10 Sustainable Travel Habits You Need to Adopt (with Video)

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I never noticed just how much damage we as tourists sometimes cause to the places we visit, until I saw the horrific effects of tourism during a trip to Bali. That journey changed me for the better and gave me a heightened awareness of sustainable travel.

What is sustainable travel exactly? To put it simply—it’s tourism that shows respect to the environment, local culture, and wildlife of the places we visit. Contrary to what some assume, living a sustainable travel lifestyle is not that hard. It just takes awareness and practice.

Here are 10 habits I’ve developed to help me travel responsibly, ethically, and sustainably—some of which were inspired by my travel buddy Jannae, who drilled into me the horrors of plastic and other pollutants tourists are guilty of carelessly using abroad.

Watch the Video and Continue Reading Below:

1. Recycle and Refrain from Littering

When you think of Bali, glossy images of exotic, pristine beaches probably flood your senses, right? Sadly, perception harshly collides with reality once you arrive. Tourism has played a role in litter destroying the public beaches of Bali, partly due to super cheap flight deals and cheap booze that attract large crowds of Australians and even Indonesians from other cities looking to party on their holidays.

Respect the country you’re visiting and do not litter, EVER. Go a step further and recycle what you can, when you can. Ask your hotel about their recycling program—in Bali, every hotel we stayed in offered to recycle any bottles we had.

I was very disappointed to see all the litter on Sanur Beach. Sustainable Travel Tip: Don't Litter! Recycle When You Can.

I was very disappointed to see all the litter on Sanur Beach.

2. Pack a Reusable Bottle

Help prevent the ocean from becoming your garbage can. Plastic bottles often end up polluting the land and sea, so bring your own water bottle and refill it when travelling.

Just The Flight put together this handy infographic that shows you the countries where you can safely drink tap water and where it’s dangerous. If you’re headed to a destination with unsafe tap water, here are a few options.

Option 1: Standard water bottle – Shop for large jugs of water at a local grocery store, keep them in your hotel room, and use them to refill your personal bottle everyday. Ask your hotel if they can recycle the jugs once they’re empty.

* Bonus TL Tip: The less bulk, the better, so I went to Wal-Mart and bought a foldable water bottle that collapses conveniently when I’m done using it. You can also easily find one on Amazon.

Option 2:  Filtration water bottle – Bypass having to buy any plastic water bottles at all when you purchase a special water bottle that can filtrate tap water. Roar Loud posted this great review of the LifeStraw Go Bottle. You can fill this bottle up with water from a faucet, river, stream, or even a puddle and it will filtrate it for you!

Campuhan Ridge Walk in Ubud. Sustainable Travel Tip: She's carrying a refillable water bottle in the side of her bag.

Campuhan Ridge Walk in Ubud. Jannae is carrying a refillable water bottle in her bag.

3. Put Purchases in Reusable Shopping Bags

Another way to prevent evil plastics from wreaking havoc is by reducing your use of them when shopping. Plastic bags end up in waterways and landfills where they don’t break down for years, so pack a reusable shopping bag. It can come in handy in a variety of travel situations. Buying groceries at an outdoor market in Barcelona? Planning a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Determined to put your haggling skills to the test at a bazaar in Istanbul? Bring a reusable bag.

According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), benefits of using reusable bags include energy conservation, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and reduction of marine debris by preventing pollution at its source.

BAGGU Compact Reusable Shopping Bag: After searching online, I found a stylish reusable bag I liked and bought one. I chose BAGGU for a few reasons; the compact bags I saw were all under $10, they came in a wide array of fun and vibrant prints, and they had 5 freaking stars on Amazon! I love sailor stripes, so I ordered this one:

Sustainable Travel Tip: Pack a reusable shopping bag (I use this BAGGU shopping bag)

I went online and bought my reusable shopping bag from BAGGU.

4. Alternatives to Driving

There are plenty, depending on where you are:

  • Public transit: busses, trains, trams etc.
  • Walking Tours
  • Bike Tours
  • Share Uber with Someone.
  • If you do rent a car, consider hybrid or electric if available.
Walking around Ubud, Bali. Sustainable Travel Tip: Find Alternatives to Driving.

Walking around Ubud, Bali.

5. Support the Locals, Not Corporations

This is especially important when visiting developing countries. Wouldn’t you prefer to help the local economy thrive, rather than contribute to a big corporation’s piggy bank? Support the locals! Buy locally made souvenirs, dine at local restaurants, use local tour operators, and stay in locally owned hotels.

Stopping for a refreshing drink in a local cafe in Ubud, Bali. Sustainable Travel Tip: Support Local Businesses

Stopping for a refreshing drink in a local cafe in Ubud, Bali

6. Shop Direct from the Source

If you’re going to support the local economy, try going straight to the source to make your purchases. That way you know your souvenirs are ethically sourced vs. sweatshop produced. In Bali, we visited craftspeople in their studios—we visited batik painters, wood carvers, and jewelry makers.

We got a chance to see how Batiks are made and purchase directly from the studio. Sustainable Travel Tip: Shop Direct From the Source.

We got a chance to see how Batiks are made and purchase directly from the studio.

7. Book Unique Cultural Experiences

Ask your travel agent to include unique cultural experiences in your itinerary. Cultural tourism can help you better understand the lifestyle of the people in the regions you are visiting—their history, art, architecture, religion, and any other cultural aspects that shape their way of life. Learn to be aware of your destination and how to help it sustain its unique character.

Traditional Barong dance in Ubud, Bali. Sustainable Travel Tip: Book Unique Cultural Experiences

We experienced a traditional Barong dance in Ubud, Bali.

8. Conserve Water and Save Energy

These are pretty simple. Reduce your time in the shower. I know it’s tempting to stay longer because you’re not paying the water bill, but think about the bigger picture. Also, turn off the lights in your hotel room and unplug electronics you aren’t using. Utilize natural light when you can.

Anini Raka Resort and Spa. Sustainable Travel Tip: I utilized the natural light from my window in my hotel room.

I utilized the natural light from my window in my room at the Anini Raka Resort and Spa.

9. Stop Supporting Cruel Animal Tourist Attractions

Ripping a wild animal out of its habitat for the sole purpose of entertaining humans is NOT OK. When you participate in an animal tourist attraction, that’s exactly what you’re supporting, and extreme animal abuse is often happening behind-the-scenes.

Here are the 10 cruelest animal tourist traps to avoid, based on a study conducted by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU):

1. Riding Elephants
2. Taking Tiger Selfies
3. Walking with Lions
4. Visiting Bear Parks
5. Holding Sea Turtles
6. Performing Dolphins
7. Dancing Monkeys
8. Touring Civet Cat Coffee Plantations
9. Charming Snakes and Kissing Cobras
10. Farming Crocodiles

To view the list and details about why each attraction is considered cruel, view this PDF created by World Animal Protection.

Read My Post: Tourists: Stop with the Animal Selfies! Don’t Visit Places Like “Tiger Temple”

Civet Cat Coffee Plantation - On the list of Top 10 Most Cruel Animal Attractions

Civet Cat Coffee Plantation – On the List of Top 10 Most Cruel Animal Attractions.

10. Keep the Momentum Going

When you get back home, keep the momentum going! Turn these sustainable travel habits into an everyday eco-friendly lifestyle. I recently started looking into ethically made clothing and discovered several green fashion brands. I reached out to Mayamiko, a collection of clothing and accessories ethically made in Malawi that fuses contemporary design with traditional African techniques. They sent me their Sweetie Bralet top with matching Sweetie A-line skirt, which I absolutely adore. Just in time for spring too!

Wearing Mayamiko, ethically-made clothing

What I’m wearing: Mayamiko, ethically-made clothing

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10 Sustainable Travel Tips You Need to Adopt

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  • 2TravelDads

    What a great list, and I’m glad to say that we do most of these things already. We never really go for booking the cultural experience though, so maybe we should. We could start that here in Seattle next time we have visitors, as we have sever local tribes that do exhibitions and shows.

    • Travel Lushes

      That’s great that you follow these! And cultural experiences are so awesome – it usually ends up being one of my favorite parts of a trip. You should totally visit a local tribe. It might be fun for your kids too!

  • Corinne Vail

    These are fantastic tips and the article is extremely well done. Wow…Kudos.

    • Travel Lushes

      Thank you!! Glad you enjoyed it Corinne!

  • Journal of Nomads

    These are great tips! We’re traveling the same way, we’re even take it a step further: we’re on a journey around the world but don’t take any airplanes. We hitchhike most of the time or use local transportation. We always eat in local restaurants or get our groceries in local shops and so on… We don’t have much but what we have, we recycle 🙂 And when we camp, we always take our litter with us, yes, even the toilet paper we used! It’s so sad to see beautiful places getting destroyed by so much garbage! Great post, great video!

    • Travel Lushes

      Wow! Your level of commitment is absolutely inspiring – I love that you have such a great appreciation for the earth’s beauty and aren’t afraid to spend your time trying to preserve it. <3 And thank you so much for checking out the video; happy you enjoyed it!

  • Great ideas that are easy to do! I love my Lifestraw water bottle- reusable and makes unsafe water safe to drink!

    • Travel Lushes

      Hey!! That’s a fantastic tip! I think I will add that to the article and tag you! Thanks so much.

      • I have a blog review on the product if you want too:)

        • Travel Lushes

          PERFECT! Thanks!!

          • Travel Lushes

            Hey! Just letting you know I updated my post with a link to your review. I did it a few days ago, but forgot to reply here. 🙂

  • Thanks to having camped a bit, all this comes naturally! But, a great checklist all the same! Have shared it!

    • Travel Lushes

      That’s good to hear! Some of these things I had to learn over time. When I first started traveling, I definitely did not follow a few of these. So happy I know better now 🙂

  • aCajuninCali blog

    These are excellent points! I’ve shared EVERYWHERE I can think of because I believe this message is so important. I fear that travel blogging sometimes sends a very different message, so I really appreciate your efforts to call attention to a very real issue. Great post!

    • Travel Lushes

      Thank you so much!!! I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate you spreading this message.

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  • Melody Pittman

    all great suggestions, but mostly ones i would hope people practice whether traveling or not. i love being in Panama where we (expats) are in Boquete because the locals throw trash everywhere and we all pick it up. after several months of seeing us gringo’s work so hard, they are finally starting to use the once foreign trash cans and it is making a notable difference. very proud that it is making progress.

    • Travel Lushes

      Now THAT is a wonderful and positive story. Thank you for sharing! I’m glad you’ve had a different experience. That, to me, is the difference between a tourist and a traveler. You are a traveler and know better. But there are a lot of tourists out there who approach travel a little bit differently. I’ve seen it. And it seems like common knowledge, but I think for some people, these things just don’t come naturally to them for whatever reason. That’s why you gotta educate whenever you can. Sometimes, they still won’t care, but then there are those who genuinely want to change their ways after being made aware of their actions.

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  • newboy

    The article regarding Bali’s litter problem is so wrong. You are completely misinformed about the real issues. This is not about tourists littering at all, it is about a completely inadequate garbage collection and disposal facility. Most of the garbage you encountered on the beaches is washed down into the sea from the rivers, and brought back onto the beaches by the tides. It starts its journey inland from the many villages, which is where most local people dispose of their waste, they throw it in the rivers. Even commercial establishments and those who get paid to collect and dispose of garbage, throw it in the rivers. Balis problem does not lie with the tourist. Not reinvesting in tourism infrastructure, control of the use of plastic, and law enforcement are the real issues. I have to ask, did you actually go to Bali?

    • Travel Lushes

      Did I actually go to Bali? Did you actually read my article? Or watch the video I posted? Unfortunately, people are completely missing the point of my blog post. While I welcome all opinions, I am going to ask that you keep an open mind and try to understand where I am coming from: This is a blog post. Not a scholarly article meant to go down the road of explaining all the factors that contribute to Bali’s trash problem. This is a blog post stating my opinion, based on what I witnessed while I was there, which was tourists littering. Your experience and others may have been different from mine, but I can only write about what I personally saw. The whole point of my post was to address how A. TOURISTS are contributing to this issue and B. How TOURISTS can be more responsible when they travel to different places. Please understand that my audience is travelers. I am attempting to educate those who travel on how travelers impact the countries they visit and educate them on different ways to minimize that impact. I do realize that many were offended because many think I am solely blaming tourists. What I would like people to understand is that I am in no way misinformed. Of course I know that there are multiple factors that contribute to pollution abroad. This is merely just one side of it, not a post intended to dive into every aspect of this issue. This post is for tourists, and again, you may disagree that tourists contribute to this, but it doesn’t change what I saw and decided to write about. I hope that clarifies things. And despite you not agreeing with a single thing I wrote, I still genuinely appreciate your feedback. Thank you for commenting and reaching out to me to join the conversation.

      • newboy

        Noted

        • Travel Lushes

          Thank you for taking the time to read my response! I am trying to respond to every single comment, and for the record, I don’t find any of the comments offensive at all. I completely understand why people are saying what they are saying, and the points are valid. I saw what I saw and wrote a post about it. It doesn’t line up with up with the experiences of others, and that’s completely fine. 🙂 But the overall message is that while there are multiple sources of pollution, tourists can reduce their impact by taking certain steps. I do apologize if the way I went about writing my viewpoint offended you and others though! Certainly not my intention =)

  • Patricia – Ze Wandering Frogs

    Thanks for putting this list together, and glad to say we are already following these! And for sure trying to go local – local suppliers, local performances, local stay, local food – as much as we can!

    • Travel Lushes

      That’s awesome Patricia!! I’m always happy to see that there are so many people out there who are practicing good travel habits! I’m still learning different ways to be a better traveler, so it’s encouraging to see others who are doing the same.

  • Good post! One of our most used items is our water bottles and reusable bags. I love those countries that have banned plastic bags and charge you for them. It does change people’s behavior. So many places have inadequate sewage and garbage collection. That combined with a culture of throwing litter everywhere. We talk about it a lot when we travel- it reminds us of the stop littering campaigns that used to run in the USA and Australia when we were kids.

    • Travel Lushes

      So true!! You are absolutely right. There are so many places that just can’t handle all the garbage, so it’s important to minimize our impact when we travel to these countries. I wish more places would ban plastic. I love visiting the coastal side of California. Every time I go there, I smile when I reach the checkout counter and there aren’t any plastic bags. It’s awesome.

  • Vyjay Rao

    It is very important for all of us to do what we can to help protect this beautiful place that we call Earth. Many of the tips are simple enough and can go a long way in the race to ensure that our earth and its environment are not ravaged.

  • Great post. All travelers need to be aware of how to travel more responsibly. And as bloggers, we need to be setting the example.

  • Jamie Italiane

    It is important to remember that vacation doesn’t need to be a break in respect for our world.

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  • USF Patel College

    These are great tips! Thanks for sharing.. We added them to our June Newsletter for Patel College of Global Sustainability http://bit.ly/junepcgs

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