11 Eco Friendly Travel Tips Anyone Can Use

Written by • Last Updated March 10, 2021

Let’s be honest–every trip we take adds to our carbon footprint. And for those of us trying to live a low impact life, that can cause a lot of stress. But with the help of these eco friendly travel tips, you can explore the world more sustainably.

I love to travel. In fact, it’s a big reason why I moved to Europe and became a travel writer and photographer!

Eco friendly traveling may sound like an oxymoron, but it is possible. And it’s as much about the choices you make before your vacation as while you’re on it.

Traveling is a privilege, and it is our responsibility to ensure we are doing so as sustainably as possible. Here are the eco friendly travel tips that I implement for every trip.

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#1. Unplug your home before you go

Green travel begins before you even leave the house! When you go on vacation, remember to turn off all the lights, and unplug electronics and any other appliances that don’t need constant power (like the microwave).

Even if you’re only going away overnight, this will stop unnecessary energy use and save you money on your utility bill.

#2. Embrace eco friendly packing

Man wearing blue eco friendly travel backpack walking down street.

Are you the kind of person who packs three pairs of shoes for a weekend getaway? Do you regularly check the airline’s website to see if your giant rolling suitcase fits the size requirements?

As an anxious person, I totally understand the urge to overpack. But as a frequent traveler with limited time, I learned to love packing light.

Packing only the essentials is a key part of eco friendly traveling. Why? Because every extra pound of cargo on a plane increases the flight’s carbon footprint.

Less luggage flying through the air means less fuel is needed to get from point A to point B.

Personally, 90% of my trips are carry-on only. I regularly pack for 7-10 days in a travel backpack. And let me tell you–breezing past luggage claim and being the first in line at border control is priceless.

The Osprey Fairview is my favorite travel pack, but you can check out my post on eco friendly backpacks for more options.

Using a long-lasting, sustainably made travel bag stops unnecessary materials from winding up in landfills and saves you money in the long run.

#3. Create a zero waste travel kit

No matter what type of traveler you are, one of the best sustainable travel tips is to pack zero waste products.

Here are some of the benefits of using a waste free travel kit:

  • No more last-minute shopping for travel-size toiletries
  • No more desperate searches for recycling bins
  • No more guilt when you see beautiful places littered with plastic waste

I’ve written an entire post about my zero waste travel kit, but at minimum I recommend bringing along a reusable water bottle.

This stainless steel bottle from Tree Tribe is a game changer. These bottles are BPA and plastic-free, and Tree Tribe also plants a tree for every purchase.

Here are some other items in my travel kit:

#4. Fly direct when possible

Interior of airplane with aisle full of blue chairs.

Look, I get it: direct flights can cost over double what a flight with layovers costs. Sometimes direct flight options don’t exist. I would never suggest that people can only take direct flights.

However, nonstop flights can greatly reduce your trip’s carbon footprint, as airplane take-offs use a ton of fuel vs. cruising at altitude. Plus, less layovers means more time in your destination, and isn’t that just the definition of a win-win? 

#5. Use eco friendly sunscreen

Whether you are relaxing at the beach or walking around a new city, your skin needs protection from the sun. But because mass market sunblock is notoriously full of environmental toxins, one of my top eco travel tips is to buy all-natural sunscreen.

Chemical-free sunscreen is, of course, better for your skin, but it’s also good for delicate aquatic ecosystems. In fact, more and more destinations are starting to require visitors to use reef-safe sunscreen.

This Badger sunscreen is my favorite, but you can find all the best brands in my post on zero waste sunscreen.

#6. Rely on public transport

Japan bullet train traveling between pink flower field and Mt. Fuji.

Growing up in a US city with zero public transit, you can imagine how overwhemling it was to navigate Tokyo’s complex metro system! And yet, with a little help from Google Maps, I managed to get around the city with zero problems.

When you’re exploring a new place, it’s tempting to rely on private transportation options like taxis or Ubers to get from point A to B. But in most cases, using public transit is both straightforward and eco conscious.

Public transport uses less fuel per person, therefore reducing your carbon footprint. It’s also a great way to see a less touristy side of the city.

However, if your destination requires a car to get around, consider booking a hybrid or electric vehicle. They produce far fewer emissions than traditional gas vehicles.

Save me for later!

#7. Shop and eat local

If you want to help the local economy and the planet, one of the best eco friendly travel tips is to eat local. And outside of dietary restrictions, why wouldn’t you want to try the regional cuisine?

Just like at home, eating at places with locally-sourced ingredients lowers your environmental impact. While it’s fine to indulge in a chain restaurant meal every now and then, choosing small, sustainable establishments is ideal.

And the local element extends to shopping, too. Buying local produce, ethically-made souvenirs, and other goods is all part of traveling sustainably. Plus, it’s a great way to experience the area’s culture and see a less touristy side of a destination.

#8. Avoid unethical wildlife tourism

Man washing elephant with hose in the jungle.

Riding elephants or swimming with dolphins might sound like once in a lifetime activities, but the vast majority of animal tourism is unethical, if not downright harmful.

For example, riding elephants is one of the most popular things to do in Thailand. However, elephants’ spines are not physiologically designed to support the weight of a person. Not to mention the horiffic abuse elephants undergo to become “tame” enough for rides.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid 100% of experiences that involve animals. But it’s essential that you do your research on the company. One of my favorite travel bloggers has shared a few recommendations for ethical animal experiences.

#9. Take sustainable tours

Tours are convenient. The company makes all the arrangements and takes the guesswork out of everything, which is especially nice for shorter trips when you want to see as much as possible.

However, not all tour companies are created equal. There are downsides to both international companies and local ones, including issues with both around exploitation and questions of where your money goes.

Tours can really enhance your trip, but like with animal encounters, make sure you do your research and use companies with good reputations and sustainable practices.

If your trip involves voluntourism, the business should be working with NGOs and have clear evidence that the community’s needs are being addressed by the program. Just because the activity makes you feel good doesn’t mean it will have a positive impact.

#10. Skip the daily towel replacement and turn down service

Hotel bed with grey cover and pile of white, folded towels on top.

I used to think one of the best parts of travel was the brand new sheets each day. It felt like the height of luxury. But now I recognize this practice puts an unnecessary strain on both the planet and the staff.

The same goes for towels. Unless you are scrubbing mud off everyday from crazy hiking adventures, there’s just no reason you can’t reuse the same towel for several days.

Some places, especially eco-lodgings, now charge extra if you have turn down service. And I even received a discount once for agreeing I wouldn’t use any additional towels or linens!

#11. Engage in slow travel

As far as green travel tips, this is one of the best to do but the hardest to put into action. Most of us are only able to take a few trips a year and for a short period of time.

However, if even you only have a few weeks of vacation a year, slow travel is the way to go.

I have a long travel bucket list, and I want to see as much of it as possible. But I can tell you from experience that rushing from city to city is far less enjoyable than savoring one destination at a time.

For example, my husband and I took a seven day trip to Italy. While most travel guides would have you squeeze Naples, Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice into that amount of time, we opted for a two city itinerary with a short local day trip. Spending a full four days in Bologna and two days in Venice was infinitely better than racing around and battling crowds during the typical day trip.

Not only does slow travel put less strain on the environment, but it allows you to get to know a place and its culture in a way that whirlwind trips just don’t allow for.

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