Although we happily promote South America as your next travel destination, it’s vital to uphold sustainable practices during a trip. Deutsche Welle explains that travel and tourism account for about 8% of global carbon emissions, stemming from transportation, lodging, food and drink, shopping, and the construction of the necessary infrastructure. Slow and sustainable travel can be done on a budget, and are much-needed ways to combat these negative environmental impacts.

Slow travel prioritises staying in one place for a long time, nurturing a deeper connection with the location, people, and cultures. On the other hand, sustainable travel supports eco-friendly transport, lodging, dining, shopping, and tours. Here are some ways you can do both without spending much.

This post was written by Therese Janet Henry, a freelance writer whose articles usually cover sustainable trends and tips. She writes to bring awareness to the growing number of sustainable practices available – and in doing so, hopes to make this knowledge more accessible to a wider audience. A travel enthusiast herself, you’ll often find her writing her pieces on the road.

Research sustainable travel locations

Three women in traditional dress in Umasbamba, Peru
Photo: David Stanley, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Overtourism can crowd destinations, leading to more litter, waste, water consumption, and air pollution. The most popular sites are also famously heavy on the budget. Fortunately, there are off-the-beaten-path destinations that offer both more authentic and affordable experiences.

Wanderlust, which is digitally available on Scribd, is one publication that can lead you to these hidden gems. They give sustainable travel recommendations like visiting the Indigenous Quechua weavers of Umasbamba in Peru, where you can learn about how women entrepreneurs are contending with a changing world. You can also read about Bahía Bustamante in Argentina, an eco-village practising sustainable tourism and championing wildlife.

Because they’re not so well-known, locations like these help you reduce costs while supporting local cultures and environments.


Eat responsibly

Lunch box with a view at Aconcagua, Argentina
Healthy lunch in the mountains: Aconcagua Provincial Park base camp

One of the aspects of slow travel is staying in one place for a long time. To save money and reduce waste, you should eat responsibly throughout your visit. In our article ‘6 Tips for Cheap and Healthy Eating While Travelling’, we suggest cooking as much as possible.

This can help you reduce costs, avoid packaging waste, and support local vendors. Indeed, markets and streetside vendors offer fresh, local, and affordable ingredients. Slow travel allows you to buy from them regularly.

You should also bring your own containers and utensils when going on day trips. Whether you’re planning to buy from local kiosks or bring your food on a picnic, this practice is more sustainable as it reduces the need for single-use wrappers.


Consider your travel options

Ferry Puerto Natales Caleta Tortel
The ferry in Puerto Natales, Patagonia. Quite an experience!

The aviation industry emits around 2.4% of global carbon emissions. The BBC reports that emissions from planes rose by 32% between 2013 and 2018. And although fuel efficiency is improving by 1% each year, the number of flights increased by 6% annually before the Coronavirus outbreak.

More sustainable modes of transport reduce your carbon footprint and save you on plane ticket costs. A good rule of thumb for sustainable travel would be to choose the fuel-efficient option.

Take trains or ferries instead of short flights. Take a bus or other public transportation instead of private vehicles when you travel shorter distances. Even if your destination requires a vehicle, lower your costs and travel more sustainably by having more people in the car, or maybe consider hitchhiking.

Read more: Backpacking tips and destinations in South America


Find eco-friendly accommodation

Adobe eco house
Emilio hosted us in this adobe (mud + hay) house near Bariloche, Argentina.

Surfing on the green wave, lodgings that market themselves as ‘eco-friendly’ are often pricier than their counterparts. They will therefore not be the usual choice for budget travellers.

Yet some types of accommodation are affordable without weighing too much on the environment. Being hosted by locals is the sleeping equivalent to car-sharing. You can be sure you don’t stay in a place that’s been built exclusively for temporary guests. Consider even staying at a community and landing a hand, or doing some volunteer work in the countryside in exchange of accommodation.

Finally, camping remains one of the most sustainable options, as it doesn’t require the same infrastructure as hotels. Just make sure you buy outdoor gear that was sustainably produced and isn’t disposable.

Yet if you go for a more official eco-friendly accommodation, make sure you don’t get fooled. Unless the place has earned a green label (and lives up to expectations), you usually won’t know whether it’s truly sustainable until you’re inside. As such, it’s best to contact them directly and ask about their practices.

Slow and sustainable travel is a great way to ensure that your travels in South America remain meaningful and have the least impact possible on Mother Earth. By preparing well and looking into sustainable alternatives, you can reduce your environmental impact without breaking the bank.

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Who am I?

Anna and Anthony are long-time travellers, polyglots and all-kinds-of-art-lovers. They write about eco travels, nature hikes and cultural discoveries, mainly in South America, on the budget travel blog Green Mochila.

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