I got my first dose of responsible travel during a 2-week trip across the Philippines. I was working with a tour group called One Life Adventures, and the underlying premise of their business model was to create ethical, transformational travel experiences for adventurous individuals. Their goal when founding the company wasn’t just to provide another group tour service that shuffled their patrons from one crowded venue to another. No, their goal was to empower people to travel in a way that positively impacts the communities they visit, as well as make long-lasting, positive impacts on the environment.
Since that trip through Palawan, I’ve done a lot of thinking about sustainable travel, as well as tons of research because it’s still not talked about enough amongst young travelers. And while I don’t consider myself a novice traveler, I have to think that there are others like me who have heard of eco-tourism and responsible travel, but just haven’t learned enough about it.
That’s why I’ve put together this guide to sustainable tourism. Packed full of research, tips, tricks and advice – it’s designed to help you be the most responsible and sustainable traveler possible!
Throughout this guide, I’ll be addressing topics about eco-conscious transportation and accommodation, eco-friendly travel products, and the best companies in the travel and outdoor industry who are absolutely killing the sustainable tourism game.
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The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly Transportation
“How many carbon emissions am I contributing to the atmosphere by getting on this plane?”
I doubt many people ask themselves that question when they set off on a big trip. And truthfully, I don’t think about it enough myself. But I’m starting to think more and more about how my travel methods impact the places I’m visiting, or even those that I’m just passing through. And I’m not the only one thinking this way. More and more people are becoming aware of the flygskam – otherwise known as the “flight shame” movement.
In 2018*, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a study that showed the transportation sector as the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (28%), and although road transport was the biggest culprit for said emissions (82%), it’s specifically air travel that people are worried about – but why is that?
When it comes to analyzing our carbon emissions, we can’t just look at the transportation methods that contribute the most, we have to focus on the emissions that can be attributed to an individual passenger.
For example, say you’re traveling from London to Paris – here’s what your carbon dioxide output would be based on three transportation options:
- Plane – 122 kilograms
- Car – 48 kilograms
- Train – 15 kilograms
So even though the EPA cited cars as the top contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, you as an individual traveler contribute more of those emissions if you choose to fly rather than drive a car or hop on a train.
Top Three Eco-Friendly Ways to Travel
Travel by Train
If you’re planning a long trip of any kind, there’s no question that a train is your most eco-friendly option. Now, if you’re taking a trip through Europe or Asia, you shouldn’t have any problems finding a train, but it’s a different story in the U.S.
It saddens me to say that our railway system is in a sad, undeveloped state that doesn’t show too many signs of improving. Regardless, we do have Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.
I had actually planned a trip to California earlier this year and the majority of my transportation was going to be via train (unfortunately, COVID hit and I had to cancel the whole trip – sad day, I was really excited about taking a train ride alongside the Pacific Ocean).
Travel by Bus
Say you can’t take a train to your destination, then a public bus is your second-best option when it comes to eco-friendly transportation. If you’re like me and live in the U.S., then you’re probably aware that our railway system isn’t just far behind compared to other countries, it’s virtually nonexistent in some areas.
That being said, there are plenty of bus companies across the US that can get you just about wherever you need to go. Check out this handy resource that lets you compare bus routes and ticket prices across companies like Greyhound, Megabus, RedCoach, Jefferson Lines, Peter Pan, and FlixBus.
Travel by Car – and maybe Carpool
It might be a bit of a letdown to know that ordinary cars are the next best option for eco-friendly travel (they still release an absurd amount of carbo emissions, but it’s still fewer than a plane). However, there’s a silver living here. Hybrid, electric and biodiesel cars are getting more affordable, accessible and efficient every single year.
And if traveling by car is your only option, you can always try and make it a carpool – remember we’re measuring carbon emissions per person, rather than just the vehicle those released by the vehicle.
There you have it, folks! Those are the three best eco-friendly methods of transportation. I hope you found that little bit of research helpful to you and any trip planning you have in the near future.
Something that might be a little more helpful is this list of resources I use to find various transportation methods wherever I’m traveling. These are all the apps I use whenever I’m needing to get from Point A to Point B and I don’t have a car, bike, or destination that’s walkable!
- Transit – for subway and bus times
- Wanderu – book tickets for buses, trains and flights
- Stroll – so random but this is the Guam-equivalent of Uber and I used it all the time while I was visiting
- Grab Driver – like Uber or Lyft, but for countries in Asia
The Ultimate List of Eco-Friendly Travel Gear
When I first started traveling, I was a young 20-something year-old with little to no experience when it came to planning an itinerary, managing the logistics like flights, buses and immunizations, or even the best way to acquire the gear you need.
The underlying principle I used for everything was “go cheap.” Now that I know not just more about traveling, but also how to travel sustainably and in an eco-friendly way, I catch myself cringing when I look back on past trips, specifically with the gear I purchased.
Now it’s no secret that organic, vegan, sustainable products don’t come cheap, but there are two guarantees you can rely on: they’re eco-friendly and (usually) reusable.
Knowing what I know now, I’ve actually gone back and replaced a lot of my travel gear (don’t worry I didn’t throw away; I’m a firm believer in giving gear/selling it on the cheap to friends) with these eco-friendly options.
If you’re just getting into travel yourself, or you’re looking to swap your current gear out for some more sustainable options, here is the only list of eco-friendly, sustainable travel products that you’ll ever need!
21 Best Eco-Friendly Products
Eco-Friendly Travel Gear
When it comes to a reliable backpack that’s also great for the environment, Osprey is my go-to brand. The Osprey Fairview 55 for Women and Fairpoint 55 for Men come with a whole lineup of features that make them ideal for travelers: they’ve got shoulder straps and hip belts, a main compartment that’s designed to unzip like a duffel bag, and a detachable daypack with a designated laptop and tablet sleeve. As far as sustainability goes, Osprey designs all their backs with the highest-quality materials that have the lowest environmental impact and utilize water repellents and dyes that are safest for both the environment and customers.
For any long-term traveler, packing cubes are ESSENTIAL for staying organized and keeping your sanity. If you’re looking for a reliable set of packing cubes that are also good for the environment, then check out this 4-piece packing cube set from Florious. Their products are made from 100% recycled materials and designed to stand up to even the most hardcore adventure!
No doubt, a travel towel that’s lightweight and takes up little room in your pack is an essential piece of gear to bring with you on any trip, and for an eco-friendly option, I have to go with this travel towel by Nomadix. It’s made 100% from recycled plastic bottles, and has the added bonus of being super light, compact, and quick-drying.
The go-to eco-friendly water bottle has to be Nomader’s collapsible water bottle. Made with BPA-free silicone, it comes with a leak-proof screw lid, a convenient carry-strap, and folds up nice and compact when you’re not using it. This is the perfect solution for the eco-conscious traveler on the go!
One thing I never got used to while traveling across Southeast Asia was the amount of single-use plastics and Styrofoam that littered the street and countryside. And what’s worse is that despite my best efforts I added to it. While I had my handy Nalgene on me at all times, what I really needed was a reusable, collapsible coffee cup like this one from SUNOZ.
Who said ziplock bags are just for food? I don’t know about you guys, but I use ziplock bags for everything! Medication, toiletries, travel documents – the list goes on and on. But it wasn’t until this year that I made the switch to reusable ziplock bags. I love these reusable bags by SPLF for their eco-friendly, recyclable material that’s also PVC, BPA, chloride and lead free!
Circling back to the topic of evil single-use plastics, some of the worst culprits are utensils like forks, knives, chopsticks, and especially straws. I can’t tell you how many snorkeling and scuba diving adventures I went on that included picking up some type of plastic cutlery. Here’s an easy way to avoid single-use plastic, though: OASMU’s reusable, travel set of utensils, including: fork, knife, spoon, chopsticks, two straws and cleaning brush. And it all packs up into a super small, skinny carrying case with a carabiner that you can use to clip the whole thing to your bag. Plus, for the low price of $7.99 – SOLD!
Having a durable, roomy toiletry bag is a must if you plan on being on the road for any amount of time. For many reasons, going with the Osprey UltraLight Roll Organizer is the best choice for the traveler who wants to stay organized and help the environment. Not only does Osprey do a great job of designing high quality, eco-friendly products, this toiletry bag features a multiple pocketing system with designated spots for certain items, a hanging clip loop that lets you suspend your toiletries from virtually anywhere, and even a built-in mirror!
I love traveling but I hate trying to stay clean, and I’m talking more about my clothes than myself! It doesn’t matter how many times I shower, once you’ve washed all your clothes in a sink once or twice, it’s hard to feel clean again. Cue this portable wash bag by Scrubba, which prides itself on being “the world’s smallest ‘washing machine’.” All you have to do is throw your clothes in the bag, add some water and detergent, and then hand scrub the sh*t out of your stuff and BOOM! – you’re left with perfectly clean clothes and no negative environmental impact.
Eco-Friendly Travel Toiletries
Ladies, there are so many reasons to switch to using a menstrual cup over traditional period products. Not only will you eliminate a ton of waste from your life but using a menstrual cup like the Diva Cup is more hygienic, lasts longer than traditional period products, and saves you a bunch of money!
I’ve used plastic tooth brushes my entire life, and it never occurred to me that I should switch to something that’s actually biodegradable, and won’t just sit in some landfill. Enter this awesome bamboo toothbrush from Nuduko. The 10-piece toothbrush comes with super soft bristles, is 100% natural, eco-friendly and compostable!
Like toothbrushes, conventional plastic razors are nearly impossible to recycle and pile up in either landfills or our oceans. Say hello to this double edge bamboo razor from Bambaw! It’s super durable, provides a super close shave, cost effective (you just need to buy replacement blades once you’ve got the razor) and perfectly eco-friendly.
Bambaw does it again with another awesome eco-friendly produce. Now I personally don’t really wear makeup, but I love Bambaw’s products and they’ve got some of the best reusable makeup remover pads. This 16-pack is made with reusable cotton, includes a washable laundry bag, and can be used for years!
It took traveling all the way to the Philippines for me to learn that there are tons of sunscreen brands out there that are made with harmful chemicals that contribute to the deterioration of our coral reefs – is that sad or what?! While using a vegan sunscreen option like this one from Sun Bum is the perfect way to protect our oceans, it also doesn’t take a genius to figure out that any chemicals that can harm coral reefs are probably not the best thing for your skin.
Mosquitos sucks, but so do most of the insect repellants that you find on the market. Not only are they usually in aerosol cans that are harmful for the environment, but they’re also full of harsh chemicals that are bad for the planet and the you! That’s why I love this deet-free insect repellant from Repel. Not only does it keep insects off with all natural ingredients, but it also comes in a convenient, TSA-friendly, pen-sized pump spray bottle that packs perfectly in your pack.
For a healthy, animal-friendly, and all-natural deodorant option, I go with Primal Life Organics, specifically their white lavender (but they’ve also got options like black lavender, white coconut, and black rouge). Made with natural ingredients like hemp seed oil, bentonite clay, and arrowroot powder, Primal Life has also taken great care to make sure their product is 100% eco-friendly. That’s why they exclusively use cardboard tubes that are safe for the environment. Not to mention it comes in the perfect size for travelers!
Who ever said taking care of your hair rules out taking care of the environment? This shampoo and conditioner bar by Clever Yoga accomplishes both those tasks. This coconut oil-based shampoo is made with all-natural ingredients, comes with no SLS and is paraben free. In addition to being vegan and 100% cruelty free, Clever Yoga also packages their products in recyclable, compostable materials in an effort to reduce waste.
Eco-Friendly Travel Clothing & Accessories
I love all things North Face, and their down jackets are no exception. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly down jacket that’s lightweight and keeps you warm, the North Face’s ThermoBall for Men and Women is perfect. But not only are TNF’s products of the highest quality, their commitment to sustainability and responsible manufacturing is unmatched. They incorporate recycled materials into their gear, and take responsibility for the product’s entire life cycle with their Clothes the Loop take-back program.
I can think of few items in my backpack that I rely on more than my rain jacket when I go traveling. It can make or break a day of exploring, especially if you find yourself in a country like the Philippines or Thailand that’s prone to rain showers throughout the day during monsoon season. The North Face’s Venture jacket for Men and Women checks all the boxes for a great rain jacket. It’s breathable, has a relaxed fit so you can pack on extra layers, an adjustable cinch cord on the hem and an adjustable hood. The best thing the Venture jacket has going for it though, is the fact that it packs up so small.
Without fail, the word “multipurpose” is music to a traveler’s ears, and this is especially true when we need to live out of a backpack for months at a time and have absolutely no space to waste. So, when you’re packing your clothes for your trip, you definitely want to include something that can work as a bandana, sun guard, face mask, hood, headband, or even hair tie. And that’s where BUFF comes in. When I was in Guam during the dry season, I definitely could’ve used this to ward off all the dust that was kicked up every time I climbed into a tuktuk or the back of a truck. This thing is soft, warm, light weight, and wind resistant. And because it’s made with Merino wool, it doesn’t hold onto odors like other types of fabric.
Sunglasses don’t get more eco-friendly than this! Introducing the BioSunnies – a biodegradable pair of sunglasses that’s made from wheat straw (i.e. the stuff that gets left behind after a harvest, so helping in zero waste!). All BioSunnies are designed with polarized lenses and a super comfortable, flexible, and lightweight frame!
The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly Accommodation
Much like choosing eco-friendly travel gear and working with tour operators that support sustainable tourism, switching to eco-friendly accommodation is another great way to reduce your impact as a traveler.
According to the United Nations, the hotel industry is responsible for 1% of the world’s carbon emissions. And while 1% doesn’t sound like all that much, it’s actually a lot once you start to think about the various hotel groups, hostels, and guest houses that exist all over the world, which is why it’s essential to choose accommodation that uses green practices.
What is Eco-Friendly Accommodation?
An eco-friendly hotel or hostel is one that makes a tangible effort to reduce and/or eliminate their environmental impact. These types of accommodations are usually known as eco hotels or green hotels.
A few of the most common ways an accommodation can reduce their environmental impact is by using recycling and composting programs, installing energy-efficient lighting, using non-toxic or vegan products, and only supplying reusable dishes and cutlery.
How to Find Eco-Friendly Accommodation
One of the easiest ways to determine if a hotel or hostel is eco-friendly is to find out if they have their LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
LEED is the most widely used green building rating system across the globe, and provides establishments with independent verification on their green features, “allowing for the design, construction, operations and maintenance of resource-efficient, high-performing, healthy, cost-effective buildings” (LEED).
How to Book Eco-Friendly Accommodation
A sure-fire way to find out if your accommodation is eco-friendly is by doing your research, whether that’s combing through the establishment’s website or speaking with a representative, but that requires a lot of work on your part. I’m here to tell you there’s an easier way.
Book with Ecobnb
We’ve all heard of Airbnb, but now there’s Ecobnb – a network that’s dedicated to promoting responsible tourism that respects nature, the economy and local communities. Like any accommodation booking platform, all you have to do is search your destination, add your check in and check out dates, and the number of people in your party to have a list of sustainable accommodation right at your fingertips.
Click here to start booking with Ecobnb!
Book with Green Key Global
Green Key Global is best known for its self-named environmental award – the Green Key Award. It represents a standard of excellence that eco-friendly businesses strive for within the tourism industry. By representing Green Key, these businesses promise to operate within the strict, environmental criteria outlined by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). When you book with a Green Key partner, you can rest assured that you’re helping make a sustainable impact on our planet.
For the responsible traveler, Green Key Global also has a really slick search engine that shows eco-friendly restaurants, parks, hotels, hostels, and other attractions all over the world. Click here to book today!
Book with Green Globe Travel
Green Globe Travel is the product of the Green Globe Certification, and is a travel website that makes sustainable hotels, cruise ships, tour operators, and other attractions readily accessible to travelers. Users can easily search eco-friendly establishments by property name, country, or category; each listing contains a business’s description, location, map, contact information, and helpful links to booking.
To start booking your eco-friendly getaway via Green Globe Travel, click here!
Top Ways to be a Responsible Traveler
Choose Ethical Wildlife Options
Having the chance to get up close and personal with animals that are indigenous to a region is really important to a lot of travelers. But in the past few years, we’ve taken a hard look at the use of animals in tourism, with many companies coming under fire for their inhumane and unethical practices towards the animals. The sad truth is, a lot of travelers who patron animal “sanctuaries” where they offer elephant rides or photo ops with big cats are encouraging and funding those establishments to take more animals out of their natural habitat in the wild – ultimately endangering the species.
However, there are plenty of opportunities for you to interact with the indigenous animals without supporting harmful tourism practices. For example, instead of visiting an establishment that offers elephant rides, patron a local business or charity that rescues elephants from illegal breeding and logging. (If you find yourself in Chiang Mai, Thailand, check out Elephant Nature Park – they rescue elephants and relocate them to the most beautiful reserve!)
Minimize Plastic Waste
The fight to manage plastic waste is a long-fought battle in places all over the world, especially areas like Southeast Asia, and has become one of the most recognized forms of responsible tourism. And thanks to this push (many countries like China, the Philippines and Sri Lanka – which put forth an appeal back in 2019 to ban single-use plastics – are taking strong steps to reduce and manage plastic waste), minimizing your plastic waste is easier than ever!
Minimizing plastic waste, especially the pesky single-use plastics like cups and utensils, is all the more manageable with eco-friendly travel products like stainless steel straws, reusable water bottles, and other gear that that’s made from recycled materials.
Leave the Place Better Than You Found It
I learned this rule long before I became a worldwide traveler, and I abide by it now more than ever: leave the place better than you found it. This is my mantra wherever I go – whether it’s a friend’s house, a day at the crag with my rock climbing friends, and also the various cities and villages that I visit.
There’s no doubt that keeping an area free of litter is just one of the many ways you can be a responsible traveler. But there are other ways, too. You can also participate in beach clean-ups, bring a mesh bag with you wherever you go to pick up any trash that you see (I specifically bring one when I go snorkeling or scuba diving since unfortunately a lot of trash winds up in the water), and also use eco-friendly products like sunscreen that don’t damage the environment after you’re gone.
Choose Eco-Friendly Transportation Options
I doubt too many people ask themselves how many carbon emissions they’re contributing to our atmosphere based on which transportation option they choose for a trip. And truthfully, I don’t think about it enough myself. But since my 3-month trip across Asia, I find myself thinking more and more about how my adventures affect the communities and environment around me. And I’m not the only one thinking this way.
Considering the transportation sector is the biggest culprit for greenhouse gas emissions (the travel industry contributed 28% of the United States’ carbon emissions back in 2018), more and more travelers are considering the most responsible way to get from Point A to Point B. And while flights are still pretty much a necessity if you’re wanting to jump the Atlantic or Pacific, there are still plenty of transportation options at your disposal that release fewer carbon emissions than a flight.
Traveling by train is no doubt the most eco-friendly way of getting around, especially when you need to cover a lot of ground, but taking a bus is another greener alternative than jumping on a plane. And if you have to travel by car, try and make it a carpool!
Support Local Business
Another great way to be a responsible traveler is by supporting local businesses in the places you’re visiting. While spending with big chains like fast-food restaurants hurts local cultures, it also means there’s a really good chance that the money you’re spending won’t even stay in the country.
So, on your next trip, you can make sure that the money you spend during your trip stays in the community even after your trip has ended. By staying in locally owned accommodation, traveling with local guides, eating at local restaurants and patronizing local shops, you can help build up the communities you visit. Not to mention you can also help fight against the washing out of local cultures by staying away from global franchises.
And don’t forget! Sustainable tourism is a two-way street. By supporting local communities, you’re immersing yourself in the local culture and giving yourself the chance to have more meaningful experiences.
Work with Responsible Tour Operators
For many young travelers, and especially solo travelers, partnering with a tour operator is a really smart and fun way to visit a new country. And if your goal is to travel responsibly, you can choose a tour operator that is not only committed to operating responsibly, but they also incorporate supporting local communities and limiting your environmental footprint into the trip!
Some of the best tour operators out there include: Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, One Life Adventures, and many more! Just do your research on a company’s website prior to booking and make sure they’ve their responsible tourism policy made readily available.
Use Eco-Friendly Travel Gear
In a perfect world we’d all be able to travel without contributing carbon emissions and other harmful things to the environment – but the world’s not perfect. That being said, another great way you can do your part is by switching to sustainable travel gear and accessories. Fan favorites like Patagonia, the North Face and Osprey have been longtime industry leaders when it comes to creating gear and apparel that are good for the environment. But \ new companies are popping up all the time with the singular goal of creating high-quality, eco-friendly products.
Stay in Eco-Friendly Accommodation
Much like choosing eco-friendly travel gear and working with tour operators that support sustainable tourism, switching to eco-friendly accommodation is another great way to reduce your impact as a traveler. According to the United Nations, the hotel industry is responsible for 1% of the world’s carbon emissions, which is why it’s essential to choose accommodation that uses green practices.
An eco-friendly hotel or hostel is one that makes a tangible effort to reduce and/or eliminate their environmental impact. A few of the most common ways an accommodation can reduce their environmental impact is by using recycling and composting programs, installing energy-efficient lighting, using non-toxic or vegan products, and only supplying reusable dishes and cutlery.
To find some eco-friendly accommodation, check out ecobnb!
Top Eco-Friendly Companies for Travelers
Making the decision to become a responsible traveler can seem like a daunting one at first, but it’s a lot easier than you think! Once you do the research, you’ll see that there are tons of companies across the travel industry that are dedicated to providing eco-friendly products and services that protect the environment, lift up communities, and reduce our carbon footprint.
If you’re looking to do your part in the effort for sustainable tourism, then you need to dive into this list of top eco-friendly companies for travelers. Everything from choosing travel gear, finding accommodation, and booking with tour operators that promote responsible travel – this guide to eco-friendly companies is the perfect resource for being a responsible traveler!
Bambaw – Plastic-Free Products and Zero Waste Essentials
Nomadix – Go-Anywhere Towels for Travel
NOMADer – Eco-Friendly Water Bottles
Osprey – Innovative, High Performance Gear
Patagonia – Outdoor Clothing & Gear
The North Face – Outdoor Apparel & Gear
Coalatree – Eco-Minded Goods & Apparel
prAna – Sustainable Clothing | Travel, Adventure & Yoga Clothing
Toad & Co. – Sustainable, Organic & Eco Friendly Clothing
Jungmaven – High Quality Hemp Clothing
United by Blue – Sustainable Outdoor Apparel & Accessories
Smartwool – Merino Wool Clothing & Accessories
Allbirds – Shoes & Clothing, Sustainably Made | the Most Comfortable Shoes in the World
Saola – Sustainable Shoes for Men & Women
Nomadic State of Mind – Handcrafted Rope Sandals
The Root Collective – Ethically Made Shoes from Guatemala
Intrepid Travel – Small Group Tours & Travel, Big Adventures
G Adventures – Adventure Travel & Tours
One Life Adventures – World Class Adventure Tours
Peregrine Adventures – Small Group Travel & Tours
Ecobnb – Find Your Sustainable Accommodation
And that’s all, folks! My ultimate guide for being a resonsible travler and doing your part in the fight for global sustainable tourism.
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