Green Travel Magzine

What Does Sustainable Travel Look Like in Cities?


When we think about sustainable travel– conservation, nature, yoga retreats, eco-villages or self sufficient camping trips come to mind. Though, according to data, most tourists still prefer city breaks. There are a few different factors that contribute to this such as safety, transport and finance.

While people don’t often associate cities with eco-friendly travel, cities are vibrant places full of interesting history, culture, and people. And luckily, it is possible to reduce our impact on the environment during a city trip as well.

So, for those of you who love city breaks, here’s how to be a sustainable traveler in cities.

Stay at an eco-friendly hotel, hostel or B&B

Oftentimes we could be looking for the cheapest accommodation option, especially if we are only planning to stay somewhere for a few days. But hotels tend to use a lot of water and energy, and they are not great with food waste either.

Eco-friendly hotels are common in big cities, and if you are looking for the cheaper option you can always find a like minded traveller community of people who are happy to share their space.

Beware: Airbnb is usually not the more sustainable option either. They have damaged communities where Airbnb houses drove up the rent prices in certain parts of the cities and caused gentrification.

Check eco-credentials of the hotels, youth hostels or b&b’s you’re planning to book. These can be energy and water saving practices, organic food garden, waste recycling, chemical free cleaning products, plastic free or refillable shampoo and body wash products etc…

Stay longer, if you can (Slow travel)

‘Slow travel’ is popular amongst eco-travelers for a reason. When we plan a short trip somewhere, we tend to queue for an hour to see all the landmarks and main tourist attractions, we choose the quickest transport option possible, we cram up 3-4 activities in one day.

Slow travel is better organized, and allows you time to connect with the place you are visiting. And a more bohemian way to see it would be that slow travel is not an escape. It’s connected to the way you live: more mindful, stress-free, and in the present moment.

If you want to still go on a short trip, think about discovering destinations closer to you with a bike, an electric car or train.

Eat at sustainable restaurants

The best part of any trip is the first delicious meal you have. There are many eco-friendly places you can eat in cities. Not only do they make delicious food, they support the local economy including farmers, butchers and cheesemongers (that buy from organic animal farmers).

The best thing I remember about my trip to Berlin last year is the abundance of delicious vegan food in Kreuzberg, especially 1990 Vegan living.

Use public transport or cycle

This is a no brainer. Every big city in Europe is well known for fully functional public transport services. If this is not the case in the city you are visiting, opt for electric car sharing/renting services (don’t think Uber and Lyft).

Buy souvenirs at second-hand, antique or local eco-friendly shops

Who doesn’t love finding gems at an antique shop? An old book, a decorative sculpture, masks, musical instruments… There are just so many good options. You would be giving new life to an old object.

And if second-hand is not your thing, choose fair trade and eco-friendly local shops. Don’t be fooled by the cheap souvenir shops, eco-friendly things are usually handmade by locals.

Take tours from locals, and not big tour agencies

Not only would you be discovering exciting places, you’d also be blending in with the locals!

Choose eco-friendly activities

Think simple! A museum visit, a bike ride, a day at a natural reserve… These are all eco-friendly activities. There is no end to them. Don’t go to Starbucks, McDonalds, zoos that exploit animals, circus shows involving animals… If you want to take your kids to see animals, take them to local city farms and sanctuaries.

Buy from local businesses

I’ve already mentioned this above👆 but the reason I want to emphasize it is because a lot of people prefer to visit cities because there are many places to shop. I get it, it’s exciting and you want to treat yourself.

However, a lot of the common brands have a terrible impact on the environment and they still use animal fur. By shopping local, you could find things that you cannot find anywhere else and you would be contributing to the local economy. This is especially important in smaller villages.

Avoid plastic, carry reusable travel essentials

This is as simple as not buying a water bottle but carrying a reusable one. And no, I’ve been there too, don’t buy a plastic water bottle and promise yourself you will refill it. At one point, you will forget/lose/bin it. It’s a good opportunity to make friends with local cafés by wandering in and asking them to refill your water bottle in the local language.

Visit the city in low season

Overtourism is a real problem but as we as travelers become more mindful about the impacts on overtourism, we can all help transform the travel culture for the better. Slow travel and visiting cities in low season can help combat the negative impacts of overtourism and preserve the ancient sites we love.

Try traveling on the train

This is probably the most essential bit of advice to become a more sustainable traveller. It’s possible in most continents to reach several destinations by train (ie. Interrailing in Europe), but when this is not a possibility, the best substitute is a bus, rideshare or even better, renting an electric car.

Oh, also avoid cruise ships at all costs.

Say no to “travel-sized” plastic packaging

Who doesn’t love a tiny shampoo bottle, toothpaste and the word ‘travel essentials’? I know they are cute, and fit everywhere but you really really really don’t need them.

Mind the sun!

Put your sunscreen on kids! Not over the counter ones because many of those contain oxybenzone, which is toxic to the algae that live within corals and sea life.

I am positive there are more ways to be a sustainable traveler. DM me on Twitter or Instagram @ecocityguides for more ideas!

ecomadic is a sustainable tourism brand that empowers travelers to make more conscious decisions. By curating a marketplace to easily find and identify responsible businesses to support, and providing educational publications through our online green travel magazine, ecomadic is committed to helping empower travelers make responsible choices throughout their journeys.

Ruya Yonak
Ruya is a freelance writer based in London who is passionate about travel, live music, culture, food and stand up comedy. She loves going to cities and immersing herself in the hustle and bustle, which is a reasoon why she started ecocityguides - helping travelers discover cities sustainably and to promote sustainable businesses within the hubs.