It’s no secret that traveling can be stressful - from planning a time that works for everyone to finding a good deal on flights and hotels, and then when you finally arrive at your destination you still have to figure out what sites to see and where to eat. All of that decision making is even more overwhelming for travelers who are looking to stick to a budget and keep the well-being of people and planet in mind, too.
With travel and tourism on a steady incline (the industry saw 1.7% growth in 2017) it can be difficult to find the right destinations to relax and enjoy without being inundated by crowds of other travelers and expensive tourist traps. Here are some budget and eco-friendly travel tips to help you get the most out of your vacation.
1. Know when to fly
Most people are limited to traveling on holidays and weekends, meaning that those times will always be busy for airlines, resulting in higher prices. If you can swing it, we suggest choosing the week before or after a busy holiday to take your vacation as airfare will be much lower and your destination won’t be quite so crowded. If you absolutely must get away on Memorial Day weekend, booking your flights for a few days in advance and a few days after the weekend is over will afford you a cheaper seat and an easier time at the airport. In fact, whenever you plan a trip it’s generally cheapest to fly mid-week rather than Mondays, Fridays, or weekends.
2. Stay outside of popular tourist zones
We’ve all heard the horror stories of overtourism in places like Venice and Amsterdam, and thanks to Instagram it’s easy to see which vacation spots travelers will be converging on next. If you’re the type who prefers to skip the crowd in favor of a relaxing and authentic trip then you might consider booking outside of the most popular places at your travel destinations. Don’t worry, you can still visit Paris and Lisbon, just choose accommodations slightly outside of the central city area and you’ll find that foot traffic is much easier to navigate without hordes of middle-aged couples and giggling teenagers taking selfies all over the sidewalks.
3. Choose a smaller hotel or stay with the locals
These days boutique hotels and vacation rentals like Airbnb and VRBO are par for the course. Pretty much everyone is aware of these alternative options to giant and expensive hotel chains, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are always better. When searching for apartments on Airbnb it’s important to be aware of the fact that this vacation rental platform has had a hand in driving up the cost of living in major cities, therefore driving out the local citizens. One best practice for avoiding exploitative or illegal Airbnb’s is to check how many residences your host manages - if it’s just one or two, they’re most likely a well-intentioned local. However, if your host is managing multiple luxurious apartments in one city it’s best to opt for a different spot as their operation could be contributing to gentrification. Boutique and eco hotels are also great options, especially since newer establishments will often offer deals in order to attract guests and positive reviews.
4. Take buses, boats, bikes, and trains wherever possible
Finally going on the Euro-trip of your dreams? Or island hopping in Southeast Asia? Wherever you’re adventuring, make sure you check your alternative options for transportation before booking that plane ticket. If you plan to hop around to multiple destinations on your travels, chances are that you can easily get from place to place by train, bus, or boat. We love train travel in particular because it is an extremely comfortable and eco-friendly way of getting around that can save you money in a lot of unexpected ways! Bikes, buses, and metros are also great ways of getting around a city that won’t break the bank or put undue strain on mother earth. Check for local bike shares and see if you can’t snag a pass for the public transit system wherever you travel - you may even find that you get a richer experience of a new place by forgoing car rides in favor of these modes of transit.
5. Bring your own
Bringing your own reusable bag, water bottle, utensils, and napkins is the eco-friendly thing to do and can go a long way while traveling. The cost of purchasing multiple water bottles per day can quickly rack up, but that expense is easily avoided by bringing along a reusable water bottle that can be refilled at restaurants, hotels, and drinking fountains. Many European countries are officially banning single use plastic items like bags and straws, so it is always best to be prepared. Try adding a small zippered pouch to your day bag so that all of your reusable utensils and napkins are within reach whenever you get hungry or messy on your adventures.
6. Eat like a local
Tourists often get a bad rap for always eating at the same restaurants, resulting in long lines and crowded cafés. We say skip those crowds and seek out a more authentic experience by putting yourself in a local’s shoes! Between the information on Yelp and online travel blogs it’s pretty easy to look up a few spots that are a bit off the beaten path. An even better solution is to make friends with locals and ask them for all of their must-eat recommendations (some of the best meals abroad come from hole-in-the-wall establishments that only locals know about).
7. Learn a little bit of language
People don’t hate tourists, they just hate the way that tourists act. When traveling try to keep in mind the fact that we are visitors in someone else’s home, and that we should therefore be respectful of their culture and customs. Some of the more nuanced aspects of unique cultures may forever escape us, but there are little things that all travelers can do to make themselves more pleasant guests. Being polite goes a really a long way, which is why it’s useful to always learn a few choice words in the local language before hitting the ground. Hello, goodbye, please, and thank you will always come in handy no matter where in the world you are, and saying them as a local would will earn you infinite brownie points, too.
*This post was written by Faye Lessler, a California born, New York City based advocate for holistic sustainable living. Faye is the author of sustainable lifestyle blog, Sustaining Life, she is passionate about supporting sustainable brands and making an ethical & eco-friendly lifestyle easier and more accessible for all. Faye is also a freelance writer, consultant, and the Events + Talent Manager for the Ethical Writers & Creatives. Sustaining Life has been featured in Glamour Magazine and has collaborated with sustainability leaders Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, Thinx, and Klean Kanteen.