What is Sustainable Travel: How To Travel Green

It’s not easy being green, and even less so on the road.

Every time I get on a plane I cringe when I think about how much bigger my carbon footprint grows. As I make the change to living a more natural lifestyle and try to cut down my plastic and waste production, I have to acknowledge the elephant in the room: my travel addiction.

The United Nation has declared 2017 to be the International Year of Sustainable Tourism. The UN estimates that tourism is responsible for around 5% of global CO2 emissions. Around 75% of that comes from transport while the other 25% comes from accommodation, like the heating and air-conditioning of hotels, restaurants, and bars.

It’s a big number, but the good news is that we can help. So what can we do as travelers to be more green on the go and cut back on our CO2 emissions?


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What is Sustainable Travel?

Well, first, let’s define sustainable travel. According to the World Tourism Organization sustainable tourism takes into account “its current and future economic, social and environmental impact, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and the host communities.”

In a nutshell traveling sustainably means keeping in mind the local and global communities, socially, economically and environmentally.

Now, I’m just starting to dive into this whole world of being green on the go. But I know that whatever grain of sand I can add to the hundreds, and hopefully one day in the future millions, others are contributing, we will one day have built a mountain of sustainable travelers!


Here are a few changes you can make as of your next grand adventure:


Train it, don’t Plane it

Train travel is better than any other form of travel and do not let anyone tell you different! Getting around Europe by train is a luxurious opportunity to drink in views and enjoy a ride you never could in a car, bus or plane. The bonus? It’s the most sustainable form of transport. Wherever your next adventure may be, if you happen to be traveling around to other parts of the country, check to see if there is a rail route available.


Whip out your beauty products

Who doesn’t like to walk into a beautiful hotel with a soft bed and clean white sheets? Bathrooms are even better. Spa like showers and soaker tubs. They even give you little bottles of shampoo and conditioner. You can spend five days there and you will get your little bottles or packets of body wash each day.

While I don’t know the stats on how much waste is produced from those adorable hotel goodies, I don’t need them to know that they are not at all sustainable. Not only do we have to take into account that most come in plastic bottles, but think about how much CO2 is emitted in producing, packaging and shipping hundreds of these to hotels around the world.

So save those tiny guys for someone else and pack your own bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc.


Go loco for locals

Remember, traveling sustainably also means keeping in mind the local community. But this isn’t just an obligation, this is an opportunity to have a trip of a lifetime.

Getting to know locals is what makes travel standout. Nowadays, almost anyone can travel to another part of the world and see the sites. But when you’ve seen the sites and haven’t connected to the local culture, it’s like going to the movie set of your favorite film without having met any other actors that brought the place to life.

Walk into local shops. You know, the ones without the big neon lights right in front of the monuments. Head down side streets and walk into a mom and pop shop. Search out local artisans and bring home unique souvenirs like a handmade piece of pottery or a drawing done by a budding art student, not mass produced trinkets you can find in any of the fifty tourist shops lining the streets.

Wherever and whenever you can, go loco for locals.


If you can hack it, then tap it

Did you know that about one million seabirds die each year from plastic along with 100,000 marine animals? And even if you are a good global citizen and sort your trash, in the US only 9 percent of post-consumer plastic was recycled in 2012. The remaining 32 million tons? In our landfills and oceans.

Culturally we shy away from tap water. But if you are traveling to a place where the tap water is safe? Fill that reusable water bottle up! In Spain, Burgos, San Sebastian, and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria have the best tap water.


Small steps can lead to great results. It often seems like we are helpless in the face of something as massive as climate change, but without a doubt, if we do what we can in our day to day lives, we can turn things around.


Enjoy your next adventure, and remember, go green!

For more information on the International Year of Sustainable Tourism check out their website here.

Nina Lee shares stories about living, loving and traveling with intention on her blog NinasSweetAdventures.com. She is based in Cordoba with her Spanish partner and writes about all aspects of the rich Spanish culture and navigating dating abroad. You can also find her at HolaTeacherSpain.com, a blog for newbie teachers and language assistants to help them navigate their time in ESL classrooms abroad.