How to travel sustainably

27 April 2016 ( 06 September 2018 )

Be a responsible traveller with these ways to protect and preserve our world.

If someone asked you if you thought it was important to travel responsibly, you would probably agree.

While many of us aspire to be globetrotters and explore destinations far and wide, our adventures shouldn’t be at the expense of our planet. As you consider a holiday, also consider the impact it’s having — to the environment, local communities and the natural world. 

There are, however, easy ways to be a responsible, sustainable traveller. Adhere to these and do whatever you can to protect and preserve destinations. Only then will others be able to discover and enjoy them in the future.

1. Choose environmentally friendly transport

Exploring a destination by bicycle or good old-fashioned walking is much better for the environment than renting a car, whilst travelling by public transport such as buses, trains or ferries produces less harmful emissions than if all those individual travellers were using private modes of transportation.

If planning a day trip, consider an escorted tour rather than hiring a car. Not only will this be more environmentally friendly, a guide will be able to share their local knowledge.

If you need to fly, choose a direct flight as it's the take-off and landing that generate the most carbon emissions, or check out your airline to see if they are part of an environmental programme such as the International Air Travel Association whose members invest in carbon reduction projects.

Embrace the beauty of the great outdoors on a walking holiday with Saga.  Find out more here

2. Sustainable travellers take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints

It might be tempting to bring some pretty shells home as souvenirs, but this practice can be extremely damaging to local ecosystems, particularly if millions of others are having the same idea. Snapping off a small piece of coral can cause huge areas to die - leave all as you find it. Simply take a snap and add it to your holiday memories.

Never buy products made from endangered plants or animals either, whether that’s fur, feathers, horn or coral. 

And no matter how cute, don’t have your photo taken with a baby monkey, or an elephant, snake, exotic bird or any other wild animal. Often these creatures are taken from their natural habitat when they are very young and can be mistreated. When they lose their appeal or are seen to ‘misbehave’, they can even be killed. 

Also, always ask before taking any photographs of people. While your holiday album may be full of smiling selfies, other people find it intrusive — some even believe cameras steal their souls. If a person says they don’t want to be in a photo, whether that’s a definite no spoken or an uneasy shake of the head, respect their wishes. 

Travelling? Leave the DSLR at home

3. Recycle and reuse

In the same vein, never leave litter behind, no matter how small an item it might be. 

Thanks to TV programmes such as Blue Planet II, and the news stories that followed, we are now more aware than ever about the mass of plastic swirling around in our oceans, and the risk it poses to marine life. If you’re already changing your habits at home and using less plastic, do the same while on holiday. Wherever you travel, carry a reusable shopping bag, as well as a bottle that you can fill with water (if tap water is drinkable).

And if the destination you’re visiting doesn’t have recycling bins, bring any plastic toiletry bottles back to the UK with you. Some countries are simply unable to dispose of the mountains of toxic plastics that wash up on beaches, harm wildlife and poison the soil - reuse and recycle wherever you can.

4.Conserve water and energy

Water is a limited resource on this planet and a precious commodity in some countries you might visit. According to, nearly one billion people around the world have no access to safe water.

Whilst conserving water in countries where there is a ready supply does not necessarily make it more readily available in places of need, it helps stop us wasting what we have and draws awareness to this serious issue.

Note how much water you’re using, especially in countries or areas where locals don’t have access to safe water. Take a short shower instead of a bath, turn off taps and reuse your towels to cut down on laundry. If everyone makes a little effort, it can make a big difference.

And don’t waste energy. Unplug your phone charger when not in use (perhaps even think if you really need to charge your mobile), turn off lights, a TV or radio if you’re not in the room, and consider not using any air conditioning. You can always close the curtains to keep the heat of the sun out.

5. Seek out eco-tours and accommodation

Eco-tours are tours which benefit the environment, wildlife or local community in a specific area. This sort of company might donate money to or run their own conservation projects and they will certainly regulate and design their tours to prevent any damage to the environment.

Eco hotels do their bit for sustainable tourism by making improvements such as using renewable energy sources and using organic products and natural materials in their construction in order to minimise any harmful impact.

Visit Las Terrazas Nature Reserve and eco-village on our Cuba Libre tour. See for yourself how a self-sustaining community can thrive and hike through wooded trails spotting colourful birdlife.

6. Support the local economy

It’s always nice to buy a holiday souvenir to remind you of a special trip, but choose your memento carefully. Although not the cheapest option, if you purchase a locally made product or handicraft, your money will go straight back to the community — and even help preserve a culture.

Remember though, while haggling is all part and parcel of the shopping experience in some destinations, have fun but be fair. Everyone likes a bargain, but while you may not miss a few pounds, it could be a significant amount for a trader. Don’t disrespect a person’s hard work, instead ask to hear their story.

There are other ways to support the local economy too. If eating or drinking out, choose a family-run café, bar or restaurant. When booking a walking or cycling tour, pick a local tour guide.

However, try not to encourage local children to beg. While it may sound a nice idea to give them pens or sweets, this well-intended action can contribute to a cycle of begging and exploitation, and some children 

7. Respect a country’s culture

One of the reasons many of us visit a destination is to witness first-hand a different culture and way of life. Therefore, it should go without saying that while on holiday you should respect these cultural differences. Do your research and act accordingly.

In Thailand, for example, gentle locals will be upset if you raise your voice and insulted if you leave rice on a dinner plate. Follow dress codes, despite the heat, be mindful of religious beliefs, and adhere to local customs.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.