Sustainable travel has a lot more elements than we may realise. Of course, the first thing that pops into mind is the ecological or environmental side of it, but there is also the social and economic side that often interlaps with this, too.

What is sustainability? It is living in such a way that we do no harm to the things and people around us. The easiest way to look at it is that travelling sustainably requires you to treat your destination with respect, the way you would the city you live in. This means no littering, as little use of materials like plastic, choosing the most sustainable accommodation and so on.There are so many things to keep in mind when travelling to another city or country that’s not limited to booking your travel tickets and accommodation. Let’s dive into the various elements of what to and not to do when traveling; and this also includes the same for even before you begin to plan your vacation

Planning Your Trip

The things to keep in mind when planning your trip are the destination, how you’d like to get there, the accommodation you select, and how long you’d like to stay. Let’s take this one by one.

Selecting a destination

  • Your vacation need not necessarily be only a leisure trip, but also one where you can learn new things by volunteering and providing to the local economy in the little ways that you can. This helps you find new insights by taking part in local activities, and it also boosts the economy and morale of the places you visit.
  • Overcrowding of cities is a real problem that increases travel times (increasing collective carbon footprints), the possibility of the city becoming dirtier, and more. Aim for off-season times of the year so that you can enjoy the same city while contributing less to pollution at the destination.
  • Select a place that has options to go on hikes and do other more sustainable activities. Also consider how accessible public transport and walking pavements are so you can keep your carbon footprint in check.

How to get there

  • Consider selecting destinations where you can get to via trains or buses instead of those that require you to take flights, thus emitting a lot more carbon.
  • If there is no other way to get to your destination other than via a flight, aim to select a sustainable airline. Several airlines use biofuel, and most websites to book flights nowadays tell you which flight would emit less carbon than others.

Selecting accommodation

  • When travelling, staying in a lavish hotel seems like a fantastic option, especially if you have the means and can afford it,. There are, however, many other more sustainable options that you can book instead.
    • Hostels are pocket-friendly and generally environmentally friendly.
    • Huts nestled in nature if you’re up for that.
    • Carrying your own tent and camping out.
    • Cottages and homes rented out directly by their owners.

How long you’d like to stay

  • It makes a difference to the environment as well as local economy of your destination how long you plan to stay at the destination you select. Travelling back and forth emits a certain amount of carbon, no matter which method of travel you select. The longer you stay, the more justifiable your carbon footprint. Consider workcations if you have the option of working remotely. Most accommodation is cheaper if you stay for longer periods, too.


Things to Carry with You

Knowing the right things to pack for your travels is elemental to travelling sustainably. The things that you pack before your travel directly impacts your carbon footprint while you are at your destination. A small example would be to pack your own metal or bamboo straw so that you don’t need to make use of plastic straws that eventually go into dustbins, then landfills or oceans. Imagine how many refreshing drinks you’d like to have when exploring a city, especially in the summer – instead of using plastic straws, consider bringing your own.

Here's a list of things to pack with you to ensure that your travels are as sustainable as can be:

To avoid plastic

Bihart Jute bag with handwork bird motifs on front.
  • Shopping bags/tote bags: Instead of carrying smaller bags as is considered more fashionable, invest in a cute tote bag that you can use to carry everything you need, and even fill in when you go shopping. There’s no dearth of plastic bags because shopkeepers know that people need ‘em – be better and carry your own bag to avoid this plastic.
Back To Roots Multicolour Bottle
  • A re-usable water bottle: A water bottle is one of the most essential things to bring with you when travelling. We tend to buy water when travelling because, well, we need to replenish when exploring different places. To avoid using plastic bottles, carry your own refillable water bottle. You can invest in a bottle that comes with a water filter as well.
  • Tiffin boxes: Small tiffin boxes are not a necessity, but always good to have when travelling. Some days of travel can be very tiring, and you may want to pack something up and take it back to eat at your accommodation. That’s where small boxes for food come into good use to avoid single-use plastic. These also come in handy when you end up ordering too much food but can’t finish it, to take it home and eat it later instead of letting it go to waste.
Ksamah Bamboo Cutlery Kit

Waste-limiting toiletries

  • Bring your own toiletries (shampoo, soap, toothbrushes): Many hotels offer mini-sized bottles of toiletries like shampoo, soap, and even small tubes of toothpaste with plastic toothbrushes. It’s tempting to pick these up and use them, but they only continue to add to your carbon footprint, because it’s single-use plastic. Instead, consider bringing your own bottles of bathroom products from home – they may be made of plastic, but they’re bigger, which beats tinier, quicker to throw away bottles.
Parama Naturals Cold-processed Turmeric Soap
  • Sustainable menstrual hygiene products: Consider investing in a menstrual cup, period underwear, or washable/reusable cloth sanitary pads. Cloth pads or period underwear can be a bit difficult to consistently wash and keep clean on vacation, but menstrual cups are definitely a great way to reduce the waste you produce with menstrual hygiene products.
Eco-femme Multicolour Reusable Cloth Pad
  • Towelettes: When out and about, especially at restaurants, using napkins is the norm. Instead of generating all that paper waste (which is also often mixed with microplastics), use your own handkerchief or towelette.

Other Sustainable Travel Essentials to Keep in Mind

  • Do not litter! Find dustbins to throw your waste, and respect the waste segregation method of your destination.
  • Respect the rules of your destination.
  • Shop crafts and gifts from local markets and stores to support the local economy of your destination.
  • Use public transport wherever and whenever possible. Opt for buses, trains, metros, or even walking to different places. This is a great way to learn more about the culture of the place while limiting your carbon footprint manifold.

To Conclude

Travelling sustainably is essentially carrying over the sustainable habits you practise in your own home and your own city to the different places that you visit as a tourist. The same way you are conscious about saving electricity, using minimal plastic and keeping your carbon footprint down back home, inculcate the same habits even more while travelling. After all, you wouldn’t like it if a tourist messed up your city and left, so be conscientious in another city and another home the way you would be in your own.

February 18, 2023 — pallavi srivastava