How to travel sustainably this summer

Alexandra Schoettler


It’s summer, and that means that many of us will be traveling around or out of the country. Air travel and other aspects of tourism may have negative impacts on the environment and on local communities. But many of us have already booked our tickets or asked for time off work, and everyone deserves a vacation. So, here are a few ways to protect the environment and the location you’re visiting while traveling.

Reduce your use of plastic throughout your trip

Plastic, especially single-use plastic, is extremely harmful to the environment. When it’s disposed of, it’s rarely actually recycled. Plastic waste usually ends up overflowing in landfills, lining our coastlines, choking our ocean, and degrading into microplastics that enter waterways and our bodies. Reducing our use of plastic will help to stop this flow of plastic into our environment. Many items that are used during travel are made from single-use plastics, so here are some ways to decrease the amount of plastic you’re using. 

  • Don’t buy single-use travel shampoos and conditioners, and instead use reusable containers for your toiletries.
  • Remember a metal or glass water bottle rather than buying and using many single-use plastic bottles. You can fill up your bottle at your hotel or ask restaurants or cafes to fill it for you!
  • Grab a few reusable containers and a set of reusable utensils so that you can take home leftovers and reduce food and plastic waste. These are some options for collapsible silicone containers, which are especially good because they fold down, are easy to pack, and will be easy to clean in your hotel. 
  • Bring tote bags or small, foldable bags for your trips to local grocery stores and farmers markets. That way, you don’t have to use single-use plastic bags to carry your goods.
Staff | TPIN
On my family’s recent trip to Mexico, I brought these reusable toiletry bottles for my cleanser, shampoo, and conditioner, and this metal stackable tin to carry leftovers and snacks!

Choose your transportation carefully 

Transportation accounts for a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Carefully choosing your forms of transport can help decrease the amount of pollution being released into the environment. 

  • Cars emit harmful pollutants, like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, and particulate matter. When you’re in a city, use public transportation or biking as opposed to renting a car or calling taxis and rideshares. While some forms of public transit do emit pollutants, they’re significantly more efficient than single-family cars because they can transport so many people. Biking releases no pollutants at all. 
  • Many cities, especially in Europe, have fast and extensive subway or rail systems that can take you all around the city. The Moovit website/app allows you to view the different public transportation options in the country you’re traveling to, and to route from location to location using only public transportation! 
  • If you have to rent a car, ask for a small, electric car. Here’s a website that lists electric charging stations in countries around the world. 
  • If you’re traveling to Europe and are planning to see multiple cities, purchase a EuRail pass to take the train to these destinations rather than flying. 
  • Sometimes you have no choice but to fly to your destination. In these cases, take a non-stop flight to release the least amount of emissions possible. Try to stay in your destination longer to make the most of the flight. 

Be a respectful visitor

  • If possible, choose green and eco-friendly accommodations. Some sites, like, flag eco-certified hotels, which are making efforts to reduce carbon emissions, waste sent to landfills, and the amount of water and chemicals used. 
  • Tourists tend to use more water and electricity than locals in high-tourism locations. Turn off your lights before you leave your hotel room, hand wash your clothes, avoid taking baths or long showers and turn up A/C a few degrees when you’re leaving your room for the day. 

Many of these tips are easily implemented and can make a real difference for the environment and for your host country. When you travel this summer, do everything you can to reduce your carbon footprint and to maintain the beauty, health, and safety of our planet. Enjoy your travels! 


Alexandra Schoettler


Alexandra Schoettler is a rising junior at Yale University, studying Political Science and Philosophy, and is a summer intern with CALPIRG.