Making the push towards more eco-friendly sightseeing and tourism sounds good in theory, and certainly reduces the net impact on the planet, but totally sustainable travel isn’t plausible. From plane rides to plastic toiletries, travel is inherently harmful to our environment. 

It’s impossible to be totally eco-friendly–humans put a toll on the environment through overpopulation and overconsumption of natural resources, and the same goes for travel. Totally sustainable travel may not be possible, but you can minimize your impact by following these steps to be a more eco-friendly traveler.


Start with rethinking the biggest impact, which is generally the transportation. We don’t have to go abroad to travel. Daytripping and staying close to home is a great way to minimize your carbon footprint and save money on plane tickets. As an added bonus, becoming a tourist in your own city gives you a deeper appreciation of where you live and a chance to look for new places you can enjoy regularly.

If you must fly to get where you’re going, consider staying in one location for the duration of your trip instead of driving or flying around. Staying put for an extended period of time allows you to get to know the area you’re visiting and its culture better than you could during short stays. Staying in one town or city will minimize your travel time, in turn reducing your carbon footprint. 


Purchasing carbon offsets has become a popular way to make travel more eco-friendly. However, purchasing offsets doesn’t remove the carbon that the plane you took expelled from the atmosphere; it only ensures that the equivalent amount is not generated in the future. Better yet, book direct flights to reduce overall flight time as well as the number of takeoffs, which reduces carbon emissions

Carbon offsets calculate the approximate amount of carbon emitted from your mode of transportation and then calculate a fee that will keep an equal amount of carbon from being generated or emitted from another source. For example, if you fly from San Francisco to London, you can calculate how many metric tons of carbon dioxide that the flight emitted, then purchase the equivalent number of offsets on a Green-e certified service like 3Degrees, Blue Spruce Green Gas, or BEF Carbon Mix. These companies will then use the funds to keep that same amount of carbon out of the atmosphere through projects that maintain forest quality, reduce landfill or animal waste pollutants, and more. 


Make calculated choices that will help reduce the negative impact of your travels. Avoid single-use plastics by bringing your own reusable Grayl water purifier bottle which will keep a great deal of excess waste out of landfills. Skip in-flight amenities that are wrapped in plastic and instead bring your own earphones, snacks, neck pillow, and a blanket scarf.

Invest in a set of reusable, plastic-free travel bottles or purchase powdered shampoos and toothpaste instead of buying the travel-sized versions of your products. Travel-sized face washes and conditioners end up wasting a significant amount of packaging as they’re thrown away after a few uses. 

Other ways to reduce your negative impact as you travel are to bring less baggage as reducing weight cuts fuel use, stay with friends or in dorm rooms at hostels as they require less energy, and explore on foot whenever possible–it’s the best way to sightsee and as an extra bonus it’s healthy!


The tourism industry is a perfect example of voting with your dollars. While traveling, invest your money into what you want to see more of in the world. Take some time to visit national parks or protected lands. Purchases souvenirs that are ethically made, book accommodations that are LEED certified, and leave positive reviews for sustainable products and places to encourage others to make the same conscious spending choices that you did. 


Maybe we should travel less. Instead of having a destination wedding host your nuptials locally and support vendors in your hometown and reduce the environmental impact of having your loved ones fly overseas. Rather than having another international business meeting, host meetings with your overseas team digitally. Skip a girls’ weekend in Las Vegas and find something just as fun an hour or so from home which will not only make a smaller impact on the environment but also save money. We must consider the environment when we make our travel plans in order to make a meaningful impact while having memorable experiences.

Author Bio: Emily is a high school junior in California who is passionate about community development, eco-friendly travel, and reducing her footprint on the environment. In an effort to reduce her personal plastic consumption and inspire change in her community, Emily founded Bags for the Ocean to recycle tee shirts into reusable bags!

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