Sustainable Travel Tips from a Self-Declared Road Warrior

This shouldn’t be a shocker to you, but I LOVE TO TRAVEL AND I DO IT A LOT. I spend close to 75% of my time on the road; four or five days a week for work (hello, 6 am Monday flights) and one or two weekends a month exploring new (or favorite) destinations. And as much as I LOVE traveling, I’ve also begun to realize how much it takes a toll on the communities I visit. There are a lot of things I’ve done recently to try to make my road warrior status more environmentally and community friendly, so I thought I would share it with you in case you’re trying to turn your Platinum Status green.

Carry a reusable water bottle

This is the most obvious and probably most frequently heard travel/life tip. But, I can’t help but agree. Not only do the little plastic cups they give you on a flight NOT HOLD ENOUGH WATER, but they’re also horrible for the environment. I’ve switched to a swell waterbottle for all my travels and fill it up at a drinking fountain in the airport before boarding. Then, I use it for my whole trip which means I don’t have to buy any more water bottles or pay $8 for a Fuji water at the hotel. I’m also planning on buying a water bottle with a filter for some international travel soon!

Brands I love:

swell, Hydro Flask, Grayl (I don’t actually own a Grayl yet, but plan to buy one soon as my filtered water bottle option!)

Book direct flights

Turns out, non-direct flights don’t only suck for you, but also for the environment. Taking off and landing uses a lot of energy and puts out a lot of carbon. I know it can be WAY MORE EXPENSIVE sometimes, but, when possible, book direct.

Bring a reusable bag

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wished I had a reusable bag when traveling. Whether it’s because I’m buying souvenirs or fresh fruit at a market, I always wish I had something to carry stuff in. Recently, I got a packable backpack and I use it ALL THE TIME. Get one that’s small so you can easily stuff it into your carry-on, but durable enough to carry a variety of items in (such as the wooden bowl and utensils I just HAD to buy in Africa then had to carry around all day).

Brands I love:

Everlane (tbh this is the only one that I found and really love bc it’s cute and also sustainably made. Gold star for you Everlane.)

Stay, shop and eat local

Did you know that only a small percentage of your money spent while traveling actually goes to locals? The easiest way to improve that stat and support the community you’re visiting is by making sure you're spending your money at locally owned businesses. When it comes to accommodations, we often opt to stay at boutique, independently-owned hotels instead of hotel chains (bonus points for booking directly!) or airbnbs (specifically airbnbs not owned by locals).

When scouting for places to eat, we avoid tourist hot spots and instead look for spots that are frequented by locals and owned by members of the community.

And, when we shop, we do our best to make sure that any souvenirs we purchase are handmade. We’ve found that the touristy “markets” tend to have mass-produced trinkets that they claim are handmade, so this can be difficult and, often, more expensive. Doing this, however, means that not only are we having a more authentic experience, but also supporting the community and investing in higher-quality goods and experiences.

Budget tip:

Couchsurfing is a great way to save money and find local favorites!

Pay for CO2 offsets

With more people talking about carbon footprints, travel companies have started to allow you to pay to offset your carbon footprint (typically by planting trees) when you travel. Normally it’s a box that you check when purchasing a flight or car rental, and it’s typically only a few dollars.

Stay at eco-friendly hotels

A lot of hotels have been working hard to become more eco-conscious and there are groups out there working to recognize those efforts. When booking a hotel, look for one with an eco-friendly certification. There are a lot of different certifications, but these are a few of the most popular:

Bring your own toiletries

Packing your own toiletries is a good idea for a few reasons. One - hotel shampoo and conditioner sucks 75% of the time. Save your hair and bring some from home. Two - hotel toiletries are typically packaged in single-use plastic which is just thrown out once you’re done. If you can avoid using them, that means less plastic ending up in landfills and our oceans. Three - hotel toiletries tend to result in a lot of waste. Who uses an entire bar of soap during a hotel stay? Very few people. Sadly, the majority of the time these leftovers are just thrown out (although there are a few startups trying to solve that problem). Packing your own means you’re not adding to that waste.

Pack light

As someone who has experienced the headache of an airline losing a bag, I can tell you there are multiple reasons not to check a bag. First, losing a bag sucks. An airline lost my bag for SIX WEEKS only to find that it never left my origin airport. This happened at the beginning of a two-month trip and resulted in me buying a lot of clothes on the road (this is also why I highly recommend getting travel insurance). Second, packing light is better for the environment since it means less weight on the plane and thus less fuel used. And third, waiting at baggage claim is the worst. Stick with a carry on and your travel experience will already be off to a smoother start.

Turn down the turndown

A lot of hotels (especially chains) have implemented rewards programs for turning down room cleanings. As much as I do love coming back to a clean room and freshly-made bed, I’ve come to realize that I don’t need it. Hotels use a huge amount of water washing towels and linens, electricity while vacuuming and chemicals while cleaning. Saying no to these services make a huge difference and it’s as simple as leaving the “do not disturb” sign on your door.

Take public transportation

As much as I love Lyft, I’ve been making an effort to take public transportation as much as possible. Not only does it save A LOT of money, but it’s also miles better for the environment. If public transportation isn’t an option, then I use Via, Lyft Line or Uber Pool when I can.

Stick to small tour companies

Tours are great ways to experience cities without having to do hours and hours of research on your own. When we opt for a guided tour, we look for smaller companies that are owned by and employ locals. That way, we have access to someone who really knows the area and we know that our money is going back into the community. Additionally, look for companies that are certified eco-friendly (such as through the International Ecotourism Society).

Use reef-safe sunscreen

I think we should probably write a whole post on sunscreen, but for now, we’ll keep it short. Most sunscreens are really bad for the environment (google: coral bleaching) and you (your skin is an organ and putting toxins on it might not be the best idea, ya know?). Rather than reaching for the cheapest option at the drug store, look for ones that use physical sunblocks (such as titanium or zinc oxide) instead of chemical ones.

Brands I love:

Mama Kuleana, Manda Sun Paste, All Good, ThinkSport and Bare Republic

Avoid animal tourism

This is another topic that deserves its own article. The Spark Notes (and PG) version though is: avoid animal tourism. Companies that employ animals often mistreat them and, to be honest, wild animals should be in the wild. If you are participating in an activity that involves animals (such as a safari or scuba diving), make sure you do research on the company ahead of time to ensure that conservation efforts and animal welfare are taken into consideration.

Give maps and pamphlets to the front desk

If you're like us, you end your trip and have somehow accumulated 12 different pamphlets on what to do while you’re visiting. Rather than just dumping these, give them to the front desk at your hotel so they can pass them on to the next guest in need.

There are so many things you can do while traveling to make sure you’re supporting the culture, community, and environment. What are some of your favorite sustainable travel hacks? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!