In the excitement of trip planning and anticipation of exploring a new destination, travelers often overlook the impact they have on the environment. Myself included. Before you set off on your next adventure, check out these sustainable travel tips every backpacker can follow.
To help me with this post, I talked to April, the blogger behind Just Leaving Footprints. On her blog, April shares her journey to see as much of the world as she can while taking care of it as best she can. Everywhere she goes, April aims to “take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
In her experience, April said most travelers have at least some idea as to what sustainable travel is. However, many are unsure what eco-friendly travel tips they should be implementing. Count me among them!
This post breaks down how travel affects the environment and details what sustainable travel means. Don’t miss the green travel tips even travelers on a budget can use!
Table of Contents
How does travel affect the environment?
If you thought the only consequence of flying to the other side of the world is jet lag, you were wrong. Any form of transportation that relies on fossil fuels contributes to climate change. The worst offender? Planes. While flying at high altitudes, planes release greenhouse gases directly into the most vulnerable parts of the atmosphere.
Between 1990 and 2006, greenhouse gas emissions from air travel increased 87 percent in the European Union. With the ever-increasing popularity of budget airlines like Ryanair, the damage to the environment continues.
The atmosphere isn’t the only part of the environment travel affects. April noted the consequences of overtourism (a phenomena that occurs when too many travelers visit a particular destination. “Have you heard about the beach in Thailand that had to close down because tourists trashed it so much?” she asked. Whether intentionally littering or not, travelers create a significant amount of waste in the destinations they visit.
On an alternative tour around Barcelona, my guide shared a disgusting yet compelling statistic. He asked the group to consider all the cruise ship passengers visiting Barcelona every year (more than 2 million) and to multiply that by most people’s once-daily poop. He explained the city’s waste management system just wasn’t equipped to deal with it all, which doesn’t bode well for the environment.
What does sustainable travel mean?
Now that you’re sufficiently grossed out, let’s talk about what sustainable travel means. According to April: “Sustainable travel is protecting and respecting the environment, people and animals when you travel.”
Sustainable travel requires a conscious effort. If you’ve never thought about it before, chance are you haven’t been traveling sustainabl (or, at least, doing it as well as you can).
In addition to protecting the environment, sustainable travel can lessen your negative impact on the locals living in the destination you’re visiting.
Why is sustainable travel important?
My personal reason for pursuing sustainable travel is a little selfish. But, hey, whatever gets me to change is good! I believe sustainable travel is important because I want to preserve the world I love exploring. If we don’t take steps to protect it, the cities and countries we treasure might not be the same when its time for our children to experience them.
Furthermore, travel is a privilege. I don’t care how good of a flight deal you scored, you still don’t have the right to take and take without ever stopping to consider your impact. If you’re fortunate enough to travel, you have a responsibility to research the most sustainable ways to travel and put them into practice.
By reading this green travel guide, you’re already halfway there! Now, how about those sustainable travel tips?
Sustainable Travel Tips For Travelers On A Budget
Even budget travelers and backpackers can travel sustainably! April recalled feeling moved to embrace sustainable travel after watching a video about a
April can make a difference. I can make a difference. YOU can make a difference. To get started, here are April’s top sustainable travel tips:
#1: Avoid single-use plastics
Say goodbye to plastic straw, shopping bags and utensils. April said cutting waste all comes down to being prepared. She recommends investing in eco-friendly travel products such as bamboo utensils and a stainless steel straw. If you’re traveling in a country that doesn’t have clean drinking water, consider buying a portable water filter rather than buying bottles of water daily.
You can also avoid single-use plastics by:
- Drinking your coffee at the cafe in a “to-stay” cup
- Always packing a reusable water bottle
- Saying “no straw” when you order a drink
- Bringing a tote bag for groceries or other shopping purchases
#2: Opt for land travel whenever possible
Public transportation is a budget travelers best friend. Save the environment while you’re saving money! Instead of air travel, research train and bus options. In some countries, ride-sharing is a safe, affordable and eco-friendly travel option.
#3: Pick up litter when you see it
When I see trash on the ground, my first thought is always: Ugh. Someone should really pick that up. Well, from now on, that someone will be me. April suggests giving back to whatever beautiful destination you’re enjoying by picking up litter on the beach or hiking trails.
As with all these sustainable travel tips, even a little bit makes a difference!
>> Want to get off the beaten path in Mexico? Learn about
#4: Buy handmade souvenirs from locals
Is that “Made in China” magnet really the best souvenir to remind you of your travels? April advises shopping for your keepsakes at local businesses or buying them directly from local artisans in order to give back to the local economy.
The same goes for tours! Make an effort to give your money to companies that employ locals.
#5: Choose ethical animal encounters
Let’s say it together: We DON’T ride elephants.
If you want to experience the native wildlife, do your homework to find a reputable company that is conscious of its impact on the animals.
#6: Eat like a vegetarian
April committed to a fully vegetarian diet after learning the meat industry is one of the world’s worst polluters. Even living in Mexico, she’s been able to find meat-free options.
Even if you’re not ready to go full-veg (I’m certainly not), you might consider going meat-free for a meal or two. This is also a great budget travel tip as meat is often a more expensive menu item.
#7: Stay in eco-friendly accommodation
Traveling to Mexico? The country is one of the world’s growing sustainable travel destinations. April mentioned an increasing number of eco-hostels and eco-hotels in Mexico.
You can help make any accommodation eco-friendly by declining fresh towels daily and turning off the A/C when you leave the room.
#8: Research your destination’s stance on Airbnb
April said her biggest travel concern for travel in the future is
>> Airbnb isn’t the only affordable option for backpackers Check out this complete guide to budget accommodation! <<
Barcelona now requires Airbnb listings to have a city-approved license. City officials recognized they had to do something as more and more residents (particularly young people) were priced out of living in the city center. Airbnb is popular among budget travelers, but it’s important to respect your destination’s laws concerning vacation rentals. Check to see if your Airbnb rental in Barcelona is legal here.
>> Ditch the crowds in Barcelona and check out these other incredible cities in Spain! <<
Other tips to help combat overtourism
- Plan your trips for the shoulder season or off-season
- Choose accommodation outside of the city center
- Get off the beaten path and visit lesser-known destinations
#9: Constantly ask yourself these important questions
Regardless of whether she is at home or abroad, April said she is always asking herself:
How is this going to affect local people here? How is this going to affect the environment?
Sustainable travel requires both conscious and continuous effort. Every traveler has an opportunity to make a difference. No matter you budget you can and should travel sustainably.
How do you travel sustainably?
A huge thanks to April from Just Leaving Footprints for sharing her sustainable travel tips! If you’d like to see what else she has to say about sustainability, check out her blog here.
Let’s keep the conversation going! Share your sustainable travel ideas with me in the comments, or shoot me a DM on Instagram (@alexnotemily).