Sustainable Tips for College Student Trips


During your college years, you might like to think of spring break as a time to let loose and make long-lasting memories with friends! You might even take this time to simply relax and unwind from the stresses of being a student. Regardless of your plans, this is often a time for college students to engage in leisure or travel. 

One of the most common spring break travel destinations for college students is Cancun, Mexico. Cancun was once known as a fisherman's island surrounded by untouched forest and undiscovered shores. The culture of Cancun has since been impacted by tourism and today it is typically associated with being a hot spring break destination. Although the intentions of these travelers are good, sometimes their actions when traveling can show disrespect to the culture and environment toward the place traveled to. It's important to always be mindful of your actions when traveling to reduce these negative impacts.

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These negative impacts can affect the culture, environment, and economy of the places they visit. Changes in travelers' behaviors are crucial during this day and age and there needs to be more efforts to eliminate these negative impacts in the field of tourism. Sustainable tourism can serve as a vehicle to overcome each of these challenges. You could be a responsible and mindful traveler if you incorporate sustainable tourism principles that empowers the locals, conserves and preserves the environment, and serves as an economic catalyst for the local economy.    

The  section below will highlight just a few simple tips about how you can be a more mindful traveler.

Responsible & Meaningful Trips:  
Some things to consider when traveling out of the country and  how to make your trip more sustainable… Don’t be a Tourist, be an Ecotourist!

Research the culture/history of the country you are visiting

Know how to be respectful instead of disrespectful

Not only will this benefit the host culture, but you will get a head start on deciding which cultural/educational/historical tours you may be most interested in enjoying. 

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You will be better equipped to converse with locals and make more friends. Being informed shows that you care, and that care will be reciprocated.

Book all tours/activities with locally-owned companies that use local tour guides, food sources, and utilized sustainable techniques.

This benefits you and the locals. Local guides help you have an authentic, novel, and fun experience that other travelers will miss out on. Your dollar stays in the local economy instead of a foreign corporation.

Furthermore, your patronage shows respect for the local/indigenous cultures by learning directly from them and paying directly to them instead of through a Tour Company/Hotel that is owned by someone from another country. 

Did you know that a single plane ride emits the same amount of carbon emissions as a car does in a year? You need to consider the repercussions of your modes of transportation when traveling. 


Fly coach instead of first class, even if you can afford it.

Fly coach and cut your CO2 emissions by 3 times. Yes, you read it correctly. Flying first class emits 3 times as much CO2 as flying coach. 

Calculate your Carbon Footprint here

Buy carbon off-set:

Donate to conserve wildlife, conserve the environment, or both. You can do this by supporting organizations such as Terrapass

Book airlines that are beginning to use alternate fuel sources such as BioFuels. Southwestern, Alaska, and United Airlines are all making changes with biofuels and/or offering ways to offset the flights.

Choose sustainable transportation within and to your destination

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Use human-powered transportation at your destination. Walking, biking, and maybe even kayaking can get you where you are going and may be the best part of your trip. Need to get further than your own power can take you, hop on a train or rent an electric car. Better yet, utilize public transportation such as the bus or a local taxi driver.

Be aware of how your sunscreens, bug repellants, perfumes, lotions, beauty products affect the environment…plants, animals, ocean, coral reefs, etc.

Stop killing reefs and fish and use mineral based sunscreen instead of ones that use chemicals. It's better for the environment, as well as your personal health as well.

Use reef-friendly sunscreen that does not contain oxybenzone and/or wear a swimming shirt so that you don’t need as much sunscreen. 

Shampoos, conditioners, lotions, soaps, etc. all have harmful chemicals that cause damage to the environment. We should be aware of this even at home, but taking these chemicals into unspoiled jungles and oceans will destroy the natural beauty and animals that live there.            

Bring essential travels items that are re-usable. (i.e. water bottle, silverware, takeaway container) 

You might already have a full suitcase, but these two items go a long way towards conservation while traveling and they may even save you some money! For example, when tourists travel, sometimes, the prices for ordinary things such as water go up. By bringing a water bottle you are saving money and consuming less plastic. Also bring along some form of water filtration system (i.e. iodine pills, UV Ray pen). 

There is an initiative called "Travelers Against Plastic" (TAP) in which the advocates educate travelers on the harmful environmental impacts that can be caused by plastic water bottle usage. Travelers Against Plastic provide several alternatives for travelers to consume water that are environmentally friendly than using plastic water bottles. 

Choose local products while purchasing food, tours, clothing, and/or gifts

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It is best for the local economy/people and the environment if the items you are buying are grown/produced in-country and hand-made by the people who live there.

Go off the beaten path to places where others are not

You could potentially help an economy and you decrease the traffic and crowds in the typical touristy areas.

You will probably have a more authentic experience with the smaller location. 

Give Backyard Tourism a chance…Instead of going to Cancun this spring break, head to Ocean Shores or Neah Bay during the months of June through August to catch some sun, surf and sand and save money and the impact on the environment in the process.

If you prefer to still be at luxury hotels, look up eco-resorts that provide the same service amenities that chain hotels do except with a sustainable twist.

Look for resorts that are approved by TIES (The International Ecotourism Society) or that have Ecotourism Certifications such as Green Globe 21 or ISO. 


Look into Woofer positions or volunteerism if really on a budget.

If you are on a tight budget, but still want to travel abroad there are programs that are less expensive by providing you with food and housing for up to two weeks for exchange of work.  One example of this is the Concordia Eco-Tents in the Virgin Islands. 

Remember to unplug your electronics and appliances back home before you leave?

Unplugging electronics and appliance before you leave for an extended amount of time, will save you lots of energy and money.      

If you take these tips into consideration, you will work toward becoming a more mindful and thoughtful traveler. Now go out and see the world from the lens of an ecotourist. You'll find your travel endeavors to be much more enriching and fulfilling. 


Hollenhorst, S. J., Houge-Mackenzie, S., Ostergren, D. M. (2014). The trouble with tourism. Tourism Recreation Research, 39(3), 305-319, doi:10.1080/02508281.2014.11087003.