How to travel sustainably

8 sustainable travel tips

Man running across a breach highlighting how to travel sustainably.
Wood cabin with an outdoor fire pit surrounded by four chairs in Ellijay, GA.

We all want to travel this stunning planet without causing it more harm, and making a few improvements to how you vacation is the best way to do it. Between airplane carbon emissions, road trip car exhaust, and not to mention the small plastic purchases on layovers or gas stations, it’s hard to sit with the environmental impact of travel.

However, if you’re worried this means you need to hold off on that dream trip to Alaska, don’t despair. There are plenty of ways to travel smarter so that you can sightsee sustainably. And, luckily enough, it’s never been easier to change the way we approach vacations—the need for eco-conscious travel has caused a boom in carbon-offsetting programs, green technology, carbon-neutral cities, and improved public transportation infrastructure.

Wondering what part you play in it all? Explore the world while leaving less of a carbon footprint and embrace the future of vacations with our sustainable travel tips.

Vacation rental on the lake in Bigfork, Montana.

1: Shorter distances, smaller carbon footprint

Featured Vacasa rental: Echo Lake Family Fun

Before stamping your passport and jetting off to an international destination, consider nearby vacation spots (or within a shorter distance) that offer the same kind of appeal you’re looking for. Feel worlds away in your own backyard by trying new activities. Kick up adventure ziplining through the trees, taste-test an exciting food scene, or spend a weekend exploring small-town treasures. Craving warm weather? Unwind by the beachfront in a coastal town you haven’t visited yet. (Some of our favorites include Hatteras Island, Myrtle Beach, and South Padre Island.)

The living room of a pet-friendly vacation rental in New Orleans, LA.

2: Consider destinations that need your support

Featured Vacasa rental: Home in the Big Easy

Opt for an eco-friendly vacation by choosing a community that needs a boost or is rebuilding after a disaster. Though it may sound like an odd way to help, tourism strengthens the local economy, creates jobs, and can help fund conservation efforts for the area’s natural environment. For example, in the years after Hurricane Katrina, tourism was a major factor in not only aiding New Orleans's rebound, but thoroughly revitalizing its economy. Think of your trip as a win-win for both your wanderlust and supporting local communities.

You can also bolster eco-centric destinations that are active in preserving endangered wildlife or natural wonders through green technologies and their government’s sustainability practices.

Overview of a vacation rental in Hawaii on the beach with a hot tub.

3: Pack with less plastic

Featured Vacasa rental: Sandcastles TVNCU#1305

Packing smarter is one of the easiest ways to trim down your environmental impact while traveling. Here are our travel tips on how to eco-proof your luggage:

  • Ditch plastic bags for canvas and fabric totes.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle for you (and suggest the same for any travel buddies).
  • If you know you’ll be eating on the go, pack a small container for cutlery or purchase foldable utensils, as well as a reusable straw.
  • Choose reef-safe sunscreen. Check your sunblock for the ingredient oxybenzone—it is toxic to algae and coral and could harm the local marine ecosystem.

When you set out for your trip, be mindful of layovers and snack purchases to avoid single-use plastic whenever possible.

A vacation rental covered in snow in Girdwood, AK.

4: Seek out local experiences

Featured Vacasa rental: Megeve Chalet

When you’re traveling somewhere new, of course you want to take in the area’s sights, sounds, and gorgeous scenery. Add a few fun and educational activities to your itinerary, like an up-close glimpse of wild animals at a local refuge or even a dive along shipwrecks. Experience what makes your vacation destination unique by sightseeing historical sites, natural landmarks, or its national parks. When you get to know a place personally, the easier it becomes to help preserve its natural beauty.

Vacation rental in the jungle in Puntarenas

5: Getting around/choosing public transport

Featured Vacasa rental: Casa Aviari

In a major pivot from high-emission transportation, many travelers have embraced the idea of slow travel, utilizing train systems as a chance to start relaxing before reaching the destination. Not only do trains emit a lower percentage of greenhouse gasses, but they provide a great opportunity to ease into your vacation with a book or watch the landscape change out the window.

If you do need to fly, look into programs for carbon offsetting, typically listed as an option when purchasing your ticket. Through this, your money will go to tree planting, renewable energy developments, clean water programs, energy efficiency improvements, and carbon capture, that work to improve the environment while you set off on an adventure.

When you do arrive at your destination, consider sustainable tourism options to sightsee the city, such as public transport by trains and buses, bike rides, or walking tours. Not only will you experience the city a bit more intimately, but it’s also a perfect way to meet local people, make friends, and receive excellent recommendations for other must-see spots in the area.

Vacation rental with a pool in the jungle in Uvita, Puntarenas.

6: Touring companies

Featured Vacasa rental: Lost Pools Bungalows

As we mentioned before, tourism makes a difference. Before you trek out on a tour of the lush tropical jungle or charter a sunset dolphin cruise, take a few moments to research tour companies that back environmental advocacy, send proceeds to conservation, or offset their carbon emissions as much as possible. In the short time it takes to pick an eco-conscious experience, your financial support makes a difference in the long run, and celebrates businesses making environmentally-friendly choices.

Different terrains offer various ways to sightsee, so check for local guides by horseback, kayak, or cable car.

Spanish style vacation rental in Baja California near a body of water.

7: Buy local

Featured Vacasa rental: Chula Vista 147

When you set out for a day of shopping or just a sweet treat, try and buy your goods from neighborhood businesses over Western one-stop souvenir shops to support the local economy. Meet artists and tradesmen that live in the area, buy vintage or secondhand, and come back with a one-of-a-kind memento that better reflects your adventure. Seek out snack stands or eateries owned by community residents for deliciously authentic cuisine and a taste of something unique to the region.

Cabin in Truckee, California on Donner Lake.

8: Carbon offset when you get home

Featured Vacasa rental: Classic Donner Lake View Cabin

When in doubt, there is always the welcome option of donating money towards environmentally-focused programs when you come back from your trip. Along your journey, did you visit a rainforest that could use some support? Inspired by the national park’s local wildlife? Sending funds to protect the places we visit is the best way to show our appreciation, and not only preserve their beauty, but help them thrive.

Sustainable travel FAQ

Traveling sustainably means making conscious decisions to reduce carbon emissions or environmental impact created by airplanes, cars, or energy consumption related to travel. You can travel sustainably by choosing carbon offsetting options when purchasing plane tickets, slow traveling by train, picking environmentally-friendly tour companies, buying local, and using less plastic.

A few sustainable travel tips include choosing nearby destinations for your vacation, using public transport or opting for slow travel by train, offsetting carbon emissions, researching environmentally friendly tour companies, and buying local.

Nature travel inspiration