Eco-Friendly An Ecotravelist’s Tips for Lower-Impact Travel

by Sarah Reid | May 16, 2018

As a travel writer who specializes in sustainable travel, nothing triggers my eco-guilt quite like the impact created by the flights to and exploration of a destination.

Just consider that flying contributes an estimated 2.5% to total carbon emissions. But you don’t need to surrender your passport to reduce your carbon footprint — there are several ways to lessen the impact of travel without entirely abandoning your wanderlust.

Go nonstop

Planning travel for destinations within driving distance or within a short flight, is the most effective way to keep emissions low. When work takes me farther afield, I opt for nonstop flights wherever possible.

Offset your carbon usage

Choosing to carbon-offset your transportation doesn’t cancel out the emissions produced, but it certainly helps to make up for it. If you like to have more control over how your carbon-offset dollars are spent, consider using a free online carbon calculator (such as Climate Care) to calculate emissions. (And keep in mind: As luxurious-feeling as it is to travel business class, those seats occupy twice as much space — which roughly doubles the emissions they represent per person over a coach seat.) You could opt to donate the equivalent of your carbon “expense” to a program like Carbon Fund, TerraPass or the World Wide Fund For Nature’s Gold Standard program.

Planning travel for destinations within driving distance or within a short flight, is the most effective way to keep emissions low.
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Rest easy in sustainable hotels

Not all hotels are as environmentally conscious as you. To find a bed away from home that the eco-traveler in you can feel comfortable in, consider searching sustainable-hotel booking websites that hand-pick the properties they list based on a strict set of sustainable guidelines. BookDifferent, Kynder, It Must Be Now and Sustainable Traveller are a few to check out.

I take the same approach to booking tours, and opt for companies dedicated to sustainable tourism practices wherever possible. Some of the services that have emerged in this space include Intrepid Travel, Rickshaw Travel and G Adventures. You can get a good sense of a tour company’s values by checking its website — evidence of eco-certification (most countries have their own certification program) is essential.

Sites like, Responsible Travel and Holidays for Humanity also allow users to reserve environmentally conscious experiences such as bike tours, wellness retreats and volunteer opportunities.

Pack for the planet

Simply packing light can help to reduce your emissions, as it creates less weight for vehicles to carry. Investing in travel accessories such as a carry-on bag, water bottle and even a reusable straw may help limit the waste you create on the road.

I decant eco-friendly toiletries into travel-size reusable bottles to avoid consuming the single-use hotel bathroom products. To curb the need to purchase bottled waters, I travel with a water-purifying device such as a SteriPen or Grayl bottle. And I’m considering testing out on my next trip a tiny portable washing machine, called the Scrubba Wash Bag, that helps conserve water.

Sarah drinking tropical drink with a metal straw

Travel mindfully

It’s possible to minimize your travel footprint at all stages of your trip. You can even make a difference in flight from lowering your window shade to save energy (yes, really), to declining plastic cups and coffee stirrers during drink service. Most flight attendants will fill your personal water bottle for you if you ask nicely.

When you arrive at your destination, consider using public transport or rideshare apps rather than taxis, and walk wherever you feel safe — which doubles as a fantastic way to familiarize yourself with your new destination and see the sights.

Once you arrive at your hotel, minimize your impact by reusing towels, turning off the lights and air conditioning when you’re out, and being mindful of your water consumption. Some hotels even reward guests for taking these initiatives.

Think local

One of my favorite things about travel is the opportunity it provides to truly immerse myself in other cultures. For the deep sensory experience of a place, I seek out and sample locally sourced and made products and food. And because those items have shorter journeys to market, they represent less of an environmental burden. (Not to mention they boost the local economy and support local culture.)

I often use the Locavore app to source farmers markets in my destination and try to minimize my red meat consumption, which creates five times the emissions of chicken and pork. The Happy Cow app comes in handy for locating restaurants with good veg options.

You can even help to combat food waste (predicted to account for one-tenth of global emissions by 2050) by downloading the Too Good to Go app when you’re traveling in the UK, which allows you to purchase surplus food from restaurants at a discount.

Leave no trace

The “leave no trace” philosophy isn’t just about packing out your trash in wilderness areas — it’s also about being mindful of your total ecological footprint. Eschewing plastic bottles, cups, bags, takeaway containers and straws are the simplest steps you can take to reduce your impact, and thanks to a recent proliferation of plastic-free directories around the world, it’s easier than ever to support cafes, bars, stores and even hotels that have committed to a more sustainable future. You don’t even need to decline single-use plastic bags from retailers in places like Hawaii, California, Rwanda and even Morocco — those places have already banned them.

When visiting destinations that struggle to cope with the volume of trash produced, (such as Bali, which recently declared a “garbage emergency”) I try to go one step further by taking recyclable trash home and disposing of it properly.

Sarah on a bike at the beach in the Seychelles

It’s not always easy to be a green traveler but making a conscious effort counts for a lot. Building these tips and tricks into your travel routine can help offset your environmental impact and help you have an even lovelier — and lighter — vacation.

Sarah Reid

is forever looking for ways to boost her own carbon karma. Her work has appeared in Lonely Planet, The Guardian, Get Lost Magazine and her Ecotravelist website.