Jargon, be gone. We built the Sustainable Cities platform to make real, practical, actionable ideas of sustainable travel – travel that’s kinder to the places we visit, the people who call them home, and the planet at large – accessible to anyone who wants to make better choices on the road.
Do you seek creature comforts on your travels, or do you prefer to rough it out? Are you a digital nomad perpetually on the go, or do you travel once a year for an annual holiday? Do you have the luxury of spending without thinking, or do you keep a careful count of your budget?
Whatever your travel style and philosophy, if you consciously follow these 11 sustainable travel tips the next time you go somewhere, we can promise you’re going to connect deeper with your destination and the locals – and perhaps come home a different person!
#1 Rethink why you travel
The French novelist Marcel Proust once wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Chances are, we’ve already had a brush with many places around the world – either in person, or through conversations with friends, FOMO-inducing reels on Instagram, or our favourite films.
Why then, must we travel?
Is it simply to recreate the selfies we see flashed all over social media? Is it to tick yet another destination off our list? Or is it to allow our experiences to change something deep within us?
Knowing why we travel can change the way we travel – and the impact we leave behind in the process. Then it doesn’t matter whether we go back to familiar landscapes or seek new ones, because the way we see has changed.
#2 Choose eco-conscious accommodations and tour operators
There’s a lot more awareness of the little actions we can take at home to live more consciously – switch to renewable energy; use LED bulbs to increase energy efficiency; segregate, compost and recycle our waste; reduce single-use plastic consumption; eat a greener diet with more fruits and veggies, and less meat; and buy local.
It’s time we take these values on the road, and choose accommodations that share them.
Whether it’s a luxury hotel or a dorm room in a hostel, we send a message to the entire tourism industry when we choose to stay in a place that is committed to doing better – not just for travellers but also for the local people and our shared planet.
Use platforms like Kind Traveller, Singular Places, Eco BnB or Booking.com’s Travel Sustainable filter, to learn about an accommodation’s environmental and social commitments, and make an aware choice.
#3 Take public transport, EVs, walk or bike
Flying is no doubt the elephant in the room – but we understand that it’s not always possible to travel long distances using alternate means of transport.
The next big thing we can do as travellers is to ditch regular car rentals for EVs, or better still, take public transport, ride a bike or walk.
Besides the carbon savings, local trains and buses often lend themselves to cultural insights and adventures that are simply out of reach in a private taxi ride. In cycling and walking friendly destinations, pedalling your way or strolling through the by-lanes is a sure shot way to get to know a place more intimately, and find little gems that don’t make it to the big guidebooks.
Visit the local tourist centre in a city to find discounted public transport travel cards, or look out for cycling and walking tours led by locals.
#4 Choose experiences that benefit the environment and local people
As travellers, we love immersing in cultures different from ours, and seeking out natural landscapes and heritage sites that leave us in awe. But let’s not forget that we’re just passing by. What happens to the people, and the place they call home, when we leave?
By choosing experiences that are environmentally conscious (like visiting an organic urban farm, or choosing a bicycle trip over a regular sightseeing tour) and/or supportive of the local community (like heritage walks guided by locals, or a cooking class based on the local cuisine), we can not only gain deeper insights into a place, but also ensure that the money we spend benefits a place in the long run.
Look for purpose-driven experiences offered by locals, on platforms like WithLocals and Airbnb Experiences.
#5 Eat local, seasonal and plant-based
Food is not just food when we travel. It’s an intimate window to the culture, history, people and landscape of the places we travel to.
Add to local food the layers of organic, seasonal and plant-based, and our food choices on the road can not only acquaint us with the local cuisine but also do it in a way that’s kinder to the planet and our own health.
Use apps like HappyCow to find locally run, farm-to-table, vegan-friendly and zero waste restaurants, cafes, bakeries, pop-ups and home chefs, that are often left off the regular tourist radar, but are the very fabric of the places we visit.
#6 Minimize single-use plastics
Avoiding single-use plastic bottled water, plastic-wrapped quick eats, and plastic-packaged souvenirs may sound like a pretty hard task, but it doesn’t have to be.
Substitute plastic bottled water with a sturdy, reusable water bottle that you always carry with you. Use a LifeStraw bottle or filter to purify water on the go, opt for a UV purifying water bottle, use water purification tablets, or refill your bottle at public drinking fountains and with filtered water at hotels and restaurants. On an average weeklong trip, a single person can reduce waste by nearly 21 plastic bottles with these simple efforts!
Visiting neighbourhood community markets, farmers markets, and local zero waste stores are a great way to feel the “living” vibe of a place, while also reducing our plastic footprint. Remember to carry a cloth bag to keep your finds, and reusable cutlery to eat on the go.
#7 Shop mindfully
If you’re someone who likes to leave with more than just memories of a place, make sure what you’re leaving with is special indeed!
Look out for local and minority-run businesses that support women’s collectives and community-based art enterprises, for refreshing hyper-local souvenirs. Ditch fast fashion for vintage stores and thrift shops, keep a look out for recycled and upcycled products, and get creative with gifting at farmers markets and zero waste stores.
#8 Conserve electricity and water
Besides choosing a conscious accommodation, there are little home practices we can take with us on the road.
Trade lavish baths for short showers (the 5 minute challenge!), and turn off the water while brushing or soaping. When you leave the room, turn off the lights, and switch off the room climate controls.
Go a step further and learn about where the electricity and water of the region comes from. If you have the chance, for example in a feedback form or an online review, press your accommodation owner about sourcing electricity from renewable energy sources, investing in energy efficiency, and installing rainwater harvesting. As travellers, we hold more sway over business decisions than we give ourselves credit for!
#9 Remember that you’re just visiting, but people live there!
On the road, we sometimes tend to forget that destinations are not for us to enjoy alone. They are first the homes of the people who live there.
That realization can change the way we experience places – and convince us to find ways to leave places better than we found them.
Little acts, like picking up stray trash, reducing our noise levels, using resources like water sparingly, or consciously choosing to spend at businesses that are actively contributing to the local community, can be our way of minimizing our impact as visitors and giving back to the hosts and the places they call home.
#10 Slow down
The world is huge and there’s so much to see – we get it. But instead of rushing from one place to another, hopping on short distance flights, packing your days with one activity after the next, and trying to fit everything into one trip, slow down!
Slow travel is the antidote to the social media FOMO that drives many of our travel decisions. It’s a way of saying, I’m glad to be here and I want to really experience this place.
Whether you have a month or just a week in a place, the slow travel mindset allows us to focus on experiences that truly resonate with us and build deeper connections with locals.
Choose a cooking class to learn about the local cuisine, people watch at a neighbourhood café, join interest-based meetups to connect leisurely with locals and scratch beneath the surface of a place, go on long agenda-free walks, and give yourself the time to build friendships that’ll forever seal your connection with a place.
#11 Make an effort to learn about how climate change is impacting the world
We’re living through an unprecedented climate emergency, and travel is the best teacher. In cities, coastal towns, mountain areas and rural settlements around the world, weather patterns are changing and disrupting the lives of the locals.
Take a moment on your travels to engage with those in the know – local guides, farmers, conservationists and others – and get a sense of if/how climate change is affecting life in the region.
It’s one thing to hear about a faraway island sinking due to global warming and rising sea levels. Quite another to be standing on foreign land, knowing that it might go under water or be ravaged by drought in a decade or two.
Learning about climate change doesn’t have to be all doomsday. Enterprising locals around the world are reinstating traditional practices or developing homegrown solutions to build resilience and cope with the impact. Learning about these can turn us into true ambassadors of our planet, facilitating an exchange of innovative ideas as we travel across the globe.