5 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Hotels

Welcome to #TravelTipTuesday! Every Tuesday, I’ll be sharing some travel tips that can help you on your own adventures, from budget-saving hacks to eco-friendly travel ideas.

When we go on a holiday, one of the first things we plan is accommodation. 

Some of us go online to hunt down the best bargains. Some sift through blog entry after blog entry to book the hotel that can put the cherry on top of their well-deserved vacation. Some look for an all-around haven that feels like a home away from home. Some focus on IG-worthy ambience while some are simply content with any bed to rest their heads as long as it’s cheap and close to the places they wish to visit. 

What most of us fail to consider, however, is the impact our accommodation can have on the environment. 

Why most hotels are not eco-friendly 

More often than not, opting for a hotel on your dream vacation is not the most eco-friendly option. Just look at the single-use plastic toiletries that line your bathroom shelves, the daily cleaning of sheets and towels, the lights left on all night long at the corridor, the mini bar restocks, and the amount of water and energy used to power facilities. 

Unsurprisingly, 75% of hotels’ environmental impacts can be directly related to excessive consumption. In one night alone, the average consumption per bed is approximately in the order of 130 megajoules. Hotels use 84.7 billion kilowatt-hours to power 9.6 million hair dryers or 64.5 million TVs.  

Generally, hotels use more energy per visitor than locals in order to have more spacious rooms and to power their bars, restaurants and pools. 

Tourists also demand more water than locals per capita basis. For instance, travelers’ water consumption in dryer regions can amount to 440 liters a day per tourist, which is nearly twice the average amount of water used by residents in Spain. 

On average, a hotel also creates about a kilogram of waste per guest per night. Per year, a hotel produces more than more than 850 million kilograms of waste, which is enough to fill 37 billion suitcases.

Likewise, hotels account for 1 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, producing 60 million tons of carbon emissions annually thanks to squandering practices and unmindful guests. In a single night, a hotel emits an average of 20.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide, and while this may not seem much, let me just remind you that in 2018, the travel sector beat all other economic sectors but manufacturing in terms of growth. 

Business is booming and along with it, commodity-driven and unsustainable practices. 

Eco-friendly alternatives to hotels

Of course, there’s a way for you to dodge these practices and stay in a more ecological option. Although the hospitality industry has only begun catching up on sustainability, below are five eco-friendly alternatives to staying in a hotel. Each accommodation offers a different experience for each traveler, so read on to find what best suits you for your next trip! 

  1. For the adventurous: Camping 

When was the last time you lay under the stars or enjoyed a breath of crisp mountain air? Have you ever made a fire and swapped stories with your friends or fell asleep next to the sound of waves lapping on the shore? If you’re looking for an experience that will fully immerse you in nature, then pack a tent, a decent mattress and a warm sleeping bag and set up camp. 

Camping outdoors give you plenty of opportunities to turn off your mobile phones, disconnect from the world and reconnect with yourself. Use this camping opportunity to spend some quality time with friends, family or a significant other. (Trust me, nothing’s more romantic than a night under the stars!) If you’re on a tight budget, camping is also a wise option to cut down costs. 

Camping in the mountains of Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.

Nature has given us everything we need, and that includes a place to sleep, plus a slew of outdoor activities we can engage in, from hiking to rock climbing to kayaking to swimming. Besides these, don’t you know how fun it is to cook outdoors? 

Personally, camping has allowed me to gain an appreciation for Mother Nature. I’ve slept in mountaintops overlooking crystal clear lakes, in historical monuments that have withstood the test of time, in beaches where you can swim for miles and miles without bumping into a single soul. By allowing myself to live off bare necessities and bask in the purest form of beauty in the world, I’ve found peace in myself, and I want future generations to witness the same views, take part in the same sensations and experience the same feeling. My time outdoors has fueled my determination to become an eco-conscious traveler, and it might do the same for you. 

Exploring and jumping in a small, hidden waterfall in Sumatra, Indonesia after camping with young locals who also loved spending time outdoors.

After all, what better way to understand what or who we fight for than to fully immerse in it, right?  

2. For those looking to stay a little longer… and for short stayers too: Rent an apartment 

Whenever we go on a holiday, we don’t usually think of renting an apartment. Travelers seem to think that opting for a space in a flat instead of a hotel room is a bit over the top, but the truth is, it can save you a little money and give you a better  experience. 

Staying in an apartment eliminates excessive consumption that goes with booking a night in a hotel. It also offers you more flexibility. You can choose to whip up your own version of the local cuisine and do your laundry when your sheets and towels are actually dirty. It also gives you more space to move around, which is helpful if you’ve brought a lot of suitcases with you, if you’re a huge group or if you’re in the area for a longer time. Plus, staying in a flat makes you feel and live like a local rather than a tourist. 

You can start apartment hunting for your next vacation on Airbnb, VRBO or HomeAway

3: For those seeking local immersions and interactions: Homestays 

In my quest to #HitchhikeHalfTheWorld, I’ve been adopted by friendly families and welcoming individuals who have spontaneously opened their doors to me and allowed me to gain genuine insight on local customs and traditions. 

As much as I enjoy being in the outdoors, staying with locals is my absolute favorite accommodation choice. By living with locals, I get to see, experience and immerse in cultures that are entirely different from my own. I get to witness family dynamics, eating habits, and daily work and life. I get to learn more about the country’s language, history, music, food, sports and art in ways a paid tour can’t provide. 

Attending the traditional Malay wedding of my friend, Putri, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Putri worked in the hostel I was staying in at KL, and when I found out she was getting married, she didn’t hesitate to host me and invite me to her wedding.

Most of all, I get to forge lifelong bonds. From being an only child in a small home, I’ve turned into a seasoned traveler with countless fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. 

While these experiences don’t count as paid accommodations, you can create the same memories by opting for a homestay instead of a hotel. 

For a price that will go directly to the community, homestays usually provide a warm bed (or sometimes mattress!) in a traditional setting, complete with traditional food. Consider this as a chance to sample authentic dishes while breaking bread with your hosts. If there’s something I’ve learned in my nearly two years of travel, it’s that no restaurant can top a home-cooked meal with lovely local company. 

Homestays can give you an opportunity to speak with locals and hear their stories firsthand. You can even learn a thing or two about the local language. Pick up some new phrases or know the lyrics to a popular local song. Even if the language seems difficult and you make too many mistakes, locals appreciate your genuine interest in their culture. This will also open doors to future local interactions. 

Staying in a local home is the warmest welcome you can receive in a country. As opposed to the isolation and the one-size-fits-all ambience of a hotel, homestays provide you shared happiness with eager individuals who also want to hear what you have to say. 

Lastly, with homestays, you can be sure that the money you pay for accommodation goes directly to the family you’re staying with. 

Being eco-friendly isn’t only about carbon emissions, zero waste, and recycling. To truly protect Mother Nature, we must protect and support the communities that nurture it instead of feeding multinational hotel chains. These communities are the faces behind the numbers we seek to reduce, faces behind the lives we seek to improve, faces behind the causes we consistently back and fight for. 

Toikot, a Mentawai sikerei, protector of Siberut’s forests.

4. For budget backpackers: Couchsurfing 

If you’re on a shoestring budget but are still looking for authentic local experience and a chance for cultural exchange, then Couchsurfing is the perfect pick for you! Couchsurfing is a fun and convenient way to make local friends and meet up with fellow travelers who are in your location. Getting to stay COMPLETELY FOR FREE in a local home is just an added bonus! 

I started Couchsurfing in Central Asia, and it’s every bit as amazing as being welcomed spontaneously by local homes. 

My first Couchsurfing experience in Bukhara, Uzbekistan with my host, Jamik. I stayed at Jamik’s caravanserai for four days and all the while, I got to meet the lovely people and artists who worked in the historical accommodation. Jamik and I had a couple of vodka bottles too.

Couchsurfing, however, has started to show a dark side, especially for solo female travelers, but do keep in mind that bad things happen to people, both on the road and at home, so if you’re not willing to risk it, then you’re better off with another option. 

5. For those who still want the hotel experience: Green hotel and hostels

Like I’ve said, hotels are hopping aboard the sustainability train and are slowly becoming more eco-conscious about running their establishments. While green hotels can’t be found everywhere and apps have not yet introduced a green hotel option in their filter system, a little research on your destination can help you find the most eco-friendly place to stay without missing out on the hotel experience. 

A drone shot of ViewPoint EcoLodge, Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar. A friend and I stayed here for a couple of days for FREE in exchange for photographs and drone footage.

Once you’ve come up with a few leads, don’t be afraid to inquire about the hotels’ sustainable practices. Ask how often they do housekeeping or if they firmly remind their guests to conserve water and electricity. Inspect the complementary products they offer their guests. Interrogate them about their recycling programs, their water separation system, their use of solar energy or their means of transportation. Make sure that the food is locally sourced and that the tours they offer are spearheaded by local guides who gain good profit from their day’s work. 

If you can’t find a green hotel, then don’t be afraid to leave suggestions and spark discussions with the hotel staff. 

So that’s it! Next time you consider booking an accommodation, think of other eco-friendly alternatives that can help you become a more sustainable traveller. Remember that every step counts when it comes to saving the planet and that the time to act against the climate crisis is NOW.

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