Spend your dollars wisely.
It’s the ultimate travel dilemma: travel increases your carbon footprint, but it’s an essential part of human life and experience. Conscious travel isn’t just a buzzword—it is the need of the hour. The climate crisis is knocking over countries and making us think about alternatives.
As travelers, we have the power to choose. In today’s world, it’s a bargaining tactic to change trends and push companies and governments to take action. So, pick travel companies that are not just making vague promises but going that extra mile to reduce emissions, support local economies, and promote sustainable travel. Here, we have a list of climate-conscious travel companies that are walking the talk.
Top Picks for You
Founded in 2001, the U.K.-based Responsible Travel calls itself an activist travel company. It partners with providers to offer a range of itineraries around the world. It doesn’t believe in carbon offsets, but carbon reductions, so you’ll find a host of low-carbon holidays and electric vehicle driving trips. There are also flight-free itineraries encouraging travelers to take the train. The company aims to deliver a 55% reduction in carbon dioxide per passenger by 2030.
There are other practices, such as plastic-free holidays, conservation funding, and inclusive holidays. From start to finish, this type of travel will make you think about how you can bring effective change by eating less meat, staying at accommodations with sustainable efforts, touring with local partners and learning about the culture and environment, and respecting wildlife by discarding unethical experiences (petting lion cubs for example).
It also has a Trip for a Trip program, so when you book a holiday with them, you can send a child on a day trip.
Australian company Intrepid Travel offers 1,000 small-group, immersive tours across 100 countries that focus on animal welfare, community experiences, inclusivity and diversity, and environmental impact. It was the world’s first tour operator to have verified science-based targets to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius goal and has been carbon neutral since 2010. In addition, it also runs a non-profit The Intrepid Foundation, that has raised and donated almost $8 million to partners around the world. So if you embark on an epicurean adventure to Japan with Intrepid, you know that you’re working with a company that has committed to a positive impact.
This travel company offers hundreds of small group tours with local guides, hosts, and partners. Local partnerships are at the core of these tours, and most dollars travelers spend on G Adventures tours stay within the community—the company has a “Ripple Score” (out of 100) for each trip to indicate how much money you spend is going towards local services.
The philosophy of the company is to create a positive impact on communities, so it has issued a conduct policy for its travelers, staff, and partners. It is also eliminating the use of single-use plastic on tours. Plus, it has partnered with the Jane Goodall Institute to provide wildlife-based tours that promote animal welfare and works with non-profit Planterra (an NGO that ensures tourism benefits local communities) to empower local people. One small example of its initiatives is the G Values Fund which gives low-interest loans to its Chief Experience Officers (who lead trips) to start their own businesses.
A non-profit based in Berkeley, California, Seacology works to preserve natural island habitats and cultures. It started in 1990 when American ethnobotanist Dr. Paul Cox was doing research in Samoa. Villagers of Falealupo were selling logging rights off their rainforests to build a school. Dr. Cox raised funds for them in exchange for a promise to preserve their precious rainforests, and Seacology was thus born.
Since then, the non-profit has launched more than 380 projects, from preserving marine turtles in Indonesia to the protection of mangroves in Kenya. The projects offer a community benefit, like training for livelihood or providing infrastructures such as an ecotourism center or solar panels. This makes locals committed to conservation work and empowers them.
Seacology also runs ecotourism travel programs, where a small group can visit a project, stay at a luxury resort, and learn about their unique host environment. An expedition to the Philippines is planned in December for $1,500 upwards. Stay at Buceo Anilao Beach and Dive Resort and beyond diving and snorkeling, visit a Seacology project and listen to experts on marine and island conservation.
National Geographic Expeditions
More premium than regular tours, National Geographic Expeditions has a range of trips, including expedition cruises, small group tours, and expert-led travels. Scientists, photographers, and writers lead some of these trips and share a wealth of knowledge as they navigate off-beaten paths with you. A portion of the proceeds from these trips goes to the National Geographic Society, which supports scientists and explorers by offering grants. Plus, Nat Geo enjoys access to cultural and research sites (since they also fund initiatives).
An Alaskan expedition with an undersea specialist, a pre-historic tour of Spain and France, a winter perspective of Yellowstone for photography lovers, and a safari in Kenya with a focus on conservation are some of the exciting adventures National Geographic Expeditions can take you on.
In Europe, you have the option to travel slow with Byway, a company that offers flight-free itineraries. It launched in 2020 with journeys by rail, bus, and boat. You can pick an itinerary on the website, or get one personalized for you. Another upside is that all U.K. journeys are pet-friendly. The bookings are flexible, and recommendations include local businesses, detours, and activities to keep to their promise of slow, local travel.
The itineraries include accommodations, transportation, activity recommendations, and WhatsApp support.
U.K.-based Pura Aventura has designed exclusive active holidays to Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and Antarctica. You will find no flying trips or driving itineraries, but instead walking holidays and nature-based experiences. A great example is the 1,700-mile Routes of Parks—an ambitious conservation effort by the Tompkins Foundation—that snakes through 17 national parks. Pura Aventura has a 42-day journey on these roads less traveled to appreciate the beauty of this part of the world and benefit local communities. The travel company saw its beginning on this very land when three tour guides met in Patagonia in 1995.
As part of its Travel Positive philosophy, the company offsets every kilometer traveled by air, road, and season by its client with a mile—160% mitigation. It also supports a reforestation effort in Nicaragua by Taking Root and donates 1% of its revenue to the cause.