Sustainable Holiday Travel

Film photo: Boat in lake with mountain backdrop.

The Thanksgiving spread, your in-law’s gifts, making your red eye – there are probably a million things on your mind this holiday season, the least of which is traveling sustainably. However, travel is responsible for a startling 8% of the world’s carbon emissions. Various activities contribute to tourism's carbon footprint, from plane flights and boat rides to souvenirs and lodging. While visiting your family in the mid-west might not be the vacation of your dreams, there is still a carbon footprint associated with it and exacerbated during this time of year. Here are our tips for more responsible travel – whether it be Christmas plans or the summer vacay still in the works.


Flights are one of the biggest factors for the increased footprint associated with travel. While Google Flights now includes transparent emission rates (a BIG step in the right direction), there are other alternatives to flying. For instance, did you know that trains emit some the lowest levels of greenhouse gases? While much more prevalent in the EU, trains are still a great way to kick back and relax while enjoying some gorgeous landscapes. Bonus – it’s also a lot comfier than the 2 feet of legroom on your domestic flight.

Carpooling is also a great option for travel. There are sites thoughtfully designed to match you with other travelers looking to go to the same destination. is a great site to lower the carbon footprint per mile for each person. We also love the fact that it gives you an opportunity to bond with people who are also exploring the same place you are (did someone say instant BFF?).


If you’re not staying with friends and family, try booking accommodations with Book Different calculates various lodgings’ carbon footprint per night and provides a sustainable summary. With a mission to drive transparency in big business, Book Different is a great option to feel more confident in your booking decision.

If hotels aren’t your thing, try a homestay. Homestays are a great way to invest in local communities and have a more personalized lodging experience. We recommend Airbnb’s shared stay feature or This is also a great option for those traveling on a budget.

Packing List:

Capsule wardrobes are nothing new, and while admittedly I could do a better job integrating this tip into my everyday life, it’s a whole lot easier if you’re only staying somewhere for a week or two. Packing clothes that layer well with each other and mix and match well just generally makes your life easier. Less time spent styling; more time spent sightseeing. It also makes your luggage lighter and easier (and more sustainable) to transport. Not sure where to start? We are digging this guide:

Avoid the single-use hotel amenities and bring your own eco-friendly toiletries. Toothpaste tabs (we love BITE) instead of single-use plastic toothpaste tubes, reusable makeup rounds instead of cotton balls, bar soaps & shampoos (also, hello, TSA approved!) are all great options to amp up your daily essentials to be more conducive to travel.

The To-Do List:

The ratio of money tourists spend at their travel destination versus the amount the local community actually receives of it is startling. Don’t be fooled into thinking that sustainable travel is strictly in reference to the environment. In reality, thinking about the impact on the local communities and population you’re visiting is just as essential.

We always recommend eating local while traveling. Support small restaurants or check out local open-air markets that specialize in locally sourced, in-season, and culturally relevant food.

Find a local tour guide. What better way to experience local culture than from a local themself? Hiring a local guide for a personalized city tour is basically like renting a friend who happens to be an expert at the kind of information and insights a curious visitor craves. Guides can point out good restaurants, give shopping advice (though we always promote experiences over trinkets), provide transportation (yay carpooling!), and sightseeing tips. 

Whether you’re traveling halfway around the world or one town over, there is always a way to practice more sustainable tourism and travel. Because at NOTES® we believe in leaving a little less behind.

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