As the world becomes more conscious of the impact of human activity on the environment, sustainable travel is emerging as a popular trend among travelers. Traveling sustainably means making choices that reduce the negative impact of tourism on the planet, such as choosing eco-friendly accommodations, minimizing carbon emissions from transportation, and supporting local communities. Making the correct decisions aren’t always easy, so here is some guidance to help you solo travel more sustainably.
According to a survey in early April 2023 of over 1,700 Solo Traveler readers, 95% of solo travelers preferred staying in hotels, followed by 60% in short-term rentals like Airbnb, and only 18% preferring hostels.
While hotels may not always be the most sustainable option for accommodations, we recognize that they may be the most feasible or desirable choice for many travelers. Fortunately, many hotels are now taking sustainability seriously and implementing eco-friendly initiatives to reduce their impact on the environment.
When choosing a hotel, consider looking for properties that have energy-efficient lighting, low- flow fixtures, and towel and linen reuse programs. Some hotels have even gone the extra mile by making structural enhancements to minimize energy usage for things like heating, cooling, and lighting to maximize sustainability. This way, you can enjoy the luxurious experience of a hotel stay while also reducing your carbon footprint.
Those who want to make sustainability their top priority can select properties that were designed and built with sustainability as their primary mission. Eco-lodges and green hotels can now be found in destinations all over the world and are just a Google search away.
You can look for official accreditations from bodies like EarthCheck, Green Globe, Greenview, and LEED to provide external verification of an operator’s commitment to sustainability.
Sustainable Solo Travel and Transportation
Over 1,100 families also participated in our survey. It revealed that solo travelers generally take longer trips than families, with 61% reporting trips of over a week compared with 21% of families doing the same. Solo travelers also reported a higher preference for international travel with 91% showing a preference for out of country travel. These two facts combined may indicate that solo travelers produce a much larger carbon footprint than families when traveling. However, extended trips are an important element of slow travel, which is an accepted form of sustainable travel, and when at a destination 93% of solo travelers reported they are likely to walk to get around, which is the least carbon intensive form of transportation.
Life is all about balance, so if you aren’t able to avoid flying on a plane (with 99% of solo travelers indicating a preference for flying, we know it’s almost impossible to avoid), you can balance this with opting for direct flights when possible. Research by the Worldwatch Institute shows that airplanes use the most fuel and produce the most harmful emissions during take-off, and take-off can use as much as 25% of an airplane’s total fuel supply. Using greener ways of getting around when you arrive by prioritizing public transportation, bicycles, ride shares, and walking will also be helpful.
Supporting Local Communities
Beyond environmental considerations, it’s important that solo travelers support the communities at their destinations. You can directly enhance communities by supporting local businesses to help create jobs; look for ways to connect with the community through cultural activities to learn about and preserve their heritage; participate in activities that directly support the population locally, like building affordable housing or trash collection events; or simply take a few moments to chat with a local to learn more about them and their community.
You can read more about how to support local communities in Conscious Travel: Tips for Respecting Local Cultures and Communities.
Popular Versus Off-The-Beaten-Path Destinations
The debate continues about whether it’s better for sustainable solo travel to visit a popular destination or an off-the-beaten-path destination. Truth be told, there are advantages and disadvantages to both, and much of it really depends on the unique conditions at that destination.
Choosing a popular destination usually means that there is existing infrastructure to reduce your impact on that location as public transportation, waste management systems, and sustainable accommodations are likely available to make your trip more sustainable. In addition, your dollars will boost the local economy and possibly encourage investments in sustainable development initiatives.
Traveling to off-the-beaten-path locations will provide a boost to local economies, and offer unique and authentic experiences that are not found in popular tourist destinations, such as interacting with local communities and exploring untouched natural areas. Choosing an off-the-beaten-path location can also promote the preservation of natural areas and wildlife habitats.
On the flipside, there is a danger that both types of destinations can become overcrowded, leading to negative impacts on the environment and local communities, such as increased pollution, damage to natural habitats, and strain on resources. There is also the danger of price gouging as popularity rises. This may encourage higher prices for accommodations, tours, and activities, which can be inaccessible for some travelers, and even raise the cost of living for locals, and perpetuate economic inequality.
Carbon Offsetting As Part of Sustainable Solo Travel
Finally, an increasingly popular way to reduce our impact on the environment is by leveraging carbon offsets, although our survey indicated that it wasn’t terribly popular with solo travelers. Only 22% indicated they were likely to purchase them compared with 62% of families. We don’t know the reason for this, but we do encourage solo travelers to find out more about this simple and affordable option to increase the sustainability of your travels.
To find out more about carbon offsets, you can read Janice’s investigation in 2019 about the legitimacy, costs, and her own assessment of her acquisition of carbon offsets in her post, Carbon Offsets for Travel: Important? Yes. Expensive? No.
As you can see, there is no clear answer. However, if you remember that sustainable solo travel is about making responsible choices that reduce the negative impact of tourism on the planet, then you will find it’s easier to make sustainable decisions that are right for your travel style.
For more on actions you can take, check out the Earth Day website.