In the excitement of planning that next adventure, it can be easy to forget one thing (and we’re not talking about your goggles). It’s that every time we travel somewhere, it has a lasting impact on the planet. After all — COVID-19 aside — 1.2 billion of us board an international flight each year. That’s creating more of a carbon tattoo than a footprint. And ironically, we often contribute to spoiling the very places we see in glossy magazines and our favorite travel blogs. So, what can we do? Well, by traveling sustainably, we can limit our environmental impact and support local folk. Here are the best ways you can tend to those itchy feet while making a difference.

Contribute to carbon-offset schemes

a person looking out a train window at sa heard of cows in the passing fields

Let’s face it, flights aren’t particularly kind to Mother Nature. After all, planes churn out more COper passenger than any other mode of transport. If you can get there by bus or train, you’re already doing your bit. Plus, you can gaze out the window at the countryside en route. Traveling further afield? Contributing to a carbon-offset scheme is the way to go. The islanders of Palau have asked their visitors to do just that since 2020. So, while travelers are busy sunning themselves, they’re also chipping in towards habitat restoration. Win win.

Look out for certified eco-friendly activities 

a group of tourists on a whale watching cruise

Traveling in an eco-friendly way begins the moment you hit enter on a search engine. Researching socially and environmentally responsible activities will give you peace of mind to enjoy the trip. Keep an eye out for sustainable tourism and eco-certifications. That’s just what the Costa Rican tourism institute has been awarding companies since 1997. Everything from eco lodges to whale-watching expeditions have achieved the stamp of approval. With them, you can be safer in the knowledge you’re reducing your environmental impact.

Visit places that promote eco-friendly practices

a couple riding bikes on top of a hill

Can’t decide where to go for your vacation? It might help to whittle down your list to places whose eco-initiatives deserve rewarding. Helsinki surely has to come somewhere near the top thanks to its 745 miles of bike paths as well as city-wide charging stations for electric cars. Oh, and it’s aiming to become carbon-neutral by 2035. Or perhaps you could plump for Ljubljana, voted Europe’s greenest city by the E.U.

Donate to conservation and protection programs

a woman sitting next to a chimpanzee in the wild

Before you set out on that big voyage into the wilderness, think green. Setting aside some of your budget towards a sustainability program can go a long way. Just take the initiatives set up in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. There, programs help protect habitats for gorillas as well as provide income for the local community. By creating work as tour guides for locals and limiting visitor numbers, they’ve figured out the first steps to making gorilla tracking more sustainable. 

Discover the hidden gems in your local area

a woman buying bread from a local

You don’t have to venture far to do a good turn for the planet. In fact, using less fuel means it’s usually greener to stay closer to home. A trip to a local forest or beach can recharge the batteries as much as an exotic expedition. And the ‘think local’ ethos applies equally well if you’re in other parts of the world. Eating and buying local produce supports the community you’re in and avoids it bringing in polluting imports. Anywhere around the world, there’s no place like home.

Leave no trace on the local landscape

a group of children picking up trash and recycling

Ah, the great outdoors. There’s nothing like losing yourself in the majesty of a national park. Until you see a heap of leftover litter, that is. In U.S national parks, 100 million pounds of waste is generated annually. And given plastic bags and aluminum cans can take a century to decompose, that’s a pretty permanent footprint. So, pick up your trash — and even better, bring a reusable bottle!

Hang up your towels in your hotel

a woman hanging her towels in her hotel room

It’s an action that takes all of five seconds. Yet it can have a massive impact if we all forget to do it. Hanging up your hotel towels is a universal sign that you don’t mind reusing them. Or you can go one better — stick that ‘do not disturb’ sign up. Every time the cleaner changes your linen, there’s more industrial-strength detergent going around the washing machine. Oh, and bring your own toiletries to avoid using that miniature plastic shampoo bottle! With so much plastic already floating around our oceans, it’s one small step for a big environmental impact. 

Shop more ethically

a woman in a traditional peruvian dress making handmade blankets

Finding a bargain is always great, but knowing no one was exploited making it? Priceless. Scouting out fair trade products is of course a good idea, but another way is to cut out the middleman and buy from local artisans directly. Be it a Peruvian blanket or a Japanese paper lantern, it’s always better to try and meet the maker. After all, what better insight into a culture could there be?

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