29 smarter travel choices you can make in 2020



Slide 1 of 31: Terms such as "sustainable travel", "eco-tourism" and "responsible travel" are nothing new – and with reports of the worsening climate crisis and overtourism filling our news feeds every day, they've never been more important. The good news? Traveling in a sustainable way doesn't have to be overly complicated or break the bank. Here are 29 concrete steps savvy travelers can take to minimize their impact and get more from their trip.
Slide 2 of 31: The world is a big place, but still select destinations are straining under the weight of ever-surmounting visitor numbers. Venice, Iceland, Peru’s Machu Picchu and Thailand’s Koh Tachai island are just a handful of places that have felt the full force of overtourism in recent years – the latter even imposed an outright tourism ban in 2016. Go beyond the obvious tourist hot spots and leave the madding crowds behind – we’ve got plenty of ideas for alternative destinations.
Slide 3 of 31: Some places are leaps and bounds ahead when it comes to protecting the environment, natural resources and local customs. Plump for a destination that champions sustainability, and has a robust tourism management plan, and both you and local residents will get more from your visit. Great examples include the western pacific archipelago of Palau (pictured), which requires visitors to sign an eco-pledge upon their arrival. European destinations including Gozo, in the Maltese archipelago, and Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana were also recognized for their efforts in Green Destinations’ 2019 sustainability awards.
Slide 4 of 31: Overtourism is a complex issue, and boycotting destinations that rely heavily on their tourism industry is not always the best option. If your heart is set on seeing Venice’s canals or drinking in Iceland’s volcanic landscapes and compact capital, consider traveling outside the peak season – Venice’s low season, for example, is between November and March (excluding major events), while it’s best to travel to Iceland outside of summer. This eases the pressure on the destination’s infrastructure and local residents, and ultimately makes for a more pleasant experience for the traveler too.

Slide 5 of 31: It’s not always possible, we know, but if you can reach your chosen destination by train rather than plane, you’ll dramatically reduce your carbon emissions. While traveling within Europe, make the most of the Eurostar, which will zip you to destinations including London, Paris and Brussels. If you’re in the States, why not eschew that domestic flight in favor of a railroad journey? Amtrak serves 46 states and, while it’ll take a little longer, you’ll see a lot more than you would cruising through the sky. And with several new high-speed routes in the works, it’ll soon be even easier.
Slide 6 of 31: While multiple stopovers might help pinch some pennies, when it comes to the environment, a direct flight is generally the best option. This is because around 25% of an aircraft’s emissions come from the take off-landing cycle (including taxiing). If it’s possible to do so, skip the layover and settle in for the long haul.
Slide 7 of 31: It’s no secret that aviation is a big pollutant, but some airlines are doing more to combat this negative environmental impact than others. A 2019 report by the Transition Pathway Initiative analyzed the carbon management practices and emissions performance of leading airlines – Delta, United, Lufthansa and Japan’s ANA Group came out top for carbon management, while easyJet was found to have a lower emissions intensity than its competitors.
Slide 8 of 31: Rather than rushing between destinations, slow down and spend more time in a single place – even better, swap multiple city breaks throughout the year for one longer trip that truly allows you to get to grips with a country. You’ll save on travel emissions and get much more from – and ultimately give much more back to – the place you’re visiting.
Slide 9 of 31: It may sound obvious, but making use of public transport over taxis or a hire car is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint on the ground. Research metro systems, city buses and trolley services before you set off and, if you fancy blowing off some cobwebs, check whether your destination has a bike-sharing scheme. In some cities, UberPool is a great option too. If a hire car is your only choice, you could opt for a hybrid or electric model.

Slide 10 of 31: While buzzwords such as “eco” and “green” can sound impressive, it’s worth digging a little deeper to discover whether these descriptions ring true, or if they’re just 'marketingese'. After all, these terms mean nothing if they’re not backed up by concrete actions. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific information about a company’s eco-friendly practices – if the answers seem vague or woolly, chances are the hotel or tour operator is not as “green” as it claims to be.
Slide 11 of 31: Look for accommodations that employ local people, serve locally sourced food and have a written environmental policy: this could include things such as how they deal with wastewater, their approach to heating/cooling the premises and/or their involvement in local conservation projects. Accreditations including those from the US Green Building Council (look out for properties that are LEED certified), the Rainforest Alliance and Green Tourism (UK) are all great indicators. Pictured here is Six Senses Fiji, which is renowned for its sustainability efforts.
Slide 12 of 31: As with accommodation, your choice of tour operator can have a significant impact on the destination you’re visiting. Plump for operators that work closely with local communities, that hire local guides and that champion local accommodation and produce. This way your money will go back into the local economy, rather than to a travel industry behemoth from abroad. By spending time with locals, you’ll also have a better understanding of the place you’re visiting.
Slide 13 of 31: Before you settle on a tour operator, do some research into their green credentials. Find out, for example, if they’ve abolished single-use plastic, if they use green forms of transport, or if they’re heavily involved with/donate to local conservation efforts and environmental projects. Check they carry out their tours responsibly too, being mindful of fragile ecosystems (including in national parks and marine habitats such as the Great Barrier Reef) and respectful of local communities and wildlife.
Slide 14 of 31: The responsibility doesn’t sit squarely on the tour operator’s shoulders, though. Even if your tour falls short when it comes to sustainability, you can still take steps to ensure your visit leaves as little an impact as possible. Take any rubbish with you and (though it might be tempting to sneak a souvenir) leave natural phenomena including shells, coral and rocks where you found them. If you’re traveling independently stick to the trails and keep a safe distance from wild animals.

Slide 15 of 31: If you’ve embarked on a tour that you feel has some legwork to do when it comes to sustainability, don’t be afraid to say so – and, if you can, encourage your fellow tour goers to do the same. After all, if a company knows that tourists value responsible and sustainable travel, they’re much more likely to prioritize it in the future.
Slide 16 of 31: Especially if you’re an animal lover, you may be tempted to get up close to wildlife on your travels – but, as a general rule, wildlife-watching tours that allow visitors to pet, feed or even ride wild animals do not have the creatures’ best interests at heart. These experiences can also pose a danger to tourists. Elephant rides, which put physical and mental strain on the animal, are a definite no-no, as are experiences where creatures (such as captive bears, dolphins or orcas) are trained to dance or perform tricks.
Slide 17 of 31: It’s still possible to have incredible wildlife experiences on your travels, though. Swap tours that manipulate animal behavior for those that allow you to see creatures in their natural habitat. Make sure your tour is operated by expert local guides with strict guidelines (including maintaining a safe distance from animals), and plump for those that operate in smaller groups to minimize impact on the wildlife. Responsible Travel has a huge curated collection of ethical wildlife tours around the world, from spotting polar bears in Churchill, Canada to tigers in northern India.
Slide 18 of 31: Genuine sanctuaries are another amazing way to see some wildlife. True sanctuaries are there to care for animals that have been orphaned, rescued or injured, and are not there to entertain humans. That means you should be suspicious of places that allow visitors any sort of direct contact with the animals or have extra-long visiting hours. Reputable sanctuaries will generally not breed animals and will house them in large spaces as close to their natural habitat as possible. Look for accreditation from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), whose members must adhere to a strict code.
Slide 19 of 31: Done the right way, visiting Native communities can be an enriching experience for both parties – a chance for the traveler to learn about a new culture, and for the indigenous peoples to share their heritage and traditions and earn money while doing so (pictured here are the Himba women of Namibia performing a dance at dusk). Done the wrong way, however, it can become an exercise in exploitation. Funds will likely fall into the hands of outside companies, rather than Native peoples themselves, and your visit will probably pass without any meaningful or beneficial exchange with the local community. 
Slide 20 of 31: To avoid this, make sure you choose your tour operator carefully. Ask questions about the indigenous community’s involvement in setting up the tourism project and how they benefit from it; read the company’s responsible tourism policy (if they don’t have one, that’s a red flag); and ensure that the Native community fully consents to you being there. When on the ground, listen carefully to information about local customs and respect these at all times. Pictured here is a scene from the 26th Annual Kahnawake Mohawk Pow Wow, held on the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in 2016. 
Slide 21 of 31: In an age of smartphones and selfies, it’s all too easy to snap a quick pic without consideration for its subject. But, especially when visiting indigenous communities, you should always ask first. You’ll ultimately get much more from the exchange if you do. It’s also been reported that, between 2011 and 2017, 259 people have been killed in their quest to take a selfie. Needless to say, that Instagram-perfect shot is simply not worth it. 
Slide 22 of 31: While it’s natural to want to “give something back” on your travels, the reality is – unless you have a specific and required skill set – your contribution could do more harm than good, and ultimately take work from local people. Much has been written, for example, about the detrimental effects of volunteering in orphanages. There are other ways to have a positive impact on the communities you’re visiting, though. Check out initiatives such as Pack for a Purpose, which advises travelers with space in their suitcase on the specific supplies needed by local communities.
Slide 23 of 31: There’s no escaping the fact that giant cruise ships can have a negative impact on both the environment and the communities they’re visiting –Venice has even placed a ban on large cruise ships docking in the city center, and other destinations are also struggling under the weight of thousands of cruise-ship passengers. Some lines fare better than others when it comes to sustainability – and, if you're planning a cruise, it’s worth seeking them out. Hurtigruten, for example, launched the world’s first hybrid-powered cruise ship this year, while Viking Line is making the most of wind power.
Slide 24 of 31: If you’ve got sea legs, opt for a small-cruise holiday – the environmental impact of a smaller ship is much less, and they also allow you to visit more remote destinations that can’t accommodate large liners. There are fewer facilities on board and that means travelers are much more likely to spend time and money in the destination they’re visiting – rather than hopping off a giant cruise ship for an ice cream and a whistle-stop tour.
Slide 25 of 31: A delicious way to sample a destination’s culture – and benefit the local community you’re visiting – is to eat local. Abandon global chains and resort restaurants in favor of locally owned cafés, restaurants and street-food stalls that champion local produce and ingredients. You’ll be injecting your tourist pounds or dollars directly into that region's economy, and the food won’t have traveled for thousands of miles to your restaurant of choice either. Here men cook takoyaki, a traditional street food in Osaka, Japan.
Slide 26 of 31: The same goes for shopping. Don’t fill your luggage with cheap keyrings or emblazoned mugs from the hotel gift shop. Instead, support local makers by buying handcrafted items from independent businesses and local markets. One thing to be aware of, though: travelers should avoid buying “wildlife products” made from unsustainable (and unethically sourced) materials, such as coral and ivory. Be sure to ask questions and, if you’re unsure, leave it behind.
Slide 27 of 31: Reduce the amount of single-use plastic you get through by making room for some reusable items in your suitcase. Staples include a reusable water bottle or canteen, a reusable coffee cup, and a reusable shopping bag. Dispose of any excess packaging on new clothing or travel gear before you reach your destination too – it’s best to get rid of any trash where you’re familiar with the recycling and waste-disposal practices.  Read more: Amazing tourist destinations being ruined by trash
Slide 28 of 31: Even if the tap water at your destination is undrinkable, you can still avoid purchasing multiple single-use plastic bottles. Beyond filling up on filtered water at your accommodation, you can also invest in water purification tablets or a water-filtering system of your own – Katadyn’s Steripen Classic 3 comes highly recommended.  Improve your next trip with these travel gadgets
Slide 29 of 31: The sun is shining and you’ve slathered on plenty of factor 50 to avoid a pink nose and peeling skin. But did you know that some ingredients used in sunscreens are harmful to marine life such as corals? Two of the main offenders are chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, so steer clear of sunblocks that contain these if possible. The offering from eco-conscious brand Green People is a top pick.   Check out the best free attraction in your state
Slide 30 of 31: Organizations including Responsible Travel and Tourism Concern have spoken out about the negative impacts of all-inclusive resorts. Belly-busting buffets discourage guests from dining at local restaurants and travelers are less likely to prize themselves away from the pool to go in search of local attractions or tours. This means that mammoth resorts, usually owned by overseas companies, guzzle up money from tourists that could be going into the local community. However, experts now say that all-inclusive resorts might be a highly sustainable way to accommodate mass tourism – when done right.
Slide 31 of 31: One of the best – and often most rewarding – ways to travel more sustainably is to rediscover the charms of your home country. A "staycation" means you'll have no need to take that long-haul flight, instantly lowering the carbon footprint of your holiday, and you'll no doubt save some money too. You just might be surprised by the hidden attractions you uncover on home soil.   Here are five ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your holiday

How to travel sustainably in the new year

Consider the impact of overtourism

The world is a big place, but still select destinations are straining under the weight of ever-surmounting visitor numbers. Venice, Iceland, Peru’s Machu Picchu and Thailand’s Koh Tachai island are just a handful of places that have felt the full force of overtourism in recent years – the latter even imposed an outright tourism ban in 2016. Go beyond the obvious tourist hot spots and leave the madding crowds behind – we’ve got plenty of ideas for alternative destinations.

Find a sustainable destination

Some places are leaps and bounds ahead when it comes to protecting the environment, natural resources and local customs. Find a destination that champions sustainability, and has a robust tourism management plan, and both you and local residents will get more from your visit. Great examples include the western pacific archipelago of Palau (pictured), which requires visitors to sign an eco-pledge upon their arrival. European destinations including Gozo, in the Maltese archipelago, and Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana were also recognized for their efforts in Green Destinations’ 2019 sustainability awards.

Travel off peak

Overtourism is a complex issue, and boycotting destinations that rely heavily on their tourism industry is not always the best option. If your heart is set on seeing Venice’s canals or drinking in Iceland’s volcanic landscapes and compact capital, consider traveling outside the peak season – Venice’s low season, for example, is between November and March (excluding major events), while it’s best to travel to Iceland outside of summer. This eases the pressure on the destination’s infrastructure and local residents, and ultimately makes for a more pleasant experience for the traveler too.

Take the train

It’s not always possible, we know, but if you can reach your chosen destination by train rather than plane, you’ll dramatically reduce your carbon emissions. While traveling within Europe, make the most of the Eurostar, which will zip you to destinations including London, Paris and Brussels. If you’re in the States, why not eschew that domestic flight in favor of a railroad journey? Amtrak serves 46 states and, while it’ll take a little longer, you’ll see a lot more than you would cruising through the sky. And with several new high-speed routes in the works, it’ll soon be even easier.

Fly directly if you can

While multiple stopovers might help pinch some pennies, when it comes to the environment, a direct flight is generally the best option. This is because around 25% of an aircraft’s emissions come from the take off-landing cycle (including taxiing). If it’s possible to do so, skip the layover and settle in for the long haul.

Choose your airline carefully

It’s no secret that aviation is a big pollutant, but some airlines are doing more to combat this negative environmental impact than others. A 2019 report by the Transition Pathway Initiative analyzed the carbon management practices and emissions performance of leading airlines – Delta, United, Lufthansa and Japan’s ANA Group came out top for carbon management, while easyJet was found to have a lower emissions intensity than its competitors.

Slow down

Consider green modes of transportation

Beware of green-washing

Opt for accommodation with eco credentials and a responsible ethos

Look for accommodations that employ local people, serve locally sourced food and have a written environmental policy: this could include things such as how they deal with wastewater, their approach to heating/cooling the premises and/or their involvement in local conservation projects. Accreditations including those from the US Green Building Council (look out for properties that are LEED certified), the Rainforest Alliance and Green Tourism (UK) are all great indicators. Pictured here is Six Senses Fiji, which is renowned for its sustainability efforts.

Go local when it comes to tours

Do your homework before you book a tour

Before you settle on a tour operator, do some research into their green credentials. Find out, for example, if they’ve abolished single-use plastic, if they use green forms of transportation, or if they’re heavily involved with/donate to local conservation efforts and environmental projects. Check they carry out their tours responsibly too, being mindful of fragile ecosystems (including in national parks and marine habitats such as the Great Barrier Reef) and respectful of local communities and wildlife.

Leave no trace

Give constructive feedback

Know which animal experiences to avoid

Especially if you’re an animal lover, you may be tempted to get up close to wildlife on your travels – but, as a general rule, wildlife-watching tours that allow visitors to pet, feed or even ride wild animals do not have the creatures’ best interests at heart. These experiences can also pose a danger to tourists. Elephant rides, which put physical and mental strain on the animal, are a definite no-no, as are experiences where creatures (such as captive bears, dolphins or orcas) are trained to dance or perform tricks.

Be choosy when it comes to wildlife tours

It’s still possible to have incredible wildlife experiences on your travels, though. Swap tours that manipulate animal behavior for those that allow you to see creatures in their natural habitat. Make sure your tour is operated by expert local guides with strict guidelines (including maintaining a safe distance from animals), and plump for those that operate in smaller groups to minimize impact on the wildlife. Responsible Travel has a huge curated collection of ethical wildlife tours around the world, from spotting polar bears in Churchill, Canada to tigers in northern India.

Visit animal sanctuaries

Genuine sanctuaries are another amazing way to see some wildlife. True sanctuaries are there to care for animals that have been orphaned, rescued or injured, and are not there to entertain humans. That means you should be suspicious of places that allow visitors any sort of direct contact with the animals or have extra-long visiting hours. Reputable sanctuaries will generally not breed animals and will house them in large spaces as close to their natural habitat as possible. Look for accreditation from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), whose members must adhere to a strict code.

Be mindful when visiting indigenous communities

Done the right way, visiting Native communities can be an enriching experience for both parties – a chance for the traveler to learn about a new culture, and for the indigenous peoples to share their heritage and traditions and earn money while doing so (pictured here are the Himba women of Namibia performing a dance at dusk). Done the wrong way, however, it can become an exercise in exploitation. Funds will likely fall into the hands of outside companies, rather than Native peoples themselves, and your visit will probably pass without any meaningful or beneficial exchange with the local community. 

Be mindful when visiting indigenous communities

To avoid this, make sure you choose your tour operator carefully. Ask questions about the indigenous community’s involvement in setting up the tourism project and how they benefit from it; read the company’s responsible tourism policy (if they don’t have one, that’s a red flag); and ensure that the Native community fully consents to you being there. When on the ground, listen carefully to information about local customs and respect these at all times. Pictured here is a scene from the 26th Annual Kahnawake Mohawk Pow Wow, held on the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in 2016. 

Be a considerate photographer

In an age of smartphones and selfies, it’s all too easy to snap a quick pic without consideration for its subject. But, especially when visiting indigenous communities, you should always ask first. You’ll ultimately get much more from the exchange if you do. It’s also been reported that, between 2011 and 2017, 259 people have been killed in their quest to take a selfie. Needless to say, that Instagram-perfect shot is simply not worth it. 

Be wary of “voluntourism” initiatives

While it’s natural to want to “give something back” on your travels, the reality is – unless you have a specific and required skill set – your contribution could do more harm than good, and ultimately take work from local people. Much has been written, for example, about the detrimental effects of volunteering in orphanages. There are other ways to have a positive impact on the communities you’re visiting, though. Check out initiatives such as Pack for a Purpose, which advises travelers with space in their suitcase on the specific supplies needed by local communities.

Choose your cruise liner with care

There’s no escaping the fact that giant cruise ships can have a negative impact on both the environment and the communities they’re visiting –Venice has even placed a ban on large cruise ships docking in the city center, and other destinations are also struggling under the weight of thousands of cruise-ship passengers. Some lines fare better than others when it comes to sustainability – and, if you’re planning a cruise, it’s worth seeking them out. Hurtigruten, for example, launched the world’s first hybrid-powered cruise ship this year, while Viking Line is making the most of wind power.

Consider a small-cruise holiday

Eat local

A delicious way to sample a destination’s culture – and benefit the local community you’re visiting – is to eat local. Abandon global chains and resort restaurants in favor of locally owned cafés, restaurants and street-food stalls that champion local produce and ingredients. You’ll be injecting your tourist pounds or dollars directly into that region’s economy, and the food won’t have traveled for thousands of miles to your restaurant of choice either. Here men cook takoyaki, a traditional street food in Osaka, Japan.

Shop local too

Be smart when it comes to plastic

Reduce the amount of single-use plastic you get through by making room for some reusable items in your suitcase. Staples include a reusable water bottle or canteen, a reusable coffee cup, and a reusable shopping bag. Dispose of any excess packaging on new clothing or travel gear before you reach your destination too – it’s best to get rid of any trash where you’re familiar with the recycling and waste-disposal practices.

Read more: Amazing tourist destinations being ruined by trash

Filter your own water

Even if the tap water at your destination is undrinkable, you can still avoid purchasing multiple single-use plastic bottles. Beyond filling up on filtered water at your accommodation, you can also invest in water purification tablets or a water-filtering system of your own – Katadyn’s Steripen Classic 3 comes highly recommended.

Improve your next trip with these travel gadgets

Use ocean-friendly sunscreen

The sun is shining and you’ve slathered on plenty of factor 50 to avoid a pink nose and peeling skin. But did you know that some ingredients used in sunscreens are harmful to marine life such as corals? Two of the main offenders are chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, so steer clear of sunblocks that contain these if possible. The offering from eco-conscious brand Green People is a top pick. 

Avoid all-inclusive resorts? The jury is still out

Organizations including Responsible Travel and Tourism Concern have spoken out about the negative impacts of all-inclusive resorts. Belly-busting buffets discourage guests from dining at local restaurants and travelers are less likely to prize themselves away from the pool to go in search of local attractions or tours. This means that mammoth resorts, usually owned by overseas companies, guzzle up money from tourists that could be going into the local community. However, experts now say that all-inclusive resorts might be a highly sustainable way to accommodate mass tourism – when done right.

Become a tourist in your own backyard

One of the best – and often most rewarding – ways to travel more sustainably is to rediscover the charms of your home country. A “staycation” means you’ll have no need to take that long-haul flight, instantly lowering the carbon footprint of your holiday, and you’ll no doubt save some money too. You just might be surprised by the hidden attractions you uncover on home soil. 

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