The Do's and Don'ts of Sustainable Travel

Ugh. The perennial struggle between promoting tourism and saving the very place that you are promoting. Beautiful, idyllic destinations used to be untouched paradises of sand and surf until someone paved paradise and put down WAY more than a parking lot. As tourists, we thrive off of cheap rentals, a bit of WiFi, and good plumbing, but all of these amenities can really ruin a local environment. And when these amenities are not around, it’s not pretty. For example, Iceland is currently dealing with the small issue of desperate tourists POOPING on the ground in the back country. I’m no expert, but I’m sure that can’t be good for the locals.

So, how do we save the Earth while also exploring it – and do that without blowing wads of hard-earned cash? Let’s problem-solve, SUAGers. When I used trusty ole’ Google to teach me the ways of the sustainable gurus, the first solution to traveling green was “Don’t Travel.” Well, that’s not how we roll here at Shut Up and Go – I’m going to give you real tips on how to go green while traveling the scene. From eco-resorts to biofuel, here’s your guide to traveling while keeping it as sustainable AND cheap as possible (and we’re not just talking about giving up straws, people).


1. Use sites like Kynder, Earth Changers, and Eco Companion to book the greenest trips!

If you’re like me and had no idea where to start on the path to green travel, check out these incredible websites that have compiled hundreds of amazing offerings on everything from the most sustainable places to stay to the most wildlife-friendly safaris. Kynder has the most offerings in the Americas and Europe, but also tacked on one yoga resort in Thailand to add some crucial diversity. Eco Companion even has an accommodation section called ~Eco-Romance~ so if you’re into saving the world with your special someone, you’re not alone! Earth Changers is a community that has group trips dedicated to making an impact in the places they go, AND they suit a “variety of budgets.” Pinch me, I’m dreaming.

2. Direct flight? Don’t mind if I do…

Want to skip that stressful two-hour layover in a random airport in Texas while also patting yourself on the back for helping the Earth? Well, non-stop flights are the answer. Want to know why? It’s actually takeoffs and landings that create most of an airplane’s carbon emissions. I know that direct flights aren’t the cheapest option, but if you book a flight in advance, you can save that dough! Just check out Shut Up and Go’s Guide to Flying for more tips. And here is a list of the most fuel-efficient, sustainable airlines, if you really want to cover all your bases.

3. Or just take a train!

Known as the most environmentally-friendly mode of transportation, trains can also offer you a stunning pass through of the most scenic countrysides while saving you dolla dolla billz y’all. Try the Glacier Express in Switzerland, the Pride of Africa in South Africa, or the California Zephyr in the USA.

The Glacier Express in Switzerland. (pc: planetrail.co)
4. Into luxury? Stay at an eco-resort!

Nothing is more hilarious than going up to your friends and saying, “I stayed in a geodesic dome and ate scallops while watching the Aurora Borealis.” They might burst out into envious tears right in front of you. And the best part? Geodesic domes are one of the MANY types of eco-resorts that practice energy and water conservation, proper sewage treatment, wildlife monitoring, and low-impact tourism activities. Try Six Senses Resorts or &Beyond if you’re looking for a chain, or try a local eco-lodge if you’re looking to spice things up.

Dreamy domes. (pc: theaurorazone.com)
5. Voluntourism 101: Do a Clean-Up!

Okay, let’s be real – voluntourism usually helps the volunteers more than it actually helps the local community. While I don’t think that a trip advertising that it will ‘Save the African Orphans!’ will do any good whatsoever (a real sign I saw at my university), doing clean-ups is usually a cool way to spend an afternoon while also offsetting the impact of your journey. If you’re walking on a beach, a cliff, through a rainforest, in a canyon, or in another gorgeous natural setting, bring a reusable bag and pick up all of the plastic that you see!

6. Buy handmade, unless it used to be alive.

Sounds self-explanatory. If it’s made of fur, ivory, tortoiseshell, snakeskin, or bone *shudder*, do NOT BUY IT. If it’s a cute postcard for your mama, make sure she recycles it or keeps it forever. Try to buy local products, whether that be native-crafted art or woven goods. Support the local economy instead of factories while also looking super chic in those new woven earrings.

Quechuan women in Peru selling some awesome homemade bags. (pc: peruhop.com)
7. Sunscreen? I don’t know her.

I still haven’t gone snorkeling yet, but apparently, by the time I get there, all of the coral reefs will be GONE due to people using SPF 100 on their skin like its made of paper. Approximately 6,000-14,000 tons of sunscreen are deposited into coral reefs every year, which is aiding in the degradation and bleaching of the reefs and ruining my chances of seeing Nemo. Start buying biodegradable sunscreen, which does not contain oxybenzone, or better yet, wear a long sleeve swim shirt. I promise you’ll still look dope.

8. Water saving ~hacks~

The easiest thing to do here is to carry a reusable water bottle. Cue the “duh, Samar. I already knew that. I have my trusty Hydro Flask. I even put stickers on it.” That’s cute. What are you gonna do if the water is less than sanitary? Buy a bottle of Dasani? The answer is a portable filtration system – maybe you’ve heard of LifeStraw? Some more hacks include taking showers instead of baths, washing your clothes in the shower instead of using the hotel’s laundry service, and eating less meat abroad.

Turn a river into a nice refreshing glass of water with LifeStraw. (pc: lifestraw.com)
10. Locals know best.

Period. If you’re interfering with the local way of life, you’re not traveling sustainably. But SUAGers are intrepid, moral travelers that love language learning, experiencing new cultures, and just living a free life. If we can’t travel sustainably, I don’t know who can!


Do you have any more tips on how to travel greener? Leave them down in the comments below!

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