How to Be a Conscious Traveler: 10 Eco-Friendly Travel Tips

Conscious travel is more important now than ever as the effects of a booming tourism industry have had negative effects on local communities and environmental conditions. 

This guide is dedicated to teaching you ways to travel more sustainably and preserve the planet for generations of other adventurers to enjoy in the future! These top 10 eco-travel tips will teach you how to be a conscious traveler!

A dirt road surrounded by greenery

1. Cut Out Meat and Dairy

Opting against a diet with animal products is the best thing you can do for the environment as an individual, hands down.

Raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gases than all the trucks and cars in the world combined. You avoid excessive CO2 and methane production that contribute to the rising temperature of the planet, as well as the production of nitrous oxide which damages the ozone layer, a vital component of human life on earth.

You can also save massive amounts of water, avoid the pollution of streams, rivers, and oceans, and reduce the destruction of natural wildlife habitats that are destroyed for agricultural land. 

Some may think that adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet while traveling would be hard to manage, but I’ve found it to be easy to do and oftentimes cheaper! While it may take more research on your location and deliberation over where to eat, the benefits of plant-based diets outweigh the minor inconvenience.

A vietnamese rainbow salad
A Vietnamese Rainbow Salad- one of many vegan options abroad!

If eliminating animal-based products from your diet feels like too much of a commitment, consider just cutting fish out of your diet. The effects of overfishing are immense, and scientists estimate that our oceans will be virtually empty by 2050. The commercial fishing industry has already eliminated 90% of large predatory fish populations since its inception. 

The truth is that there is no such thing as sustainable fishing and animal-raising procedures when dealing with commercial companies, so just avoiding them altogether is a huge step toward not only conscious travel but an eco-friendly lifestyle. 

2. Cultural Exchange or Volunteer Work

Cultural exchange is the best way to become a more conscious traveler as experiences like these highlight the local culture of a host country and allows you to learn about and embrace that culture!

Worldpackers and Workaway are two popular and trustworthy platforms for finding cultural exchanges wherever you want to explore. Each has thousands of opportunities that will allow you to help a local community and oftentimes receive free accommodation and meals in return.

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, links visitors with organic farmers to promote both cultural and educational exchange through the opportunity to work on a farm committed to the sustainability movement. Choosing to participate in a farming project contributes to the local culture and the environment while teaching you more about mother nature.

Hands holding green plants
Consider working for your accommodation and helping the local community

With all-inclusive packages for travelers to volunteer abroad and help out in hundreds of different sustainable initiatives, Give Volunteers is the way to go. With Give, you can combine seeing the world with making an impact and keeping our planet beautiful for generations.

Volunteer programs and work exchanges are not only great resources for cutting costs on your trip but also allow you to experience off-the-beaten-path adventures and learn more about the way of life in your destination. It is common for travelers to gain a greater appreciation for the places they visit after learning more about their roots.

3. Traveling Slowly

Slow travel is a form of travel where one avoids the bustle of constantly moving and checking off new locations and rather focuses on fully experiencing just one place. Slow travel is a way of slowing down in a fast-paced world and allows one to get to know their destination on a deeper level. 

Slow travel is sustainable travel. It allows you to prioritize more eco-friendly transportation options like taking public transportation, walking, or biking. 

“Fast” plane travel creates more emissions than if you were to take a bus or train to your next destination, for example. Luckily, there are many places in the world where this is a possibility. The Eurail that connects dozens of countries in Europe, or shuttle buses that are available at a more affordable cost in regions around the world are a few examples of more eco-friendly transportation.

Laynie posing in front of the Alaska Winter Train
Train and bus travel are less harmful to the environment

Traveling slowly gives you the opportunity to become fully immersed in the local culture, and often allows you to reduce trip costs and your carbon footprint at the same time. Spending more time in a place likely means you will choose more sustainable accommodation for a longer period of time like an apartment, and be able to seek out local shops to frequent. 

Not only does slow travel reduce the stress of planning every day and constantly moving but being able to appreciate the art of slowness is another way to travel green and support ecotourism.

4. Avoiding Single-Use Plastics

Single-use plastics are typically only used for a fraction of the time that they remain on the planet. They persist and pollute for several hundred years after use. The most common single-use plastics include:

  • Plastic bags
  • Cutlery, plates, straws, and stirrers
  • Plastic bottles 
  • Food wrappers
  • Cotton buds

For eco-travelers wanting to reduce their impact on the places they visit, eliminating single-use plastics is the first step to doing so. 

Reusable bamboo silverware
Reusable products like silverware reduce single-use plastics

Carrying a refillable water bottle is an easy way to save money and avoid single-use plastic water bottles. It’s good to invest in a filtered water bottle as well for areas where the local drinking water is not suitable for drinking, with my top choices here.

Reusable cutlery and straws are also great choices to carry around on your travels, and these eco-friendly products for travelers will reduce your impact on the places you visit by eliminating plastic waste. 

5. Being Kind to Animals

Choosing responsible animal tourism is more important than ever as it becomes increasingly popular to offer exclusive wildlife encounters that you wouldn’t be able to experience anywhere else.

This is something that I’m extremely passionate about as I’ve seen how animals have been exploited for human entertainment almost everywhere that I’ve been. The truth is that even if an organization says their animals are treated fairly and given a good life, that is often not the case. 

Animals held in captivity often suffer inadequate living conditions and severe psychological stress. Even in enclosures where they can survive for an extended amount of time, like the dolphins and orcas at SeaWorld, for example, the quality of life for these animals is greatly reduced. 

Laynie freediving with a manatee in the mangroves of Mexico
Keeping a respectful distance from wildlife helps protect them

It’s a good rule of thumb that if you’re allowed to touch, ride, or get close to an animal, it’s not ethical. Additionally, animals are not meant to be kept in cages. Safaris are a great alternative to visiting zoos because they allow you to see animals in their natural habitat without disturbing them.

Another sustainable travel hack for ensuring that animal encounters are ethical is extensive research. Don’t just take what a tour operator says on their website as truth, read reviews and see what people who have lived the experience say about it. If something seems a bit sketchy or you’re unsure of the treatment of the animals you’ll be interacting with, it’s best to skip it altogether. 

6. Choosing Sustainable Acommodation

Where you choose to stay while traveling can also influence your environmental footprint, so knowing how to find sustainable accommodation will help your ecotourism efforts.

The website, “Booking.com” is a great resource for finding hotels that actively contribute to the environment. You’re able to filter search results by their sustainable travel levels that rank accommodations based on their commitments to sustainability.

Places like hostels where you can stay in dorms use less energy and space as one room can be used for multiple people, and homestays utilize existing residential spaces. Several accommodation options have started to implement more environmentally conscious additions to their spaces as well. 

7. Connecting With and Supporting Locals

While tourism can be helpful for the economy of many destinations, it can also affect locals negatively by taking away jobs and eliminating the native culture, which is why connecting with and supporting the local people and culture is an important part of sustainable travel.

The first way to get acquainted with the local people and their lifestyle is through homestays! A homestay is a type of accommodation where travelers can stay in a local residence, typically offering a more culturally immersive experience as opposed to other forms of accommodations. 

To find homestays wherever you’re visiting you can use platforms like:

  • Homestay.com connects host families with travelers looking for accommodation
  • Couchsurfing.com is a platform that emphasizes connections between travelers with different backgrounds by providing solely free bookings 
  • VRBO is a marketplace for vacation rentals where you can find rooms for rent in locals’ homes

Choosing locally run tours is always best when traveling because large tourism businesses tend to take most of the profit from the locals they hire.

Many tours led by locals are also better because locals are more likely to find unique and lesser-known spots, and you can get off the beaten path by following someone who knows the area well!

Laynie seen before a waterfall nestled in the jungle
Our local guide showed us this secret waterfall in Mauritius

8. Shopping Locally

Choose to dine at family-owned restaurants; you can find these either by asking locals and other travelers or by using Google Maps. You can typically look up “family-owned” in Google Maps and find these local businesses through Google reviews that have been left on the businesses 

You may also find unique and genuine souvenirs in local shops and markets. For example, San Juan la Laguna in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala is known for its handmade textiles, and likewise, the Kolaportid Market in Reykjavik is one of the best places to explore Icelandic culture. 

Buying secondhand is another way to combat the negative impact of fast fashion processes and importation, which increases carbon emissions through the excess use of plane travel to transport goods. Checking out local thrift stores has become a fun addition to my travels and a way to find stylish additions to my wardrobe!

9. Traveling and Treading Lightly

Packing light is another way to be conscious of your effects on the environment while traveling as a heavier bag requires more fuel to transport it. When preparing for your next eco-adventure, try cutting your luggage in half and bringing only what you need for a trip.

Traveling lighter is not only a way to make travel more sustainable but will also save you money on extra baggage fees and the hassle of dragging loads of luggage around. 

Treading lightly is an important step in applying “Leave No Trace” principles that provide zero waste tips to not harm the places you roam. Practicing this principle means you:

  • Do not disturb natural areas 
  • Always leave places you visit better than when you arrived
  • Stay on designated roads and trails

Take only pictures and leave only footprints! Keep the places you visit beautiful so that they can continue to flourish on their own and be enjoyed by other travelers for years to come. Participating in initiatives like beach clean-ups that actively help the local environment is also a great option to support ecotourism. I typically find organized clean-ups like these in local Facebook groups or through word of mouth. 

10. Research!

While these are all great general tips for making your travels more sustainable, the negative effects of irresponsible tourism vary across the world. Researching responsible travel hacks specific to your destination will expand on general eco-travel recommendations to positively impact where you stay. 

For example, I have a guide dedicated to responsible Bali travel with green travel tips that detail how you can make an impact on your trip there. These sustainable travel guides will provide you with a more focused action plan for reducing your negative effect on specific destinations.

A Balinese temple surrounded by a small pond
Discover undefeated views like this one off of the tourist trail

Using these sustainable travel ideas and tips to reduce your impact on the places you choose to explore, you can truly embrace a life of conscious travel. 

Eco-friendly budget travel is also very easy to do as many of the reusable products, local purchases, and slow travel techniques will save you money on your trips and reduce your impact at the same time! Being a conscious traveler will ensure that our planet can continue being explored for generations.

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