May 30, 2023


Just Do Travel

13 Ways to Travel More Responsibly

Sustainable Though it’s often conflated with eco-friendliness, sustainability goes beyond environmental protection. Besides being low-impact, a sustainable experience should provide socioeconomic benefits to the communities you visit. Committed companies will publish their efforts (like environmental initiatives and social projects) in an annual report online; destinations will share a regularly updated management plan. Transparency is key.

Regenerative For decades, being a responsible traveler meant minimizing your footprint; now it includes contributing something to a destination while you’re there. Brands increasingly offer immersive experiences to help restore or rebuild a place—primarily educational tours and volunteering opportunities focused on nature or culture, led by community leaders or conservation experts. (Think opting in to a few hours of sustainable farming and learning about native plants.)

Certified Green There are more than 150 sustainable-certification labels for travel brands, but the most reliable are internationally accredited by an independent body, like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, founded partly by the U.N. World Tourism Organization. Marks you can trust include EarthCheck, Green Destinations, Rainforest Alliance, Travelife, and EcoTourism Australia; you can often spot them on the provider’s website. —Lebawit Girma

Being certified green can signal a business’s eco cred, but it’s not all that counts.

Klaus Kremmerz

3. Don’t miss the mark

While a stamp of approval from trusted organizations is often a good indicator of a company’s green cred, its absence isn’t necessarily a red flag. The certification process can be cost-prohibitive for small businesses and community-based enterprises in low- to middle-income nations. The term can’t be applied broadly, either, especially in parts of the world where resource challenges abound. And for Indigenous communities, sustainability often isn’t a checked box; it’s a lifestyle. Ultimately, if a place isn’t certified, evaluate it through the lens of diversity and equity to make an informed decision. —L.G.

Tip well, and account for everyone who made your experience so great.

Klaus Kremmerz

4. Be generous

A rule of thumb for post-pandemic travels: Tip more, and more often, than you did before, and extend your habits to those you may not have considered. Did you eat an extraordinary meal? Consider leaving a little something extra for the kitchen staff, too. Have a restorative hotel stay? Factor in each person who made you feel so at home, including the friendly team at the door. Remember: It takes a village to execute your trip—and to keep you safe. —L.A.

5. Get a jump start

Making more thoughtful decisions about travel isn’t always straightforward, but platforms are cropping up that offer free and easy shortcuts to help us do just that. Out of Finland, the Carbon Donut app shows you how your emissions track with those of other users toward a global goal and offers short, insightful courses on topics like the climate impact of flying; meta-search tool Skyscanner, meanwhile, flags lower-emission flights on a given route with its “Greener choice” label. Travelers can be reassured when they see that a business is certified by B Corporation, a nonprofit that uses a rigorous audit to assess a company’s environmental, social, and governance metrics. (Intrepid Travel is the best-known ethical global tour operator to be accredited by them.) The Canada-based Native Land app is able to show which Indigenous territories you’re on in many parts of the world, and which languages are spoken there. There are aggregators to help cut through the greenwashing around the accommodation landscape too, including booking platforms like Regenerative Travel, Beyond Green (which recently became part of the Preferred Hotel Group), and the new Considerate Collection from Small Luxury Hotels, though hotels pay to be part of these portfolios. The truth is, we’re still holding out for a totally holistic method for weighing each choice. But until then, we can use the lighthouses we have to guide us. —Juliet Kinsman