A Guide to Sustainable Travel: 5 Ways to Do It Right

As someone who packs light and without a plan, I never gave much thought to sustainability when I traveled. After all, I recycled my plastic water bottles and tried to minimize my air travel when hopping to my next destination. Wasn’t that enough?

But my opinion changed during a visit to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where I explored the area by camel. Imagine my surprise when I met my guide and realized he was about 11 years old. Shouldn’t he be in school? I wondered.

A few years later, in Thailand, fellow travelers clued me into the horrific lives led by the elephants I’d contemplated riding. (Suffice it to say there were no elephant-riding photos for me on that trip.)

Since then, I’ve done a lot more homework about sustainable travel, also called responsible travel. This philosophy is about more than just the environment — it’s about being generally conscious of how the actions you take today will affect local communities in the future, long after you’ve gone.

Luckily, I’ve discovered that traveling sustainably doesn’t have to be difficult. By making a few adjustments in your travel plans, you can feel good about your holiday and the positive footprint you’ll leave behind.

1. Choose eco-friendly accommodations.

When choosing a place to catch your Zs, investigate what types of eco-friendly measures are in place. Does the hotel use energy-efficient lighting, which cuts down on energy usage? Do they use environmentally friendly products or have charging points for electric vehicles?

Quick Tips:

Each Marriott Vacation Club resort has a “Green Team” that manages its environmental efforts, including installing Energy Star appliances and lighting timers/sensors. The company also partners with Clean the World to recycle partially used soap and bottled amenities, which are then distributed to communities in need.

2. Check out community-oriented tours.

Going on guided tours is a terrific way to discover a new place without having to make all the arrangements yourself. But they can also have a negative effect on the locales they visit. Wherever possible, opt for tours that give back to the community by hiring local guides, adhering to responsible tourism policies and working with the people in surrounding areas instead of exploiting them.

Quick Tip:

Collette Vacations, a guided tour partner of Marriott Vacation Club, has established the Collette Cares Foundation to give back to the communities in popular tour locations such as Peru, Kenya, Cambodia and India.

3. Buy locally.

Taking a souvenir home from a favorite destination means you’ll always have a physical reminder of your travels. So when choosing that perfect item, seek out vendors and shops where your dollars will go directly to local artists and communities. And it goes without saying: Stay away from anything made from an endangered animal or plant!

4. Minimize your carbon footprint.

You have to arrive at your destination somehow, but you can make the journey a sustainable one. If you’re planning a short trip, consider taking the bus or train. If you’re set on driving, take friends along; when it comes to cars, the more the merrier! If hitting the skies is the only way to your destination, opt for direct flights. Not only are they more comfortable and less stress-inducing, but they reduce the amount of energy expended via air travel.

Once you arrive at your destination, walk or bike around town instead of renting a car. And if you really want to get a sense of how the locals live, use public transportation. Bonus: You’ll enjoy some serious people watching, too!

5. Respect and enjoy the places you visit.

It’s all about r-e-s-p-e-c-t! When you’re in a new place — whether it’s in your own country or thousands of miles away — you are a guest. It’s fantastic to be curious about your surroundings, but you’ll also want to put your best foot forward by learning about and following local customs. Adhere to traditional dress codes, try to speak a few words of the native language and ask questions instead of immediately passing judgment. At the end of the day, respecting someone’s home is what it’s all about.

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Kissairis M. is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Australia.