Sustainable Travel – discover the world in an eco-conscious way!

At first glance, travel and sustainability may not really go together, as the trip alone damages the climate and the planet. But with just a few simple tricks you can make your vacation more environmentally friendly. We will tell you what is important about “sustainable travel”: from planning to on-site behavior.

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you.”

Anthony Bourdain

1. Plan your trip sustainably

  • No matter what type of vacation you are aiming for, whether relaxation, culture or adventure – always ask how far you actually have to travel. Nearby travel destinations in your country often fulfill these wishes as well as long-distance destinations. Don’t forget our great local lakes that invite you to swim or the nearby mountains you haven’t hiked yet!
  • Choose a reasonable relation between the duration of your trip and the distance to the country you want to visit. A week spent in a rental car through South Africa is neither relaxing nor is it in proportion to the climate-damaging flight. Rule of thumb: for a distance of 700 km you should be on site for at least 8 days, for 2,000 km it should be at least 15 days.

“Micro-Adventures” near you

Micro-Adventures is about looking for adventure around your home rather than in exotic locations. For example, you can take a guided tour of your own city, camp in the neighboring town, travel through your city by public transport, go to the terminus, explore the area there – and then walk back home.

Find your own ideas, there are so many of them! The Briton, Alastair Humphreys, is considered the inventor of this new concept.

2. Find suitable vacation destinations

Some destinations have made sustainability their main goal – here are some examples.

  • The German North Sea island of Juist, for example, wants to be CO2 neutral by 2030 and is also asking holidaymakers to help.
  • In Werfenweng near Salzburg, a similar goal is pursued with a soft mobility policy.
  • Amsterdam and Copenhagen rely on the expansion of the bicycle lanes and want to reduce car traffic.
  • Costa Rica has long been one of the flagship countries when it comes to sustainability in tourism.

If you need more inspiration, check out the ranking of the nonprofit organization Ethic Traveler. Once a year, they assess destinations according to environmental standards, social welfare and compliance with local human rights.

The world’s ten best ethical destinations in 2021 (in alphabetical order):

  • Belize
  • Benin
  • Cabo Verde
  • Costa Rica
  • Ecuador
  • Gambia
  • Jamaica
  • Mongolia
  • Nepal
  • Uruguay

3. Book sustainable accommodations

When choosing sustainable accommodation, two factors play a role: on the one hand, we should try to pollute as little as possible and on the other hand, the local economy need to be supported.

The following websites enable you to quickly find environmentally friendly accommodation:

If you prefer to make a spontaneous decision on site, you should make sure that

  • the accommodation is managed by local residents,
  • for example, the local population benefits from your overnight stays in the form of jobs.
  • All-inclusive offers for the host country can have negative effects (the local population is then largely cut off from the income from tourism).
Responsible Travel

Intercity-Express (ICE), Germany | Photo: pixabay/2182694

4. Check certifications

The travel industry can’t still  fully agree on sustainable certifications. There are dozens of different certifications but only a few make sense. Here are three examples:

  • TourCert: The certification takes holistic ecological and social criteria of tour operators, travel agencies and accommodations into account.
  • Viabono: Promotes sustainable tourism on the initiative of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, for example in accommodation, campsites, canoe providers or nature parks.
  • Blue Flag: Awards sustainable operated waters in 40 countries, such as sports boat harbors and bathing beaches on inland waters.

A good starting point: go to the certification pages and use the lists of participants there as the basis for planning trips. But do not forget one thing: Many small sustainable accommodations do not always have the money for such certification. So don’t forget such small places in your research.

5. Pack correctly (and lightly)

Regardless of whether by coach or plane, the more luggage you take with you, the bigger your ecological footprint, because the weight has an impact on CO₂ emissions. If you plan a round trip on site, the output per trip increases accordingly. So learn  how to pack as minimally as possible or at least only what you really need on your trip.

Another advantage: you have to carry less laundry – and then wash less.

6. Travel climate-friendly as possible

Air travel is the most climate-damaging form of transportation. Greenhouse gas emissions are enormous and even a single flight can produce more CO2 than you normally leave all year round. So think about whether you can also reach the destination by train or bus – compared to the more sustainable modes of transport. If it cannot be avoided to fly, it is possible to compensate for your own CO₂ emissions through organizations such as Atmosfair. A distance-based surcharge is levied for each flight, which is used for climate protection projects. In general, it makes sense from an environmental point of view to reduce the number of your flights: Instead of taking a short vacation three times a week with flights, sustainable travel means flying only once for three weeks. This reduces the burden on the personal greenhouse gas footprint to a third.

When traveling to the surrounding area, the car is often the cheapest means of transport, but unfortunately not the most environmentally friendly. For this reason, you should also consider carpooling for car trips or car sharing offers such as  Flinkster for short-term vacation.

Greenhouse gas emissions by means of transport (per person / kilometer)

Long-distance bus: 29 g
Railway, long-distance transport: 32 g
Railway, local transport: 57 g
Tram, city and subway: 58 g
Public bus: 80 g
Cars: 147 g
Airplane (domestic): 230 g

Source: Umweltbundesamt, Germany, reference year 2018

Responsible Travel

Photo: pixabay/geralt

7. Sustainable means of transport on site

What applies to the arrival must also be considered in the holiday country. Instead of a rental car, you can also explore your travel destination by public transport – and get to know the country and its people much better. If the local bus and train network is not suitable for travel, the accommodation may offer the option of connecting with other tourists who are planning a similar route and then only booking one rental car instead of two. If possible, long bike tours or hikes are of course the most sustainable way to discover the foreign country.

Softly mobile in new ways

Also try to avoid the car as often as possible on vacation. Bicycles can easily be rented on the islands in northern Germany and in many cities. Holiday home owners often provide bicycles on request, and many hotels now also have a small fleet of bicycles.

In the Alps, some have specialized in environmentally friendly mobility concepts, such as the 25 locations of the “Alpine Pearls”  with locations in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France and Slovenia.

8. Live respectfully on site

Similar rules should apply in the visited country as at home, especially when it comes to saving energy. Because even if the hotel price is fixed or the holiday home owner only demands a flat rate for additional costs, this is no excuse to shower excessively or to keep the light on unnecessarily. In addition, you should use your towels (and the bed linen) several days in a row so that they do not have to be washed too often.

Air conditioners in the hotel room (and not only there) are real power guzzlers and should ideally not be used at all or only at short intervals. It’s much better if you turn off the air conditioner when you leave the room and don’t adjust the room temperature too low or too high.

9. Support the local economy

Discover more than what is in the travel guide during your vacation trip. Rather try to support the local economy and experience foreign cultures up close. You can e.g. do this:

  • Buy your souvenirs at street markets or in small shops.
  • Eat in local restaurants instead of well-known chains. You will get to know the typical dishes of the country and the hospitality of the locals much better.
  • When choosing your leisure activities, you should consider the natural conditions of the holiday country: golfing in arid regions or attending a show with exotic animals whose habitat is completely different should be considered.
  • In addition, you should  hire a local tour operator. The guides not only know their way around better, but are also directly involved in the booking.

10. Meeting Locals in a sustainable way.

Meeting locals from other cultures is one of the most common reasons for traveling and this can also be implemented in a sustainable manner. This includes, for example, learning about the customs so that relationships with the population can take place in a polite and respectful way. In addition, you should have a certain sensitivity to the living environment of the people on site and always reflect on your own behavior:

  • Do I wear appropriate clothing?
  • Do I treat the locals with respect?
  • Am I behaving well at the different sights?

Sensitivity is also required when it comes to photography. It is understandable that photos are a great reminder of this very different culture, but you should still ask the locals for permission in advance (and accept a possible “no”).

11. Share your sustained enthusiasm

After your vacation, you may still be able to do something good:

  • Did you particularly like a project on site or are you still thinking about the people’s living conditions? Then you should find out how you can possibly help them from a distance or support already established programs on site.
  • Tell your friends and relatives about the sustainable accommodations and projects you’ve visited, or share your travel experience on social media so that as many people as possible can follow your example.
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