Tourism can take a toll on a popular destination, leading to “overtourism,” —an overcrowding effect that can drain resources and result in a poorer quality of life for residents. Overtourism may also cause damage to places like national parks and historical sites: Machu Picchu, in Peru, attracts thousands of visitors a day, resulting in some destruction to the ancient Inca ruins, for example. And Venice, Italy attracts so many visitors each year that the locals reportedly fear their city is being turned into “Veniceland.”

“Sustainable travel is defined as tourism that does not have a negative impact on the environment or local communities,” says Fred Baker, a senior travel editor with Travelness. Sustainable travelers, he adds, try to minimize their carbon footprint—the total amount of greenhouse gases generated by one’s actions—by choosing environmentally friendly transportation options, accommodations, and activities. 

Experts note that becoming more conscious of how we travel is important because it helps to reduce our impact on the environment and preserve natural resources for future generations. “According to a study by Nature Climate Change, the tourism industry is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions,” says Baker. Thus, he says, sustainable travel can go a long way in helping to keep the planet healthy. 

Want to travel more sustainably? Even small actions can make a difference! Here are some tips to get started:

Travel off the beaten path

“When deciding where to go, try to avoid the most popular tourist destinations or those that are struggling with overtourism,” suggests Anna Krizova, a frequent traveler and blogger with Camino Adventures. “Perhaps you can visit them during the offseason, which will be beneficial to your budget as well.” So, if you want to go to Hawaii, try planning a visit there in the fall instead of during school spring break or save your Australia trip for the fall versus their local warm spring and summer when the beaches are packed.

Take greener transportation

Cars and planes use a lot of fuel, which can take a toll on the environment. When it comes to transportation, Krizova suggests trying to avoid frequent flying and, if possible, consider alternative ways of travel. “Once you arrive at your destination, take public transportation rather than a taxi; in some areas, a bicycle is also a good option,” she says. Or better yet, go for a good old-fashioned walk.

Stay in eco-friendly hotels

When choosing accommodations, Baker suggests looking for hotels that are eco-friendly and use sustainable practices. Find a place that has solar panels or gives visitors the option to recycle and reuse towels instead of having them laundered every single day. “Try booking through a ‘green’ booking website, like, whose mission is to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable travel sector,” adds Duke Armitage, an airline pilot and founder of Aviamonde.

Limit your waste

Having lots of items to throw in the trash can quickly add up and create issues for local places. This can lead to overflow and litter spilling out into the street or around natural habitats. “Limit packaging and other waste by considering your options,” suggests Frances Hoffman, a frequent traveler with New Age Travel Services. “For example, opt for eating in restaurants over takeout to the hotel room.” You can also bring your own reusable water bottle to fill up instead of purchasing bottled water that may end up in local landfills.

Be nice to coral reefs

Studies suggest that coral reefs can become damaged by people who swim or snorkel in an ocean area while wearing some chemical sunscreens. When visiting a beach like Hawaii, ask your snorkeling boat operator for tips on selecting a reef-safe sunscreen. (Many local shops will sell products advertised as such.) As a general rule, don’t bother any local wildlife—remember that it’s their house you’re visiting.

Support local economies

Spend dollars in ways that support the people who live in a town where you’re staying. Instead of booking excursions with your cruise ship, try arriving at your local destination and booking with the locals. Many fishing companies have boats ready to go at the dock, for example. “You can also do this by staying at family-owned hostels rather than 5-star hotels and eating at local restaurants instead of chain restaurants,” says Hoffman. Buy souvenirs from local gift shops, as opposed to purchasing them at national chain stores.

Be mindful of historic sites

If you go to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, listen to your guides when they tell you not to touch the hieroglyphics. Be gentle when walking up the steps of Mayan ruins in Mexico. And don’t write your name on the Great Wall of China, even if everyone else is doing it. Actions like this can ruin historic sites that local economies are hoping to keep around for years to come.

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