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How to Find Sustainable Accommodation: A Complete Guide

With today’s modern technology and ways of communication, traveling is more accessible than ever before. No longer is traveling an exclusive thing for people with excess money, but is feasible for anyone with any budget. With thousands of destinations across the world waiting to be explored, why wait?

From booking your flight to making a dinner reservation, you can plan an entire trip online within seconds.

While this has certainly made world travel more convenient and accessible to the general public, it has also led to an increase in tourism in multiple destinations previously unknown.

This is why many travelers have recently leaned more towards practicing sustainable travel and protecting the beauty of the natural earth.

Overhead view of a sustainable Bali villa
A stunning Bali villa from above

One of the most difficult parts of learning how to practice eco-friendly travel and leaving a positive impact on future generations of nomads is finding the right resources to do so. 

You’re likely to find many tips online about reducing plastic use, packing light, and supporting local businesses; all great ideas that will certainly reduce your carbon footprint, but is there a way to support the environment just by consciously choosing where you stay?

The truth is, you can make a significant positive impact on your planet by choosing sustainable accommodation for your travels and staying in places that give back to the earth. 

What is Sustainable Accommodation?

Eco-conscious travelers choose sustainable accommodation, meaning: a place to stay that focuses on and actively makes efforts toward minimizing their environmental impact and promoting responsible tourism. 

Whether this be through energy-efficient practices, waste reduction, or community engagement; an abundance of hosts have begun taking real steps towards leaving a positive impact on the earth.

There are dozens of places to stay around the globe that will make your stay eco-friendly and help contribute to your sustainable travels!

Two chairs on a balcony overlooking the ocean

With mass tourism taking over many parts of the world, it is now more important than ever to give back to the earth. 

There are several ways that you can make an impact through your travels and enjoy more authentic and enriching travel experiences; booking eco accommodation is a great way to reduce your footprint when traveling.

Being conscious of how you affect the places you roam can kickstart amazing expeditions that give back to the communities that inhabit these places and allow future visitors to do the same for years to come. 

How Different Accommodations Can Be Sustainable

Hotels

When looking for hotels that have gone green, it’s important to know what initiatives to look for specifically.

Most hotels committed to making a difference will include one or more of these sustainable hotel practices:

  1. Supporting local communities: Either directly through donation or incorporation with hotel events (i.e. hosting a banquet completely sourced from a local restaurant) or through purchasing local products such as food from local farmers
  2. Employing locals: While generating millions of jobs worldwide, it should be no secret that tourism can create hundreds if not thousands of jobs for a local community. Look for businesses that employ locals.
  3. Single-use plastic and waste management: The elimination of single-use plastics, especially in an environment that is constantly dealing with overturning customers, is one of the most impactful things that a hotel can do to reduce its carbon footprint. Choose hotels that are plastic-free.
  4. Optimizing water and energy usage: This may be one of the hardest factors to control when providing a comfortable stay, but the collection of rainwater and implementing designs such as LED lights and occupancy sensors can reduce the overall hotel usage by a ton.
  5. A transparent message: Unfortunately, greenwashing has become more and more popular as large companies have seen a surge in care for the environment. Choosing a hotel with a strong eco-friendly standpoint is a start, but making sure they implement techniques like those above is what will solidify your eco-friendly hotel.

Wandering Words of Wisdom: What is greenwashing in tourism? Simply put, greenwashing is when a company claims to be eco-friendly and sustainable, yet makes no effort to actually help the environment. It’s a harmful practice used to make people believe they support eco-friendly travel.

Hostels 

Opting for hostel stays is not only a great way that many backpackers have used to make travel more affordable, but it is also a great sustainable alternative to hotels!

Hostels can contribute to a more sustainable trip in several ways:

  • Dorm rooms allow for less energy consumption per guest compared to having one room per person; promoting energy efficiency
  • Hostels often engage with local communities, support small businesses, and promote cultural exchange through advertising and booking trips through them
  • Creating a community of travelers allows for more shared experiences that minimize the environmental impact of travel like taking group tours, sharing Ubers, and sharing space

Using sites like HostelWorld, with thousands of sustainable choices around the globe, will help you save money and reduce your impact when traveling.

Hostel beds shown before a city window
Staying in hostel dorms can make your trip more sustainable

Hostelworld also allows you to connect very easily with other travelers as it is the leading booking platform for hostels worldwide, and features things like inter-city and inter-hostel chat rooms that you can find other travelers on through the app!

Hostel-goers are generally more inclined to sustainable travel, according to a recent study by Censuswide. Being exposed to travelers with the same mission allows you to connect and create connections with like-minded nomads.

Airbnb, VRBO, and homestays

As more travelers have been leaning toward these short-term rental opportunities, platforms such as VRBO have been able to connect thousands of travelers and hosts offering their place to stay.

Selecting homestay options mindfully can also contribute to a more sustainable and responsible travel experience. 

Many of these listings often utilize existing residential spaces, reducing the overall environmental impact (as opposed to choosing a newly constructed hotel). 

They provide a more authentic, local experience that connects travelers with the communities that they visit; many hosts will also offer exclusive insights from a local’s point of view that allow for more authentic travel experiences.

These homestays may prove to be slightly more difficult to authenticate real conscious efforts made, but they can still make an impact through the utilization of existing space and local owners. 

Cultural and Work Exchanges

These opportunities are generally geared more towards long-term travelers and backpackers, it’s important to mention the many exchanges that can make your trip affordable, sustainable, and culturally cognizant. 

Like the homestays previously mentioned, you not only become further connected to local living, but these options offer the ability to utilize existing space and minimize your footprint.

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

Several platforms such as Worldpackers and Workaway allow you to access thousands of programs around the world looking for workers in exchange for accommodation and sometimes meals.

The demands and hours of these work exchanges vary by job, but it’s a great way to become more culturally connected to a location, learn a new skill, and stay for free and sustainably!

This not only minimizes your footprint but allows you to give back to the local communities that you’re touring.

Other sites like Couchsurfing and Trusted Housesitters can allow you to stay with others for free and even offer up your own space to pay it forward. 

Platforms for Finding Sustainable Accommodation

Certain booking platforms have now implemented new technology or special collections on how to find eco-friendly hotels, with one of the most popular being the sustainability filter on Booking.com.

When searching through Booking.com, you can now filter by ‘sustainability’ as the booking platform has implemented a travel sustainable badge. Properties will earn 1-3 leaves depending on their commitment to sustainability:

  • One leaf: “some impactful sustainability practices”
  • Two leaves: “considerable investments [in sustainability]”
  • Three leaves: “large investments [in sustainability]”

Incorporating this feature into your search makes it much easier to find the most sustainable option possible and can be done super easily through the app:

Ecohotels.com is another booking platform focused solely on searching for eco-friendly hotels, with over 100k+ hotels to choose from worldwide.

This platform is designed for eco-travelers to find hotels with a purpose that matters- and the trustworthy certifications to back it up. Plus they plant a tree with every booking!

It is extremely easy to use while always providing real evidence of sustainable impact is what makes ecohotels.com a great way to search for your next place to stay.

Olivers Travels is a UK-based business that focuses on luxury villas around Europe with a special sustainable villa collection that’s worth checking out if you’re looking for sustainability with impeccable service.

This booking platform has specific criteria for all of the villas in the sustainable collection, with factors like being locally owned, committed to renewable or green energy, and supporting local businesses being boosters in their sustainable status. 

Searching through each of these forums is one of the most helpful factors in how to find sustainable accommodation wherever you go. 

Sustainable Chains

There are plenty of chains that have already begun making the shift, these are the most sustainable hotel chains that have gone plastic-free as of 2023:

  • Hilton
  • Six Senses
  • Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts
  • Marriott International
  • Hyatt Hotels
  • Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts
  • Taj Resorts, Hotels & Palaces

These chains along with all of the hotels that have made the shift to plastic-free have begun setting the standard for a sustainable future in accommodation.

It’s still important to be vigilant when looking for sustainable hotels around the world and completely researching how a certain location makes an environmental impact through policies and updates. 

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

While it may be a seemingly unnecessary extra step to consider when planning for your trip, choosing eco-friendly accommodation allows you to reduce your footprint and give back to the destinations you visit- a factor that has become extremely important as tourism rises. 

By being conscious of what to look for and using resources like booking sites with built-in sustainability features, it’s easier to find sustainable hotels and accommodations for your next expedition. 

Booking eco-friendly is just one part of the puzzle piece. If you’re looking for how to make travel more sustainable, you can:

  1. Bring your own reusable or eco-friendly products with you! (i.e. a reusable filtered water bottle or reusable cutlery and straws)
  2. Educate yourself on leave-no-trace principles and practice them whenever exploring the outdoors.
  3. Always opt for shopping locally, whether it be getting food from markets or clothing from locally-owned shops; support local businesses in the places you travel
  4. Eating plant-based is one of the best ways you can individually make an impact, not just while traveling, but also in your everyday lifestyle. As it becomes more popular, you will likely notice a rise in plant-based options everywhere- try them out!
  5. Choose slow travel or public transportation to cut costs and reduce your carbon footprint while traveling

You can also find more in-depth guides for sustainable travel through online guides like my Sustainable Guide to Traveling Bali, which gives you specific ways to give back and preserve the natural diversity of the island. 

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