Responsible travel is changing, as these sustainable beach tips will show. Have an even better trip this year by going beyond the standard eco-friendly advice. But not, perhaps, in the way you imagine... Here's how to make your trip more eco friendly...
How to plan a sustainable Beach Trip
If you're here, reading an article on sustainable beach tips, then half the battle is done: your heart is already in the right place.
One of the first difficulties in the fight for sustainable travel is to get people to care in the first place. One of the second is working out what we should do with our noble intentions!
Our planet is amazing and so much green advice focuses on using less, travelling less and doing less. But I truly believe that the benefits of sustainable travel exceed the downsides. That travel can be a force for good.
So, let's get one thing out of the way. These sustainable beach tips do not begin and end with you sitting in your back garden or local park, with a scenic screensaver on the laptop and a home-made pina colada on the side, pretending that this is just as good as the real thing.
No, we can be more strategic and more effective than that.
As Robert Stoney, Director of Sustainability and Environmental Development at Gulf State Park, pointed out on the white sands of Alabama: "Sustainable travel is good. It's also good for business."
So read on for these sustainable beach travel tips. You may be surprised at what's changed...
Tips for a Sustainable Beach Trip
Disclosure: If you book or buy through any of the affiliate links on this page, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Also, I travelled to Alabama as a guest of the Alabama tourist board. However, as ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, what is the point?!
Sustainable Beach Travel tips at a glance
- Use eco friendly sunscreen
- Choose plastic-free snacks
- Take an eco beach tour
- Spread out
- Spread the word!
- Buy & support local
- Support eco friendly organisations
- Choose sustainable clothing
How to make your trip more eco-friendly
Right, let's get down to business with these eco beach travel tips.
Choose an eco friendly beach to begin with
Of all the sustainable travel tips in this article, this one probably has the most impact.
Now, we could be pedantic and state the obvious: that all beaches are wonders of nature and that therefore there is no such thing as an eco friendly beach.
However, in this case, I'm talking about the facilities and culture that have built up around a beach.
In some cases, there's nothing at all. These beaches are pristine with not even a restroom or dustbin to their name. Then, there's the opposite. Beaches so built upon that it's easy to forget that nature lives underneath.
How to find an eco friendly beach.
- Check out places with a commitment to sustainability, like Gulf State Park in Alabama. This extraordinary place is a world leader in eco tech development and you can read more about that right here.
- Look out for Blue Flag Beaches, which have been awarded their Blue status by the Foundation for Environmental Education. This global not-for-profit organisation has members in over 60 countries and reviews the awards on an annual basis. At present, you can find over 4000 Blue Flag beaches across the world, with Spain having the highest concentration.
- Another approach is to check out the ethical travel destination lists for more far flung destinations.
- And, of course, don't overlook any beautiful beaches you do have near home. Cut out the flights and reduce your carbon footprint and it's automatically a more sustainable beach trip.
Choose Sustainably minded accommodation
Right next after finding and visiting an eco-friendly beach, the next biggest impact you can have involves where you sleep.
It doesn't hurt that many sustainably minded places or eco-retreats are beautiful. Take, for example, the calming Eagle Cottages in Alabama. Overlooking Lake Shelby and set in the heart of the Gulf State Park, the interiors are bright white and beautiful. The exterior has cycling paths and hiking paths, naturalists and bald eagles. And it's only the shortest of journeys to the fabulous white sand beaches of the Gulf Coast.
They're eco. They're beautiful. But here came my big surprise.
On the sustainability tour organised by Eagle Cottages, we stopped off at the beachside Lodge Hotel. With a high rise structure from the playbook of mass tourism, it was revelation to learn that this place was the most eco of all.
Alabama is leading the world when it comes to sustainable beach travel
The Lodge conforms to both LEED® Gold and SITES Platinum certification, the only hotel in the world to do both. The glass has etchings to prevent bird strikes. The outdoor areas use special lights to protect turtle nesting at night. The resort filters its own water and creates so much energy from solar power that it not only powers itself but also manages to sell power back to the grid.
I was amazed.
This turned all my ideas of what sustainable travel looks like upside down. It reminded me that, of course, sustainable travel is not an instagram look or a puritanical urge to live with less. But a measurable difference for the planet and for people.
And, as Sustainability Director Robert Stoney says, "sustainability is good for business."
And what was even more striking? That this all came about as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The biggest marine oil spill in history was, without doubt, a major catastrophe. But, in one of those strange quirks of fate, it led to a 20 billion compensation package from BP for the residents of the Gulf Coast.
And they asked a question. Build back the same? Or build back better?
They chose to build back better and now Alabama's beaches are leading the way.
And if they can do it, maybe everyone can. Here's hoping...
More about The Eco Project in Gulf Shores, Alabama
Sustainable travel is a complex subject and Gulf State Park is approaching the topic in several different ways:
- The Interpretetive Center in Gulf Shores' Gulf State Park aims to create buildings that give more than they take. The Living Building Challenge sets ambitious goals to make people healthier and happier through architecture. In practice, you'll find information boards that explain and document how the water and solar energy practices work right there on the beach.
- The Learning Campus - offers an environmentally friendly place for lectures, summer camps and other educational activities. Just outside is a vegetable garden for locally grown food and composting.
- The Nature Center - is a living museum of plants and animals from around the Gulf Coast. They organise free beach walks and pier walks and have a range of owls, snakes and turtles for visitors to see.
- The Lodge - the beachfront Hilton property with award-winning world class eco credentials.
- Eagle Cottages - one of only 55 properties in the world to make it onto National Geographic's Unique Lodges of the World program. This initiative set some rigorous requirements in terms of protecting natural and cultural heritage. While the program has sadly now been discontinued, the achievement remains the same and the inclusion is a real sign that accommodation is taking sustainable tourism seriously.
Leave no trace: Zero waste
You'd think we'd all know this one by now but by the state of any beach or park after an event, it would seem not.
It's pretty simply. Take all your rubbish home with you or put it in a bin at the place. Bins overflowing? Bring your own bin liner with you. In fact, you can go one step further an actively remove any rubbish or trash you find.
We started this as a way to stay sane when going for walks with our toddler. For those not in the know, toddlers move slowly and become fascinated in every tiny wonder of the world. This can drive adults round the bend unless they occupy themselves with something else. Litter picking was that thing for us. It's made bearable with long handled litter pickers like these and a hoop to make collecting rubbish easier. It's surprisingly meditative once you get going and a great conversation starter and ice breaker. Passers by almost always come up to say hello and thank you.
Use Eco-friendly sunscreen
The former doctor within me will always encourage you to avoid sunburn and sun damage. The best way to do this is through hats, protective beach clothing and avoiding the sun at its fiercest. But, you know, where's the fun in hiding away? Isn't the point of heading to the beach to enjoy your time outdoors?
Sadly, chemicals in many popular sunscreens can damage marine life on and around coral reefs.
Avoid plastic with these sustainable beach tips
- Carry a reusable water bottle like this or get a Big Berkey water filter like this one.
- Either give up straws altogether or buy a reusable straw like this.
- Avoid food plastic by buying or bringing snacks like fruit or sandwiches in reusable boxes.
- Don't smoke. As if there weren't enough other good reasons to quit, the cigarette butts have plastic in them which won't break down.
- Swap beach toys where possible, like the project above at Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Take an eco beach tour wherever possible
Nothing beats education when it comes to sustainable travel and, if you ask me, enjoying life and finding it more meaningful!
But education doesn't have to involve dull and dry lectures stuffed away in a classroom.
Some of the most interesting ways I've learned about the benefits of sustainable travel have taken place on the ocean or walking barefoot on white sand.
Seek out eco tours and environmental programmes wherever you can and you'll be amazed at the wildlife you can find on just about any beach trip.
For example, we've taken eco tours:
- In Gulf Shores in Alabama - the Amazon of the USA, Alabama's biodiversity is second to none.
- Skomer Island - the nesting place for puffins and manx shearwater in Wales.
- The Seychelles - where I learned about the importance of keeping vegetation on sandy beaches.
- In Sarasota, Florida - where the world leading MOTE Aquarium runs educational tours across Sarasota Bay.
- And more!
Flatten out those sandcastles
OK, after years and years of trying to follow a sustainable travel ethos, there's still so much to learn. You know those innocent childlike wonders of sandcastles?
Turns out that baby turtles can get stuck in the moats or struggle to clamber over the peaks.
So, if in doubt, flatten them out at the end of the day when it's time to head home.
Follow the rules
I'm firmly of the belief that we don't have to stop travel in order to make the world sustainable. Travel is good for us after all!
But plenty of rules exist for a reason. In Florida, speed limits for motor boats have brought the population of manatees back from the brink. Numbers climbed from 400 to over 7000.
On Skomer Island in Wales, the population of Manx shearwater has strengthened since visitors were advised to keep on the path (it's easy to accidentally walk on a nest and crush the eggs otherwise.)
So, whether it's a speed limit, a request to stay on the beaten path or off the sand dunes, one of the best sustainable beach tips is to follow the rules.
Leave the resort & meet people
Sustainable travel is about more than just the environment. If you're staying in a beach resort, take a moment to think about the wider community. Would it be a good idea to leave the resort and try out some locally run eateries, tours and shops? How about taking a local cooking class? If the answer is yes, do it!
Some of the main problems that result from overtourism happen simply because everyone crams into the same place. Follow these tips on how to get off the beaten path and find a quieter beach to enjoy.
For example, Brits, you don't only have to visit Florida for some sand and sunshine in the States. Look at these gorgeous photographs we took from the white sand beaches of Alabama. Find out more interesting facts about Alabama here and read our in-depth guide on how to plan a road trip through Alabama here.
Use your voice. Yes yours!
You don't need to hijack a whaling ship or tie yourself to a tree to make an impact. Just the little every day questions can make a difference when you travel. If you ask for a non-plastic alternative, the mere act of asking the question starts to change the way that things are done.
So, use your voice.
Support beach-friendly organisations
Actively seek out organisations that promote, encourage and support sustainable beach development. Organisations like:
- The FEE and its Blue Flag Awards
- The National Trust in the UK
Simply watch the wildlife
Don't shout at, touch, feed, poke or otherwise annoy any creatures on the beach. Goes without saying, right? But just make sure that dogs and young children are supervised enough so that they don't do it either.
Wear sustainably made clothing
Remember: the most sustainably made swimwear is the swimwear you already have. No need to rush out and buy something new. Just when your current swimwear wears out, look for a sustainable fashion brand where possible.
Here are some recommended sustainable fashion brands.
Develop eco-friendly hotel room habits
- Turn off the lights every time you leave
- Separate rubbish into recyclables and food compost (those options aren't there? Ask for them to be.)
- Keep doors and windows closed when you have the air conditioning on
- Opt not to have your towels and bed linen washed every day
Bring eco friendly beach toys
Beach toys typically involve a whole load of plastic. And if you already have them or can buy them pre-loved or second hand then all well and good. But if you're looking at buying brand new toys, then consider these eco-friendly alternatives instead.
Eco Friendly Beach toys
Sustainable beach towels
Gah, plastic gets everywhere, doesn't it? It's even part of microfibre towels. You can get around this with these beautiful sustainable beach towels from InventSports. But again, it's generally better to use what you already have rather than to buy something new if you don't need it.
Eagle Cottages at Gulf State Park in Review
Let me spend a little while telling you about Eagle Cottages at Gulf State Park. Because not only are they just so beautiful but what they stand for is beautiful as well.
First, a quick word about the name. Yes, we did see eagles on a short walking tour from our cottage.
Second, what is it actually like to stay in Eagle Cottages?
Is eco-gorgeous a term? It should be. Think bright light, great views of nature, white paint and earthy tones, along with interior decor to help you learn more about the local area, flora and fauna.
Plus, whoever looks after these properties clearly cares. The details are immaculate, the quality pristine.
Spacious three bedrooms, which interconnect, along with a gorgeous open plan lounge, dining room and kitchen. This is a kitchen you could cook in, with plenty of space and tools for the job.
- Fire pit. Perfect for smores in good weather.
- Bicycles. Great for exploring the surrounding park.
- Walkway over the lake. Simply beautiful.
Although you do have full self-catering facilities within the cottages, an overnight stay at Eagle Cottages also comes with a complimentary cooked breakfast at the nearby restaurant Woodside. They also gifted us a sweet, personalised Christmas stocking with our family name on when we visited in December. Also, keep an eye out for the gift shop there, full of gorgeous Gulf State Park gifts and memorabilia.
Within Gulf State Park itself and just a short drive or medium cycle ride to the beach. The cottages overlook Lake Shelby and are connected to hiking paths within the park.
On Your Own
- Guided Nature Heritage Tour
- Guided Sustainability Tour
- Guided Bicycle Tour
- Kayak Tour
- Guided Birdwatching
- Glass blowing
- Pottery class
A note about the weather!
Note - we had an unlucky spell of weather when we visited in December, with mist, rain and fog for much of the time we were actually in the cottages. Hence, the lack of views and raindrops in the photos! But, most of this blew off by lunchtime but by then, we were off tracking down Bald eagles and then sitting in a clinic to get covid results for our flight home - a practice that, thankfully, isn't needed any more.
So, even if you do experience an unlucky spell of weather in winter here, you'll still likely have more beautiful views than we did. Just wanted to say!
Plan your own trip to Alabama
More on Sustainable Travel
Read more sustainable travel tips and articles below:
- Start here: how to be a responsible tourist
- Is dark tourism ethical? What you need to know.
- Get inspired by this collection of the best sustainable travel blogs.
- 9 powerful benefits of sustainable tourism (and why you should care)
- The unmistakable emotional meaning of home
- Why we need to talk about the kindness of strangers
- Why you need to know about the cork trees in Portugal
- The importance of doing nothing
- How to get off the beaten track: three techniques you haven't thought of
- Surprising ways to help protect endangered animals
- How to find the most ethical travel destinations
- 7 Fun and tasty examples of great food tourism