Being a prepared traveler is being a sustainable traveler. Though decisions around what to pack, where to stay, what to do (and eat) and how to get there can be hard enough, making the sustainable choice shouldn’t mean having to sacrifice the stylish one.
WWD has sustainable travel covered with practical steps any traveler can take to ease their environmental footprint, as well as some more luxurious interests for discovery.
How to Pack
Re-wearing clothing isn’t just something red carpet royalty has grown fond of — the very principles apply to vacation mode.
Fashion designer Kay Unger has one travel uniform in mind: her floral-print Marni pajamas. “It is the best outfit because it is made of viscose crepe. It never wrinkles, so I always look tidy and perfect. I can do an overnight trip, for example to Paris, where I am president of Parsons Paris and trips are as often as possible. I get off the plane, add some of my signature bracelets, check into my hotel, and head out to lunch or dinner. It is amazing,” Unger says.
She dresses the outfit up or down depending on the weather, using a few practical styling tricks up her sleeve, be it high-top sneakers, a black turtleneck or Muji T-shirt or jacket over top. “That’s another perk of these pajamas — they could be perfect for almost any climate,” she adds.
Re-wearing and hand-washing favorite outfits will ensure travelers not only pack light, but are light on their footprints. Methods such as the 5-4-3-2-1 packing method can streamline one’s wardrobe. The method entails packing no more than five sets of socks and underwear, a total of four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one hat for a weeklong trip.
Research shows that accessories for smart packing are on the rise. According to a Google trend analysis, searches for “travel backpack” and “compression cubes” saw record highs in the U.S. in March. “Capsule wardrobes” are also popular when it comes to fashion.
Though claims of being the world’s first “carbon-neutral” suitcase might sound alarm bells for greenwashing, Paravel’s Aviator suitcase could fit the bill. The brand sources its recycled polycarbonate material for its Aviators luggage from partners in Asia and Germany, and its Aviator Collection is manufactured in Taiwan. Its Aviator line ranges from $395 for its carry-on size to $475 to Aviator Grand and is available at Bloomingdale’s, Net-a-porter, Shopbop and more. Paravel claims to offset all of the emissions from sourcing, assembly, shipping and delivery, even the estimated carbon emissions of the customer’s first domestic plane trip with their Aviator luggage (across the U.S.). The brand also offers packing cubes, jewelry cases, pet carriers and totes.
Many more travel brands are broadening their pitch from simple quality standards, as consumers demand more. For hands-free travel, Climate Neutral-Certified travel brand Monos offers its nylon Metro Sling. The brand also offers premium aluminum and lightweight polycarbonate luggage (starting at $255), compressible nylon packing cubes ($90), which claim to more than halve packing volume, and its UV-C light water bottle ($80) that kills 99.9 percent of bacteria on the spot. The company also donates a portion of its profits through 1 Percent for the Planet.
Experts recommend zero-waste toiletries — including options such as silicone refill tubes, shampoo bars, reusable cotton pads, menstrual cups — and the like to make travel a breeze. Innovators such as Bite, Last Object and more are looking to solve the plastic crisis with toothpaste tabs and reusable silicone swabs, to name a few.
Packing doesn’t have to entail only practicality or lack of luxury. New beauty solutions such as Bare Hands’ “The Dry Gloss Manicure” ($42) is an all-in-one, natural nail care solution for shinier, healthier nails. Beauty aficionados should ensure their sunscreen is mineral-based and safe for reefs. In fact, Hawaii passed a law (which went into effect in 2021) banning the sale of sunscreens with potentially coral-harming chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate.
What to Eat
By and large, experts recommend limiting plastic use, which can be achieved through reusable food containers (such as Stasher bags); packed snacks, and reusable water bottles such as Yeti, Sway, Stanley Cups (for the very thirsty, there’s a 40-ounce size canteen) or Nalgene (now made with 50 percent recycled plastic). Those with built-in filters may be an added plus if water quality is a concern.
“I always pack a stainless steel straw and bottle for water, and I often throw a Yeti cup in my bag as well,” says Chloe Sorvino, agro journalist and author of “Raw Deal,” a book about the politics of meat. “It makes me feel better, especially when I’m in a tropical location already suffering from straw and other plastic pollution.”
Today many airports are equipped with water-refill stations, making a reusable bottle not only a sustainable choice but a convenient one.
Bamboo cutlery is a low-weight and -waste alternative to disposable plastic ones. The same can be said for cloth napkins, reusable straws and tote bags, which take up little room. Solid food can be transported through TSA in either a carry-on or checked bag, but as with the carry-on liquids rule, liquid or gel foods over 3.4 ounces are not allowed in carry-on bags and should be placed in checked luggage.
Regional food and fiber enthusiasts argue that the benefits of buying local vastly outshines buying from global chains. Sorvino says sampling the local cuisines is a must.
“Nothing feels more ‘of-place’ than eating food that comes from close by,” she contends. “All soils are different, so when you eat from local and organic farmers, you’re eating only what can grow there. Some plant breeds are hyper-local and only able to grow at that specific climate with the access to water that exists there, so these kinds of crops become the best way to taste the place you are in.”
Sorvino recommends seeking out local food makers (at farmers markets and stands) or consider staying on a farm or “agriturismo,” an independently owned farm that the owners have rented out partially for guests. Olive oils, wines, cheeses, fruit, herbs and livestock are in many cases available to the farm guests.
“If you don’t want to see the relatives of the pig or lamb you may eat there, you may want to consider eating less meat entirely,” quips Sorvino.
What to do
Excursions can be fun on the one hand and damaging on the other.
Bettina Garibaldi, executive vice president and managing director for travel and leisure at PR firm Ketchum, reminds travelers: “Consider the impact that your enjoyment has on local communities, the environment, and its animals.” She emphasizes that with a bleak point. “For example, when travelers ride on elephants, their bodies are not designed to be ridden, causing them great harm. I recently read this article from CNN that broke my heart. Respect rules like jumping into bioluminescent bays, like the ones in Puerto Rico, without insect repellent or other lotions on your skin. Our enjoyment should not be at the expense of others or the environment.”
However, travelers can have a positive impact. She recommends buying with purpose as shopping sprees can, in fact, be a force for good. “An excellent way to give back to local communities that rely on tourism or may be impacted by tourism is to make a purchase — no matter how big or small, as these funds go back to the people and the local economy,” says Garibaldi.
Where to Stay
Destinations such as Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Madagascar are top-of-mind for eco-travelers, according to Google Trend data, and perhaps what they share is a conscientiousness that other lodges lack.
Though traditional bed-and-breakfasts offer a more localized feel (and perhaps reduced footprint), many hotel chains have strived for lower impact, be it with bulk refill shampoo and body washes in rooms or renewable energy. Among them, Virgin Hotels and CitizenM both source 100 percent renewable energy in their U.K. and European hotels, priding themselves on local artist collaborations and food waste reduction. Partnerships with apps like Too Good to Go allow travelers to source leftover foods at a discount. The Gabriel South Beach is another location sourcing renewable energy, offering an electric vehicle charging station on-site as well as branded bicycles. This location, as with the Miami one, are part of Conscious Certified Hotels, an organization dedicated to environmental stewardship. In Japan, Hotel the Mitsui Kyoto sources its coffee grounds for good. The hotel partners with nearby Aoki Farm so coffee grounds are sent to the farmhouse and converted into fertilizer for carrots. In a full-circle moment, the carrots are combined with a domestic rice flour to make vegan cookies available year-round in the hotel store.
Staycations are not only trendy but also added incentives for environmentalists who opt out of exhaustive travels. Auberge-owned Wildflower Farms in upstate New York (about 90 minutes from the city) opened last September and is set on 140 pine-dotted acres complete with 65 freestanding cabins, along with a spa, pool and restaurant. This property includes a namesake farm, orchards, heirloom gardens and wildflower fields, where foraging classes are among the offerings.
Unique sustainable services are increasing worldwide with hotels such as the Four Seasons Houston uniquely partnering with luxury rental platform Vivrelle so guests can borrow handbags from the likes of Gucci, Prada, Saint Laurent and others free of charge for the length of their stay. (This also means packing less).
It is, after all, a two-way street. Even by guests deferring extra room service or cleaning, declining single-use containers and opting out of buffet-style breakfasts, travelers can make a significant difference.
How to Get There
It’s clear that one’s mode of transportation matters.
By efficiency, the most sustainable long-distance travel options ranked by Our World in Data, an online scientific publication rendering emissions data in visuals, are: domestic flights (255 grams of carbon dioxide equivalents), a medium petroleum-fueled car (192 g CO2e), a medium diesel-fueled car (at 171 g CO2e), a short-haul economy flight (at 156 g CO2e), a long-haul economy flight (at 150 g CO2e), a bus (105 g CO2e), a motorcycle (at 103 g CO2e), an electric vehicle (at 53 g CO2e) and all the way at the bottom of the chart — a Eurostar international rail (at just 6 g CO2e). Business-class flights were not factored into the estimates.
Companies from Air Canada to British Airways, Emirates to Delta are offsetting flights. But given that airlines account for 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions (but much more given other gases and if accounted for by a life-cycle assessment), there’s a lot in favor of avoiding flights — Americans especially, who travel more than any other nationality.
With the electrification of transportation comes modern luxury services that are seeking to disrupt the disrupted. Santa Cruz-based air taxi start-up Joby Aviation (which saw a $75 million investment from Uber) is setting its sights on transforming travel, with an air taxi dreamed up as a solution to skip traffic blocks en route to the airport.
Joby Aviation’s head of air operations and people Bonny Simi offers the following advice to travelers looking to do so more sustainably: “Lower the window shades. Lower the window shades during the flight because doing so can help lower emissions by reducing the energy required to maintain the cabin temperature.” Simi also suggests taking a non-stop flight wherever possible. “Take-off and landing burn the most fuel, so try to find direct flights to reduce carbon emissions. Google Flights is a great resource to get an estimate of the carbon emission each flight uses. And the airline you choose matters, too. In 2020, our partners at Delta retired more than 200 aircraft and replaced them with ones that are 25 percent more fuel-efficient.”
Whenever possible, opt for public transportation. Simi adds, “I love exploring new cities on foot while staying hydrated. Walking allows me to enjoy the ambiance of the new city and stumble upon lesser-known attractions that I would not have noticed if I took public transportation.”