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Keep Sustainable Travel in Mind with AAA and Tourism Cares

Updated: June 14, 2024

Written by

AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims

Renting a bicycle at a local bike shop. Participating in a park cleanup. Buying traditional sweetgrass baskets from Gullah Geechee basket weavers in South Carolina. All these activities are examples of sustainable travel, a concept that focuses on how to maintain travel and tourism without hurting or exploiting natural or cultural environments in the process.

Sustainable travel and tourism includes harnessing the revenue generated by travelers to benefit destinations and the people that live there in a sustainable way, such as ensuring local earnings go back to benefit the community. It means being conscientious of the resources you use and how your behavior can impact the places you visit. Tourism, one of the world’s largest industries, has a huge impact.

That’s where AAA Travel and Tourism Cares come in. AAA Travel is collaborating with Tourism Cares, a non-profit organization focused on the sustainability of the travel and tourism industry, in the latter organization’s mission to unite the travel industry to be “a catalyst for positive social, environmental and economic impact for the people and places of travel.” With that goal in mind, Tourism Cares works to "create opportunities, empower communities, amplify culture and protect the environment while building inclusivity and understanding,” with an aim to work together to “change individuals, communities and, sometimes, even the world.”

Sustainability is no longer a niche topic but a core business practice in the travel industry.’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report found that 83 percent of travelers surveyed believe “sustainable travel is a vital issue.”

Keeping this in mind, AAA Travel and Tourism Cares are working together to recognize that some travel experiences are more sustainable and meaningful than others. By understanding the needs and expectations of travelers, the two organizations can implement new systems and work toward a sustainable future.

After all, the demand is expected to rise. “Every generation is defined by a signature issue: For Gen Z, that is climate,” according to J. Walker Smith, Knowledge Lead, Consulting Division Canta. “As other generations hand the reins to Gen Z, climate will be the biggest challenge for society and the marketplace. … Gen Z will lean into this issue in far-reaching ways across every category and every business model. The future of sustainability is no less than the future of Gen Z.”

So what does sustainable, eco-friendly tourism look like? Namely, ensuring business practices prioritize the environment and empower communities, like responsible travel tours and attractions. At an individual level, that could include browsing the Meaningful Map of North America ( and working with a travel advisor to find more eco-friendly modes of transportation.

Sustainable Tip No. 1: Consider Your Destination

Let's say you want to plan an eco-friendly vacation. A staycation might be your best bet. Staying local will lower your carbon footprint or the amount of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by everyone’s actions.

While staying close to home is the most eco-friendly option, don't write off your bucket list just yet. Even with dream destinations that might require long drives, cruise travel or flights, you can design the right trip for you, if with a little added legwork.

First, evaluate where to go and keep in mind any local guidelines and restrictions; popular destinations are finding ways to protect sensitive areas. For places like Venice, Italy, where overtourism is a concern — think strained infrastructure due to overcrowding — remedies have included prohibiting large cruise ships from entering the Giudecca Canal. There’s also a daily entrance fee to limit visitors. In Greece, there's an online booking site for visitors to the Acropolis (Parthenon) as well as many other Greek attractions and historical sites.

Similarly, Arches National Park in Utah, as well as many other popular American attractions and parks, require timed entry tickets that are reserved online with a small fee. For Arches National Park specifically, tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis, up to “three months in advance in monthly blocks.”

You can manage overcrowding another way, too, by traveling off-season. Heading to a national park or a beach can be much more manageable if you visit around late spring or early fall — during the ideal time periods known as the shoulder seasons. If you must travel during peak time periods, consider a destination that offers similar scenery or activities but is not as well-known. (For inspiration, check out our AAA Inspector-inspired list,“21 U.S. Places That Will Remind You of Cities Around the World.”)

Sustainable Tip No. 2: Determine Your Transportation Strategy

Instead of driving, consider using public transportation or walking or biking around your destination, to significantly lower your emissions — and reduce sticker shock at the gas pump. Yet that’s not always possible if driving is part of the experience, like on a road trip.

Despite rising gas prices, a found that 52 percent of Americans still have plans to take a vacation this summer. Of those, 42 percent said they would not consider changing their travel plans regardless of the price of gas.

AAA Travel suggests keeping fuel efficiency in mind as you plan any sort of drive, including road trips.

• First, make an appointment with your local AAA Approved Auto Repair facility at Routine maintenance should be a priority, as oil changes, tire pressure, tire condition and fluid levels can all affect fuel economy.

• AAA’s online TripTik Travel Planner ( can offer guidance on your route. By planning in advance, you can avoid needless detours and plan stops close to the roadway for maximum efficiency.

• Lastly, be mindful as you drive. Aim for a reasonable speed, as AAA Automotive notes that peak fuel economy for a car is reached around 50 mph; use cruise control to stay consistent. If possible, try to avoid hard accelerations and unnecessary braking. (If you have an interest in eco-friendly travel, particularly in California, read “7 Tips for an Eco-Friendly Road Trip on the California Coast.”)

Sustainable Tip No. 3: Look for (Real) Sustainability Initiatives

Before you book, research your itinerary. Many industries, including airline, rail, cruise and hospitality, feature sustainability initiatives. If they don’t, you can make adjustments where possible or ask and advocate for a change. Companies may meet or exceed your expectations, especially if there is growing demand.

Be discerning. Not all self-described “green” practices measure up. Though many might have sustainability initiatives, look for recognizable programs or certifications. To avoid “greenwashing,” or making false claims of sustainable practices, look for leading indicators, e.g., accreditations by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council or the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) rating system.

For help in finding suitable eco-friendly accommodations, head to and select AAA’s Eco-Friendly icon when you search for Diamond hotels. The Eco-Friendly icon means that the accommodation has been recognized by an established government or private green certification program, like the aforementioned LEED rating system or The Green Key Eco-Rating Program, which indicates local motels, hotels and resorts have committed to working on their environmental performance.

Don’t forget that some popular home-away-from-home lodging options may not feature any designations but do offer a smaller footprint. Camping is great for unplugging and getting back to nature. Bed-and-breakfasts and vacation rentals offer a homey atmosphere with a local perspective; your hosts will often provide recommendations of local attractions and things to see. Speaking of local…

Sustainable Tip No. 4: Aim for Local

According to a 2019 report, 73 of travelers are seeking “authentic experiences that are representative of the local culture when they travel,” while 76% of travelers “want to ensure the economic impact of the industry is spread equally in all levels of society.”

There’s great value in community-based tourism, which promotes authentic exchanges by letting you experience the cuisine, customs and daily lives of the people within a community.

With the farm-to-table and locavore movements now widespread, it’s also easier than ever to eat mindfully. Ingredients may be sourced from a local farmer or even harvested from an on-site garden.

Some may interpret eating sustainably as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding meat, dairy or both. The number of people who give up meat and dairy entirely is a small percentage of the population, but it’s a trend followed by Technomic Inc., which offers a food industry perspective. According to Technomic’s 2021 Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, provided by senior research manager Lizzy Freier, “[As of 2021] 3 percent of consumers overall (out of 2,736 consumers surveyed) described themselves as vegetarian, with 2 percent as vegan, 3 percent as pescatarian, 8 percent as flexitarian and 6 percent as semi-vegetarian.”

Sustainable Tip No. 5: Start Small

There are some small steps you can take toward sustainability as you travel, pack, and plan your trips. As Tourism Cares notes, “Sustainability is a journey. No matter where you are, little steps matter.”

Here are a couple of closing tips:

• To protect marine life, consider reef-friendly or reef-safe sunscreen, an approach recommended by the U.S. National Park Service and something you must do if you’re going somewhere like Aruba and Bonaire in the Caribbean or Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Key West, Florida. Sunscreens with chemicals like oxybenzone are prohibited in many of these places and are no longer sold. (Instead, buy products containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.)

• If you're planning to shop, bring reusable bags. Some destinations ban single-use plastic bags; however, in places like Cambridge, Massachusetts, you can get recyclable paper bags or compostable plastic bags for a small fee.

• Bring your own water bottle and refill on-demand. This also will prevent you from having to discard a bottle at the security checkpoint if you’re flying.

• Instead of carrying heavy printed materials, download the AAA TourBook® guides, which are available on any device for destinations across North America and the Caribbean.

• Make every effort to leave the destination as good as — or better than — you found it.

Though managing all the extra must-dos might seem overwhelming, help and trusted travel expertise are available. AAA Travel Agents can guide you toward savings and benefits to make the decision-making process easier. Tourism Cares offers the Meaningful Travel Map of North America, a tool that your travel agent can use to find “social and environmental impact experiences” and offerings in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

So follow along with AAA Travel and Tourism Cares and consider sustainable travel not just as a passing item on your to-do list, but as an essential ingredient in the trip-planning process.

Start Your Next Vacation with AAA and Tourism Cares

AAA is proud to be a Tourism Cares Strategic Partner. Tourism Cares is a 501c3 non-profit organization, which unites the travel industry and serves as a catalyst of positive social, environmental and economic impact for the people and places of travel.

Written by

AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims

AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims is an AAA Travel Expert.

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