Traveling is always an exciting adventure, but it can also be a time where we consume and create additional waste. This ranges from the cheap souvenirs we buy to the transatlantic flights we take. 

According to the scientific journal, Nature Climate Change, tourism is responsible for around 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, there are some simple ways you can reduce your carbon footprint when traveling without much-added effort.

So, what are some easy tips for eco-friendly travel?

Packing

1. Pack the Eco-Friendly Essentials

You don’t have to be a minimalist to be eco-friendly, you just have to be efficient with your packing. Examples of multipurpose and functional items that are eco-friendly travel essentials include:

  • a cloth napkin – wrap up any dry foods or delicate items, you’ll never know when you might need one.  
  • a handkerchief – leave the tissues and wipes at home and clean up any unexpected messes. 
  • a cloth tote bag – a perfect for venturing out during the day and doubling as a grocery bag. 
  • a reusable straw – made from eco-friendly materials, it’s by far the easiest way you can reduce your plastic use.
  •  a glass mason jar – an all-purpose storage container for your dried foods or liquids. Durable and easily washable, no need for any plastic cups or storage containers. 
  • a bamboo toothbrush – spare the plastic travel-sized option and instead use a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush. Lightweight and quick-drying, you’ll never switch back to using a plastic one. 
  • a reusable water bottle – the best on-the-go solution to stay hydrated.

Not only do these all have multiple uses, but they will also take up very little space in your baggage and cost next to nothing!

2. Pack a Capsule Wardrobe 

The duty of packing for a trip is never easy as we always want to be prepared. However, you can still pack lightly. Look to go minimal with your clothing by making a capsule wardrobe.

Pick out your favorite and most-versatile outfits. The goal is to bring items that can be easily mixed and matched with each other to maximize the number of outfits you can wear while packing as little clothing as possible. Pick a neutral color palette for your outfits by sticking to black, white, gray, and tan. Make sure they are items you can layer to be prepared for any unexpected weather change at your destination. Not only will this give you options, but it will also save you packing space.

If you need to laundry while traveling an essential capsule wardrobe can be done in a matter of hours. Avoid packing one-off items or anything that you don’t wear on a regular basis. If you don’t wear it at home, chances are you won’t wear it while traveling!

3. Pack Eco-Friendly Toiletries

Pack your own eco-friendly toiletries so you don’t have to buy them at your destination nor use the single-use travel sized ones at your hotel. Pack only eco-friendly toiletries, which should be plastic-free and have very limited packaging. You can easily transfer them into a small travel-sized container that is allowed in your carry-on baggage (under 3oz or 100ml). 

Some of the best eco-friendly toiletries are those that have multiple uses. Eco-friendly all-purpose soap bars can serve as a great way to wash the face, hands, and body. Shampoo and conditioner are available in 2 in 1 solid soap bar forms. Toothpaste can be made from a simple homemade recipe and then transferred into a small glass jar. Reusable cotton pads can replace single-use makeup remover pads. Look at your makeup and skincare routine and find ways to consolidate different items before your travels.

For feminine hygiene, a reusable menstrual cup is an eco-friendly option that will be more versatile than single-use pads or tampons when traveling and will save you space in your bag.

You can also make your own homemade toiletries and store them in stainless steel containers or small glass jars. This will save you money while lightening your load.

Before You Go

4. Clean out the Fridge

Did you remember to check the fridge before you left for your trip? If you did, you’ll be sure to eat the final bits of your perishable foods so they don’t go to waste. If you don’t have time for this, no problem – just toss them into the freezer for when you get back. You can also give away any extra perishable foods you have to neighbors or coworkers. Anything perishable organic food that you can not eat, freeze, or give away should be composted.

5. Unplug Your Home

Put your home into “sleep mode” by so you don’t consume any energy while you are away. Any electronics or lamps with an off switch should be unplugged, as they can still consume energy when plugged in. Turn off the heat so you can also reduce your heating bill. If you are going away for the winter, it is not recommended to completely turn off the heat, as cold weather can cause pipes to freeze and burst. Instead, lower the thermostat to around 50 degrees.

At Your Destination

6. Public Transport & Walk

Reduce your carbon footprint by taking local public transport or walking to your destination. This works especially great if you are staying in a city center wherein most large cities public transit is easily accessible and very affordable. Avoid taking taxis or renting a car. You’ll find that by walking or taking public transport you will gain a greater sense of direction for your newly found destination. 

7. Eat and Shop Locally

Try out the local cuisine or dishes at your destination, whether it be abroad or domestic. If you do your research beforehand you can find yourself a hidden gem of a restaurant and a memorable meal experience. Save the big chain restaurants for life back at home.

Stimulate small business by shopping at local shops instead of large chain retailers. Chances are you’ll be able to find yourself a unique souvenir or gift to take back home.  

8. Drink the Local Brews

Not only is exploring local food usually great, but the locally brewed beer is too! Most cities in North America and throughout the world have their specialties of craft and domestically brewed beer. By ordering the local brew you’ll be helping out local establishments while wetting your whistle with trying out a tasty brand of suds. 

9. Reduce Your Hotel Waste 

When staying in a hotel, act as if you are staying in your own home. Hang up your towel so the cleaners don’t replace it. Bring and use your own toiletries and avoid using those single-use toiletries like shampoo, soap, and plastic toothbrushes that every hotel offers. 

10. Refuse Plastic 

It’s important to stay hydrated when you travel but avoid buying bottled water which usually comes in single-use plastic bottles. Reduce your plastic use by instead using a reusable water bottle made from eco-friendly materials. If you are traveling abroad research beforehand or ask the locals if the tap water is safe. Otherwise, you can fill up with tap water or filtered water at most establishments. 

Just simply say “no” to the straw. This also goes for plastic cutlery, containers, and cups. If you are prepared with some basic eco-friendly travel essential items (see #1 above). 

11. Travel in Small Groups

If you love to go sightseeing, do so in smaller groups. Large tour groups often consume more and usually ride around in large buses. Travel sites like AirBnB now offer local experiences to book. This way you can see your destination from a local’s perspective and have a cultural experience. 

12. Reduce Carbon Emissions When Flying

Have you ever heard of carbon offsets? These are programs by airlines to offset your CO2 emissions that you have contributed as a passenger. Extra optional fees can be purchased and will go toward programs such as forest replanting, environmental protection, or biodiversity. Most large airlines offer this as an option for eco-conscious passengers looking to reduce their CO2 footprint during their air travel. This may not be a clear option offered by all airlines during your online purchase so look at any sustainability or eco-friendly sections of their site first.

13. Travel by Train

Whether you are traveling to your destination or already at your destination, traveling by train can be a simple and relaxing way to travel. Avoid the long security lines or baggage checking that you would get at an airport, instead enjoy the lovely scenery that traveling by train offers.

14. Interact Ethically With Animals

If you are the type that of traveler that loves experiences with exotic wildlife, make sure you interact with them in an ethical and eco-friendly manner. According to World Animal Protection, 75% of wildlife tourist attractions have a negative impact on animals

First, ask yourself a few key questions:

  • Are the animals clearly suffering or in distress?
  • Do they have access to food and clean water?
  • Is this their natural behavior?

Now, I know these may seem like common sense, but sometimes as tourists, we can be overwhelmed with excitement when we are up close and personal with exotic animals. As a general rule of thumb, if you can ride it, hold it, or take a selfie with it, it’s probably not great for the animal. This doesn’t mean that all wildlife experiences are exploiting animals, just do some research beforehand and look for experiences where animals are treated ethically not used just for the sake of the economy of tourism. 

15. Choose Eco-Friendly Hotels

Look for hotels that have made the effort to be more environmentally friendly. Eco-friendly or “green” hotels make efforts such as: 

  • Water conservation by low flow water flow toilets, showers, and sinks
  • Energy conservation with energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems.
  • Reusable dishes and utensils with organic food.
  • Improved air quality with a strict no-smoking policy
  • Bedding and textiles in rooms made from eco-friendly fabrics.
  • Bulk toiletries provided instead of single-use plastic packaged toiletries to reduce waste. 

Final Thoughts

Regardless of where you go in the world, remember to leave no trace. The World Travel and Tourism Council advises travelers to minimize their plastic waste footprint by doing four simple things: bring your own water bottle, carry a collapsible tote bag, refuse small bottles of toiletries in hotels and recycle your plastic waste. This sounds simple enough and can go a long way for a better planet. I hope all of these eco-friendly travel tips have been helpful and wish you safe travels on your adventure!