After traveling the globe for three decades we have come to put a huge premium on ways we as a family can reduce our carbon footprint as we explore the world.

I think people often get deterred or discouraged when thinking of how to make their travel more sustainable. Travelers might imagine their experiences have to to be free of creature comforts and amenities in order to keep travel sustainable. They might think in order to be eco-conscious they have to give up luxuries and indulgences that they look forward to while traveling. However, this could not be farther from the truth.

Sustainable and green travel has come so far in the last decade, and as a result there are environmentally conscious travel experiences including hotels, excursions and transportation that are some of the most luxurious and remarkable on the planet.

Additionally, there are so many ways to make travel sustainable, from small to big choices, that you will likely not even notice the shift. Furthermore, these choices add up to have a big impact. Eco-travel has exploded in popularity and the result is incredible travel experiences that limit our effects on Mother Nature. Sustainable travel options in Europe now offer some of the best traveling experiences on the planet, and often times they not only save the planet, but they very frequently save us money as well.

In fact, these sustainable practices, locations, and travel experiences are often better than non-green travel opportunities as they are on the cutting edge of the most remarkable, unique and special travel experiences in the world.  They are innovative, state-of-the-art, and cross both budget and luxury travel sectors. They are offered in big cities and remote locations, and the choices are becoming greater and easier.  As a family who travels continually all over the world, these sustainable travel experiences have become our favorite and preferred choices.

Small Choices Turn into Big Results…

We are often told we must make BIG changes to find dramatic and large shifts in the outcome. However, the truth is the small shifts and choices in our practices around travel can add up to create big dividends for both you as the traveler and the environment!

Recently, James Clear, author of the bestselling book Atomic Habits, explains how the effects of small changes (even 1%) compound over time. The book discusses how real change comes from the compound effect of hundreds of small decisions, and when it comes to sustainable travel practices this couldn’t be more TRUE!

If more and more people make small but meaningful choices around the environment, traveling choices, and supporting green businesses the effects on the planet will be exponential.  Furthermore, as these choices add up and business benefits, it further promotes and inspires other businesses, corporations, and people looking to make money in the travel sector to offer sustainable and green practices. This results in a snowball effect across the travel industry and the planet.  

Let´s take a look at some of the big and small ways you can become a more sustainable traveler while in Europe…

1. Sustainable Transportation

Getting to, as well as around your destination is one of the most significant factors to consider when planning sustainable travel.

Electric bikes in France

Electric Bikes in France

Air Travel:

The truth is air travel is not yet sustainable.  While there have been improvements in fuel economy across the industry, flying is still carbon-intensive.  There are continual efforts to try to create greener options around air travel, but until then it is important to carefully consider air travel and other options when traveling.

Given this, there are a few things you can do to make air travel a bit more sustainable…

  • Fly economy‍ In economy, each seat takes up less space, so more passengers can fit. The more people there are on a plane, the lower the emissions are for each passenger. When you fly economy, you send a signal to airlines that you prioritize efficiency.

  • Fly direct Takeoff and landing account for 25% of the emissions of a standard flight. For shorter journeys, it’s even higher. So try to fly direct and avoid connections.

  • ‍Choose newer aircraft ‍Airplanes become more efficient every year, so flying in a newer plane can reduce the footprint of that flight. New planes like the A320neo or Boeing 787-8 use ~15% less fuel than older planes. Some sites make it easy to find flights with more efficient planes. For instance, Skyscanner has a “greener choice” label that uses fuel efficiency, carrying capacity, and distance to calculate low-emission options. Be sure to check out our blog post on the best airlines to fly to Europe.

  • Fly budget airlines ‍Budget airlines boost efficiency by fitting more people onto each plane. With more people on a plane, the emissions per person are lower. Pay-as-you-go add-ons like food, drinks, and bags also minimize weight and waste onboard.

  • Pick eco-friendly airports Globally, 419 airports are actively reducing their operational emissions by implementing projects like electric buses, energy-efficient lighting, and clean energy. Airports that meet these criteria will have the Airport Carbon Accreditation stamp. You can find a list of these airports on their website.

  • Reduce day-off impacts such as lighting your luggage, not using disposable plastic and paper, and going paperless with boarding passes and travel documents.  On the day of your flight, fly lighter with these tips.

Walking and Biking: 

Walking and cycling are the most environmentally friendly modes of transportation. They produce no emissions, promote physical activity, and have minimal infrastructure requirements. They are suitable for short distances and can help reduce congestion and pollution in urban areas.  Additionally riding or walking is easily the best way to really take in a new city or location.  We have several apps downloaded on our phones for various bike rentals in a variety of countries making it easier than ever to hop on a bike!

Electric Vehicles: 

Electric cars, buses, and bikes are increasingly popular as they produce zero tailpipe emissions. However, their sustainability depends on the source of electricity used for charging, as renewable energy makes them even more environmentally friendly. My daughter and I just had the best road trip through Spain and France by renting the most adorable eclectic car. We had so much zipping all over while knowing we were not suing gasoline. Most car rental agencies now have a great selection of electric vehicles.

Public Transportation:

We love taking public transportation in the locations we are visiting as they allow you to feel like a local and experience the community in a way that other modes don´t.  Public transportation options like buses, trams, subways, and trains are more energy-efficient compared to individual car trips. They can carry a large number of passengers, reducing the overall carbon footprint per person. If we are staying in a location for an extended period of time we always buy a bus or rail rail pass that allows easy access and is super economical.  Furthermore, an increasing number of locations are adding electric buses to their convoy.  

Carpooling and Ride-Sharing: 

Sharing rides with others in a single vehicle reduces the number of vehicles on the road, easing congestion and lowering emissions per passenger.  You can find ride-sharing resources on Facebook in order to find other travelers who might be going in the same direction.  It is also a great way to meet other travelers.  

High-Speed Rail: 

High-speed rail systems are efficient for medium to long distances, emitting significantly fewer greenhouse gases compared to air travel or driving. In fact, European countries are working to outlaw taking a plane when a train is an option.  Taking trains is easily our favorite way to travel.  You get to really see the countryside and location in such a fun way.  While traveling on a train it is much easier to sleep, work and walk around. Trains are great for families with little ones who need to move as well. Last time I rode the train across Spain I stood in the dining car with a glass of wine watching the rows and rows of charming villages, sunflowers and mountains pass by.

Ferries and Water Transportation: 

Water transportation, such as ferries and boats, can be energy-efficient and reduce road congestion. They can also utilize cleaner fuels or electric propulsion systems.   Also if you have a chance to use a sailboat over a motor boat we find the experience much more enjoyable.  There are also many locations that are gaining fleets with electric boats that do not require any fuel and very little oil, so they are far less likely to cause any harm to wildlife or fragile marine environments, making them a great way to significantly reduce water pollution. Electric boats can be run off clean, green energy and my favorite part is how quiet they are when you are out on the water in a beautiful setting.

Micro-Mobility Solutions: 

Electric scooters and skateboards are emerging as convenient and eco-friendly modes of transportation for short trips in urban areas.  Renting an electric scooter is one of my favorite ways to see a city.  I love how easy it is to hop on and off and navigate unknown locations.  You can either look for an app in your destination or look up a rental spot, and they are great for the whole family.  

In general, modes of transportation that minimize the consumption of fossil fuels, reduce emissions, and promote energy efficiency tend to be more sustainable options. Try to incorporate all or some of these options when traveling and I promise you will end up enjoying the experience!

Our electric car we used to drive all over Spain and France

2. Choose Sustainable Locations

When it comes to sustainable travel the shorter distance you travel generally means the less impact on the environment.  However, if you want to see far corners of the globe there are more sustainable ways to get there.

Stay Local: 

We often overlook amazing unexplored corners in our own backyard.  Planning day trips, taking the train to neighboring towns or cities, or even acting like a tourist in your own town is one of the greenest and offers the least impact on an environment when it comes to travel.  No matter where we are living in the world we make a point of diving head into all the unique local corners and destinations in our own backyard.  Reading about activities in your home town just like you are a visiting tourist allows you to have outdoor experiences, engage in local arts and entertainment, and take in the opportunities that exist in your very own hometown.

Choose Green locations:

If you intend to travel farther distances there are European countries that offer extensive and meaningful green tourism options and that should be at the top of your list.  There are organizations that have put together extensive rankings of the greenest countries.  These lists allow you to see the value countries place on restoring and preserving the natural environment and the health of not only the planet but also its citizens.  For instance, Sweden and Denmark top the list in terms of protecting marine environments and emissions growth, and Costa Rica for instance is leading the world in terms of recycling. Take a look at these lists before you travel to make sure you educate yourself about the environmental practices and how they might influence and make a difference when you travel.  

Avoid Popular Tourist Destinations:

If you do choose to visit crowded and popular cities, consider doing so outside peak summer months, say experts. Stay longer, choose accredited accommodation (using a site such as bookdifferent.com, which ensures claims to sustainability are checked by third parties), and find local activities that give back to residents, instead of the most popular activities, which can also often be tourist traps. We avoid tourist traps as much as we can and find that avoiding these places not only allows for a much more authentic travel experiences but reduces the harm that can come to these areas through heavy tourism.

Visit Places That Need Support:

Another way to spend your hard-earned dollars is to travel to destinations rebuilding after disaster. Travelers can help further by volunteering in environmental and social projects helping to rebuild devastated communities. The Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council, which helps the industry focus on sustainable outcomes for disaster-affected communities is a great resource for finding such opportunities. Finding locations to visit or devoting even part of your vacation to giving back to communities that need support leaves travelers feeling much more fulfilled following travel. Volunteer World is one of our favorite organizations that helps people find the perfect volunteer job throughout Europe.

3. Choose Sustainable Lodging

After traveling the globe and having incredible experiences staying in some of the most unique, beautiful travel lodging around the world we can emphatically say sustainable lodging options that are practicing green are easily our favorite.  These places are leading the way in terms of client experience while simultaneously being good for the environment.  Here are some of our favorite tips for finding the best sustainable lodging…

Research Eco-Certifications: 

The internet makes it easy to find hotels, lodges, and accommodations that hold recognized eco-certifications, such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Green Key, or EarthCheck. These certifications indicate that the establishment meets certain environmental and sustainability standards.

Check Energy Efficiency: 

Choose accommodations that prioritize energy efficiency through practices like using energy-saving appliances, LED lighting, and smart thermostats. Some hotels also generate their own renewable energy through solar panels or wind turbines.

Water Conservation: 

Seek out places that employ water-saving technologies like low-flow toilets, water-efficient faucets, and water recycling systems. Additionally, consider using your towels and linens for more than one day to reduce unnecessary laundry.

Waste Management: 

Inquire about the establishment’s waste management practices. Look for accommodations that recycle, compost, and minimize single-use plastics and disposable items. Some hotels also use eco-friendly cleaning products.

Local Sourcing: 

Opt for accommodations that source their food and supplies locally. This reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation and supports the local economy.

Wildlife Conservation and Respect: 

Choose lodging that demonstrates a commitment to protecting local wildlife and habitats. Avoid establishments that promote activities that could harm animals or disrupt their natural environments.

Green Spaces and Landscaping: 

Look for accommodations that have green spaces, gardens, or even rooftop gardens. These areas contribute to biodiversity, improve air quality, and provide a pleasant environment for guests.

Public Transportation and Accessibility: 

Choose lodging that is easily accessible via public transportation or within walking or biking distance of key attractions. This reduces the need for individual car travel, which can be more environmentally friendly.

Carbon Offsetting: 

Some hotels offer options to offset the carbon emissions associated with your stay. This involves supporting projects that reduce or capture carbon dioxide, such as reforestation or renewable energy initiatives.

Size and Scale: 

Smaller, boutique accommodations often have a lower environmental impact compared to larger chain hotels. They tend to use fewer resources and have a more intimate relationship with their surroundings. Additionally, these smaller boutique hotels tend to hire more local employees who provide a much more intimate and personalized experience in the location.  

Green Building Design: 

Seek out accommodations that have been designed with sustainable architecture in mind. Elements like passive heating and cooling, natural lighting, and proper insulation can significantly reduce energy consumption.

Environmental Policies: 

Read through the accommodation’s environmental policies and commitments. This will give you insight into how seriously they take sustainability and responsible practices.

Reviews and Recommendations:

Look for reviews and recommendations from other travelers who prioritize sustainability. Their experiences can offer valuable insights into the establishment’s actual practices.

By making informed choices about your lodging, you can enjoy your travels while supporting businesses that contribute positively to the environment and local communities. By choosing sustainable accommodations, you’re sending a message to the hospitality industry that eco-friendly practices are important to travelers. This encourages more establishments to adopt sustainable initiatives.

4. Practice Sustainable Packing

How and what you pack can make a difference when it comes to travel and lighting the load both on you as a traveler and the environment.  Here are a few tips Pick the right luggage

Pick the right luggage

Choose suitcases and bags made from durable, long-lasting materials. Also, look for luggage made from recycled materials and for manufacturers offering repairs. The longer your luggage lasts, the less likely it is to end up in the trash or landfill. Luggage is also something you can borrow if you don’t travel regularly or find second-hand.  

Pack less and pack light

If you have read our blogs about packing you will know what advocates we are for packing as little as possible and minimalism in general.  When it comes to sustainable travel packing as little as possible not only makes travel easier but cuts down on consumption as a whole.  Layers are where it is at when it comes to packing lightly and bringing basics that you can layer and mix and match.

When more people can pack lighter allowing for smaller suitcases and luggage it can reduce the overall weight to help to reduce carbon emissions. When total loads are lighter, trains, airplanes, and rental cars use less energy during transport.  So try to go light!

Skip the plastic wrap

I realize people want to keep their luggage from getting scuffed but using the plastic wrap service in airports is a tremendous waste of plastics which harms the environment.  Instead, try buying a very durable suitcase or one that you don´t care if it gets scuffed up. Or you can buy the suitcase covers or wraps that you can use repeatedly instead of the plastic wrap.  

Roll don´t fold

Believe it or not, how you pack can make a significant difference when it comes to lightening your load.  Rolling versus folding clothes has been shown to save considerable space when packing a suitcase.  You can also use packing cubes. I once traveled for a year with just a backpack and I had everything I needed so you would be surprised how little you can get away with.

Refill and reuse toiletries

Buy refillable bottles and compartments for toiletries and medicines. Pack solid shampoo soaps and shaving soaps; they’re leakproof and produce less packaging waste.  There are so many cute, and recycled products that allow you to take all your favorite cosmetics with you in a time-saving and green way.  

Bring your own cups and bottles

Bringing your own water bottle is a no-brainer.  There are refill stations at most airports, coffee shops, and train stations all over the globe.  

Say no to paper

Download digital documents on your smartphone or laptop instead of taking paper printouts. Don’t use paper for copies.  Keep everything on your phone in electronic copies.

Pack eco-friendly products: 

Buy from a place that practices green manufacturing, buy recycled clothes, borrow things, etc.  For instance, we love sharing our camping and skiing stuff with other families who might not have everything for that season.

5. Consume Sustainable Food 

How, what, and where you eat are important considerations when attempting to make your travel more sustainable and environmentally considerate.

What and how we eat has big effects on the environment across the globe. What we have found is the sustainable practices we follow while traveling and eating not only make a difference when it comes to the environment but allow us to experience the locations we are visiting in a more authentic, considerate, and meaningful way.

Here are some tips to help you eat more sustainably while traveling.

Farmers Market in Mallorca

Plan Ahead:

Before you embark on your journey, research the destination’s local food scene and identify sustainable dining options. Look for restaurants and markets that prioritize locally sourced, organic, and ethically produced food. The internet makes it very easy to do a quick search on local dining options that use farm-to-table and sustainable eating options. Our experience has been that these establishments are some of the most charming and authentic places in each new destination.

Pack Reusables:

Bring your own reusable utensils, water bottle, and travel mug. This reduces the need for single-use plastics and helps you avoid disposable cutlery and containers. It is so easy to pack sustainable cutlery a travel mug and a water bottle. Many cities provide water bottle fill-up stations and you often get a discount at coffee houses when you bring your own cup!

Choose Local and Seasonal:

Choosing dishes that feature locally grown and seasonal ingredients not only means you are experiencing the freshest ingredients but also means you often get to experience authentic dishes based on the location. These choices also often have a lower carbon footprint because they don’t require long-distance transportation.

Support Farmers Markets:

Explore local farmers’ markets where you can buy fresh produce, baked goods, and other items directly from local producers. This not only supports the local economy but also encourages sustainable agriculture. Researching where the local farmer’s markets are is one of the first things we do when arriving in a new town. I have found it is one of my favorite ways to see a local and intimate side of a community. I love to see neighbors greeting each other and locals catching up. You also come to understand a location food culture and scene. We also always stock up on snacks for our visit by purchasing fresh fruits, fresh baked bread, and nuts.

Minimize Meat Consumption:

Consider reducing your meat consumption while traveling. The meat industry has a significant environmental impact, so choosing vegetarian or plant-based options can greatly lower your carbon footprint.

Avoid Overeating and Food Waste:

Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid food waste. If you’re unsure of how much you’ll eat, start with a smaller portion and then order more if necessary. Leftovers might not be feasible when you’re traveling but we are big fans of plate sharing or ordering several smaller dishes to allow us to taste a bigger selection of dishes and specials.

Ask About Sustainable Practices:

When dining out, ask questions about the restaurant’s sourcing and waste management practices. Choosing establishments that prioritize sustainability can encourage others to do the same. If they are practicing and prioritizing good methods make sure to give them a compliment and good review.

Respect Cultural Norms:

Embrace the local food culture and try traditional dishes. This can often lead to more sustainable choices as these dishes are typically made from local ingredients.

Reduce Packaging Waste:

If you’re buying food to-go, ask if you can avoid unnecessary packaging or bring your own reusable containers to pack your meal.

Opt for Eco-Friendly Accommodations:

Choose hotels and accommodations that have sustainability initiatives, including sourcing local and organic food for their restaurants.

Limit Bottled Beverages:

Instead of purchasing bottled water and beverages, carry a reusable water bottle and fill it with a safe water source. This reduces plastic waste and your carbon footprint. Or try to buy drinks packages in glass or cans.

Mindful Souvenirs:

If you’re considering bringing back food items as souvenirs, make sure they are locally produced, non-perishable, and preferably in minimal or recyclable packaging.

Educate Yourself:

Learn about the local food systems and the challenges they face. Understanding the region’s agricultural practices and food sources can help you make more informed and sustainable choices.

6. Engage in Sustainable activities

When engaging in activities while traveling it is important to consider the environment at every turn.  Considering the ecosystem, conservation efforts, and effects on the local community is a meaningful way to make an impact.

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind in order to keep your activities greener while recreating on your travels…

Hiking, zip-lining and river rafting in the Pyrenees.

Shopping

Shopping while traveling allows for considerable opportunities to make less of an impact while you travel.  

Here are a few tips…

Shopping for Clothes

When you visit a new town it is easy to go to the same large chain stores that you can find in any city as they are likely on every corner. However, too often these stores engage in fast fashion practices that do not consider the environment.  Furthermore, they don’t allow for a unique fashion experience specific to the location you are visiting.   

Shopping vintage or local is by far our family’s favorite way to shop when we are traveling.  We make a point of seeking out the vintage stores in every town we visit.  I admit that for years I was not a fan of vintage, but as fast fashion has grown in popularity I have grown increasingly more supportive of this way of buying clothes.  There are a wide variety of vintage stores available from high-end designer vintage stores to boutiques that are catered more to youth and trendy fashion.  Having two teenage daughters means we like to shop in both!  My favorite part of shopping vintage is how much better quality most of the clothes are, as well as having unique fashions that are specific to the location we are traveling in.  The vintage fashion stores in France, the Netherlands and Spain are incredible!

You can tell a lot about a community and town when shopping locally as well.  Furthermore, if you are into fashion you can normally get designer pieces at much lower costs.  My daughters and I have found the most beautiful vintage fashion and timeless pieces across the globe at a fraction of the cost. Now we have sentimental pieces that remind us of our travels.

Shopping for Art, Antiques and Jewelry

Buying vintage antiques, art or jewelry is another way to buy pieces that not only represent a community but also have a story to tell.  Walking into these stores allows you to get a history lesson on the artifacts, belongings, and stories that make up a specific location. Buy a painting from a local artist or take home a beautiful one-of-a-kind piece of local jewelry and you will have a treasure that reminds you of your travels for years to come.

Buy Local 

Buying local clothes, art or collectibles is another great way to support a community and keep things sustainable when shopping.  We try to always support local artist and end up with art that represent the culture and history of the remarkable locations we have been lucky enough to visit. We have beautiful watercolor pieces from artists in Thailand, Spanish ceramic pieces that still grace our dining table, and one-of-a-kind bamboo pieces from Japan.

Activities Off The Beaten Path:

Getting off the well-worn path is a good way to tread softly in a community.  Many areas are over touristed and this can take a toll on the environment.  Extensive use of water, excessive trash, and exhaust from excessive transportation can take a toll on the environment. But getting off the beaten path to explore lesser-known activities not only allows you to see a more authentic part of a community and location but normally means the experience is free of crowds and far more enjoyable.  More often than not these less popular places are far less commercialized and more representative of a location and culture.  We avoid highly trafficked tourist areas as much as we possibly can!

Slow Down:

If there is one thing we are advocates for when traveling it is to slow down.  Consider lingering longer in locations and crossing a few things off your itinerary.  So often travelers are concerned with seeing as much as they can and moving at such a fast pace that they miss the ethos and essence of a place by moving too quickly.  Linger over meals, allow for large chunks of time to get lost, and be spontaneous.  Not only will you see a side of life you would not have if you were moving from one thing to another, but you also get to relax and slow down in a way that is good for you and your family which is what travel is all about!

Visit and support Parks and Protected areas

Visiting and patronizing attractions that address and support local conservation efforts ensures money to the organizations that are striving to protect local resources.  These activities not only maintain environmental standards but contribute to our collective knowledge and respect for the environment.  Visit farms and wineries that engage in sustainable farming practices, and pay a visit to animal restoration habitats where your dollars are. 

Avoid activities that are burdensome to the environment or have questionable practices around animal treatment.  Do your research, dread reviews, and make sure you know something about where you are visiting.  

Volunteer:

Most people don’t think of volunteering while they are on vacation or traveling but we have come to find it is one of our preferred ways to see a community and have an incredible experience.  We have worked with local children, built houses, and planted gardens while learning about local ecology and beach cleaning ups.  We have made lasting friendships with locals and really come to understand a place much better than if we were doing tourist traps.  There are great resources for where to find places to volunteer around the world where you can have incredible experiences that give back to the environment while having life-changing experiences.

In Conclusion…

Sustainable travel has become increasingly important in today’s world due to the growing recognition of the environmental, social, and economic impacts of tourism. For us personally, it is at the cornerstone of every decision we make while traveling and has resulted in enhanced experiences around the globe.

If you follow these six practices to make travel more sustainable in Europe you will now only benefit the environment but have a much more authentic and enriching experiencing while traveling. This approach to travel takes into account the well-being of the environment, local communities, and future generations, aiming to minimize negative effects while maximizing positive contributions and can add up to make big changes when it comes to the impacts of tourism.

Happy Travels!

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