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20 essential ways to be a sustainable tourist and protect our planet

Being a sustainable tourist is not just something that is nice to do, if we want to continue to go on holidays and to travel around the world, then we need to stop destroying the things we are going to see- it’s as simple as that! But how can you be a more sustainable tourist? Read on to find out…

How to be a sustainable tourist

20 ways to be a sustainable tourist

Sustainability is one of those buzzwords we hear a lot, right across many different industries. But it’s more than that; our planet has long been ravaged by climate change, and as the population expands and industry continues to grow, there is more and more of an impact on the environment. And tourism, as much as we all love taking part in it, has a massive effect on the planet. But never fear – there are ways in which we can be more responsible. Today I’m sharing 20 ways to be a sustainable tourist and embrace sustainable tourism, and even if you do just one of these then you’re helping the Earth continue to thrive for future generations to enjoy!

1. Take less flights

This is a difficult one, so I’m getting it out of the way early. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but flying has a big impact on the environment. There are many arguments about this (“the plane would still go without me on it” and so on) but the truth is, the less demand for commercial flights the less planes will fly. So opting to travel by train, for example, is a great way to be a more sustainable tourist. It takes longer, of course, but sometimes the journey is just as spectacular as the destination. Interrailing is a brilliant way to travel, especially long-term, and it’s much kinder on the environment than taking multiple short haul flights.

Failing alternative travel, there are more sustainable practices being developed as we speak, such as more environmentally-friendly technology and sustainable aviation fuels.

2. Take a reusable water bottle with you

Airports, parks, shopping centres and hotels usually offer somewhere you can fill a water bottle up with clean and fresh drinking water. This is much cheaper than repeatedly buying bottled water, but it is also great for the planet; single-use plastic is such a burden on the environment, given that it takes so long to break down and often isn’t recycled properly. Buy a reusable bottle like this one that is focussed on sustainability and do your part to protect the planet.

3. Choose eco hotels

20 ways to be a sustainable tourist

There are plenty of green and eco hotels to choose from in most locations – from big cities to beach destinations – who work extra hard to make sure their accommodation hits certain targets. They also encourage guests to use less water, for example, by not having their towels washed as often and so on, often with incentives in place. offers green accommodation across different countries and they also plant a tree for every booking made. This is great for giving back to the environment!

4. Choose activities which benefit local communities

Sustainability isn’t all about the planet itself; a big part of it is to do with improving and maintaining a happy and safe society where citizens are able to thrive. We know this from the three pillars of sustainability and the social impacts of tourism. Being a sustainable tourist means giving back to society. 

One way of doing this is booking and taking part in activities which directly benefit local communities. For example, when booking an excursion, do so with a local company on the ground rather than through an online corporation based elsewhere. This prevents economic leakage

Another way of doing so is by taking part in actively beneficial activities; volunteer tourism or beach clean-ups are a big example of this. Tourism leads to an increase of litter and pollution, and by spending an hour of your holiday cleaning up a beach area or a river you are able to help solve the problem slightly!

5. Wear eco-friendly sunscreen

SPF is so vitally important when it comes to protecting your skin’s health – sunburn is incredibly damaging for your skin both short and long term. It makes you sore and itchy, and can even lead to skin cancer. It also really dehydrates you. So you should absolutely always wear SPF; daily is best, but it’s especially important when travelling to hot and sunny climates.

However, a lot of SPFs are actually bad for the environment. This is particularly true if you plan to swim or dive in the sea, ocean, river or something like a cenote. The ingredients can be really damaging to marine life which is why you should opt for an eco-friendly sunscreen where possible, such as Natural Tone Organic.

6. Don’t litter

This is perhaps really obvious, and hopefully it doesn’t come across as patronising – but it is so important to not litter when you are a tourist. If you go to the beach, for example, and take snacks with you, then make sure all your wrappers are binned or taken with you. Even if a bin isn’t available, take it with you! Wrappers, cans and bottles end up in the sea and cause plastic islands, or harm to marine animals. Water pollution is a big issue, and littering contributes to it massively.

7. Visit lesser-known destinations

Some people might not be comfortable doing this, but you can lessen the impact of tourism by choosing not to add to the hoards of people visiting really popular places. If you want a beach destination in Europe, for example, why not opt for the stunning coastal areas of southern Albania rather than nearby Greece? Or if you’re heading somewhere for a city break, like Poland, have a look at lesser-visited cities like Poznan or Lublin rather than popular Krakow. Not only do you get to be the envy of your friends and discover destinations that people you know might not have been to, but you’ll be doing good by the planet.

8. Unplug your devices

As you would at home, it’s important to unplug your chargers and hair straighteners and so on while travelling. This helps to minimise the output of electricity, which is of course great for the planet and helps you be more of a sustainable tourist.

9.  Offset your carbon emissions

I spoke earlier about taking fewer flights, and that is definitely still something you should aim for if you’re looking to be a more sustainable tourist. But if you can’t bring yourself to ditch the flights just yet, then definitely look into offsetting your carbon emissions. Most airlines offer this for an extra fee, but definitely read the terms and conditions before you agree to anything!

10. Use public transport while you’re away

20 ways to be a sustainable tourist

When you are on holiday, it can be so tempting to book a taxi or an Uber to get to where you need to be – especially on city breaks where you’re trying to see as much of the city as possible in a short space of time. However, public transport in a lot of places is brilliant. Trams, trains, buses and ferries offer affordable and easy ways to get from A to B, and it can be a really fun experience too. You’ll need to make sure you know exactly how to buy a ticket to avoid fines and getting in trouble, but this information is usually really accessible online.

11. Remember you don’t need a new wardrobe for every trip

Fast fashion has a huge impact on the environment, and it can be really tempting to go on a big shopping spree every time you have a holiday coming up. But this is disastrous for our planet, with so many clothes ending up in landfill year after year. If you do want something new for a particular occasion, try and shop secondhand or borrow clothes off a friend or family member. You can easily rewear your holiday clothes each year, as tempting as it is to buy new sparkly bikinis and stylish shorts!

12. Eat local

Some people are creatures of habit, and of course it’s always interesting to see how the McDonalds menu differs from country to country. But by choosing chain restaurants that exist across the globe when you travel, you’re not putting money into the local economy. By choosing local-run restaurants, cafés, tavernas and bars, you’re actively spending money with local people – as mentioned, sustainability isn’t just about our impact on the planet and environment.

But eating locally does, in fact, help the planet too! If you’re in a beach location and eat locally sourced seafood, the distance the food travels is completely minimised which is really helpful. It also allows you, as a sustainable tourist, to try food you might not otherwise try.

13. Cut down on meat

20 ways to be a sustainable tourist

Again, this is a tip that works in everyday life – not just as a sustainable tourist. Meat really impacts the planet, and by opting for veggie dishes when you travel you’re able to both try something new AND do good by the planet. Big sustainable tourist points here!

14. Pick your souvenirs well

Souvenir shops are plentiful in big touristy destinations. But a lot of it is just plastic tat that has been mass-manufactured, and it isn’t something you’ll treasure forever. The materials used to make them are harmful for the planet, and they’ll probably just end up in landfill at some point further down the line. If you choose to support local and genuine artists, you’re again being a sustainable tourist by contributing to the local economy and coming away with something much more special which will look great in your home or make a fantastic gift for someone.

15. Follow the rules

When visiting sites like Petra or Pompeii, there are sign posts with rules that allow you to see exactly how to behave in order to respect and protect the location. These are ancient sites which have been there for years, and deserve to be treated with a certain level of delicacy to keep them looking as they do for future visitors. Rules like not standing on certain stones or avoiding particular areas, for example, are in place for a reason and that is to protect the place you’re visiting as a sustainable tourist. 

16. Be aware of cultural differences

Again, this has more of a focus on social sustainability. Different countries have different cultures, and it is really important to research this before travelling both for your own safety and to avoid offending locals. Culture is a big reason that people travel in the first place, so it is really important, as a sustainable tourist, to ensure it generally remains untouched and unchanged. 

Some examples of this include not drinking in places where this isn’t allowed, dressing appropriately when visiting a mosque or making sure to cover your shoulders or knees at religious sites that require this.

17. Keep noise levels to a minimum

Noise pollution can be incredibly annoying, as well as being bad for the environment. As a tourist, you need to ensure you aren’t contributing too much to the noise levels of an area – this is a fact of basic respect. Not blasting music as you sunbathe, being quiet as you leave a bar in the evening, and so on; these are all ways in which you can be a more sustainable tourist and not make too much noise.

18. Take reusable bags with you

Especially when on city breaks or when travelling long-term, there might be a lot of opportunities when you need a bag after you’ve bought something. By taking a reusable bag with you, like this one, you eliminate the need for another form of single-use plastic and make yourself much more of a sustainable tourist. Cotton tote bags are a great option, as they fold up really small in your luggage but you can fit loads in them if you’re doing a food shop for example.

19. Travel in the off-season

20 ways to be a sustainable tourist

In a similar vein to visiting lesser-known locations, travelling during the off-season is a great chance to see a popular place when it’s quieter and lessen the impact your visit has on a destination. There will be less people creating noise, mess, pollution and more at one given time; it also means places are less busy, so you can see and do more with your visit. Off-season visiting makes you a more sustainable tourist!

20. Take fewer cruises

For some people, cruising is life. It’s an amazing way to see multiple destinations in  just one trip, and experience a bit of luxury along the way. But cruises (for the most part) have such a big impact on the environment – they’re often really not sustainable with the emissions they make. Cruise lines are doing as much as they can to change this, but by cruising less you can definitely be a more sustainable tourist yourself.

How to be a sustainable tourist- To conclude

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