A Definitive Guide To Sustainable Travel

Lesley Teoh

From greening your holiday to helping locals, all it takes are small steps to make your holiday really count. Read on for everything you need to know to get started with sustainable travel.

Travel is not really about leaving our homes, but leaving our habits. – Pico Iyer

Why sustainable travel

A staggering three million tourists cross international borders each day, according to the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).

This deluge is not about to stop. In 2015 alone, nearly 1.2 billion international travellers made their way around the globe and this number is expected to reach 1.8 billion in 2030.

While travel is great for job creation and cultural exchange, ‘overtourism’ can have negative effects on host communities and the environment.

To highlight these issues, the United Nations Tourism Organisation (UNTO) has proclaimed 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development to promote positive changes in: travel for social inclusion, the environment and economic equality.

What exactly is sustainable travel

What exactly is sustainable travel?

Sustainable travel is not just about roughing it in small eco-huts in the wilderness.  Rather, sustainable travel involves making simple choices to lessen your negative impact on a given destination, to preserve resources for future generations.

According to the Wold Tourism Organisation, the three guiding principles of sustainable tourism are focused on preserving the natural environment, protecting cultural heritage and supporting local communities in the long-run.

But what exactly does this mean for travellers like you and me? Simply put, all it takes is a little research and planning before embarking on your next socially conscious adventure.

Read on for more tips on how to plan the perfect sustainable getaway.

Misool by Tobias Zimmer

[Image Credit: Misool]

Green your vacation

The first question on every traveller’s mind – where to? When deciding where to go for your next vacay, do check out the country’s track record beforehand. Ethical Traveller conducts an annual survey on the world’s best ethical destinations based on a host of factors like the level of environmental protection and respect for human rights.

Another major consideration is how to get there. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, the aviation industry accounts for four to nine percent of the total climate change impact of human activity. While cutting out air travel completely might be unrealistic, a good mantra is to travel less but stay longer. You can also reduce your carbon footprint by booking an itinerary with fewer connections – because take-offs and landings use the most fuel – or using an airline that has invested in fuel-efficient aircraft.

Some airlines like Virgin Australia even offer “carbon-neutral” flight options, where you can calculate the carbon emissions from your trip and donate the amount to a worthy social or environmental organisation of the carrier’s choosing. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? However, experts note that the lack of transparency and industry standards in carbon-offset programmes.

When choosing a hotel, be aware of greenwashing. Beyond checking the sustainability pages of a hotel’s website, do look out for certifications from organisations such as Green Key and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. PS: Don’t worry, we’ve done the groundwork for you. Check out our favourite eco-friendly resorts from across Asia.

The internet abounds with eco-friendly travel tips including no-brainers like bringing your own water bottle or asking sheets and towels not to be changed daily. Interestingly, many seem to recommend not using hotel laundry as hotels tend to wash all guests’ clothes in separate loads, even if there are only a few.


[Image Credit: Human Gear]

One simple hack we swear by is to bring your own reusable travel size toiletry bottles, since retailers have been known to charge eight times more per ml for travel-sized bottles than regular sized bottles. These Human Gear GoToobs are a must have for frequent fliers – they never drip and come with a lifetime warranty. We're also suckers for the handy suction cup on each bottle that you can attach to shower walls! 

Spend your tourist dollars thoughtfully

From an economic standpoint, the tourism industry generated about USD 7.6 trillion in revenue in 2016 and accounted for 292 million jobs or 11 percent of the global workforce. Despite these rosy figures, the money often does not directly benefit local communities and is lost to other countries’ economies. leakage is not uncommon in developing countries, where over 90 percent of tourist dollars do not stay within the local economy.

Look for responsible tour operators that work with locals, such as Visit.org, a certified B-corporation and a global platform for social impact travel experiences. Intrepid is another sustainable travel agency with many Asian tour options. The company measures and offsets carbon emissions created by passengers on their trips, supports local communities through employment and adopts green practices on its trips. In need of some vacation inspiration? Check out these six amazing responsible travel experiences by social enterprises in Asia.

If you are visiting any wildlife attractions on your trip, do check if the animals are treated ethically. The good news is that TripAdvisor has stopped selling tickets to tourist attractions such as elephant rides, tiger attractions and swimming with captive dolphins, which are widely accepted as cruel to wild animals.

Another way to support the local economy is to hire local guides for an authentic insider’s perspective of the area or buy locally-made handcrafts and products. We all love a good bargain, but remember to respect the livelihoods of local vendors and artisans by paying a fair price for their products.

Be traveller, not a tourist

Travel is a great way to unwind, but exploring a new country also an opportunity to broaden your horizons and learn about local traditions and culture. Before leaving, do a little pre-flight reading on local customs, cultural norms and traditions to avoid any faux pas (e.g. don’t tip in Japan and take off your shoes before entering a home in South East Asia). Learning a few words in the local language will also go down well with locals and help you make more meaningful connections.

A great way to immerse yourself in everything local is to consider a bedding down with a local family. There has been a groundswell of responsible tourism companies like Homestay.com and Responsible Travel, which offer a huge range of sustainable community homestay options. You can also check out our roundup of authentic local tours from across the region that also give back to the community.

While tourism is still a long way from being completely sustainable, it can be a catalyst for positive change. All it takes is small conscious travel decisions that help reduce our collective travel footprint and benefit both people and planet. 


You may also like

Be Inspired
Empowered women empower women. We're celebrating 12 social enterprises from across the region that benefit women and young girls. #YouGoGirl These social enterprises recognise the challenges women face and, through tailor-made programmes, address women's struggles with love, care and hope. From sanitation to education the goal is the same: a...
Climate change is real and it’s accelerating. Five social enterprises are responding to planet earth’s SOS with revolutionary eco-friendly solutions to tackle waste and help save the earth. From homes made of mushrooms to ink made of air pollution, here are some of Asia For Good’s favourite innovations from across...
Live Consciously
Want to live kind? Here’s our list of 9 easy, everyday ways to be more socially responsible. 1. Switch to Bamboo Tissue Singaporeans love tissue paper. It’s especially handy for reserving tables during lunch hour in the CBD. But if want to save the trees, swap your regular tissue and...

Like what you see? Sign up for our newsletter. SUBSCRIBE NOW!

Top Hits

Live Consciously
Shopping for dad can be a real struggle. But don’t worry, because we’ve rounded up a list of our favourite sustainable gifts for Father’s Day that are bound to please the best dad in the world – your dad. No ties please. [Photo Credit: LSTN ] ZEBRA WOOD SATELITE SPEAKER...
[This article is also avaliable in: Traditional Chinese (TW) | Traditional Chinese (HK) | Simplified Chinese (CN)] To accelerate social impact, the DBS Foundation gives out Social Enterprise Grants each year to high-potential social ventures that are creating positive social impact. We are pleased to introduce our Grant Awardees for...
From edible water bottles to a wearable on-demand masseuse, check out these five cool social innovations that are not only helping make our lives easier but also tackling global issues in new and creative ways 1. Eco-friendly mosquito traps that combat Zika and Dengue fever [Image Courtesy: Biotrap ] Biotraps...