What is the “Sustainable Travel” definition?

In a short and straight answer, the Sustainable Travel, aka Eco Travel, definition is “to travel responsibly and in a respectful way”. For the nature, for the people, and for the planet in a larger scale.

But what does that mean in a practical and objective way? What type of travel is this?

In fact, more than a type of travel or a set of activities,

Sustainable Travel defines the mindset and the traveller’s actions and decisions, all through the process.

All in all the Eco-traveller focuses on travels that help not only to preserve but even to improve the surrounding environment and chooses activities and takes actions that contribute to enhance the well-being of the local community and eco-systems.   

Sustainable Travel includes all type of travels: professional or touristic, near or far, city escape or nature immersive trips, self-organised or group visits.

Absolutely all trips we embark in can and must have a sustainable approach.

That’s why “Eco Friendly Travel” or “Sustainable Travel” is often seen as a generic notion that includes other subjects, more precise and specific. 

Let’s learn more about it!

The different branches of Sustainable or Eco Travel

To better understand the Eco Travel definition we may consider it as the trunk of a considerable larger and evolving tree.

Its roots helping to nourish and thicken what will spread in multiple branches and bloom in a variety of benefits for local populations, nature, and future visitors.  

Some of the concepts or philosophies, or so that called “branches” that can spread from Eco Travel are:

  • responsible travel,
  • ethical tourism
  • culturally aware travel
  • Conscious Tourism,  
  • Slow Tourism,
  • Community-Based Tourism,
  • Voluntourism,
  • Geotourism
  • Pro-Poor Tourism
  • Humanitarian travel

This is not an exhaustive list as many more are currently in use or are created every day for better describe specific types of actions implemented by the travel industry.

We will talk about some of them in detail in due time, as it can help to define and guide us to find the type of traveller we are or that we want to become, and the crucial points to bear in mind when we plan a specific trip.

What is important to understand is the philosophy and goals that all of them have in common.

What all these branches have in common?

All these approaches to tourism and travel in general, seek to

protect nature while enhancing social and economic conditions for the local people.

It implies not only a posture of respect but more importantly, it implies actually taking action to improve the places we visit.

It can be anything from the simplest action like not to throw garbage on the floor to a lot more complex actions like to volunteer to help clean an entire beach. These are just examples, but I think you get the idea.

All the big and small improvements that come from these big and small actions will be the flowers and the fruits of Eco Travel. The real benefits of our informed and conscient choices.

What are the benefits of Sustainable Travel?

Sometimes we tend to disregard the impact we can have in the World. But the smallest we may feel, we are not alone. There are in fact more than 8 billions of us in this world [1], and all together we can truly change things around us, near our home on a day-to-day basis, or far away during our travels.

That is exactly why it’s important to understand the big picture. It will help us to figure out what we are working on and how we can help as individual travellers.

The main goal and benefit of Eco-Friendly Travel is, without a doubt, to create a sustainable cycle and achieve an everlasting balance that allows travel to continue without endangering natural and cultural patrimony. Helping society and economy to develop and evolve in a healthy way.  

It means that, in the worst-case scenario, the Travels we do today will allow many other travellers to experience the same as we did.

And in the best-case scenario those who will travel after us, will find those places better than we did!

Better for the environment, for the people, for the future of those communities.

What is the role of Travel industry?

We all know that the Travel Industry heavily touches the three main sectors of a country:

Environment – Economy – Society

In consequence, it has a fundamental role to play, and when we travel in an eco-friendly and conscious way the positive impact can be translated by the improvement of: 

  1. Environmental protection
  2. Economic development
  3. Social responsibility

These are the flowers and fruits of Eco-Friendly Travel.

The amazing legacy we, as conscious travellers, are able to offer to the places we visit, the people that hosts us and for our children, and their children after that.

Why to be an Eco-Friendly Traveller can translate in the benefits listed above?

How to be an Eco-Friendly Traveller is a complex subject and I will definitely talk about it in detail in a specific blog post. We are still learning but I will try to share with you all the actions and postures we can adopt to actually BE an Eco – Friendly Traveller.

But for a sound start, before making a check list of actions and habits we can adopt, we must understand how and why our choices and demands as travellers can translate in actual benefits for the places we visit.

As travellers we are active actors. It is simply not possible to visit a place, interact with people and use resources without having an impact. The smallest it can be, there will always exist consequences.

It is up to us to chose if what we do has a positive impact rather a negative one.   

In an Industry that move trillions of dollars every year, even if we go “just” around the corner, near our home, in a stay-cation, we are active actors, we are consumers, we are intruders in an environment that is not ours.

It gives us the responsibility and the power

  • To care
  • To help
  • To give the example    

So, let’s talk about the major benefits that come from Eco Friendly or Sustainable Travel in each of the three main sectors:

1.      Conservation of the existing Cultural diversity and Natural resources

There are a lot more important reasons to protect the environment than Travel. And off course we all should contribute to it, near and far, every single day.  

But let be honest: natural wonders attract a lot of people. A lot of us are driven to visit a certain country just to appreciate nature in all its glory. Some examples are the unique landscapes and waterfalls in Iceland. Or the most pristine beaches in tropical islands. Or even the rainforest in Costa Rica, the desert in Morocco. The list goes on and on.

Showing our interest and most of all, showing our respect for nature and local cultures sets the pace for the way these are treated and protected by the local communities.

Let me tell you a story:

In 2020 we visited Panama. When we arrived at the Starfish Beach in Bocas del Toro, I was sincerely chocked when we found this note written in Spanish:

 “Do not leave garbage on the beach. Tourists don’t like it!”

Other messages like “Not all stars belong in the sky. Don’t send ours to heaven” were written in English, so we can clearly see that receiving tourists was starting to change local habits for the better.

If we treat the places we visit with respect and we give a positive example we can protect and enhance the local reality.

In this case, more than conserving the existing natural wealth we are contributing to improve it for future generations. This is a huge benefit and this positive example will bloom and give fruits.

Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying we, as visitors, are better than the locals! There are a lot of places and communities that are way more environmentally responsible than my own country for example. And I always try to learn from them when I get the chance to visit, in a humble way.

But we can’t completely ignore the fact that the travel industry moves a lot of money. Instead of seeing this as a negative thing we can turn that power in the right direction.

I saw a lot of tourists paying local guides to go to secluded parts of the Starfish Beach to take photos with starfishes in their hands, which can be lethal for these animals. Those guides accepted it because they need that money to feed their families! So, how can I possibly blame them?!

But we can contribute to change that reality too. And it brings us to the next point.    

2.      Empowerment of Local Communities and Economies

Acknowledge and support local communities and traditions are the beginning of amazing changes in the way Travel impacts the economy and the wellbeing of populations in the places we visit.

For too long local residents have been marginalized, income inequality has been aggravated and culture loss has increased, for the sake of tourism.

Often it all happens for the simple reason that everything is done for the visitors, in the idea that we, travellers, only seek comfort, beauty and pleasure, wherever we go.

But being an Eco-Friendly traveller is to find the perfect balance between our needs and expectations and the well-being of those who receive us. Is to take pleasure in learning. Or to appreciate the differences. It is to be curious about the stories the people have to tell.

How can we do this in a meaningful way?

Showing our interest and curiosity about local traditions, talking directly with the local population, choosing local shops and restaurants, are some effective ways to empower the communities.

When we choose to learn and understand culture, to spend our money locally and show our support to the people that hosts us, we are helping to change the way the travel industry perceives the local community. We are giving them value. We are empowering them.

In the long run it will considerably improve their economy and life conditions.

But please notice that our actions must always be informed and adapted to the local reality.

Simply “giving” money instead of helping to create a sustainable cycle throw the implementation of new jobs or promoting the local crafts, for example, won’t help in the long term.

It will only create other types of inequality and won’t contribute to reach a balanced eco-system.

That’s way the next point is so important.       

sustainable traveller buying fruit in a side road stoll from a local woman farmer in Moorea while traveling in French Polynesia. Sustainable travel definition

3.      Creation of authentic relationships between locals and visitors

As said before we are always active actors when we travel. This is the opposite of being mere spectators and it comes with responsibility. So, we must be conscious and effectively present.

But what does this mean?

It means we must question what we observe. Not to change it. The goal is not starting a revolution or to criticize but instead to fully understand the true real context that surrounds us.

This will allow us to start to understand the people we talk to. The culture, the traditions, the needs, the ambitions, and expectations of those who host us.

Doing so we will be able to adapt our posture and our actions. We will be able to truly respect the local dynamics and contribute to enhance the life conditions of those communities. The goal here is to open our eyes and heart to the people. To learn from them, to share experiences, and to grow together.

What is the Sustainable or Eco Travel definition?

The Sustainable Travel aims to minimize negative impacts on the environment, culture, and local communities, and to maximize positive contributions.

It prioritizes responsible, environmentally friendly practices and cultural sensitivity, promoting long-term economic and social benefits for the destinations we visit, without compromising future generations’ ability to live at least the same experience as us, if not a better one.

The time is now

It is about time to change the way we travel. To question our goals as travellers and think about all the impact our choices will have for the communities we visit.

We are learning and trying hard to be sustainable travellers. And with each trip we take we improve the way we travel.

I hope to have given you some food for thought here, about Sustainable Travel and it’s definition.

Are you an Eco Traveller or do you feel we all have a long way to go?


[1] You can check the current world population here .

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