How to plan a Sustainable & Ethical Vacation

How to plan a sustainable vacation, Blue Eyed Compass

Travel is one of our generation’s greatest gifts, and with gifts we cherish, we tend to carefully protect and map out how we can best utilize it. What better way to cherish and protect our gift of travel than by planning your next trip (and hopefully future trips too!) so that it is sustainable and ethical.

We’re diving into the best ways to plan a sustainable vacation, and providing all of the tools you need to do so, making the process easy and exciting for you!

This planning process follows an order that is most typically used when it comes to travel planning, and incorporates how to plan for sustainability & eco-friendly purposes. Lets begin!

Sustainable Travel PLANNING:

The planning phase of a trip is the most broad part of vacation planning, and can be the most exciting as the opportunities for your sustainable travels feel endless. One of the best sustainable travel tips is to be flexible in your destination and travel dates. This allows you to research for better prices and support destinations that you may not have considered before. Here is how you can best plan for your sustainable & ethical vacation:


– Research locations –

While this is a bit broad and can encompass many aspects, researching destinations can be fairly simple. We want to consider a few different aspects of a destination before we choose to travel there. Here are a few examples of what you may want to keep in mind:

-Is the destination struggling with overcrowding?

If it is, it may not be a good idea for you to go there

-How can I get there (transportation – more on this below)

-Is this destination expensive and/or within my budget?

-Are they having any shortage issues? I.e. clean water shortages.

Did you know that you can do the following?…


– Plant trees while you research! –

Use for your web searches when planning your next trip. Ecosia uses the ad revenue from your web searches to plant trees in areas that need the support. Simple & safe to use, Ecosia is a perfect way to start becoming a more sustainable traveler – you can literally help plant trees before you even begin your trip!


– Book nonstop flights –

Did you know that a plane’s carbon emissions are emitted most during its take off & landing? If you want to travel to a destination that requires air travel, aim for direct, nonstop flights. While nonstop flights tend to be more expensive, you are saving precious vacation time and being more sustainable.

– Consider your mode of transportations carbon footprint –

Can you take a greener mode of transportation to get to your destination and while you are there? Is it possible to take a train or a bus to your vacation spot? Both train and bus options are undoubtedly more kind to the environment than an airplane. But if air travel is the only way, research how you could utilize local transportation once you’ve arrived.

Many destinations have public transportation from their airports to the city center. There are also small businesses that also offer carpooling from the airport to your hotel. They will wait for a set number of people to land and then select a route that is most convenient for dropping off at multiple locations. It’s much more environmentally friendly than taking a taxi on your own. These options only take a small bit of online research to discover, and most often will save you money that you can instead spend while in your destination!

Speaking of budgets, you can also easily…



– Add in carbon offsetting to your travel budget! –

This simple sustainable travel planning tip is perfect for those destinations that require you to fly to reach. For only a few extra dollars, you can offset your carbon footprint.

You can find a list of vetted carbon offsetting companies here. Scroll to the bottom of the linked page to find the list.

– Honestly though, consider your budget –

While most of us want to travel without the high cost, we can plan a budget friendly & epically fun trip while incorporating the costs of supporting local businesses. It can look cheaper to save a few dollars by purchasing your souvenirs as the shop next to the main tourist site, or eat at the international chain because you know their menu better. However, your money is stretched so much farther when spent at a local vendors shop and a family owned restaurant. If you map out a budget then you won’t be stuck haggling with someone for souvenirs or at farmers markets. There are plenty of better budget tricks you can use for your vacations, so think ahead in terms of what you can spend your money on and the cost of goods in your destination.

– Opt for e-tickets –

Stop wasting expensive ink and paper, and save all of your itineraries to your cell phone. Doing this is also more convenient when you can have your documents all in one place as opposed to flipping through papers.

– Travel in the off season –

There is a reason the off season is cheaper. The majority of travelers tend to go in the summer months, when children are on summer vacation/out of school. However if you go a few weeks before or after those hot summer months, you will be saving money and be supporting sustainable travel. Off season travel lessens the load of visitors in hotels, restaurants, main tourist sites and will overall be much cheaper for you.

*You’ll be rewarded with fewer crowds for a more serene experience

*It will be cheaper for you to get there & stay there

*Off season travel evens out the strain of visitors to a destination (aka flattens the overtourism curve)

– Visit less traveled to destinations! –

There are so many incredibly beautiful and exciting destinations to visit. Consider traveling to less frequented places instead of just Paris, Barcelona or Bali. There are SO many reasons why those less visited places are ideal for travelers. You can find them in detail in this post about what overtourism is and how to help with overtourism.

– Research & choose a centralized location in your destination –

Doing so will typically make it easier for you to get around to other places and there will be better, more convenient forms of public transportation. For example, you could choose to stay in the outskirts of Rome, Italy as the hotel prices are cheaper, however, you will spend 5x as much time traveling into the city each day, and won’t be able to easily go back if you forget something.

– Carpool! –

I often wonder how we all managed to get around before the convenience of Uber and Lyft ride sharing apps. What makes using these apps different from taking a taxi? While rideshare apps and taxi’s typically support a local’s income, you can choose the option to carpool with others. Carpooling saves gas and saves you money.

– Learn a few phrases in your destination’s language –

In movies we often see this portrayed- an American scoffing at a foreigner not speaking English when in the United States. Well, imagine how overly popular destinations feel when thousands of Americans refuse to greet them in their local language. Learning a few common phrases in your destination’s language is a sign of respect, both for your destination and for yourself. Plus you’ll feel very accomplished if you can have a pleasant conversation with your barista.

Packing for a Sustainable Trip

Packing for your sustainable vacation means that your adventure is coming up soon! It’s an exciting part of the travel process, and if done with sustainable tactics in mind can feel very rewarding when you’re strutting your stuff through the airport like a sustainable travel boss.


-Don’t overpack –

Aim for carry-on luggage. This will save you money from paying to check your bag, and is sustainable for the airline. The lighter the plane, the less fuel they will need to use. While five pounds extra on your luggage may not sound like a lot, imagine if a plane with 100+ people went five pounds lighter on their luggage! And that number greatly increases when you consider those larger international flights where there are hundreds of passengers.


– Ask yourself ‘are my outfits culturally appropriate for the destination?’ –

Those who are frequent international travelers have most likely experienced a wardrobe issue while traveling, and for less frequent travelers you can save yourself the embarrassment and frustration if you do a bit of ethical travel planning beforehand. How can you do this? Does your destination have churches or religious sites that you want to visit? If yes, then you’ll need to have your knees and shoulders covered. Is the place known for having pickpockets? If yes, try not to dress like a cowboy out of Texas. That’s like putting an ‘X marks the spot’ signal over your head for smart pickpockets. A simple online search can help you pack perfectly for a safe trip.


– Pack items that will easily reduce your plastic footprint –

Having reusable items with you can make your travels feel seamless. You can find a list of the best sustainable travel essentials here.

Sustiainable Lodging Research

Where you stay during your vacation can make or break your entire experience. Here are ways to plan for sustainable travel when it comes to your lodging.


– Look for locally owned boutique hotels, not an international chain –

Oftentimes these locally owned hotels have extra amenities and can provide incredible suggestions for what to do and where to eat.


– See if the local lodging is also eco-conscious –

Eco-conscious hotels will proudly showcase it on their website and be happy to send you details if you ask for them. Simply sending an email prior to booking can allow you to decipher if they align with your sustainable preferences (think no plastic mini-shampoo bottles, or down feather pillows, etc), and you’ll get your first glimpse into how hospitable they really are.


– If you’re comfortable with it you can also choose to stay at homestays, couchsurf, or hostels –

While I personally haven’t stayed in a hostel since college, I have many female solo travel friends who do so for all of their trips. Be sure to research what eco-conscious tactics they utilize and that they are highly rated – your safety comes first! These local lodging options can save you money and provide you with a more authentic experience.

Ways to EXPLORE your travel destination sustainably

Once you are in your destination and are comfortably set up at your hotel, your sustainable travel self will be eager to get out & explore! Below are tips to help you explore your destination in an ethical and responsible way, without taking away any of the fun.


– Know your tour guide –

If you enjoy booking a day tour with a company do your research on them. Is it a local company? Are they transparent on their environmental & community support for the places they bring their customers? An important issue to be aware of is greenwashing. Tour groups can present themselves as responsible public organizations, but in reality are providing disinformation and tricking paying customers into doing things that are negative to the destination. (For example, there are volunteer groups who ask participants to pay to volunteer and paint schools in third world areas, only to have those guests leave, paint the buildings white again, and bring in a new group of paying volunteers). You can learn more about how to find an ethical tour company here.


– Research the local culture of your destination –

Just like you researched how to appropriately and respectfully dress, make sure that what you plan to do on your trip is respectful to the local culture. For example…

-Is the hike you want to do sanctioned by the local authorities? Or is it a protected path that happens to have a great view?

-Is it ‘tradition’ to carve your initials into a tree? Or is that actually frowned upon & damaging to the local flora and fauna?

-Are you gearing up to jetski in your tropical destination? Or will that damage fragile coral reefs and potentially endanger wildlife?

These are important things to keep in mind when you’re planning your explorations, and while it sounds like it’s taking the fun out of your trip, I guarantee you can find even better things to do that aren’t hurting others.


What are ways that you plan your trips to be sustainable?

Hi! I’m Laura, a sustainable travel blogger, as well as freelancing online brand strategist. I share real & honest information about traveling, how to do so sustainably, and ways to earn an income while working remote.

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How to plan a sustainable vacation, Blue Eyed Compass
How to plan a sustainable vacation, Blue Eyed Compass
How to plan a sustainable vacation, Blue Eyed Compass
How to plan a sustainable vacation, Blue Eyed Compass

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