Cultural Experience | South Africa

Simple Tips for Sustainable Travel

Be kind to the Earth we’re all exploring.

Being able to travel as a student is a wonderful privilege and opportunity to take advantage of; however, it can have an enormous impact on the environment and the communities you find yourself in. Some environmental negatives of traveling might be obvious, but are often overlooked if you’re solely focused on having a good time. Here are a few tips on how to enjoy and embrace student travel while still being kind to the Earth we’re all exploring:

Choose transportation wisely. Travel by air has an incredibly large carbon footprint, but it’s also one of the only options for most long-distance travel. For slightly less long-distance trips, consider a grounded form of transportation such as taking a train or possibly planning a road trip. Road trips can allow you to see much more along the way to your destination while also making a conscious decision about the vehicle you’re using. For travel within cities and towns, opt to rent a bike or just walk. You don’t always need to call a taxi if it’s a short trip; enjoy the fresh air and your surroundings while also getting some exercise in!

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My roommate and I got bikes for the semester shortly after moving into our apartment, but for longer trips we often opted to take the train.

Bring your reusable water bottle. If you’re traveling somewhere where the tap water is safe to drink, toss your reusable water bottle in your bag (empty of course). I usually carry on an empty bottle so I can refill it as soon as I get off my flight. This may seem like a simple idea, but you’ll avoid buying one-use water bottles everywhere you go, which saves a lot of plastic!

If you have a kitchen, cook! If you’re staying for an extended period of time, you might have a kitchen available to you in whatever type of housing you’re in. While enjoying local restaurants is a necessary and enjoyable way to experience the food of your destination, they contribute to lots of food waste! Invite some new friends over and make a few meals from home every once and a while. While you’re grocery shopping, remember to shop local. It helps the economy within the community as well as produces less waste since the food doesn’t have to travel as far.

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Our CIEE group cooking dinner together in Lynedoch ecovillage.

Stay in hostels/backpackers. More community-based housing also means less waste and resources are used within the space. You’re usually sharing rooms and bathrooms with guests, and they have minimal amenities. Many hostels implement initiatives such as renewable energy use through solar power, recycling and involvement and contribution in the surrounding community. I even stayed in one with showers that told me when I began to waste too much water. There are also plenty of Airbnbs that advertise being eco-friendly, allowing you to choose an environmentally kind place to stay while also saving money.

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A friend and I stayed in an eco-friendly, off the grid treehouse during our road trip on the Garden Route.

Be conscious of your impact on your host community. Before taking part in any planned activities in your study abroad destination, whether they involve interaction with people or animals, do a little research of the impact this activity might have on the community. Is it harmful to the well-being of an animal or to the local economy? Does it have detrimental effects on the true culture of the place you’re in? It’s perfectly fine to experience your destination, but try to avoid experiences catered for tourists rather than ones that are true representations of the place. Spend your money locally as much as possible!

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We spent most weekend mornings at one of the many local food markets around Stellenbosch and Cape Town.

Donate unused items. If you’re studying abroad, your host university will probably be able to assist you with this, but if you’re simply traveling see if there are any ways to make donations in your host community. Obviously if you have unopened and imperishable food items, there is most likely some type of food bank or food collection center around. You might have also gone shopping one too many times and found that you cannot fit everything back into the bag(s) you brought. Find a way to donate any unwanted clothing before you leave! My study abroad director also collected books, toiletry items and anything else we bought for our apartments that we had no need to take home. Donating these things helps reduce waste!

These are all easy first steps to traveling the Earth a little lighter, but depending on how and where you’re traveling you can always take these ideas even farther! It’s just as rewarding to protect the planet as it is to explore it.

Pinterest sustainable travel image


Alexandria Polanosky

Ohio University | 8 stories

Alexandria attends Ohio University in Athens, Ohio and is currently studying Photojournalism with a specialization in Environmental Studies. Alexandria is originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After recently studying for a semester in South Africa, Alexandria's horizons have expanded and she has come to find there is so much more to the world than the small, cozy college town of Athens. Though her experience abroad was wonderful, she strives to acknowledge the beauty that can be found every day no matter where you find yourself. You can find her travel blog at

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