Sustainable Travel: How to Explore the US Without Leaving a Footprint

Sustainable Travel: How to Explore the US Without Leaving a Footprint

In an era where climate change and environmental degradation are front and center, sustainable travel has transitioned from a niche trend to a necessary approach.

Exploring the vast and varied landscapes of the United States presents an opportunity to not only witness natural beauty and cultural diversity but also to protect it.

This guide delves into the hows of treading lightly on the earth while soaking in the American experience, ensuring that the only thing you leave behind are memories.

Planning Your Sustainable Journey

Embarking on a sustainable journey requires thoughtful planning.

The choices you make before and during your trip can significantly reduce your environmental impact.

Eco-Friendly Transportation Choices

View of Amtrak

Transportation contributes heavily to carbon emissions, but you can minimize your footprint by choosing greener options.

Trains, such as those operated by Amtrak, offer scenic routes across the country with a lower carbon cost than flying.

For road trips, consider renting a hybrid or electric vehicle, and if you're exploring urban areas, take advantage of public transportation networks or bike-sharing programs.

Sustainable Accommodations

Exterior of eco-lodges

Seek out accommodations that are recognized for their green initiatives.

LEED-certified hotels, eco-lodges, and hostels often employ water-saving techniques, renewable energy, and provide organic and local food options.

Platforms like Green Hotels Association can help you find such lodgings.

Mindful Packing

Packing a few clothes

Packing light not only saves you from extra baggage fees but also reduces fuel consumption.

Opt for a reusable water bottle, biodegradable toiletries, and a solar-powered charger.

Packing items made from sustainable materials further supports the cause.

Low-Impact Activities and Experiences

The heart of sustainable travel is engaging in activities that leave little to no impact on the environment.

Nature-Based Activities

Family hiking

The US is home to a plethora of natural wonders that can be enjoyed sustainably.

Hiking, kayaking, and bird-watching are low-impact ways to appreciate the outdoors.

Always stick to marked trails and campsites, and follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact.

Cultural Experiences

Pumpkin patch cleebration

Sustainable travel also means immersing yourself in the local culture in a respectful and supportive manner.

Attend community-run events, visit museums and cultural sites, and engage with local traditions.


Feeding program volunteers

Consider incorporating volunteer work into your travel plans.

Organizations across the US welcome travelers who want to contribute to environmental conservation, community development, and educational projects.

Sustainable Eating and Shopping

What you eat and purchase on your travels can also reflect your commitment to sustainability.

Supporting Local Food Systems

Farmer's market vendor

Dine at restaurants that source ingredients locally, reducing the carbon footprint associated with food transport.

Visit farmers' markets for fresh produce and artisanal goods, and you'll not only enjoy flavors that are local to the region but also support the local economy.

Eco-Friendly Shopping

Vintage artisan shop

When shopping for souvenirs, choose items made by local artisans to avoid the environmental cost of mass-produced goods.

Look for certifications like Fair Trade to ensure that products are made in an ethical manner.

Green Cities and Eco-Friendly Destinations

Some destinations make it easier to be green.

Urban Sustainability

Green space at San Francisco

Cities like Portland, San Francisco, and Minneapolis are known for their sustainability efforts.

These cities offer extensive public transportation, bike lanes, and green spaces.

Enjoy these urban centers responsibly by supporting their green initiatives.

Eco-Tourism Hotspots

Scenic view of Hawaii

Places like Alaska's national parks, the Florida Everglades, and the Hawaiian Islands offer eco-tourism experiences where conservation and visitor education are a priority.

These destinations provide opportunities to learn about the environment while ensuring your visit doesn't contribute to its degradation.

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Mitigating your travel-related carbon emissions is a crucial aspect of sustainable travel.

Carbon Offsetting

For the unavoidable emissions from your travels, consider carbon offsetting.

This can involve investing in renewable energy, forest conservation, or other environmental projects.

Resources like the Gold Standard or Green-e can guide you to reputable offset programs.

Energy Conservation

Mountain biking

Simple actions like turning off lights and unplugging devices when not in use, taking shorter showers, and reusing towels can conserve energy.

When exploring, opt for walking or cycling tours which not only reduce emissions but also offer a more intimate experience of your surroundings.

Engaging with and Supporting the Local Economy

Sustainable travel is as much about supporting the local economy as it is about protecting the environment.

Community-Based Tourism

Choose community-owned and operated businesses for your accommodations, tours, and other services.

This ensures that the economic benefits of your visit are enjoyed by the locals.

Responsible Travel Policies

Support travel companies that have responsible travel policies in place.

Research beforehand to find airlines, tour operators, and other service providers that are committed to sustainable practices.

Final Thoughts

Sustainable travel in the US is not just about reducing your carbon footprint; it's about making every choice count for the betterment of the environment and the communities you visit.

By adopting the practices outlined in this guide, you can ensure that your journey through the US is as enriching for you as it is harmless to the planet.

Embrace the ethos of sustainability and make your next American adventure a model for responsible tourism.

Spotted a mistake, have some feedback, or just want to chat with our editorial team? Click here to get in touch.
Find out more about Travel Lens and read our editorial guidelines here.