I recently got back from a trip where yet another Airbnb we stayed in provided a Keurig and single use k-cups for coffee making instead of a more traditional coffee maker. While I made my coffee in the French press I brought along with us, it got me thinking about how to travel more sustainably while staying in an Airbnb or other vacation rental.
While some of these trips can also be used if you are staying in a hotel, this list is more particularly crafted for trips where you stay in an Airbnb or similar (VRBO, HomeAway, etc), specifically in places with a kitchen and an individual owner that you can interact with.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas, but it is meant to be a basic starting point for you to travel more sustainably by just paying a little bit more attention to how you go about your trip. Like most things, once you set yourself up to travel this way, it really will become second nature and you’ll simply leave a lighter footprint wherever you go.
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How To Travel More Sustainably with Airbnb
For starters, a lot of how you can travel more sustainably, whether you’re staying in an Airbnb or just out for the day, is planning ahead. Many of the suggestions here do require a bit of forethought and planning, though not an overly large amount.
As always, if you have any questions, or would like me to go into depth on any of this, please do let me know! You know I can never get enough in regards to talking about sustainability or about travel, so this is a perfect intersect.
If you haven’t stayed in an AirBnB before, I would highly recommend it. We love the flexibility it gives us while traveling as a family – full kitchen, laundry, and extra bathrooms, and it’s usually considerably cheaper than a hotel, especially when you travel as a group. If you’re new to AirBnB, here’s a link for $40 off your first stay.
1. Think About Your Coffee
Since the origin of this post starts with a story about coffee, let’s talk about that in detail. Like I said, we bring a French press with us when we travel since that’s what we use at home. We have this one and have gifted it in a smaller size because it’s really durable and easy to travel with.
A pour over brewer would work as well, though I would prefer a filterless kind because I’ve only once stayed in an Airbnb with a compost, so the filters would have to be thrown in the garbage. Regardless, still better than your standard Keurig if that’s what they have in the house (you can also message the host or look through photos to confirm they have a regular coffee maker first, and then you can choose to leave your own at home).
If you generally buy whole beans and grind them right when you make your coffee, be sure to grind them ahead of time because very few places have a grinder at the house. We also tend to purchase our coffee on the trip in order to support local roasters and to try something new. Thanks to that practice, my favorite “local” coffee beans both come from the Olympic Peninsula.
Along this same vein, make sure you bring a reusable coffee mug if you’re like me and tend to treat yourself out to coffee while traveling (this one is my favorite because it is vacuum sealed and stays hot for a LONG time, plus it doesn’t spill when dropped, which I do plenty). And of course, this suggestion applies to water bottles as well – it saves money too because then you never have to buy water.
2. Choose Your Location Carefully
This tip really varies based on where you are traveling and what you hope to get out of the trip, but it’s something we pay attention to when considering where to stay as we plan a trip. When we’re on vacation, we love to explore the area and get a sense of what it’s really like, and we find the best way to do that is by locating ourselves somewhere we can do a lot of walking or have access to transit.
And since we’re on vacation, we have the time to move a bit slower, so we’ve found ways to use local bus systems well even if they don’t run all that often or that late. However, it’s a great way to get to know local people, and bus drivers can often give you tips for what to see and where to go in their area. Of course, this is also a frugal trip as public transit is generally quite affordable.
While not everyone is able to walk as much as we do, we often will go for two or three mile walks each direction on vacation, as we enjoy getting outside and seeing a new area on foot. Walking forces you to more slowly and see more, and it reduces the amount of gas and money you use while traveling.
Of course, while we don’t mind walking farther, we do pay attention to the map feature in Airbnb when booking a location – our last trip to Port Angeles landed us just a couple blocks south of the downtown and it made it so easy to park the car for the duration of the visit. With enough time and pre-planning, we could even travel via bus there, saving on ferry fees, gas, and wear and tear on the car.
There are usually a number of similar options within an area, but oftentimes one or two is significantly better in terms of walkability. While you can’t see the specific address for an Airbnb before you book it, there are often good clues in the description and reviews that give you a sense of where they’re located in proximity to the surrounding area. You can also zoom in on the map and pick a nearby cross street and plug that into Walkscore.com to get an even better sense of the location of the home.
3. Recycling Matters
We are in a bit of a bubble in the Pacific Northwest when it comes to sustainability, but we’ve found that even more locally, many Airbnbs don’t provide recycling services.
If you’ve driven to your location from home, this is a pretty easy one. Much like when we go camping, we start a recycling bag at the start of the trip and collect it throughout the vacation. When we head home, we just stick the bag in the truck and recycle it at home.
On our last trip to Hawaii, the Airbnb we stayed at didn’t have recycling, so we dropped the bag off at the transfer station on our way out on the last day. At least within the United States, even areas that don’t have curbside recycling pickup have free options at transfer stations in almost all towns, regardless of size.
If you want to go a step further, you could bring some compostable bags to store your food waste and then dispose of them when you get back home. Full disclosure: I haven’t done this yet, but as I think about it in writing out this post, I should start doing this myself in the future.
4. Plan Your Meals and Shop Locally
This starts with planning ahead when it comes to packing for a trip. Since Airbnbs tend to have full kitchens, you have more or less the same options for cooking as you do at home. I do say “tend to” have full kitchens though, because I’ve found that in Hawaii in particular, as well as some of the more budget options in bigger cities, don’t always have all the normal appliances, so be sure to confirm before you book.
Depending on your plans for the trip, this may be just fine, but you don’t want to go in expecting to make pancakes for breakfast and then find out all you have access to is a microwave.
Once you’ve figured out what the kitchen looks like, plan to bring some basic staples with you, namely some sort of cooking oil or butter, spices, etc. We will sometimes also bring perishables like milk and coffee creamer as well as bacon or sausage for breakfasts. The biggest reason to bring these things instead of choosing to buy them at your destination is that you can buy in normal sizes, which is both cheaper and generally less wasteful than small packages that you would buy just for a trip (ie not the smallest bottle of olive oil on the shelf).
However, we do also shop locally once we get to our vacation shop, one because we really enjoy exploring local grocery stores and farmers markets to get a better sense of the area, and two because our dollars are more likely to stay in that local economy and the local purchases we make tend to have a smaller environmental footprint.
Local choices may have less packaging, but they will definitely have traveled much shorter distances, so that part of their environmental cost is minimized. Along with this, make sure to bring a cloth bag or two for when you do make those grocery shopping trips! They can double as your recycling bag to take home as well.
We also like to leave at least something we’ve purchased behind at the end of the trip, specifically shelf stable items like spices or oils if we forgot to bring one from home. That way, the next visitors don’t have to buy their own small bottle for their days at the house.
5. Don’t Forget About Leftovers
This is one that has taken quite a bit of time to stick as part of our routine because it’s not an item you ever see on a packing list. The one kitchen item that very few vacation rentals have on hand is a way to store leftovers. Now that it’s become routine, I make sure to bring at least a couple Pyrex storage containers to store any food that doesn’t get eaten right away. Since we make quite a few of our meals at “home” when we’re traveling, we almost always end up with leftovers at some point.
I fill the containers before we leave with snacks (think goldfish, pre cooked breakfast sausages, etc). This way we don’t end up with so much waste that almost always accompanies grab and go meals, and it saves us money as well because they are never cheap. Once we arrive, I clean out the containers and they’re ready to go for the rest of the trip.
Along these same lines, we bring a cooler bag with us for the way home if we are driving to our destination. It seems that no matter how well we plan out our food on a trip, there are always a few perishable items left over at the end of the vacation. With the cooler bag, we can take them home with us and they don’t go to waste. Trader Joe’s makes the best of one these, hands down, for anything more affordable than Yeti style bags.
6. Use The Towels Provided By The Airbnb
Specifically, find the extra hand towels / dish rags at the start of your trip. I’ve rarely stayed in an Airbnb that doesn’t have an extra drawer of them somewhere, and then they can be used just like the unpaper towels we have at home. Unless it’s a very short trip, we generally do at least one load of laundry because it cuts down on how much we have to pack, so it’s easy enough to throw those towels in to the washer as well.
Even if you do run out, you’ll have significantly cut down on the amount of paper towels you go through on the trip. If you want to make sure to have enough, it’s easy to throw a couple in your suitcase and bring them with you as well.
7. Ask About Single Use Items – Help The Airbnb Host Be More Sustainable
Both times we’ve been to Hawaii, the Airbnbs have come stocked with some amount of beach gear, and not just towels. If you’re considering buying a boogie board or goggles or some other item that you don’t expect to use other than on the trip, reach out to the Airbnb host and ask what they have in the house. You’d be surprised what they keep on hand, which means you don’t have to spend the money and you can reduce the amount of stuff you purchase (and then have to get rid of later).
Many vacation rentals also come stocked with games, kids toys, and other things relevant to the area you’re visiting, which cuts down on the things you either need to bring or buy. With our kiddo, we bring a bunch of toys with us for the traveling and for hanging out in the house, but new to him toys at an Airbnb are extra fun, and then we aren’t tempted to buy him a bunch of little plastic junk toys to keep him occupied in a new place.
8. Leave Details In Your Review To Help Future Airbnb Guests Be More Sustainable
Did the Airbnb have a Keurig instead of a coffee maker? Is it an easy walk to downtown? What items were already there for your use? I try and write a detailed review of every place we stay so that the next guests have a better sense of what they’re renting for the trip. If it’s something I would have liked to know, I share. Like I’ve described in detail above, that kind of information can help you plan what to bring and where to stay to travel more sustainably (and often more cheaply).
Of course, this just scratches the surface of what you can do to travel more sustainably, and those choices look different if you’re camping or staying in a hotel, have mobility issues or a more limited budget, whether you’re flying or driving, but I hope this gives you a roadmap for how to start looking at the way you travel to find ways to tread a bit more lightly on the planet while you do it.
Not traveling at all is likely the most environmentally friendly choice, but if you’re like me, that doesn’t sound like a very fun choice if you do have the means to travel, even if it’s just a day trip or single overnight one town over. All of our decisions have trade offs though, and we do the best that we can within the parameters of the choices we’ve made. And I believe that travel and experiencing new places and new cultures is a great way to find empathy for both people and our natural world.
It’s simply harder to care about things you’ve only read in a book or seen on television, so travel is a way to more fully immerse ourselves in places that are very different from our own lives. It’s my hope that that travel makes us all more aware of how our actions impact the people and places all around us every day. And my hope is that travel makes us more willing to protect this one Earth we have, because it’s a seriously special place.
Convinced that it might be worth trying out Airbnb for the first time? Use this link for $40 off your first stay of $75 or more.
47 thoughts on “How To Travel More Sustainably With Airbnb”
I still haven’t tried an Airbnb but these are all good tips for when I finally do, thanks! I need to get better about using cloth bags in general. I keep finding myself at the store, at checkout, realizing that I once again forgot to bring any bags (cloth or the plethora of plastic ones stored at home) with me. It’s something I feel pretty bad about, so it’s on my list of things to get in the habit of doing.
Yeah, getting in the swing of always bringing cloth bags with me was a HARD habit to get used to for whatever reason. Another idea – I had one of those mini key chain bags as a backup until I finally got used to remembering the big cloth ones.
Ask one of us who has used AirBnb a lot before you book your first trip! My sister had a bad first experience because she didn’t check with me first. It’s my preferred way to travel, but there are some things that are good to know before booking your first place (but too long to put in a comment). I’m a single woman named Abigail too btw 😂.
That’s true – we’ve had great experiences but it does help to know what to pay attention to.
I use AirBnB almost exclusively now, especially for my climbing trips and outdoor activity-based trips. There’s nothing better than having a full kitchen available so you can eat cheaper and actually control what goes into your body. And they usually cost less per night than hotels anyway.
As for sustainability, I’ve found that the majority of AirBnb hosts lean far closer to it than away. I’ve actually never encountered a Keurig in an AirBnb, not even once. And if I did I wouldn’t use it! Also every single one I’ve been in had recycling.
You’ve never encountered a Keurig in an Airbnb?? I have to admit, this seems to have gotten way more common in the last year or so. Pretty unfortunate. And you’re right – by their nature they tend to be more environmentally friendly than hotels (daily cleaning service, etc)..
We’re about to take our first big trip with Baby AF and we’re totally going to steal some of these tips.
I was recently made aware of the fact that, since China won’t take our plastic for recycling any more, many US cities are simply burning plastic: quite possibly the stupidest solution possible.
Sorry, accidentally hit submit there… https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/feb/21/philadelphia-covanta-incinerator-recyclables-china-ban-imports.
But we’re trying to avoid plastic as much as we can now rather than assuming the plastic actually will be recycled.
I’d never thought about bringing our own press & cup but now that you mention it, it might just have to find a way into our bags. Great tip.
Wow…. that’s awful. But yeah – one more reason the goal is reduce first before worrying about recycling.
Wait – cities are burning plastic?? Gahhh. I had not read that.
Good tips, and while you briefly referenced mode of travel in the post, I’d mention again to use caution against carrying many additional items with the goal of sustainability if you’re flying. On anything but the shortest of flights, the fuel necessary to carry the weight is likely to significantly offset or completely outweigh any benefit. This is likely especially true when it comes to bringing back recycling or compost. Obviously this largely depends on the product, the length of the flight, and the efficiency of the aircraft being flown, but it should definitely be a consideration.
Thanks for the good read and consistently keeping sustainability issues in mind.
Yeah, we do MOST of our travel by car, so that definitely skewed some of this advice (or in the case of my Hawaii example, the drop off occurred with the rental car). Perhaps I’ll do a follow up that isn’t Airbnb centric, because there was more discussion I wanted to have that wasn’t so much related to where you stay on a trip but how you get there / what you do once you’re there.
i always thought keurig coffee was just awful. my brother in law got one when they came out like everything else. that was back when i still drank coffee. we bring those plastic stemless wine glasses when we travel. they’re almost impossible to break and allowed at the pools and beaches and parade routes. we’ve probably been to nola about 20 times together and have never rented a car. it drives me nuts when a house rental doesn’t have a little limited pantry with stuff like flour, sugar, some cooking oil, maybe ketchup and mustard. we bring all that crap with us to the mountain rental each year and all the leftovers come home in our classic 70’s cooler.
Yeah, Keurig coffee is horribly wasteful AND terrible. Like so many things, it’s amazing how many sub par “time savers” get to mainstream use.
Great tips! We have AirBNB rentals in Costa Rica, and we have a regular coffee maker, not a Keurig or other single-serve, but I have to say that I wonder about that b/c it seems that the higher-end places have the single-serve. I’m not a coffee guru but people who really care about coffee love the freshness of the single-serve, and you can stock up on different flavors more easily. So far, we haven’t switched b/c of the sustainability issue, but it’s something we’re keeping tabs on.
I feel like people who really care about coffee only choose Keurig as a last resort lol. If you’re wanting to cater to the coffee snob types, French press and/or pour over plus whole beans and a grinder win every time. Or just a regular perc coffee pot – can’t go wrong there.
YES!! Keurigs do NOT create fresher coffee. Unfortunately, they do seem popular among people who don’t care as much but drink coffee daily and make up a larger part of the population than us snobs!
I’ve been a pourover girl ever since my second barista gig, and I carry the same $5 plastic cone to every country in which I live or travel. I despise reusable filters, and I know plastic isn’t good, but with it and my unbleached filters, I sleep easily :).
I tend to bring ground coffee even though I grind it fresh at home, but a colleague here in China found a small grinder that works brilliantly. Probably not a burr blade, but portable and better than preground. I’m thinking about getting one to bring with me on my next round of trips (next year)!
My husband actually bought me a camping grinder for Christmas after he watched me try and buy good local coffee somewhere that only had whole beans. Haven’t tried it out yet but it was a pretty sweet gift 🙂
You two are #goals 😂🙌🏼
Great post, sustainability doesn’t end when we leave the house. Being mindful of our footprint is a 24/7 effort. I also like the recommendation of others to leave review feedback for the property hosts to do more sustainable things at their locations.
I feel like the review process is one of the most powerful things within the Airbnb / VRBO platforms. They can be positive if they were a great experience and still be helpful!
Great tips, Angela! I love french press coffee at home and I’ve never thought about bringing it on a trip with me. I loath keurig for the waste and expense.
A friend & I recently stayed at an Airbnb and used your link (thank you!) and we made a bunch a food ahead of time and brought it with us. I felt good about that in more ways then one.
Thanks again for using my link!And nice job on making ahead a bunch of food for your trip – saves money and the environment, two of my favorite things 🙂
This is interesting. We own a beach house and we keep the kitchen stocked with pyrex containers that can be filled with leftovers. But every year a bunch of our pyrex containers go missing. For the past two or three years over half of them disappear by the end of the season. Now I wonder if they are being taken home by our guests. I assumed they were being broken somehow, (guests are famous for destroying items and throwing them away without mentioning it to our rental agency), but now I’m not so sure. We buy those really sturdy glass containers with lids and they are quite pricey to replace each year. Maybe I should buy a bunch of cheap plastic ones to see if that cuts down on our overhead. I really like to provide these types of items to our guests but I certainly don’t intend for them to go home with them!
Perhaps a note about it? I’ve stayed places where they list the quantity and “do not take,” and that seems fair to me. I’d probably go the cheap alternative version in that case. I’d like to say it’s people not thinking and accidentally taking them home, but some of it might also be purposeful. And yeah, glass breaks too.
Our travel hack have to been the following:
1. Always find hotels with free complementary breakfast.
2. Choose an off peak season when traveling to theme parks to avoid long wait times.
3. Carry a rice cooker or instant pot to prepare meals at the hotel.
4. We also carry lots of snacks to avoid buying the same stuff in places we stay. We usually load them up and it helps make the trip more enjoyable when you don’t have to hunt for a place to snack.
I loved your ideas and I gather that traveling can be truly budget friendly and doesn’t have to cost a lot.
Yeah, oftentimes budget and sustainably minded travel have quite a bit of overlap 🙂 I’ve never considered bringing a crockpot but maybe I should.
Re: the complimentary breakfast, it is still a great idea to bring along your own reusable plates, mugs and utensils. The amount of single use plastics, paper cups and styrofoam I’ve seen at breakfast buffets is heartbreaking!
Very very good point!!
These are all great tips, Angela! I love staying in AirBnbs when we have to travel over Christmas because they just feel homier but also because they are so much more sustainable in general than staying in a hotel for a week. I’m hoping to stay in a bunch of AirBnbs when we go to Italy in the summer and in curious to see how the international ones stack up to the ones in use to at home.
Agreed – they are so much homier and more comfortable than hotels, especially if you’re staying for more than just a couple nights. Have fun in Italy!!
I haven’t tried an AirBnB yet but have done other vacation rental companies a few times and going that route instead of hotels provides a more comfortable feel because it’s like your at home while on vacation. And plus it’s more sustainable too because you tend eat-in more than go for take out. Whenever I stayed at a vacation rental, we went to the local grocery and produce stores for our meals, I think we only went out to eat once..I know it was way less than staying at a hotel.
Whenever I travel anywhere whether I stay at at hotel or vacation rental, I always look for public transit options in the area. Big cities like Chicago and NYC, I would rather take the subway than drive around. It cuts down on the smog by not using a car and cheaper as well.
Well if you ever decide to try out Airbnb, I know someone with a referral link for $40 off… 😉
I think the vacation rental vs hotel is even more important with young kids than traveling without. Bedrooms with doors that close, laundry, ability to let them run around before and during mealtimes 😂
Angela—I’m so happy you wrote about this! I too find it upsetting when there’s no way to compost or recycle things when we’re traveling. (I agree that it’s particularly challenging to be eco-responsible in Hawaii!)
My husband thinks I’m nuts for collecting stuff to bring home to deal with more sustainably! In Vancouver, we’re very accustomed to having facilities to compost and recycle just about everywhere. So it just comes naturally to me.
I think most people (like my husband) forget all their good habits from home when they’re on vacation. It’s important that we who care about sustainability talk about it and make it normal to consider the environment—even on vacation.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts—this conversation is needed!
My husband thinks I’m a bit nuts too, but he just shrugs and goes along with it at this point because he expects nothing less 😂
I like the suggestion to write more detailed references to appliances and other available kitchenware in Airbnb reviews for the next guests. It would also be worth subtly mentioning any green initiatives or recycling availability in there, to get more environmental conversation going in more places!
Definitely! That’s the great thing about platforms like Airbnb – it’s so much easier to share knowledge, both good and bad.
Doing laundry mid trip is so worth it,it totally keeps the amount you have to pack way down! I also love being able to get out and about via walking when visiting new places, especially cities since there’s usually a fair bit of things to do on foot. It’s so much better to view places with fresh air instead of from the window of a car!
And I especially love doing laundry on the last day of the trip, so it means you don’t get home with a mountain to do!
So many great tips in this post! Definitely something we will take into consideration once we have more liquid means to do some travelling. 🙂
I don’t know if you needed these tips though, I expect they’re second nature to you two at this point 😉
I devoured this post! As a host of two rustic eco-retreats (a converted school bus and a cob cottage) I’m constantly on the lookout for more tips and tricks to make our guests stays more sustainable and joyful.
The tip about using hand towels in place of paper towels gave me pause…if the towels get stained, I pull them from the rotation of guest towels and add them to our personal home stash. We provide paper towels (recycled content, of course) and let folks know they can go into the worm bin along with other compost. Paper towels make great bedding for worms. But, I could provide a fabric rag option. Those pictured that you use are super fancy…mine are all hand ripped old sheets and end-of-the-line towels. They’d be a nice addition to our eco-space rentals.
We get such joy and happiness from sharing our spaces, especially when we get feedback from folks who are not used to living with a smaller, greener footprint. Comments like “I was afraid of the composting pooper at first….but it was totally fine!” warm my heart.
So, thank you for your fab articles, and for inspiring me and so many others!
Thank you so much for this wonderful comment!! And I lucked out to have such a crafty friend who made them for me as a gift. You can also find the pretty ones premade either on Amazon or Etsy 🙂