bag. If something breaks you can do a quick fix to get you through your trip until you get home, instead of having to buy a replacement just for the trip.

two people travelling around a park, as a great example for sustainable tourism best practices

More Tips for Sustainable Travel

  1. Limit shopping at your destination – no souvenirs or impulse buying, if you see something you really value then buy it but otherwise leave your shopping habit at home and just try to enjoy your destination. Send friends a postcard or a picture online instead of buying a souvenir. Maybe buy yourself a magnet for your fridge for the memories.
  2. Consider volunteering or working while traveling, and choose organisations which promote sustainability and ethical practices. Many organisations offer free accommodation and meals in exchange for work as an option as well. This can be a great way to save money and have a unique experience, and to contribute to the community while you are travelling. Websites like Workaway, WWOOF and HelpX can help you find these opportunities.
  3. Join a Free Walking Tour in the city you are visiting!
    It will be advertised as free, but you are expected to leave a tip. The money goes straight to the tour guide and is the way that they earn their living. This is a great way to see the city on foot or via public transport, and having a local show you around will mean you learn a lot about the place as well.
  4. When looking for experiences at your destination, go to national parks, go to animal conservation establishments rather than zoos or animal experiences that are just there to please the crowd and in general look for experiences that have a low carbon footprint. If you’re going swimming, try to swim in natural spaces like rivers and beaches instead of indoor swimming pools.

When thinking about sustainable tourism best practices do not over schedule your trip. Leave some time for relaxation and spontaneity. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to see and do everything, but this can lead to burnout and overspending on things you don’t need or won’t use again. Allow yourself some downtime to just wander and explore.
Travel doesn’t have to be wasteful. By being savvy and making a few adjustments, you can have an amazing experience while also being green. So go ahead and plan that dream vacation – your planet (and your memories) will thank you!