If like me you are feverish with wanderlust but also keen to be as eco-friendly as possible while travelling, then you might want to look into making eco-friendly accommodation choices. You don’t need to spend a fortune to be an eco-friendly traveller, but making eco-conscious choices often takes a reasonable amount of research.
Unfortunately, it can be all too easy to end up staying in a hotel or resort that has a negative impact on the environment without even realising it. Collectively, hotels are guilty of excessive energy consumption, unnecessary overuse of water and poor waste management. From bigger issues like building in areas where construction ruins the environment down to the little things like pumping out air conditioning and washing bed linen daily, hotels can leave a huge carbon footprint.
Instead of choosing a large resort or a chain hotel, instead look for alternative, eco-friendly accommodation such as camping, home stays, local guesthouses or at least an eco-hotel that does its bit for the environment and the local people.
What Makes Accommodation Eco-Friendly?
If you’re on the search for eco-friendly accommodation, then you need to know what kind of things to look out for. Of course, no accommodation is perfect but if they can fulfil at least some of the criteria then they’re on the right track. According to the EU Ecolabel for accommodation, the accommodation should be trying to lessen it’s impact on the environment by:
- Limiting energy consumption
- Limiting water consumption
- Reducing waste production
- Using renewable energy
- Promoting environmental education
Sometimes finding out all of this information about a hotel can be a challenge, but more often than not the hotel’s website will be proud to show off it’s commitment to the environment and the local community. As a general rule of thumb, smaller or locally run accommodation will have a lower impact than big hotels or resorts irrelevant of any claims about green practises.
One point to be aware of is the issue with greenwashing – when companies or hotels describe something as more responsible or ‘eco-friendly’ than it actually is. It can be hard to differentiate between genuinely committed and sustainable accommodation options and ones that are dressing up their business to make money off the back off the green movement. There aren’t any laws to stop businesses using ‘green’ or ‘eco’ labels, so you’ve just got to read between the lines.
Eco-Hotels, Eco-Lodges and Eco-Retreats
There are loads of cool eco-hotels around the world boasting everything from self-contained pods that reduce carbon emissions to off-the-grid nature retreats that grow all their own veg. While some are inevitably more sustainable than others, we’ve found that most of the time the eco-hotels, lodges and retreats are genuinely trying to lower their impact on the environment.
By far the most admirable example of an eco-lodge which we’ve come across is La Kukula in Costa Rica which is powered by renewable energy and uses clever design and passive cooling to avoid the need for air conditioning in the humid jungle. Isla Violin and Tipi Jungla, also in Costa Rica, which are owned by families living off-the-grid sustainable lifestyles who rely on their own solar energy and grow their own food as well.
Staying Local and Eco-Friendly Accommodation in Cities
Most travellers spend their time in the capital and other big cities and don’t want to be without an internet connection for long periods of time, but there are still responsible accommodation options. In some countries, finding locally run accommodation can be really easy. For example, in Nicaragua the cities on the main tourist routes, such as Leon and Granada, are relatively small places and there are lots of local people running guesthouses at reasonable prices.
We’ve found that in larger cities, where finding local and eco-friendly accommodation is more of a challenge, it can be worth checking out Airbnb to see if there are any places to rent in a non-touristic neighbourhood or in a local’s house. When we were in Bangkok recently, we stayed in a cool little city-based homestay with a really accommodating couple and it was a way better experience than any of the larger hotels could provide.
Home Stays and House Sitting
Another eco-friendly accommodation option is to forget about hotels and guesthouses altogether and instead go in search of alternative accommodation with local families and communities. Many home stays involve volunteering or language learning components that also support the local communities by contributing to the local economy. By staying with a local family, you’ll also use far fewer resources than you would do in any hotel.
House sitting may not be your first thought when it comes to eco-friendly accommodation but by travelling slowly and staying in one place for a longer period of time you’re lessening your carbon footprint. By opting out of staying in hotels that were built for tourists you’re also decreasing the demand for them.
Other Eco-Friendly Accommodation Alternatives
My list is by no means a definitive one when it comes to looking for eco-friendly accommodation. There are also plenty of opportunities for more outdoor style accommodation such as camping, staying in tipis and yurts, and local huts.
In the past, Luke and I have really loved using Couchsurfing as well as a way to find shared accommodation and meet with locals, and we’ve met hosts through Facebook and on Craigslist as well. Although we’ve only had positive experiences of meeting people via online networks, we always recommend exercising caution and chatting to people on Skype or meeting for coffee first of all.
Do you have any other tips for finding eco-friendly accommodation while travelling?
Cover photo | Ales Krivec