In the guide below, we list and explain some of the potential ways to have a more sustainable holiday or vacation.
We cover various aspects of going on a holiday, such as planning/booking, choosing a destination, transport, accomodation, and more.
1. Consider Whether You Plan & Book The Holiday Yourself, Or Book Through A Sustainable Travel Agent Or Company
When planning and booking a holiday, you can choose to do it yourself, or consult with a travel agent or similar company.
Obviously, if you do it yourself, you’ll have to do the research yourself, and find sustainable options that are to your liking.
On the other hand, there may be some travel agents or booking companies locally or online that specialize in planning and booking sustainable holidays and travel experiences for travellers.
They may be able to provide you with an experience or with options you wouldn’t have otherwise known about.
It’s worth considering which option is better for you.
2. Consider Multiple Shorter Holidays vs One Larger/Longer Holiday
Although not always practical, in some instances, a larger/longer holiday may be more sustainable than multiple shorter ones.
This might especially be the case where someone is going to visit multiple countries that are close together in the same continent.
A traveller from the US going to visit nearby countries in Europe for example, might save on two plane trips by seeing these countries in the one holiday instead of two.
In this instance, the sustainability footprint of two plane trips might have been saved.
Another example of doing something similar to this might be combining an annual vacation with end of year celebrations such as New Year’s celebrations.
3. Consider Local vs Interstate & Overseas Destinations
Going on a holiday locally is usually going have a smaller transport footprint than an interstate or overseas holiday purely because of distance travelled.
4. Consider The Actual Holiday Destination Itself
Although not always practical, some people or groups might suggest visiting a country or city for a holiday destination that has taken steps or shown progress with addressing sustainability.
These countries or cities might have shown action relating to things such as sustainable energy, sustainable transport, sustainable waste management, protection of biodiversity and local habitats/environment, and other aspects of sustainability.
The principle behind this suggestion is that travellers are putting their money into destinations that value sustainability.
We’ve previously put together a guide listing of some of the most sustainable or greenest cities in the world according to different sustainability indicators.
5. Consider The Type Of Holiday
There’s different types of holidays, and these different types of holidays might generally have different sustainability footprints.
A more traditional holiday might involve at least a moderate level of consumption (and sometimes a high level of consumption) whilst visiting well known holiday destinations that tend to be in urbanized areas (cities and towns).
On the other end of the spectrum, there might be lower consumption holidays in more regional or even more remote areas (with less urbanisation)
A type of holiday that might fit this description might be a hiking or camping type holiday.
The latter type of holiday might generally be more sustainable in several ways.
6. Consider The Type Of Transport You Take
Different types of transport can have different sustainability footprints.
Holiday transport can firstly include transport to the destination, and also back home.
For longer distances, catching a train (if practical) might be more efficient per passenger than catching a short haul or long haul plane.
Holiday transport also includes transport in and around cities and towns, and at the holiday destination.
Walking and bike riding (if practical) might be the most sustainable form of getting around.
Car pooling with other tourists or catching buses might be more sustainable than single passenger car transport.
In places like Europe, it can also be economical and feasible to travel by rail or bus to nearby towns and bus, which can be more sustainable than cars and short haul planes.
*A Note On Purchasing Carbon Credits/Offsets For Transport Whilst On Holidays …
There are some reports that might suggest to purchase carbon credits and offsets for holiday travel – particularly for flying.
Whilst there might be some credibility and worth to this suggestion, there might also be other reports that indicate that credits/offsets are susceptible to greenwashing, or are ineffective at genuinely addressing certain sustainability issues (at least some of the time).
7. Consider The Type Of Accomodation
There might be two main sustainability considerations for accomodation:
– The Type Of Accomodation, & The Accomodation Setup
Accomodation can range between single stay hotel rooms, to shared hostel rooms, to something in between, such as shared private short stay accomodation (like an Airbnb) where guests share an apartment or house.
Shared rooms and shared accomodation might be more sustainable in several ways than single stay accomodation.
Even if staying in a hotel room, sharing the room might cut down things such as cooling, heating, lighting, etc., which might make the stay slightly more sustainable.
Beyond whether a room is shared or not, there’s also consideration for how resource intensive an accomodation type is.
Some hotels might be far more resource intensive (because of the energy used, resources used, waste created, and other factors) than staying in some types of self service accomodation, or in a tent for example.
So, the type of accomodation and the accomodation set up you choose matters.
– Sustainability Features & Ratings Of The Accomodation
Some accomodation providers have implemented certain sustainable features, such as hotels with energy efficient lighting in the rooms.
And, other accomodation providers might provide entire eco friendly/sustainable retreats/getaways.
So, checking the sustainability features and ratings of providers prior to booking can be important in finding the providers that might be more sustainable than others.
8. Consider The Sustainability Of Tourist Sites, & Holiday Activities & Attractions
The type of tourism, including the tourist sites visited, and activities and attractions that a tourist or holiday taker decides to engage in, have the potential to have a sustainability impact.
For example, visiting some tourist sites and engaging in some activities might result in environmental degradation or be resource intensive.
Other sites and activities might result in a neutral or positive sustainability footprint.
There might for example be tour operators that put a portion of the money they receive into protecting the local environment, providing local jobs, protecting local wildlife (and avoiding animal exploitation and cruelty), or doing something similar.
Some tour operators might have a focus specifically on being sustainable or ethical in different ways.
The type of activity also matters – a walk or hike might be less resource intensive than a day spent driving around – although obviously there are tradeoffs to each type of activity.
Some people describe difference in the above approaches to tourism as fast tourism vs slow tourism, or mass tourism vs alternative tourism.
We’ve previously put together a few different guides on the sustainability of tourism:
– Sustainable Tourism vs Ecotourism vs Mass Tourism vs Conventional Tourism: A Comparison
– Pros & Cons Of Sustainable Tourism
9. Consider The Sustainability Effects Of Your Actions Whilst On Holidays
There’s an impact on sustainability when we make different decisions whilst away on holidays.
Some common holiday decisions that might lead to a more sustainable outcome might include:
– Let the air steward or stewardess know if you don’t need complementary food, drink, utensils, or other items on a flight
Anything you don’t use ultimately becomes waste, and, there can also be packaging waste that comes from food, drink and utensils
– Let the hotel or accomodation provider know ahead of time, or at the time of booking in, if you don’t need any complementary supplies
Such as shampoos, conditioners, soaps, etc.
Again, these all become waste if they aren’t used
– At hotels, use your ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your room if you don’t absolutely need room cleaning
Room cleaning when you don’t need it uses additional cleaning products and other resources
– Don’t leave your cooling or heating on all day whilst you’re out/away from your room/place of accomodation
– Use provided waste disposal bins
Essentially, don’t use the excuse of being on holidays as an excuse to litter or leave waste lying around
– Be conscious with purchasing decisions whilst on holidays
This might involve things such as avoiding heavy consumption, avoiding impulse purchases, buying quality items, and generally being thoughtful about consumption and purchase decisions
It might make sense to buy things that will genuinely and meaningfully add to the holiday experience instead of being a quick novelty purchase
It might also make sense to only buy what you know you’ll use whilst on holiday, or when you return home, and also things that will last instead of falling apart not long after buying them
– Go paperless/digital where possible
Instead of using physical maps and information guides, use electronic maps and information guides on your smartphone where practical
10. Pack Sustainably
Packing a few simple things such as a reusable water bottle and a reusable shopping bag (in a carry on bag/backpack) can reduce single use plastic water bottle waste, and also single use shopping bag waste whilst you’re on holidays.
11. Unpack Sustainably
It can be common to thrown things out when trying to clean out bags and carry cases when returning home from holidays.
Instead, see what you might be able to gift, donate or sell secondhand.
12. Help Others Holiday More Sustainably
After getting back from your holiday, consider the following things to potentially help others holiday more sustainably in the future:
– Leave reviews for sustainable travel and holiday service providers (accomodation providers, tour providers, etc)
– Share holiday information and experience with friends and other people or groups interested in sustainable holiday-ing
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides