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How To Be Greener: Top Tips For Ethical Eco-Friendly Travel

Especially while traveling it’s difficult to be environmentally cautious, as taking off by plane is by definition not eco-friendly. And have you ever realized everything ‘travel’ comes in plastic? Small plastic travel shampoos, deodorants, toothpaste, and other stuff. But plastic isn’t the only problem: sunscreen ruins coral, Western values may endanger local cultures, and let’s not even speak about animal tourism. BUT no need to cry and think the world is doomed because of your travels! I’m going to tell you exactly how to travel greener: sustainably, responsibly & ethically.

In this article
What is Sustainable Travel?
How to Travel Greener?
– Say No to Plastic
– 7x R – Resolutions
Responsible Transport
Go Local
Ethical Travel
– Animal Welfare
– Cultural Ethics

What is sustainable travel?

Expressed simply by The World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism can be defined as:

“Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts,
addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities”

In other words: to travel sustainable means you have to protect and enhance places for the future – everywhere you go. On an economic, cultural & environmental level, so generations after you can enjoy the same (no wait: better) experiences in those places. Minimizing the negative impact of tourism, by helping to make a positive impact. So let’s dive into that!

How to Travel Greener?

La Paz Mobula Rays Snorkel Marine Life Sea of Cortez

Say No to Plastic

Plastic pollution is such a big deal. It becomes even clearer when you travel to Asia and find beaches full of it. Not so fun fact: there are no more beaches on earth untouched by plastic pollution (even the unexplored ones on uninhabited islands). We looked up some plastic pollution statistics and it’s so incredibly shocking.

  • 8.3 BILLION Metric Tons of plastic have been produced since plastic was introduced in the 1950s. The amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity. And 91% of this plastic doesn’t get recycled.
  • It takes 500-1,000 YEARS for plastic to degrade.
  • 500 MILLION plastic straws are used every day in America. That’s enough to circle the Earth twice. And people say this ‘no straw’ movement is ridiculous?!
  • 8 MILLION pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans every day.
  • 1 MILLION seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles are killed by marine plastic pollution every year

7x R – Resolutions

Reuse as much as possible! 50% of the plastic we use is single-use plastic, what a WASTE.
Refuse plastic whenever you can. While traveling we notice you get plastic bags and straws everywhere (even with a cup of coffee!)
Reduce cut back your plastic use, refusing plastic bags is only one thing. In a hotel: think twice before you open up another soap!
Replace plastic items by getting eco-friendly travel products! Check out our article: The Best Eco-Friendly Gifts For ZERO Waste Travel
(Be) Resourceful – bring your cup/mug to a coffee shop, a to-go box to the restaurant, and find alternatives for plastic.
Resolve – help with cleanups. There is an increasing amount of beach cleanups around the world. And if you’re a diver: consider joining an ocean cleanup.
pReach! Spread the word and tell all your friends about it, together we can make a change!

Eco-Friendly Travel Essentials

Responsible Transport

The truth is: flying is not eco-friendly. You’re adding a lot of not-great gases into the atmosphere. There’s an interesting website to calculate your carbon footprint. One solution is to fly less and take fewer flights (no transfers, but direct flights), and another to offset your flight emissions.

But the option we most often choose is way more fun: we travel overland! Forget flying and take a train. There are incredible train journeys around the world, such as the Trans Siberian Railway. On your way you actually see much more of a country, you can often get a comfortable sleeper berth and there is a lot less hassle with checking in/waiting and other airport irritations.

When exploring a city, try out a bicycle, walk, or take public transport. It’s also much, much cheaper!

Trans Siberian Railway Train Travel Journey

Go Local – Really Local

Sustainable travel is not only about environmental matters. Remember we talked about the economic part too? While traveling you can protect and encourage local economies by supporting local businesses. And we don’t mean the shops that sell ‘made in China’ souvenirs. We mean the businesses that produce locally. Handcrafted souvenirs and handmade fabrics for example. But it’s not just shopping, it’s also accommodation and food! Staying with locals in a guesthouse/Airbnb/homestay instead of putting money into the big hotel chains will really help boost the local economy. The same goes for the food – and street food in Asia is often the best & super authentic!

Local Market Borneo, Malaysia

Ethical Travel

Sustainable travel includes making ethical choices not only regarding the environment and economy but also regarding animal welfare and culture. Because animals and cultures need to be protected and nourished as well for future generations.

Animal Welfare

This is one of the most important things to think about, and often overlooked by travelers. And we’re guilty of this as well. Many many years ago, Roxanne rode an elephant. She did not have the knowledge she has now, and in Thailand, there still are an overwhelming amount of elephant riding activities. It’s definitely a good thing elephant sanctuaries have been growing in popularity, but in our opinion elephants do not need the help of or bathing by selfie-taking tourists, period. If you want to do good, support these organizations financially. If you want to go see elephants, find an ethical safari where you actually see the elephants roaming free. The same goes for lion & tiger parks. These animals belong in the wild OR taken care of by animal professionals. Support wildlife and do not encourage captivity!

Proboscis monkey Borneo, Malaysia, Animal Welfare, Wildlife Sustainable Travel

Cultural Ethics

One of the most powerful things about travel is that you can learn so much about different cultures. You’ll find your standards aren’t global standards, your religion isn’t everyone’s religion and your way of doing things can be considered weird or even rude elsewhere. You’ll also come across things you’re unfamiliar with. See things you haven’t seen before. And it’s your job to adapt and be respectful of that, and learn from it!

It can be difficult to see beggars (especially children), and it can be tempting to give money to those you believe are in need of it. But such acts will do more harm than good in the long term. It’s a lot better to support local businesses like mentioned above, to stimulate the economy and create sustainability! Visiting ‘tribes’ can be tricky too, as sometimes traditions become ‘tourist attractions’ in a way that it’s actually no longer the authentic tradition.

Wat Rong Khun, White Temple, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Always dress and act appropriately, respect (& protect) cultural norms and values. Don’t wear too little clothing when walking around religious places like temples and mosques, click the camera right in someone’s face without asking first or showing indecent behavior in public (which kissing is in Malaysia, also for heterosexuals!). If you want to act and do as if you’re in your hometown, find a culturally similar place to visit!

Go enjoy all the beauty the world has to offer and

make sure the next generations can enjoy it too ♡

We’d love to hear your ideas about sustainable travel! Do you have anything to add? Let us know!


How To Be Greener- Top Tips For Ethical Eco-Friendly Travel | Once Upon A Journey LGBT Travel Blog #sustainabletravel #ecofriendly #ecotourism #noplastic #responsibletravel

David Ander

Friday 9th of August 2019

Yo I'm working on my own on a non commercial travel planning app in my freetime, which displays an estimation of the CO2 emission of a route. Besides it gives you tip to reduce the flights.

Greets Dave

Roxanne & Maartje

Wednesday 14th of August 2019

Thank you for sharing!!

T Santora

Sunday 30th of December 2018

Thank you for a great article! My only suggestion is to reconsider your recommendations regarding accommodations. AirB&B, and other home stays are attractive and generally less expensive. They do provide “extra income” for locals. However, hotels most often provide real jobs with livable wages for local people. Many of these people don’t have the luxury of a home or an extra room to rent out to tourists. Their jobs at the hotel are how they survive. Hotels may very well be an important part of a sustainable economy for a destination. All the best, T

Roxanne & Maartje

Sunday 6th of January 2019

Hi T, thanks so much for your elaborate response. You make a very good point! We should've specified that we meant big hotel chains, as they actually discourage smaller - local - hotels/accommodation. In addition, a lot of the money there doesn't end up in the pockets of the local community. But this is big chains speaking, we should edit that!

Ženja | Bearly Here

Saturday 29th of December 2018

Such a great article, thanks for sharing!! With travel and tourism growing in this pace it's important to remember to be conscious❤️

Once Upon a Journey