How to Plan an Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Trip on a Budget

Shopping farmer's markets is sustainable and budget friendly.
••• Credit: Maremagnum. Getty Images. Credit: Maremagnum

You don’t have to stay at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve in South Africa to be leaving a small carbon footprint behind while traveling (though we wouldn't complain about that!). Sustainable tourism is meant to maintain the natural and cultural environment, while interacting with them. Many travelers have the notion that sustainability is “hard work” or requires major changes in their everyday itineraries.

While in some instances, that may be the case (see: composting), there are many smaller steps to curb impact. The best part of traveling in an eco-friendly or sustainable manner is that it's incredibly easy to do it on a budget and practically lends itself to spending less. The most expensive parts of a trip are usually flights and accommodations. With that in mind, here are some tips to put some green back in your wallet and the planet.

1. Sharing Economy

Let’s say your biggest purchase was your flight and you want to save some money on your accommodations, while not compromising on quality. Enter: Airbnb. Stay in a castle in England, a treehouse in Costa Rica or a boat in Vancouver. Staying in someone’s home can be a ton of fun and you can do it on a budget. Some places range as little as $15 USD a night, depending on the location. The sharing economy has exploded over the past few years with companies like Uber, TaskRabbit and of course, Airbnb.

The idea is that you are giving your finances to locals in exchange for their services or goods vs. paying a corporation, where you have no idea where the money goes. Airbnb is the most popular version of this model and with good reason. It allows folks to open up their homes and host travelers. This creates community is often also a great source of income for homeowners.

This is not to say that Airbnb doesn’t have its issues, it has been cited as having disrupted the housing market and changing neighborhood dynamics. All in all, these problems seem to represent a fraction of the overall good it has brought. If staying in someone’s home doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, consider using a site like Glooby to find more traditional accommodations. If you are REALLY on a budget, most hostels are eco-friendly and you can check Hostel World for more details about which ones are putting their best environmental foot forward.  

2. Public Transportation 

Depending on where you are traveling, you may have the pleasure of taking mostly public transportation. If you are saying to yourself right now, “wait, I don’t want to be crammed in a subway with a million people”, I feel you. The thing is, most smaller cities have public transit and they are clean, convenient and worth squeezing yourself into for the sake of the environment and your wallet. Public transport is almost always cheaper than the alternative of taking taxis or renting a car. Buses and trains are also a great option for getting around. In fact, cross-country trains can be incredibly relaxing and a lovely way travel.

If you have to rent a car, try to rent a hybrid or electric car. In the event that you do have to drive, map it out ahead of time, so that you are taking the most efficient route and spending as little time on the road. Two other sightseeing methods to consider are walking tours and bike tours. Both, as you can imagine are not only very “green” but also very healthy.

3. Buy Groceries

Pro-tip: pack a reusable bag in your suitcase and hit up the grocery store once you arrive at your new digs. Saving money on breakfast and snacks throughout the day is a great way to travel. Pick a farmers market or ask around to find a locally owned grocer or co-op. You’ll be able to splurge on a nice meal for dinner if you’ve saved money on meals earlier in the day. Just remember if you pack any food with you, to throw away any trash.

Bringing a reusable water bottle will also be helpful for skipping out on the plastic bottles throughout the day.

4. Pack Light

Are you guilty of packing your entire wardrobe when you travel? It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to have five amazing outfits for your weekend get-away. The reality is, you probably only end up wearing one. The more your suitcase weighs, the more that trains, planes and automobiles have to carry, which translates into more fuel. That may not seem like a big deal, but it adds up and means more greenhouse emissions. You can easily pack for a two week vacation in a carry-on. There are entire youtube videos dedicated to showing how to pack like a pro and you’ll be smiling when you’re the one not struggling up the stairs with your massive suitcase.

5. Shop consciously

Everyone loves souvenirs and bringing a piece of something home to family and friends. They are small but meaningful memories of our travels and they are also a great way to put money into the economy. While trinkets can be fun, cheap and a easy to pack, knowing the source of your purchase is equally as important. Don't buy a trinket made in a Chinese factory, when you are shopping in a French market. Obviously, there may be things you need to buy that you can’t find out the source of origin. Again, do research ahead of time and look for shops that are locally owned and operated. Ask the place you are staying if they have suggestions for shops carrying fair trade or eco-friendly made products as well. The catch is, these items usually cost more up front. Give yourself a budget and stick to it. Putting money directly into a places economy can go a long way for keeping their tourism afloat.

Beyond these basic tips, there are a ton of other things you can that don’t cost a dime. The list is endless:

  • Conserve water- keep showers to a minimum
  • Turn off lights when leaving your room
  • Recycle
  • Don’t disturb wildlife or vegetation in their natural habitat


Traveling in general isn’t the most eco-friendly activity, so being mindful about the choices you make can make all the difference down the road (literally and figuratively). After all, we want our earth’s greatest treasures to be around for generations. Following these easy budget friendly tips for planning your next adventure, will facilitate you being part of the solution.