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Sustainable Travel in South Africa: How to Play Your Part

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5 min read

Sustainability is a key concern for individuals and businesses across the globe. The call to ‘go green’ and adopt practices such as recycling, upcycling, and repurposing is practically deafening, and more and more people are heeding it in an attempt to alleviate some of the pressure on our planet. A huge part of living more sustainably is ensuring that these ‘green’ practices extend into all aspects of our lifestyles – and that includes business and leisure travel.

The question is, how can you play your part? What factors should you be focusing on? And where do you begin? Here is a breakdown of everything that you need to know in order to embrace sustainable travel in South Africa, and in any other destination that you choose to explore.

Travel by rail or road

The research is in and it is evident that taking to the skies on an aeroplane is the least eco-efficient way to travel. Cars and trains boast lower carbon emissions and are, therefore, a lot kinder to the earth. Obviously, it is impossible to steer clear of flying altogether – unless, of course, you intend to exclusively travel domestically going forward.

Luckily, in instances when catching a plane is unavoidable, there are still ways to keep your carbon footprint to a minimum. For example, you can pay a bit extra to fly direct, stick to economy class (flying first class instantly increases your carbon footprint), and opt to plan just one long holiday per year as opposed to two or three shorter ones. Finally, be sure to investigate which airlines are known to have the lowest emissions per passenger kilometre.

Make use of technology

As we all know, there’s an app for everything nowadays – and sustainable travel is no exception. There are a few excellent apps that cater to the needs of tourists who endeavour to live and travel with the wellbeing of the environment in mind. FairTrip is a great example of just one of these apps. It focuses on encouraging tourists to support local when visiting over 3000 holiday destinations around the world. Users of the app can search for places or add places based on specific criteria, i.e. each place in question must be Authentic, Green, Local, Social, and Fair.

Along with apps, there are plenty of websites out there created to help you tick all of your ‘green’ travel boxes, too. For instance, Glooby is a specialist website dedicated to helping travellers compare environmentally-friendly guesthouses and hotels, as well as fuel-efficient flights, at the click of a mouse.

Travel in off-peak season

Overtourism was a major problem before the COVID pandemic hit. Thereafter, overtourism transitioned to no tourism whatsoever. As the travel industry slowly revives after its shutdown, it is evident that tourists are rethinking their approach to travel. With a need for social distancing, travelling during off-peak season is suddenly a lot more attractive than it once was – and it is great for the environment, too. Why? Mostly because it is easier to support smaller, local businesses in the times when cities aren’t swarming with advertisements and events financed by much larger corporates looking to capitalise on tourists’ spending money! Grab the opportunity to go in search of hidden gems and venture onto the road less travelled.

Keep up the good habits

It can be tempting to let your guard down when you’re away on holiday and relax a bit around strict habits that you’ve developed at home. However, maximising the sustainability of your trip depends on you and your travel party carrying these habits forward. Keep showers short (or take a dip in the pool or ocean instead), turn off the lights when you exit a room, replace TV time with adventurous activities and exploration, and turn off the tap while you brush your teeth. These positive habits can make a huge difference in the long run!


Most importantly, don’t take anyone’s word for it. Always do some research into possible destinations, local travel suppliers, and accommodation options before making any decisions regarding your trip or your itinerary. Confirm that your chosen guesthouse, tour guide, and companies offering access to specific activities, are indeed eco-conscious and have made ‘going green’ a top priority. Most travel suppliers will provide insight into how they are ensuring greater sustainability on their websites – but also be sure to check out online reviews, their social media pages, and to contact them directly for more information.

Ultimately, sustainability is everyone’s responsibility. For the sake of South Africa and the rest of the world, let’s band together to start taking it seriously!

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