Tag - sustainability

Sustainable Backpacking on a Budget – What You Need to Know

Backpacker sitting on beach

Guest post by Richard Meadow

Sustainable Backpacking

Backpacking can be a liberating and exhilarating experience, allowing you to explore the world with nothing but the bare essentials carried on your back. This freeing, land-based way of travelling is a firm favourite with nature and animal lovers, and consequently, with those who try to live sustainably. So, how do you take your sustainable lifestyle onto the road? Here’s what you need to know about sustainable backpacking.

Choose Green Destinations

First thing’s first, where are you headed? If you’re planning to backpack around some of the world’s finest beach destinations, then you should visit those countries that are actively implementing sustainable and ethical tourism practices. From Fiji to Palau, there are plenty of countries that frequently top the charts when it comes to environmental protection, social welfare, and human rights. Take a look at the most ethical destinations for 2019 here and find out how to book a green hotel here.

Avoid Single-Use Plastics

Ditch single-use plastic straws and bottles and invest in reusable alternatives. You could bring bamboo utensils, a stainless steel straw and a metal water bottle in your backpack for emergencies where no eco-friendly options are available. Other than that, drink your coffee in the ceramic mugs at the café, eat your meals in the restaurant and bring a tote bag for groceries. 

And while you are at the beach, why not help local hotels by participating in beach cleaning.

Choose Land Travel Wherever Possible

Thai train sustainable backpacking

One of the biggest parts of living sustainably is minimising your carbon footprint and providing for yourself. In this sense, travelling on foot or by bicycle is recommended wherever possible. However, this isn’t always practical when you need to cross borders! Instead of air travel, research public transport options like trains and buses. In many countries, ride-sharing is a safe, cost-effective and eco-friendly way of travelling.

Skip Animal Tourism

Animal tourism is constantly falling out of favour. People no longer want to ride elephants for entertainment, they want to view them from afar with a reputable organisation that is conscious of its impact on the animals. Do some research before you set off to find the best companies to travel with if you want to see wildlife.

Pack Lightly

When you’re backpacking, it’s best to travel lightly anyway – after all, you’ve got to carry all that weight on your back! But just think, the extra weight will also mean that you need more fuel, which is eventually more harmful for the environment. Consider this when you’re loading up your backpack with 5 swimsuits, travel pillow and endless outfit options. Find more light travel packing tips here.

Dry Clothes and Towels Naturally

If you’re backpacking at the height of summer, no doubt it’s going to pretty hot wherever you are. So, take advantage of the weather and hang your clothes outside to dry instead of using the facilities. You could also handwash your clothes if you’ve got access to clean water.

Buy Handmade Souvenirs

homemade tribal souvenirs from Southeast Asia

Support the economy by purchasing handmade souvenirs by the locals. Often, they’re made using natural resources, so not only will you leave with a long-lasting souvenir, but you’re also buying an environmentally friendly product. The same goes for tours too! Make an effort to give your money to businesses that employ locals.

Keep Info on Your Mobile

travel info on phoneCut down on excessive use of paper by having e-tickets on your phone, as well as all your important travel documents. Do remember, because you’ll be keeping all information on your phone, you need to make sure it’s charged up at all time – so pack a travel adapter to take with you wherever you go.

It’s also worth downloading useful apps, finding restaurant deals, cheap travel choices and anything else that may help you on the trip is useful made into an app!


If you’re big on sustainability, recycling should come naturally to you wherever you are. If you’ve not got the means to recycle nearby, then bring all your recycling with you in your tote bag until you find a place where you can dispose of it. section seperator

About the Author

Richard Meadow Freelance writer/ BloggerRichard Meadow is a freelance writer that has spent 4 years travelling after University. He’s been all around the world and learnt a lot about different cultures compared to his home in the UK. He wants to share his knowledge with interested readers in a way that they could use the information for a practical use. section seperator

If you are interested in sustainable backpacking, there are plenty of articles on sustainable travel here and a great essential guide to responsible travel here.

Cover photo by David Izquierdo, Unsplash.

Towards a New Synergy of Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism

Front view of a longtail boat in Thailand with limestone rocks in the background. Photo by

Are Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism Compatible?

Imagine a luxury hotel in the middle of a resource depleted and naturally fragile area. Imagine tourists paying the same amount for a single room night of pampering and wellness as a local villager outisde the hotel gate dreams of making in a year. And imagine tourists sipping imported drinks in swimming pools while the next door family daughter misses school because she has to walk to the nearest well for water.

It doesn’t sound right. In fact, it sounds UGLY.

Luxury as an Opportunity

Should we dismiss luxury as a careless playground for the privileged to show off their success and claim their reward for “working hard”? Of course not. This is not a fair portrayal of luxury tourism. Without a doubt this type of tourism has rightly received criticism for its wastefulness and at times detrimental effects on natural resources and socioeconomic stability. However, luxury tourism is evolving and both luxury travelers and suppliers in the tourism industry are embracing new and more responsible ways of traveling. Here, we want to explore how the evolving luxury market can be utilized to bring about desired changes.

You have a group of consumers willing to pay a premium for high quality and unique experiences. That doesn’t sound bad at all. In fact, that sounds like a huge opportunity.

The New Luxury

First, however, let’s look at our understanding of “luxury”. The concept is highly contextual and personal – not a thing we can simply buy as the advertisements would have us believe. After a long winter in the north, I dream of the luxury of a warm and sunny day. After months in the tropics, I dream of the cold fresh air in the north. Luxury can be as simple as a cold shower after a hiking trip. Luxury can be having a computer. Luxury can be not having one. Then again, luxury can be wearing a diamond ring and driving a Ferrari.

Despite the high elasticity of the meaning of luxury, the current understanding of the concept is evolving from being associated with things you can own, to being authentic experiences. This presents opportunities for the travel and hospitality industry.

The Evolution of Luxury and How this presents Opportunities for Sustainable Tourism

Infographic about evolution of luxury and its impact on sustainable tourism development by

In the old paradigm of luxury, a luxury hotel experience is nearly identical whether you are in Boston, Cape Town or Ho Chi Minh City. The amenities, the services, the language, the food, the procedures, and even the morning newspaper will be the same. You will not be confronted with local cultural differences – at least not more than exotic references of the place you are visiting. The experience will be a tourism bubble of comfort, convenience, and familiarity which shields off the surrounding environment.

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah the 7-star luxury hotel in Dubai with helicopter landing pad with artificial lake in the foreground. Image by

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah (background), an example of classic hotel luxury.

This form of tourism is in no way dying out. However, luxury tourism providers are increasingly held accountable and questioned about their impacts on natural and social environments. Furthermore, the new luxury segment – a new paradigm of luxury – is quickly emerging. This segment seeks fulfilling experiences in harmony with nature and sociocultural surroundings. And in this paradigm, a wildlife experience in a remote destination while sleeping in a rustic eco-lodge harvests much more social capital and envy from peers than a luxury stay at a Hyatt hotel in the Maldives or even the self-proclaimed 7-star Burj Al Arab Jumeirah in Dubai.

Elephant Hills' Jungle Lake Houses on the Chao Larn Lake in Khaosok National Park Thailand. Image by

A new kind of luxury travel: Unique nature, wildlife, and adventure.

A New Synergy between Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism?

With the growth of this new luxury travel segment, sustainability and luxury travel have the potential to prosper together. Here are some of the ways local communities, wildlife, and natural surroundings can benefit from the new luxury travel segment.

Local Economic Boosts and Jobs

New luxury travelers value authenticity and uniqueness of people and place. This means that they want to experience local culture, food, arts, handicrafts, and traditions. This presents opportunities for local community members to become managers, receptionists, guides, drivers, cleaners, sellers, artists and so on inside the tourism industry. Not only will this support the local beneficiaries directly, it will also create a multiplier effect from bringing more economic means and demands for services and supplies into the community.

 Community Development

Sustainable luxury suppliers within tourism commit to educating and training their staff and partners. The training can be in anything from management and service to marketing and language. This means that even people with little formal education can receive skills and experiences that empower them to follow their passions. Additionally, it is common that ecolodges and sustainable tourism providers support various local projects such as local schools and organic farming.

By stressing local produce, food, customs, handicrafts, and artistry, positive heritage awareness and cultural pride can be boosted through the appreciation of visitors. Local youth can thus be encouraged to keep valuable cultural traits alive and connect with their roots.

Improved Infrastructure

A new village well, solar powered electricity, improved roads and transport options, internet connectivity, garbage collecting system, and sanitation. These initiatives can all be positive impacts derived from sustainable tourism. New luxury travelers, although adhering to more natural barefoot luxury experiences, will often demand clean water, efficient waste and garbage management, and other familiar conveniences. If developed and managed sustainably, this can bring the mentioned improvements to the local community as well.

 Wildlife and Environmental Protection

In low-resource countries, wild natural landscapes and wildlife are sometimes worth less than the economic potential of farming, plantations, and even poaching. As a result, these wildlife oases are diminishing while species and plants go extinct. Tourism has the potential to reverse this trend. The new luxury travel market that seeks authentic adventures and wildlife will gladly pay national park fees and extra premiums to experience natural beauty, making environmental protection more economically sound and sustainable than alternative and degrading forms of land use.

As new luxury travelers emphasise healthy living, organic and locally grown food will be in demand, resulting in less pesticides and healthier crop management.

Can Luxury Travel Lead the Way?

If we accept the new paradigm of luxury, luxury travel can lead the way in boosting sustainable tourism. The potential opportunities of tourism to generate positive impacts on people and environment are in no way new. These advantages have been discussed through three decades. What luxury adds to the mix, however, is a stronger economic incentive plus a bigger opportunity to act as a trendsetter for tourism development and tourist experiences in general.

Sustainable travel does not have to be limited to village homestays and primitive bungalows anymore. With the advancement of sustainable technology and refinement of tourist motivations, it is now easier than ever for all stakeholders in tourism to include sustainability as an integrated part of their operations. Indeed, it even makes economic sense to care.

Further Information about Luxury Travel and Sustainable Tourism

This article was inspired by an excellent webinar by called “Could Sustainability be the Future of Luxury”. The webinar explores the synergies between luxury travel and sustainable tourism, and three absolute front runners of sustainable tourism share their wealth of knowledge and experience on this issue.

Guest speakers from the above webinar are Anna Pollock (Conscious Travel), Mikaku Doliveck (Floating Leaf Eco-Luxury Retreat), and Aebe Christian De Boer  Shinta Mani Resort).

BookGreener is an excellent resource for anyone interested in sustainable tourism. You will find a lot of practical solutions drawn from tourism industry leaders, and we encourage you to hear and see their other inspiring podcasts and webinars on tourism sustainability.

Other valuable resources on the topic:
  • The Evolution of the Luxury Guestroom by Michael R. Paneri from Viceroy Hotel Group. On the emergence of “new luxury” and how “new luxury guests” want environmental concern and responsibility to be incorporated in the hotel design.
  • The Evolution of the Luxury Travel Consumer by On how today’s luxury travelers want to engage with their travel destination, combine simplicity and luxury, and at the same time contribute to sustainable development through their travels.

Why Hotel Eco-Labels Don’t Work

Sun umbrella made from natural materials such as wood and straw.
Hotel Eco-Label Schemes

It is no secret that hotels are increasingly becoming aware that following the principles and guidelines of sustainable tourism has positive effects on staff satisfaction, energy and water consumption, brand appreciation, and customer feedback.

There are a number of organizations that provide free or paid sustainability management tools and assist with marketing the hotel as “green” or “responsible”. The extensive amount of sustainable tourism certification schemes can also serve as pointers for travelers to find the hotel they are looking for. This list from DestiNet will give you an excellent overview of the various sustainable tourism certification schemes worldwide and their individual focus. The list is not complete. In fact, according to Green Hotels Association there are currently around 800 eco/green/sustainable hotel certification organizations worldwide ranging from a local-regional scope to a global one.

Challenges of eco-certification of hotels

Here we outline some of the major challenges related to hotel eco-labels and green certification:

Figure showing issues and challenges of hotel eco-labels and hotel sustainability certification schemes

Understanding the Sustainable Hotel Certification Schemes

It gets a little complicated though, when you find out that each provider of these services has its own sustainability definitions, criteria, monitoring, and accreditation methods. One scheme might only consider environmental sustainability, while others include social and economic aspects also. The importance of certain sustainability aspects will vary from setting to setting. For example, supporting wildlife protection is less important in a London hotel compared to a rainforest lodge in the Amazonas. Sustainability schemes give medals, green leaves, palms or sometimes stars. How do you compare them? Additionally, some organizations include third party accreditation where an external expert audits the hotel’s position on formal criteria, while others are merely based on self-monitoring and evaluation according to a checklist.  As the services of the sustainability management organizations wary greatly in scope and focus, so do their fees for participation.

Consequently, if you want to understand how and why a particular hotel is certified, you will have to closely read through the selection criteria and score systems of the organizations that give certifications.

Why some hotels do not want to be certified by sustainability organizations

It is not uncommon to find hotels that don’t want to market themselves as environmentally friendly or be part of a tourism sustainability scheme. This is sometimes because they don’t want their hotel to be associated and grouped with other hotels that don’t match their own standards and efforts on sustainability. In other words, the most dedicated hotels feel they are so far ahead of the pack that they see themselves in another sustainability league. Theses hotels would much rather be featured in The National Geographic or win a green hotel award for their efforts on sustainability, rather than be included in a “weak” group of sustainable hotels where the bar is too low.

I have inspected hotels that score high on certain sustainability schemes, yet with no sign of commitment beyond the standard request of guests to reuse towels and bed-linen. I have also inspected hotels with no accreditation or available information on their sustainability efforts where sustainability was clearly an integral part of the management of the hotel.

Green Hotels Association offers a stark critique of certification schemes, saying that

Certification is very expensive and very time consuming. The certifying entity will want you to recertify every year or at least every other year—again spending thousands of dollars and many long hours.


We believe a much better choice is to use the money you would spend on certification to improve the quality of the stay…

Small hotels don’t have resources to be certified

To be certified by a sustainability organization takes time and it costs money. Not all hotels can spend resources on assessing, monitoring, evaluating, and setting up environmental policies for their property. Even though many of the certification schemes will offer lower participation prices for small hotels, this might not be where a small hotel, lodge, guesthouse, or homestay wants to spend its money. This means that a lot of the smaller hotels will never appear if you search for eco-certified hotels.

This is a shame, since many smaller accommodation providers quite often are much more environmentally and socially sustainable than their bigger counterparts. For example, “leakage” is not a big issue in small family-owned hotels. Compared to big hotels and hotel groups, small accommodation providers are more likely to…

  • be locally owned
  • hire local staff
  • buy local food and goods
  • use less resources in the construction of the hotel
  • generate less waste
  • use less water and electricity

In contrast, an international luxury hotel will put more stress on the local environment due to much higher overall consumption (watering gardens, air-conditons, spas, pools etc.), and it will generally have to import goods and staff to maintain its international standards.

Easier identification and easier booking of eco-hotels

The good news is that more and more 4-5 star hotels and international hotel chains have become aware of their environmental and social impact and now work to implement sustainability into the management and operation of their hotels. The availability of green and responsible hotels is therefore steadily increasing, with or without certification schemes.

New services for finding hotels, reading about their efforts, and giving overviews of their certifications and sustainability awards are already there or in the making. This makes it much easier for travelers to find eco-hotels at any desired destination.

Check in on later, as we return with a guide on how to find a sustainable hotel.

Not recommended: All-inclusive resorts in Southeast Asia

All-Inclusive resort from Southeast Asia with a big pool, sun umbrellas, sun chairs, palm trees, and a pool bar

You may associate all-inclusive holidays with Caribbean holiday packages, but the concept has slowly gained it’s share in Southeast Asia.

All-inclusive resorts
offer package deals where 3 daily buffet meals, unlimited snacks and soft drinks, and sometimes certain alcohol types and brands are included in the price. Some resorts offer free activities and kids’ clubs on top of that.
The concept of all-inclusive holidays was first developed by Club Med more than 60 years ago. The idea was – and still is – to give customers a worry-free and convenient holiday, where the total price of the entire holiday experience is pretty much known. There is no need to bargain for prices, no need to carry money anywhere inside the resort premises, and no need to worry about where and what to eat. There are plenty of water sports, games, and activities for the kids, and professional staff to watch over them.

In other words, the scene is set for you to treat yourself and your loved ones to some massive indulging. If you like to know more about the benefits of all-inclusive holidays, you can check out this article by Jenni from the magazine Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia. In case we didn’t manage to portray the benefits of all-inclusive holidays, we decided to make an advertisement… but something went wrong half-way:

Benefits of all-inclusive holidays or “no thanks”?Benefits of all-inclusive holidays and reasons not to buy all-inclusive holiday packages

More and more resorts in Southeast Asia are offering all-inclusive packages, but in most cases, we don’t recommend buying an all-inclusive holiday. Southeast Asia is such a joy to experience. It’s easy, convenient, fun, and safe compared to many other travel destinations. There are exciting sights, beautiful nature, spiritual and historic monuments, great and varied food options, and lots of impressions waiting for you to explore right around the corner. So why would you spend your holiday in this exciting setting by staying within resort walls and alienating yourself from the culturally rich society you are visiting?

Collage showing local life in Southeast Asia with a quirky restaurant, dried seafood on sale at the market, a small street shop selling snacks, local nightlife with SangSom and soda, and local musician playing traditional instrument.

Would you miss out on these great experiences by staying within resort boundaries?

On top of that, there is the problem of what tourism researchers call “leakage”. For an in-depth exploration of tourism leakage, see our post “Tourism Leakage – This is how little your money contributes locally!”

In short, leakage refers to the phenomenon that none of the tourism dollars you spend are benefiting the society around you. Your flight, your travel agent, and your resort are most likely foreign or non-local companies that extract their profits from the destination. None of your tourism dollars stay locally – thus the term leakage. Why is this a problem? Your host society has to pay for the extra stress you put on water, infrastructure, nature, and energy resources, food prices rise, and that old favorite picnic spot at the beach might very well be reserved for resort guests. Bummer.

There are good reasons, especially for families, to stay at all-inclusive resorts, and of course all-inclusive hotel operations who contribute to society and run with sustainability in mind do exist. But the mentioned benefits of all-inclusive holidays are less relevant in Southeast Asia, since this area serves as an ideal region for individual travelers to collect  unique memories.

If you like to read more about the issues concerning all-inclusive holidays, have a look at this great article from Should all inclusive resorts be banned?

Why is Tourism Sustainability a Contradiction?

Two mountain-bikers in a beautiful rural mountain setting

At a public travel fair in Copenhagen, Denmark the “Tourism Sustainability” booth was like a deserted island.

The two lone sustainability advisers in the booth were killing time inventing games and sharing stories like Crusoe and Friday. The travel fair was packed, but visitors were avoiding the tourism sustainability booth like a bad conscience, and instead diverting their attention to the exotic travel offers from travel agencies and destination organizations.

Crusoe and Friday decided to venture off their deserted island booth and impose themselves on the travel fair visitors instead. The response they got?

“Huh? Sustainability? I’m here to find good travel deals, so that doesn’t really blend.”

“Eeerh yeah… sustainability is important, but I also love to travel…”

So it turned out that people actually find tourism incompatible with sustainability. The tourism sustainability booth was considered misplaced among the inviting holiday dreams served by the travel and tourism trade. The good news, these fair visitors are obviously aware that traveling on flights and cruises have negative impacts on the environment. The bad news, people somehow seem to assume that the battle is lost once you include an airplane in your holiday, and that there is no point in trying to fight a lost cause. There are a couple of wrong assumptions in the two responses above.

Tourism sustainability is more than carbon emissions from air planes

Tourism sustainability is not merely about pollution from your airplane and other means of transportation. In tourism we refer to three aspects of sustainability, and each of these should be taken into consideration: 1) Environmental, 2) Social, and 3) Economic sustainability. Environmental sustainability includes protection of wildlife, natural habitat, water and energy resources, and waste management, both in a global and local perspective. Social sustainability in tourism refers to mutual respect between hosts and guests, and fair involvement of the local population in the benefits of tourism and in the central decisions in tourism development. Economic sustainability is both sustaining a profitable tourism business while offering a fair distribution of the economic benefits and jobs generated by the industry. The three aspects of tourism sustainability are highly inter-related.

Tourism Sustainability figure showing three overlapping aspects of Environmental, Social, and Economic Sustainability

Thus, a travel holiday is so much more than the transporting flight – hopefully. There are the natural surroundings and wildlife of your destination, the local population, culture, economy, the accommodation, the food, the shopping, and the excursions. In all of these aspects there are choices to be made that can be more or less harmful or beneficial to the travel destination from a sustainability point of view. Many of these choices are no different than choices you make every day at home, but in fragile natural environments and low-resource settings these choices most often have bigger implications.

Sustainability is not a question of “either/or”

In the vast majority of cases, transportation in travel has a negative environmental impact. But does that mean that we might as well discard all other measures of sustainability now that we can’t reach perfection? It would be like saying that because you can’t stop eating cookies, you might as well also drink coke, eat hot-dogs, avoid all forms of exercise, and start smoking.

That doesn’t make sense. So instead of thinking sustainability is an “either/or”-question, we should consider sustainability a complex continuum ranging from sustainable to non-sustainable practices and outcomes. Our choices before, during, and after our holiday have an effect on people, economies, natural surroundings, and the environment. And small drops of sustainability is better than none at all, so sustainability and tourism is not a contradiction. They are highly integrated and inter-dependent. In fact, we need to “think and act” tourism sustainability in order to maintain our beautiful travel destinations for generations to come.

Tourism Sustainability will be a recurring theme so be sure to check regularly for updates on the subject on