What is “Sustainable Travel?”

Sustainable travel is all about creating a positive effect on the communities you visit. Leave the place better than you found it.  - Jon Bruno, executive director of the International Ecotourism Society

According to the World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism has 3 guiding principles:

  1. Environmentally-friendly practices

    • E.g. minimizing gas and plastic usage

  2. Protecting natural and cultural heritage

    • E.g. natural parks and historic sites

  3. Supporting local communities

    • E.g. employing local staff, buying local products, and engaging in charity work

What does this look like?

Environmentally-Friendly Practices


Modes in descending order from best to worst:

  • By foot (walking, running, hiking, etc.)

  • By bicycle

  • By animal (horse, mule, etc.)

    • Animal welfare should be considered

  • Trains

  • Buses

  • Vehicles that are fuel-efficient or run on electric power/alternative fuels

    • Carpooling when possible

  • Boats, especially natural- or human-powered

  • Airplanes

    • Minimize the number of flights, including layovers

Accommodations & Hygiene

  • If a waste basket is available at a toilet, always put toilet paper in the waste basket (and not the down the toilet).

    • Many plumbing and sewage systems cannot handle any items other than human waste.

  • Reuse bed linens & towels (and clothes!) more than a couple of times before laundering.

  • Bring your own toiletries to reuse (soap, shampoo, conditioner, etc.).

    • If provided mini bottles, then either don’t use them or take the rest with you to use it up completely next time.

    • Bring a washcloth instead of disposable face/body wipes, as these are now banned in some countries since they are not biodegradable.

    • If bringing Q-Tips, then use paper/cardboard ones instead of plastic.

  • For feminine hygiene products:

    • Try using washable pads (such as Luna Pads) or a reusable silicone cup (such as the Diva Cup) to reduce disposable waste.

    • If using disposable products, do not place them in any toilets—treat them like trash.

Food & Drink

  • Bring a reusable bottle for water; do not encourage the use of disposable water bottles!

  • Use reusable/regular tableware (spoons, forks, bowls) instead of disposable ones.

    • Or bring your own!

  • Use a handkerchief instead of paper napkins.

  • Avoid food waste and overproduction:

    • Do not order more food than you can personally eat (and do not assume that someone else will eat it for you).

    • Encourage composting.

Trash & Recycling

  • Take out what you bring in!

  • Practice the simple principle of “LEAVE NO TRACE.”

  • Bring a zippered/sealable bag to carry trash.

  • Minimize trash and waste as much as possible, reusing packaging when safe and avoiding purchasing heavily packaged items.

  • Do not leave trash anywhere outside of a trash bin/receptacle.

  • When disposable materials cannot be avoided but are recyclable (e.g. plastic, aluminum, etc.), then encourage proper recycling, even if it means holding onto them a bit longer to get to a proper receptacle.

  • Practice the “3 R’s” for stewardship: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

Protecting Natural & Cultural Heritage


  • Follow all government-imposed rules for treating natural areas!

  • Stay on the trails and don’t stray off them.

  • Do not contaminate water sources (lakes, beaches, rivers, etc.) with chemical products such as sunscreen, non-biodegradable soap, etc.

  • Avoid defecating in natural areas unless permitted. If permitted (i.e. in the backcountry), then do so in a 6-inch (15 cm) deep hole that is at least 100 ft (300 m) away from water sources.

  • Avoid visiting places that are endangered.

    • Often the reason they are degrading is because of over-tourism.

Supporting Local Communities

Business & Shopping

Photo credit: Yanick Gauvin

Photo credit: Yanick Gauvin

  • Bring a reusable shopping bag to carry your purchases and other items.

  • Utilize local services (especially small independent businesses) as much as possible for everything: lodging, food, services, etc.

    • This decreases carbon footprints

    • This improves local economy

    • Buy from local farms or farmers markets.

Why is this important?

earth’s resources are limited

Sustainable tourism--bringing global awareness to travel and putting it into action--was a top priority for the United Nations in 2017, designated as the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development,” and continues on today.

There is growing research and concern that at our current rate of consumption of Earth’s resources, there will not be enough for our future children just less than 7 generations from now.

Due to overuse of resources and excess of carbon emissions, the current change in environmental climate is already making for difficult living situations with more frequent natural disasters and less ability to grow much-needed food and provide clean water.

What can I do?

Lead by example & spread the message

Constantly practice these gestures and inform others on their importance, especially in your own community as well as abroad.

If every person does their small part, then collectively we could make a big enough impact so that our future generations can also enjoy the beauties of this planet.