Can We Balance Sustainability and Luxury Travel?

Have you ever wondered about the effects that traveling has on the environment? Me either. 

Come to think of it, I rarely analyze the potential effects that the planet, economy, society or the land may endure from my expensive travel experiences and tastes.

While “sustainability” and green-travel has become a much bigger topic in the travel industry and continues to be at the forefront of travel trends, “sustainable luxury” sounds like a paradox. Luxury travel can be viewed as wasteful, frivolous, and excessive. So how could it also be sustainable? 

I think about my own tastes and wants when I travel, and it likely would not be categorized as eco-friendly. I enjoy a lush hotel bed and five-star amenities. I love a buffet breakfast spread done right. I prefer to travel with as many comforts as I can afford.

So let’s strip away the comforts… Travel without the frills. Take the cheap routes, manage the multi-layovers, opt for the affordable hotel room on the 7th floor with no elevator. Been there, done that – on all accounts!

But does cheap travel necessarily mean sustainable for the environment?

Yes and no. 

Yes, in the sense that we’re not spending lavishly on unnecessary frills that require more from the hotel, from the staff, and from the resources expended just so we can have a little extra sense of superiority. 

No, because the low-cost hotel or cheap flight doesn’t guarantee that the company we’re spending money on, practices sustainable efforts or has eco-friendly processes.

Maybe we’re actually just paying for a shittier product. 

So how do we find an equal ground? What do we do? 

What can I do, as environment-conscious millennial that likes to travel (semi) luxuriously?

How do we balance the comforts we like — the fresh towels, the bottled waters, the daily basket of fruits (that most days may go uneaten) — with an effort to protect our environment and the planet that we’re traveling on?

Choose the destination carefully.

“Where you go has a big effect on your environmental footprint. Go to a place that is not overcrowded with tourists, where the locals are not feeling overwhelmed and resentful about your presence. Avoid destinations that are being harmed by the presence of too many people (think: Venice, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Teotihuacan, etc.), so as not to contribute further to degradation. Stay away from the big no-no’s: cruise ships, mega resorts, and large beachfront developments.” (source)

Research accommodations thoroughly.

Dig a little deeper into the hotel you’re considering staying at, and research their stance on sustainability. Do they practice green initiatives and high environmental standards? Are they certified through a third party alliance for working to minimize their environmental footprint?

Don’t stay there just because it looks great on Instagram (guilty), but stay there because they use natural resources wisely or work to protect the ecosystems.

Pay for direct routes.

Choosing a cheap flight that includes one (or even two) stopovers to get you to a destination (that you could have flown directly to) is wasteful. If you have the option of flying direct, but choose the route that has stops and layovers because you save a few hundred dollars, you’re actually increasing the number of greenhouse gases emitted over the course of your route.

The next time you’re looking up transportation, opt for direct, nonstop flights rather than connecting ones since takeoff and landing hit the environment the hardest. And don’t rule out trains or cars if those are options as well.

Act like a local.

From where you eat to the things you do, choose organizations or establishments that are run by locals. Eat and shop at the same markets they do, ask residents for recommendations on places to dine, and when possible, spend your money where you know it will go into a locals’ pocket. This helps the community and people to flourish.

We may not be able to travel sustainably all the time, but if we make a conscious effort to choose sustainable practices and eco-friendly initiatives as often as possible, it’s a huge help for the planet.