Continuously updating this page with new tips and resources as I learn about them. I am deliberately avoiding the word sustainable here because it has been largely hijacked by corporate greenwashing and has no discernible meaning anymore. I believe it’s better to think of this as environmentally conscious travel — not perfect, but being more aware of one’s responsibility to the planet and to fellow human beings and beginning to make changes to the way we travel to reflect that recognition.
Get into the right mentality
- Nobody is perfect when they travel. It is impossible to have a zero or negative carbon footprint and near-impossible to avoid using plastic. It’s about being thoughtful, planning a little extra ahead of time, and doing the best you can.
Reduce and substitute single-use plastic
- Bring reusable utensils, including straws. I travel with a set of straw wheat utensils (seen here in New Zealand) that are sturdy enough to eat with and light enough to pack on the go. I even use these for airplane meals.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. For countries where the tap water quality is somewhere between OK and iffy, boil tap water first using the electric kettle provided in hotel rooms.
- Bring reusable hotel slippers. I have a pair from a hotel in Zurich that were surprisingly sturdy. Now I travel with them everywhere instead of opening up new packets of shoddily made, paper-thin slippers.
- Choose hotels that use less single-use plastic. This means hotels that have replaced small toiletries with large shampoo and gel dispensers in the shower and hotels that provide drinking water in glass bottles rather than plastic.
- When purchasing beverages, go for glass bottles > aluminum > PET plastic > other plastic and place in the appropriate recycling bins if that infrastructure is in place. In some places, you can pass along empty bottles to waste collectors who earn an income from selling these materials to recycling plants or community waste banks.
Reduce carbon footprint
- Don’t fly if you can easily get there by train. Easier said than done when you don’t live in Europe, I know. My personal rule (since October 2019) is to not fly somewhere if I can reach it in under 10 hours by train.
- When booking a flight, donate to projects that work on carbon emissions reduction. The New York Times uses Cool Effect to “offset” its staff travel (dubious language but at least it’s going towards something useful).
- Adjust your diet to reduce its environmental impact, which can include reducing meat (especially beef) consumption and replacing milk with oat milk.
Support local communities and livelihoods
- Support Indigenous communities who are safeguarding the world’s precious natural habitats, like the Amazon rainforest. Visit eco-tourism sites that are owned and run by Indigenous Peoples and local communities and directly benefit and create jobs for the community (example). Show solidarity with communities through supporting campaigns for secure land rights.
- Avoid haggling if the price offered is already a fair one.
- Stay in independent or family-run B&Bs rather than big chain hotels. Avoid staying in Airbnbs in cities with out-of-control rent, like New York.
Take public transportation
- Self-explanatory. Vote with your wallet. Resist the privatization of essential government services like mass rapid transit.