A 7-Day Guide to Becoming a More Sustainable Traveler

by Tina Muir

Tina is the founder and CEO of Running For Real; host of the award-winning podcast of the same name and co-host of Running Realized; a mother of two; and a former elite runner turned sustainability advocate. 

Sustainable Traveler Guide by Tina Muir
Photograph courtesy of Tina Muir

As an environmental activist, I spend a lot of time digging into all the research I can find about how we can minimize our impact on our Mother Earth. I spend my days thinking about how to bring the majority of people into conversations about environmental impact and shift our thinking away from “What can we take from other living things in our world?” to “How can we live in alignment with all the living beings in our world?” I genuinely believe that the only way we can work our way through the climate crisis is together, by merging our skills, passions, and unique traits to find solutions to the challenges we are confronting. 

Air travel creates emissions that it can be argued are unnecessary, but in my eyes, if that travel is purposeful and intentional, it can outweigh the impact on our planet. 


What do I mean by that?

Sustainable Traveler Guide by Tina Muir
Costa Rica Running Experienc 2023 by Aire Libre

Purposeful travel means that there is a motive to going beyond just someone wanting to get away or escape from the strings holding them down at home. It means having a reason, or in a word runners understand, a “why” for traveling to that location. If traveling there leads to them contributing to society in a way they would otherwise have never thought of, it is worth it.

In many parts of the Western world, individuals confine their travel to the country in which they reside. They see others’ lives, but those lives are culturally similar to their own. Intentional international travel opens up their world to see that not only do different countries have different cultures, foods, experiences, and yes, scenery, but they also have different values; they may place importance on factors beyond personal success and material gains. They may live with the land, rather than regarding it as something to take.


Once we are exposed to other values and experiences first-hand, that perspective is with us for life and can be an extremely motivating factor to make change happen, to be the change you wish to see.


I hope that frees you from your feeling of guilt for traveling outside your home, and in many ways, outside your comfort zone. It doesn’t mean that you have to immediately find meaning within your trip. It may plant a seed in you, start a thought that takes a few years to develop, but if you travel with an open mind and an open heart, allowing yourself to evolve to become the best version of yourself, you can grow to love and appreciate the land that we live on and join the movement to make it your life’s mission to live with our planet, rather than against her.


With that said, a seven-day guide to being a sustainable traveler, broken down into seven tips for seven days for your exciting adventure ahead.

1. Extend your trip to make the most of your layovers

If you have the ability to do so, utilizing layovers to get out and explore is one of my favorite sustainability hacks. Yes, it does require a little extra planning and potentially a little extra cost, depending on the airline, but it means that you get to explore two places you have wanted to visit, rather than only one, and then having to take a separate trip to the layover location at a later date. 

Look up what your layover options are on the way to your destination (you may need to change your flight options to three one-way flights, instead of a return), and give yourself 24-36 hours in one of them before continuing on to your destination.

I have used this option to explore cities like Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Atlanta, which were all layovers on the way to my final destination. This also works very well for travel in Europe.

This method completely removes a future set of flights for a place you want to check out, but don’t need a full trip there.


2. Leave plenty of space 



I used to be a traveler who wanted to maximize efficiency for every trip I went on. I wanted to know the best restaurants, the best beaches, the best attractions to see, and I would cram every moment of my trip with scheduled events. Sure, sometimes I got to see something that I could only have experienced in that location, but it also meant that I missed out on a lot and added stress to my trips. Many of those restaurants ended up being tourist traps that didn’t feel authentic to the area at all and that rushed diners out so they could bring in more customers.



Nowadays, being a sustainable traveler means not trying to take ideals of Western living and shove them into wherever I visit. It means doing a little research to select one place I really want to experience, booking that, and then letting the rest unfold as it will. That means there is a lot of open time for wandering around the local areas, it means leaving space for spontaneous conversations or connections with locals (which often do happen), and it has led to many of my favorite travel memories of all time.


From a chanting circle on the beach in Maui with people I had met the day before to eating pickled herring on the side of the street as a bonding moment with my father, the experiences that happened as random occurrences while exploring have been some of my favorites. Traveling this way also removes pressure and stress from the trip, leaving more headspace to simply be.



3. Try something you would never do at home


Humans can be creatures of habit. That generally benefits us, but while traveling, it can leave us with regret and an unscratched curiosity itch. Take advantage of the different experiences and cultural elements available to you in a new area to try something new. Maybe that is eating squid ink pasta in Barcelona or having sandwiches on the beach for dinner so you have a little extra money to afford ziplining through the jungle. Being a sustainable traveler means opening your perspective up in ways that you would shy away from at home. Get out of your comfort zone to stretch those courage muscles; once awakened, you can find new ways to explore near your home and continue widening your horizon.

Sustainable Traveler Guide by Tina Muir
Costa Rica Running Experience 2023 by Aire Libre

4. Go beyond the beach



We live such busy and hectic lives, sometimes we think that what we crave is doing nothing on a beach. Sometimes that is needed, we do need quiet and solitude, but generally we don’t make the most of the nature that surrounds us if we go to a place we know well. If we opt for a beach vacation at a tourist location, it can be tempting to lose ourselves in our phones, telling ourselves that we are unwinding, when in fact, we are not giving our brains what they desperately crave: time to process and think. 


Selecting a destination that throws you out of your regular routine and immerses you in a place where your senses are heightened by the new surroundings can make it easier to put the phone aside, take in what you are experiencing (yes, even if it means you don’t get to document it for social media; this is for you and your mental health, not others!), and truly rejuvenate yourself.


That is where Air Libre provides perfect opportunities to explore locations you may otherwise never have the opportunity to visit. Not only will you connect with nature in a way you haven’t before, you will find intimacy and connection with others on the trips who come seeking the same healing as you do.



5. Use public transport 


The reality is, most trips that will open up your eyes in a way that will change the way you view the world require more than a drive to get there. That likely means a flight, but flying to your destination does not mean that the guilt of air travel should bring you to the point where you throw your hands in the air and pretend you are back in the 90s, when the environmental aspect of travel was not considered at all.


Spend some time looking up the travel systems within your destination. If public transport options are safe and available, utilize those to get around as much as possible. They will be more environmentally responsible than using a car, and allow you to get to know the area better than zoning out while sitting in the back of a rideshare. Once again, that behavior of sitting in the back of a car is very similar to your daily life, and will make it easy to slip into your usual habits. 



6. Pack your reusables



Traveling can be seen as resource-heavy, but it does not have to be. If you are in a location where you can make the most of your reusable items, do it. That may or may not mean refilling your reusable water bottle with tap water, but you can always bring along reusable containers for snacks and what you purchase as gifts. Ziplock bags and disposable containers may be the default in the Western world (although we hope to shift away from that before we drown in plastic), but in other countries, they are not as readily available, and we should make the most of the unintentional eco-conscious lifestyle while we can.



7. Pick restaurants as you go



Instead of planning ahead the restaurants you want to visit, walk down streets with multiple options and select one based on your gut instinct or what looks good in the window. While many destinations have their tourist trap restaurants, they also likely have hidden gems that are better than the places that are trying to get as many customers in and out as possible, where the locals enjoy their favorite foods.  I have had most of my favorite meals through stumbling upon a restaurant because I liked the vibe from the outside. Trust your instinct, and give new cuisines a try.



sustainable traveler
Costa Rica Running Experience 2023 by Aire Libre

While these are not typical sustainability tips, they do encourage opening our hearts to new experiences and new ways of doing things.

By expanding our world view and going beyond what we are used to, we see and appreciate elements of nature, community, and culture that we otherwise wouldn’t have, which makes us want to work harder to respect and protect those areas through environmental advocacy at home. I believe that immersing yourself in other cultures and natural elements is the best way to plant the seed of becoming an environmental advocate (even if not at first an activist). Long-distance travel does not have to be something to be afraid of doing for fear of being shamed for flying, it can be something that makes you into a well-rounded, curious human who is in awe of our beautiful planet and what we can do to protect her.

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