Beginner's Guide to Sustainable Travel in 2024 and Beyond: From Traveler to Changemaker

ⓒ Tri Nguyen Trong
In an era marked by global uncertainty, climate change, and escalating living costs, traveling more sustainably continues to be a paramount concern for travelers. Rather than succumb to anxiety, let's channel our energy to inspiration.

Travel has the potential to be a catalyst for positive change in the world, broadening horizons, empowering local communities and preserving natural environment while creating memories that last a lifetime. Nowadays, travelers are emerging as changemakers, increasingly adopting sustainable travel habits and seeking responsible experiences. They are also raising the bar by demanding higher sustainable practices from accommodation providers and other tourism services.

Tired of widespread greenwashing, travelers are seeking confirmation that sustainability practices are genuinely being implemented by accommodation providers. A recent report by, the Sustainable Travel Report 2023, revealed that an impressive 76% of travelers are expressing a keen interest in embarking on more sustainable journeys.

At United Certification Systems Limited (UCSL), we are attuned to these concerns and, together with our industry partners, are leading positive change. We ensure that hotels and tour operators do meet the global standards of sustainable tourism elaborated by bodies like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council ® (GSTC). The GSTC is an international organization established in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) , conservation groups, and key travel and tourism businesses to promote sustainability and social responsibility in the world of tourism.

ⓒ Yulia Potatueva
This growing trend towards environmental consciousness is not just a fleeting fad. At USCL, our stance is firm: sustainability is not just a trend, it is a necessity. We are a purpose-driven company, and our mission is to make sustainable choices easier, both for travelers and accommodation providers, no matter where they are on their sustainability journey.

The transition from intention to tangible action is not always straightforward for every traveler. Here's our guide on how to make sustainable choices easily while traveling.

Defining Sustainable Travel

ⓒ freedomz
So how to start to make wiser decisions when you travel? It all begins with a clear understanding of the sustainable travel concept.

Sustainable Travel is defined by the UN Environment Program and UN World Tourism Organization and refers to the adoption of sustainable practices within the tourism industry itself. It encompasses making thoughtful choices that minimize negative impacts on the environment, local economies, and cultures, while promoting the well-being of local communities and the preservation of natural and cultural heritage.

Adopting the mindset of a sustainable traveler is not about grand one-time gestures. It's rather about cultivating an ongoing attitude to conscious exploration that influences every facet of your travel experience. And yes, your every small step counts.

So how can you switch to more sustainable travel? We have highlighted some of the actions and practices to adopt below.

Tips to Travel Sustainably in 2024

1. Plan Your Trip Ahead

ⓒ photobyphotoboy
Before setting off, research your destination with sustainability in mind. Vigilance against greenwashing in travel industry is crucial. That's why it's important to learn in advance about the specific sustainable actions they're taking.

Look for destinations that adhere to the highest environmental and social standards, for example holding GSTC Certification label.

Consider longer stays. Instead of planning trips where you want to see as much as possible in a brief period, consider staying in one location for longer to really feel a sense of place. Allow yourself a deeper connection with the local community and culture. Avoiding the rush also makes sustainable choices more feasible and enjoyable.

Opting to travel during off-peak times and in smaller groups helps mitigate the impact on destinations and reduces the pressure on local resources, community and infrastructure. Did you know, for example, that anti-tourism campaigns have spark in cities like Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik, as locals can no longer cope with the crowds and are on the verge of collapse?

2. Choose Certified Sustainable Accommodations

ⓒ Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London
Your accommodations choices can catalyze positive change within the tourism industry, promoting responsible travel, preserving resources and protecting destinations.

When booking your stay, look for accommodations displaying the unique GSTC logo, a mark of quality from a GSTC-Accredited auditing company, ensuring they meet the highest global sustainability standards.

Staying in accommodations that have implemented sustainable practices can enhance your experience significantly. While options like homestays and couchsurfing may offer budget-friendly alternatives, make sure they guarantee genuinely sustainable housing.

By inquiring about and prioritizing accommodations that have implemented sustainable practices, travelers can play a crucial role in encouraging the tourism industry to adopt higher levels of environmental responsibility.

3. Embrace Greener Transportation Modes & Address Your Carbon Footprint

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To cut down on travel-related carbon emissions, focus on reducing the distance travelled and using greener ways to get around, like walking, biking, or sailing.

While it's important to first try to reduce your emissions, if you have to fly, consider carbon offsetting. This means making up for your flight's emissions by supporting projects that lower emissions elsewhere. For example, TerraPass lets users calculate their carbon footprint from travel and suggests opportunities to invest in environmental restoration and renewable energy initiatives.

While staying at your destination, consider choosing public transportation. To further minimize your carbon footprint, consider walking or cycling for sightseeing purposes. It will also help you to better immerse in the local culture and environment. Need a car? Many car rental companies nowadays offer an option to choose electric and hybrid vehicles. You may also seek out eco-friendly taxi options.

4. Reduce Waste

ⓒ Nicholas J Klein
Reducing waste during your travels involves a mindful approach to consumption. Here are some tips.

Start by selecting accommodations known for their waste management and composting practices. Opt to dine at restaurants that prioritize local sourcing and waste reduction, ensuring that the food on your plate contributes minimally to the waste stream. Practice buying only what you know you'll consume to avoid unnecessary food waste. Make it a habit to carry reusable containers and utensils, perfect for storing leftovers or enjoying street food without the added packaging waste. And, of course, dispose your waste properly.

To contribute to reducing tourism-related plastic pollution, carry reusable items like water bottles and shopping bags, and avoid single-use plastics. "Refill My Bottle" app and website can guide you to nearby locations where you can refill your water bottle either for free or at a minimal cost. Also, whenever possible, opt out of using plastic straws and utensils while trying out local cuisine. And avoid travel-sized or single-use toiletries.

Through these conscious choices, you can significantly reduce your waste while exploring the world.

5. Preserve Water and Energy

ⓒ Ghulam Hussain
Saving water and energy while we're on the road is super important. It helps keep the places we visit beautiful and healthy for both the locals and future travelers. Plus, it's all about being good guests - using less means we're helping the local community by not hogging resources they need.

Stick to your energy and water conservation habits you practice at home. This includes, for example, turning off lights and air conditioning when leaving your accommodation. Opting to reuse towels and declining daily room cleaning are additional ways to contribute to environmental conservation.

Think about taking shorter showers. Did you know that there even exist global standards for shower length aimed at conserving water? Modern hotels and accommodations are stepping up by installing water-saving shower heads, aligning with these environmental considerations. By inquiring about such sustainable practices when booking your stay, you play a crucial role in encouraging service providers to elevate their commitment to environmental responsibility.

6. Support Local Communities and Businesses

ⓒ Anna Zavadskaya
Adopt the "buy local" mantra during your travels and use your spending power as a force for good. Look for local artisans and community products to make a positive impact with every buy. However, be vigilant and discerning; not all local commerce is beneficial - avoid patronizing businesses that engage in child labor or exploitation.

If you do not buy local (there could be situations when that is not available / not an option), choosing products marked as fair trade during your travels ensures that the people who made them are paid fairly and work in good conditions. You can use resources like fair trade directories or apps to find verified fair trade products and services.

For exploration and learning, seek out local guides and community-based tours. Look for activities that engage with and support local initiatives, such as workshops on traditional crafts, dining at restaurants serving local cuisine, and participating in projects that uplift the community. Opt for regenerative experiences that support wildlife preservation, community development, local philanthropy, and offer truly ethical engagement with your destination.

7. Always Respect Local Cultures and Traditions

ⓒ gettysignature
When traveling, embracing responsible tourism practices is key to preserving local cultures and environments. Make a pledge to explore with a light footprint, kindness in your heart, and mindful curiosity.

Remember the example at the beginning of the article about how Venice and other popular destinations have seen anti-tourism campaigns? This occurs as locals struggle to maintain their quality of life and cultural integrity amidst the pressures of overtourism. Recognize that your leisure experience coincides with the daily lives of locals.

Responsible tourism is about immersing oneself respectfully, learning, and contributing positively to the destinations visited. Learn and use basic greetings in the local language, and understand that certain behaviors, may be culturally sensitive. Engage with local communities respectfully, take time to understand diverse cultures, and always show reverence for cultural and natural sites. Always strive to leave places as you found them, ensuring minimal impact and positive interactions.

8. Respect Nature

ⓒ Anna Zavadskaya
When you enjoy natural sites, "stay on trail" - remember that marked hiking trails exist for a reason, primarily to protect the surrounding environment and prevent damage to native flora. To ensure both personal safety and the well-being of wildlife, it's crucial to maintain a respectful distance from wild animals and avoid any harmful interaction, such as feeding or touching them. This approach not only protects the animals from potential harm and stress but also preserves their natural behaviors and habitats.

When visiting natural and protected areas, adopt the Leave No Trace principles. These guidelines offer a framework for minimizing our impact on the outdoors, applicable from remote wilderness areas to local parks. They emphasize planning ahead, respecting wildlife, minimizing campfire impacts, and more, all aimed at preserving nature's beauty for future generations. Explore these principles further on the Leave No Trace website ( ) to ensure your adventures are both enjoyable and sustainable.

9. Embrace the Digital Ethics in Travel

ⓒ Eleni de Wet
As responsible travelers in a connected world, it's crucial to maintain the integrity of the places and people we visit by sharing our experiences thoughtfully and sustainably online. We cannot underestimate the importance of applying ethics of responsible traveler to digital behavior.

Be mindful of what images and information about destinations and local cultures you share online, respecting the privacy and dignity of the individuals and communities involved. Make informed choices about promoting and engaging with tourism services digitally, ensuring they follow sustainable and ethical practices.

Utilize technology in a way that does not harm the environment or local communities, such as avoiding the use of devices in restricted areas or adhering to guidelines for drone usage.

And the last, but not the least: ensure the digital protection of natural and cultural sites by discouraging geotagging that can lead to overtourism.

10. Spread Your Insights

ⓒ gettysignature
Travel unveils the vibrant tapestry of global cultures and traditions, and with this discovery comes a responsibility to preserve our planet and to contribute mindfully to local communities. To be a steward of responsible travel, one should not only practice sustainable behaviors but also share these insights with others. Encourage people around you to plan vacations ahead, stay in certified sustainable hotels, prioritize conscious consumption, and embrace the global code of ethics for tourism.

Advocate for responsible tourism avoiding the spread of misinformation by relying on and guiding peers towards credible sources, like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council ® or the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Encourage others to educate themselves on digital ethics in travel, thus promoting a global culture of respect and preservation in both the physical and digital world.

Every small step shared amplifies our collective impact on protecting and respecting the world we're all eager to explore. Even tiny changes make a big difference.
Through ongoing collaboration within the industry and the commitment of our partners, USCL is paving the way for sustainable travel to become standard practice, rather than an exception.

Travel with purpose, make better informed choices and prioritize planet-friendly options whenever you can to effectively tackle the environmental and socio-cultural impacts and ensure better future for Nature and People.
Publication Date: 14/03/2024