Earth Day has inspired people all over the world to go green. The organization's leaders believe that small eco-friendly decisions can add up to a huge difference to our planet and estimate they've prompted more than 2.5 billion green acts since their inception.

With leaders in the travel industry taking major steps to reduce their carbon footprint, there has never been a better time to get involved. But how to start, especially when you're watching your pennies? Rest assured, being a budget traveler doesn’t need to cost the earth and being eco-friendly doesn’t need to empty your wallet. Here are seven easy tips to make a real difference on your next holiday.

Travel News - saving water when travelling
A water filter could make you this happy too (probably) © Hero Images

1. Where to get your water

There are still lots of places where it’s unsafe to drink tap water, but constantly buying plastic bottles in the shop is a big no-no. Investing in a water filter is the perfect way to always have clean water to hand and you can re-use it on any future adventures. Water purification tablets are also a budget-friendly option or you could research some local solutions. In Southeast Asia for example you can use an app to find water refill stations in more than ten countries.

10 incredible sustainable travel experiences

Travel News - eat local food tip
The real happy meal © Denzel9 / Shutterstock

2. Eat and drink locally

Step away from Starbucks and McDonald's and seek out the best in local produce. Jonathan Engels from Green Global Travel recommends seeking out traditional dishes which tend to use local ingredients. "The beauty of ethical eating while we’re traveling", he says, "is that it encourages us to try what’s on the menu rather than eating stuff imported to recreate the same unhealthy food we try to avoid at home." Street food is always a cheap way to experience the best a region has to offer and if you opt for vegetarian, even better. At night, choose local craft brews or wines.

Into the green: eight destinations for an eco-friendly escape

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

3. Airplane tips for saving carbon and money

Believe it or not, there are ways to make flights a little greener. Did you know flying first class can be more than five times as heavy on carbon per person according to a 2013 study by the World Bank?

The Points Guy: Is it ethical to fly business class in light of the climate crisis?

So squish into economy and feel a bit more virtuous. You can also help by taking direct flights and packing as light as possible to cut down on the weight of the airplane, thus saving fuel — and baggage charges. Choosing the right airport can also make an impact. The Center for Responsible Travel recommends Seattle-Tacoma, Baltimore-Washington and San Francisco International as green airports that are doing their bit.

Innovative sustainable tourism attractions around the world

Travel News - Weissensee Tourismus 2017-08
Slow travel doesn't just benefit the environment, it's more relaxing too © Martin Steinthaler

4. Slow down your travels

The ‘travel’ part of holidays is where even the most eco-conscious travelers can fall down. Where possible, opt for the train instead of a flight. In a comprehensive analysis, the Union of Concerned Scientists said "those seeking a carbon bargain should seriously consider rail and motorcoach travel," with rail especially suitable for long distances. When you need to get a flight for a trip, aim to stay for longer; you'll save on all those pesky airline taxes and charges and keep your weekend trips for staycations.

Slow travel – the new sustainable way of exploring the world

5. Do not disturb

One of the simplest ways travelers can help the environment is by hanging up a 'Do Not Disturb sign on their door, according to Bret Love and Mary Gabbett of Green Travel Media. "You're saving the electricity needed to vacuum, the water needed to wash linens and clean bathrooms, not to mention the harsh chemicals used in the cleaning process," they said. "Best of all, some hotel chains will now reward you for choosing not to have your room cleaned."

16 stunning eco-hotels for the environmentally conscious traveler

6. Interact ethically with animals

Sadly, there are plenty of unethical animal attractions and otherwise well-meaning tourists can be charmed by the prospect of an amazing image. World Animal Protection even created a Wildlife Selfie Code to help travelers make the right choices. "Only take photos if you’re a safe distance from an animal, they can move freely, and they’re in their natural home" they advise.  Always do your research before booking on any animal-related tour or attraction; just because it has ‘sanctuary’ in its name doesn’t mean they’re animal-friendly.

How to choose a sustainable volunteering project  

7. Ask for eco-friendly options

Continuing the trend for more sustainable, eco-friendly travel is really in your hands. The World Travel and Tourism Council says "providing tour operators and destinations with feedback is the number one way travelers can ask for the change they would like to see." They recommend leaving positive reviews when something is done right or contacting places via social media beforehand to check out their eco-credentials. "If a travel provider is not providing you with sustainable options," they say, "demand to know why."

Sustainable travel doesn’t mean sacrificing luxury

You might also like:
How to experience Yellowstone National Park sustainably
Why New Zealand is leading the way with regenerative travel
How to find a sustainable hotel

This article was first published April 2019 and updated April 2022

Explore related stories

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 21: View on Sydney harbour with ferries in daylight. April 2016

Budget Travel

Everything you need to know to get around Sydney this year

Nov 5, 2023 • 9 min read