A woman spreads her arms in a bamboo forest

Sustainable Travel Tips on Earth Day


Tips for treading a little lighter as we explore our beautiful planet

Happy earth day! Today is a day to celebrate our beautiful planet and if you love to explore, as I do, a chance to share ideas for more sustainable travel. The reality is that our adventures come with a carbon footprint, but there are many ways that we can minimize our impact and continue to enjoy wonderful adventures around the world. 

A woman hiker holds a reusable water bottle out with a red canyon in the distance beyond

Reduce Single Use Plastics

Bring your own reusable water bottle

I am listing this first because I think it’s easy to do and can make a huge impact. Bringing your own water bottle along on your travels will prevent the use of many water bottles over the course of a vacation. It also allows you to to forgo the little plastic cups on the plane. I always fill up my bottle just before I get in the car or on the plane. I am also better hydrated when I have my own water bottle because I make a point to fill it and carry it with me, whether I am hiking in Nepal, sightseeing in Paris, or lounging at the beach.

When you are tempted to not bother packing your own water bottle consider this phrase: “What’s one little plastic bottle, said 7 billion people.

One of the 108 Wallace Fountains in Paris. It is green metal and has a distinctive design featuring four caryatids (sculptures of women) supporting a canopy.
One of the 108 Wallace Fountains in Paris. This is located across from Sainte-Chapelle, in the on the Île de la Cité area.

Speaking of Paris, traveling with your own water bottle allows you to refill it at one of the beautiful Wallace Fountains; there are 108 of these around the city. They were designed by the French sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg and installed throughout Paris between 1872 and 1892 to provide clean drinking water to the city’s residents.

Each has a distinctive design featuring four caryatids (sculptures of women) supporting a canopy. Find the locations at: the Water of Paris website.

Rethink transportation

The most sustainable way to travel is to avoid flying; it’s  always going to come with the biggest carbon footprint. If you have an opportunity to travel by train, whether to your destination or on your trip, that’s a great choice. 

A striking train station in Europe

Europe is enacting new initiatives to encourage Europeans and visitors  to travel by train. The EU wants to double its high-speed rail use by 2030, and triple it by 2050. That is intended to support the reduction of carbon emissions from transportation by 90%. 

Of course, we can’t take a train across the Atlantic or Pacific. If flying is required as a part of your travel, a direct flight will generate less emissions than making a connection.  And traveling in economy creates a smaller footprint than an upgraded seat. (We can feel good about being packed in like a sardine.) Packing light helps as well – more weight requires more fuel.

view over the rocky mountains from an airplane

If you do fly, you can also purchase carbon offsets. The idea is that you compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions your flight creates by reducing that same amount by supporting an environmental initiative somewhere else in the world. 

Most airlines now offer them when you book your flight, and there are independent companies which sell them as well. The New York Times recommends Gold Standard which has a marketplace for purchasing offsets. I really like their thoughtful options which include donating toward improved cookstoves for women in India (traditional cookstoves are harmful to health and the wood required leads to local deforestation).  Other options include planting biodiverse forests in Panama or funding renewable energy in Brazil.

You can calculate the footprint of your flight at cooleffect.org  which also has offset programs. If you know more about offset programs, please share in the comments below!

A table is set with vegetarian dishes and several arms extend overtop of the food to clink glasses

Explore Vegetarian Cuisine

One of the beautiful things about travel is the chance to explore other cultures and a part of that is trying new foods. Much of the world eats far less meat than those of us from western countries. If you are someone who usually orders meat, you may be pleasantly surprised how flavorful vegetarian cuisine can be. If you do enjoy some meat, try and skip the beef and choose a different meat or fish. Beef is far and away the most resource intensive meat to produce, it requires large amounts of water and harms the environment because cattle expel methane as they digest food. A study at Tulane University concluded that the average American who eats beef could cut their entire carbon footprint in half by swapping it for chicken or pork. 

What better time to embrace some new food experiences than when you are a guest in another part of the world. 

A green field with mountain beyond are part of a beautiful Iceland landscape. A small building with a red room if barely visible.

Choose Tour Operators that Prioritize Sustainability

An organized, multi-day group tour can be a wonderful way to explore — with someone else managing the details, we can immerse ourselves in the travel experience. While some tour operators prioritize treading lightly and making a positive impact on local communities, many do not. How to know? Sometimes tour operators will outline sustainability efforts, on a dedicated page on their website. This could include everything from criteria for choosing hotel partners, to the support of conservation projects.

Reading the itinerary details will also offer insights: who do they partner with locally, and is conservation woven into the trip design? The gold standard for a tour operator is achieving B Corp. status — Journeys with Purpose and Intrepid Travel, are examples of operators that have. When in doubt, ask questions.

Or you could let an innovative travel company called Yugen Earthside do the work for you. Its database of vetted tour operators allows travelers to browse through sustainable adventures around the world. You can search by destination, price or trip type, and choose between multi-day package tours that are either self-guided (primarily walking and cycling tours), privately guided, or small-group tours with fixed departure dates.

Yugen, a Japanese word that means “an awareness of the universe that triggers an emotional response too deep and powerful for words”,  prioritizes working with companies based locally, so your travel dollars will support local communities, rather than large international companies. 

A smiling male staff member named Sophy holds a glass water bottle at a hotel in Siem Reap Cambodia
Sophy holds a glass water bottle at the Shinta Mani hotel in Siem Reap Cambodia

Mindful Hotel Choices

When you are considering a hotel have a look at their website to see if they have a ‘sustainability’ page that explains any ways they are eco-friendly. Examples could include water-saving initiatives or eliminating single-use plastics.

The Shinta Mani hotel where I stayed in Siem Reap, was far ahead of North American hotels in this regard. The water in our rooms and the restaurant came in glass bottles. The hotel also offered reusable water bottles to borrow when we went sightseeing. 

There are some websites that can help you find eco-friendly accommodation, such as bookdifferent.com and Kind Traveler

Every room has a King bed at CitizenM bowery hotel

Treading lightly during your hotel stay

Regardless of the hotel’s policies, you can make your hotel stay more sustainable in several ways. Avoid using using single-use plastics at the hotel. Since you’re traveling with your own water bottle you won’t need to use any plastic bottles that might be left for you in the room. You can also bring small toiletries from home in reusable containers. 

Laundering towels and linens requires large amounts of water and energy. Use towels multiple times and let housekeeping know not to change your sheets daily. During hotel stays I have my sheets changed as often as I do at home — once a week. 

(Side note: please tip housekeeping. These are among the hardest working and lowest paid people who work in hotels. I typically leave $5-7 a day). 

Midlife Globetrotter visits Angkor Wat, Cambodia with her friend Clemencia
Susan visiting Cambodia's Angkor Wat in the rainy season.

Travel in the Off Season

Some places such as Venice, which have struggled with over-tourism,  saw the pandemic as an opportunity to reconsider their policies with regards to tourism. Their canals were clear for the first time and locals felt as though they had their city back. 

While cities like Venice grapple with this challenge, we can address the problem of over-tourism by traveling in the off-season when possible. Yes, many of us are restricted to children’s school holidays. If you have flexibility as far as when to travel, the benefits of off-season travel include lighter crowds and lower prices. 

The stewards of world wonders such as Angkor Wat are also dealing with over-tourism. I went to Cambodia and Siem Reap during the rainy season and enjoyed lighter crowds at Angkor Wat and the other temples we visited. Even then, it was crowded — in the high season the crowds would have been totally overwhelming.

Susan Heinrich at Preah Ko temple in Cambodia during rainy season

Visiting at slower times of the year makes a difference for locals who rely on tourism.  The guide I hired said, “my kids were so happy when they saw I wasn’t in the hammock – it meant I had work today.” (He took the above photos)

While it wasn’t all that rainy in late September, it was extremely hot.  We still enjoyed ourselves but it did limit how much we could see in a day. Do some research to make sure the season you are considering will be pleasant enough weather for your preferences – it is your vacation after all. 


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A signpost with names of cities stacked on it

I hope this has given you some new ideas and inspiration for more sustainable travel. Remember that every small change makes a difference. Pick one or two of these ideas to bring along on your next trip. Once they are habits, you can add another. 

And please share your own ideas for eco-friendly vacationing in the comments below, so we can all become better stewards of this beautiful earth, at home and away.   

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About - Midlife Globetrotter

Hey there,

I’m glad you’re here. Can we talk about midlife? I reached my late 40’s, realized my kids were growing up, and adventure began calling in a new way: big travel adventures as well as everyday ones. I want Midlife Globetrotter to be a place where we explore how to add a sense of fun, freedom and meaning to these precious years. Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come, and all that’s ahead.




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