Ways to Become a Sustainable Traveler

Carly Harward Student Life Officer


February 5, 2020

Conversations around sustainability have increased in popularity over the past few years and have taught us that we should recycle, try not to use single-use plastics, and to bring our own bags to the grocery store. Yet, how does sustainability impact us as travelers and tourists? During time abroad, many students will take advantage of living in Europe (and the cheaper flights) as an opportunity to visit many other European countries. However, have you ever thought about your travel habits in relation to how sustainable they are/how we could make more sustainable choices when making travel plans? While studying abroad we encourage you to continue these conversations on going green further and encourage yourself to become a “sustainable traveler.”

Last year, I decided that I was going to try to do my part and live a more sustainable lifestyle. I’ve switched to reusable food wraps instead of sandwich bags, a bamboo toothbrush, canvas shopping bags, and always have a stainless steel water bottle/travel mug on hand. Though, one area I’ve found that I just haven’t been doing my research is with my travel habits. Little by little I've begun to incorporate changes into my travel plans that are more sustainable. In no way does this mean that I'm perfect but being sustainable doesn't mean having to do it perfectly - every little bit helps :)

Travelling sustainably may sound scary, but all it means is seeking a way to minimize negative impacts on the environment and to support the local economies you’re travelling to. I’ve listed below my top tips on how to do so whether it be for a weekend away from your abroad location or during your entire abroad experience. 

Think about where you’re going and how you get there

Can you get to your destination via car, rail, ferry? If an airplane is necessary try to book a direct flight, pack lightly, and book an economy seat to limit your impact. You can also look into carbon offsetting

When picking where you go try to avoid destinations overcrowded with tourists and destinations that are being damaged by too many visitors. Sometimes, the best way to get a feel for the new culture is to avoid the big cities and go for a smaller less traveled location!

Pack your reusable items

When getting ready for your next adventure you could include your reusable water bottle, lunch box, and travel mug to cut down on one use items that you can accumulate while traveling. The airport is always my down fall - I realize I’m thirsty and buy water, I get hungry and buy something wrapped in plastic, I’m tired after a flight and need a coffee. The list goes on and on. For my last few trips I’ve brought snacks and a meal with me in my own container (wash it out after using and use it the rest of your trip), packed a reusable water bottle and travel mug and have both cut costs and waste. 

I always make sure to bring a reusable bag (tote bag) as these fold up so small and are easy to slip into your pack. If you end up stopping by a market or picking up one too many items to carry then you don’t have to opt for a plastic bag or purchase a new bag there. 

Buy local souvenirs and/or buy secondhand

When it comes to souvenirs, buying local will  be more expensive, but your money is more than likely contributing to the economy of where you are. You can buy a “traditional” looking item but often in chain stores this is imported due to cheaper costs. 

We all have those moments when packing where we misjudge the weather or pack too little. Always opt to go to secondhand shops and see if they have what you’re looking for! This is also a great idea when staying in a location for longer - buying secondhand items is the way to go :) 

Ditch the Taxis

Once you arrive to your destination, think about how you’ll get around. Familiarize yourself with the public transportation system, rent a bike for the duration of your stay, or walk around!

Pack smart!

Packing doesn’t have to involve multiple suitcases that make it difficult to lug around - try packing lightly and efficiently! When thinking of clothing pack items that can be worn in multiple different ways and can make different outfits. When thinking of toiletries maybe opt for toothpaste tabs, shampoo bars, and bars of soap that involve minimal plastic! Check out this eco-friendly packing list for some great ideas. 

Take advantage of this time and get to see the country you’re living in

Though marking several countries off of your bucket list may be tempting, seeing a new country every weekend for 48-72 hours is not the most sustainable way to travel. Instead, maybe try to fit in a longer and slower trip when you can that allows you to immerse yourself into that country’s culture. While living in a new place for quite some time take this time to see all of the amazing places that your new city and country has to offer. Studying abroad in Ireland? Check these places out