By Allison Yates, Epicure & Culture Contributor

The crowded and smoggy sidewalks of Shanghai or the skyscrapers of New York City may not immediately conjure images of the term sustainable, but city travel has the potential to be in the same sustainable and responsible tourism realm as an ecolodge.

Here’s the thing about cities:

In a dense, concentrated area travelers have everything at their fingertips — and the physical proximity to access them without burning more fuel than they have to.

“Cities get an unfair deal when it comes to notions of sustainability,” says Jeremy Smith, editor and co-founder of Travindy and author of the book Transforming Travel: Realising the Potential of Sustainable Tourism. “I would argue it’s easier to have a sustainable holiday in a city as rule than it is in the countryside.”

And right now is a great time to push the sustainable and responsible tourism movement forward.

We’ve come a long way in the last few years. Tourism itself has grown at an enormous rate, but at the same time more entrepreneurs and consumers are creating opportunities for you to explore and satisfy your sense of adventure without ruining the planet (at least not as fast as you were before).

“There’s lots more happening, and more exciting – so that’s the positive thing,” says Smith.

Plus, there’s so much you can do as consumers!

Here are some tips you can start using now to make your next city trip as sustainable as an ecolodge.

Psst! Don’t forget to pin this for later! 

Interested in sustainable travel and wondering how to make urban tourism more eco friendly? Actually, it's easy! Read on to learn how to make your city trip as sustainable as an eco lodge. #responsibletourism #ethicaltravel #greentravel #sustainable #ecofriendly

1. Stay Close To Home When Discovering Sustainable Cities 

Or at least go somewhere you can access by bus or train.

According to the New York Times, just one round-trip flight between New York and California generates “about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year.”

So the first step in making a trip sustainable is choosing an accessible destination by arriving there in the least destructive way possible.

We might imagine remote wilderness when we think of sustainability, but if getting there means taking a three-day journey across air, land and sea, is it truly that sustainable?

sustainable and responsible tourism
Prague. Courtesy of Pexels/Pixabay.

Using the established train networks in Europe and East Asia, for example, will get you to your destination without the hassle of security lines or lengthy check in. Additionally, it allows you to spot amazing scenery along the way.

“Minimal carbon footprint, and infinitely more pleasant,” argues Smith, about train travel, who recently took a nine-hour train from London to Berlin.

2. When Going International, Go Local & Get Off The Tourist Trail

Hopping over to Barcelona from London may be geographically close, but that doesn’t exclusively make it more sustainable.

If we’re not intentional about our choice of activities, we could contribute to the destruction of the places we visit — and the anti-tourism sentiment found in cities across Europe due to overtourism.

The term “off-the-beaten path” may seem like a catch-all phrase for a hashtag, but when it comes to sustainability, it’s key.

sustainable and responsible tourism
Friends walk a city. Photo courtesy of Free-Photos/Pixabay.

Many cities are overrun by tourists snapping photos of the same work or art and taking a selfie with the same monument.

So, choose something alternative. Tap into locals’ knowledge by connecting through sites like Couchsurfing, Airbnb experiences and

Or, choose a tour company that actively works against overtourism. Not only will you have a better chance at seeing the city through another perspective, but you’ll get insight on the best food and vantage points, and even forge a lasting emotional connection to the city.

So take some pressure off the Mona Lisa, and focus on making the city more you. Your Instagram will thank you later anyway.

What's your favorite off-the-beaten path #travel experience? #thisissustainable Share on X

3. Keep Sustainable & Responsible Tourism Best Practices In Mind For Transportation & Accommodation

Choosing accommodation can be a headache, especially when you’re trying to find the best spot for the trip you’re hoping to have while being sustainable at the same time.

If possible, aim for hotels that boast socially and environmentally conscious elements, like the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge in NYC.


Do they have solar panels, rooftop gardens and efforts to conserve water?

When it comes to supporting people, especially across Europe, you could support businesses like hotels and restaurants that employ refugees and asylum seekers.

Perhaps in the U.S. you could avoid hotels with wage scandals or reputations for not supporting unions.

Renting a space in a local’s house through Airbnb is another great way to get both a local’s perspective and a more sustainable accommodation (though note there is a right way and a wrong way to utilize Airbnb).

Bonus: If it’s your first time using Airbnb, you can get $40 off your first stay if you book through this link

sustainable and responsible tourism
A street in Prague. Photo courtesy of KirkandMimi/Pixabay.

And how should you get around?

Try not to rent a car. Instead, use public transportation, rent a bike, and even your own two feet. For instance, in NYC you can enjoy a walk over the Manhattan Bridge or a walk over the Williamsburg Bridge for epic views. 

“Traveling sustainably is a mindset that can encompass any type of experience – how you get around, what you do, where you eat and where you stay,” says Kelley Louise, Founder and Executive Director of Impact Travel Alliance. For example, “As a proud New Yorker, I always like to rep the interesting and dynamic experiences in my own city, so things like taking the subway, going on tours to learn about local artists, eating at a farm-to-table restaurant [like some of these NYC tasting experiences] and staying in an urban ecolodge are all opportunities to travel sustainably.”

4. Pay Attention To The Small Stuff

There are so many ways a simple weekend trip to Chicago could be transformed into a sustainable one.

For instance, you could swap your plastic water bottle for a reusable one (like this stylish option), and take advantage of the free and drinkable tap water around the Midwestern city.

sustainable and responsible tourism
A girl takes a photo in a city. Photo courtesy of Pexel/Pixabay.

Leave your suitcase at home and instead pack a few key items in a small backpack, which “reduces weight on airplanes, and therefore reduces fuel use,” explains Louise.

Pack lunches in reusable Tupperware instead of buying takeout.

Stay in a kitchen-equipped accommodation where you cook dinner from ingredients you bought at a farmer’s market, and buy from locally-owned souvenir shops in a residential neighborhood as opposed to Navy Pier.

“Sustainability is often about the little choices we make – and it certainly gets easier the more you practice,” says Louise.

What's one small change travelers can make to have more sustainable #trips? #thisisustainable Share on X

5. Do Your Homework – But Don’t Stress Out 

It’s important to be conscious of the consumer choices we’re making, but businesses will also have to get smart.

So be aware, but don’t drive yourself nuts.

sustainable and responsible tourism
A vintage bike in a city. Photo courtesy of Free-Photos/Pixabay.

In the end, argues Smith, the tourism industry will need to further the goals of sustainable travel through mindful efforts and most likely, regulations. Until then, you’ll be empowered to take small measures that will make a big difference.

In the end, all we might need is a small change of thought.

“Even just by shifting our perception of how we view sustainability so that it encompasses more urban experiences has an incredible amount of potential. By integrating sustainability into all types of tourism, we have the power to improve our world through travel,” says Louise.

Do you have any sustainable and responsible tourism tips to add? Please share in the comments below! 

Liked this post? Pin it for later: 

City travel can be synonymous with sustainable travel. In this guide, we show you exactly what to do to ensure an eco friendly ethical travel trip in any city. #traveltips #traveladvice #citytravel #green #ecotravel

Allison Yates

Allison writes about travel, women and society in the U.S. Midwest, Ibiza and Latin America.

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  1. My blog about discovering Suburbs of Sydney (Travel with Joanne) seems to fit in with sustainable travel perfectly. It encourages readers to go further than the Opera House and Harbour Bridge and see the real Sydney

  2. Another tip I try to use is to carry cash to dine at hole in the wall “cash only” places. These tend to be non-commercial, homemade, first time local business owners!

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