7 Guilt-Free Holiday Destinations That Are Environmentally Approved

Going waste-free — or, at the very least, making more of a conscious effort to be environmental — poses all sorts of questions when it comes to taking a vacation. These include:

  • How can I travel without any waste? — This is a question asked by plenty of short-term trip takers who usually live waste-free. Their concerns can range from where they can eat and what transport to take to which hotel is the most environmental in their chosen destination. This question is answered by travel blogger Lauren Singer. In short, Lauren advises making simple changes to your travel plans, like booking direct flights to reduce fuel emissions.
  • How can I remain zero waste while backpacking? — This is a concerning query that many passionate environmentalists face while pondering long-term bucket list trips. This worry is addressed by travel website Inspired by Maps. The blog draws from personal experiences and recommends different items that are likely to become essential on your trip, including a reusable water bottle that will prevent you from having to purchase any single-use water bottles while on the road.

And while these questions are all valid and on the forefront of people’s minds, in this blog, we’ll restrict our focus to one common query — where should I take my next vacation?

Which global destinations are environmentally approved, if any?

Travel can become a daunting subject when transitioning to waste-free living. Scaremongering articles that claim tourism is the root of all environmental evil can be enough to ward you off vacationing altogether.

But before you decide to give up your annual trip, we’d like to put forward a few suggestions of locations that we believe are almost guilt-free (minus the fuel it takes to get there). In total, we’ve handpicked seven holiday destinations that span three continents. This ensures that no matter where you are waste-free in the world, there is likely to be an environmentally approved place not too far away. After all, everybody deserves a break every now and then.

The Maldives, South Asia

It’s good enough for Kim Kardashian, and it’s good enough for waste-free advocates too.

When you arrive, you’ll be asked to pay a “green tax”, which equates to about six dollars per day. Much like when you might be asked to pay city tax in some countries around Europe, green tax is a mandatory charge for tourists. While city tax finances the maintenance of facilities and production of tourism, green tax has a different and more environmental purpose.

The Maldivian government is all too aware of climate change, as the nation’s islands are under threat. Rising sea levels threaten to submerge most of its islands by 2100. The payments made by tourists visiting the Maldives will, therefore, help to fight against climate change.

Although the official Green Tax Guide’s central focus is on providing a clear policy around who is eligible to pay green tax, rather than explaining its purpose, it’s thought that the cash will go towards financing the Maldivian government’s long-term plan to convert the islands solely to renewable energy.

In the same vein, many Maldivian resorts are also adopting green initiatives.

Image of the first Maldives resort to be powered entirely by renewable energy – sourced from Maldives Finest.

You might be quite surprised that a location like the Maldives has scored a place on our environmentally approved list. After all, this collection of islands has a high-class reputation. Staying in the Maldives isn’t akin to going “back to basics”.

The islands might be filled to the brim with luxury resorts, but given the uncertainty of the land they stand upon, these businesses are also turning their attention to environmentalism. As National Geographic reports, many resorts are choosing to recycle plastic on-site, install solar panels, and pair up with environmental charities to eliminate any guilt associated with the tourism that the beauty of the island’s resorts attract. It’s not that the Maldives is dissuading visitors from booking their next holiday here; it’s quite the opposite — resort owners are modifying their sites to become a haven of environmental awareness.

To sum it up, if you decide to book a waterfront condo on a Maldivian island, you don’t have to feel bad about it.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Somewhere slightly less exotic but just as interesting is the city of Ljubljana in Slovenia. This relatively tiny country is located slap bang in the center of Europe, nestled between Croatia and Italy. And though many people might get the place mixed up with Slovakia, the two couldn’t be more different.

Ljubljana — Slovenia’s capital city — has been named Europe’s Green Capital. As Robin McKelvie notes while remembering his frequent trips to the city, the title is well-deserved, citing Mayor Zoran Jankovic’s progression of “untangling traffic problems” to make the center of the city mostly pedestrian. In fact, the city has been car-free for over ten years, with strict rules around parking for city-center residents. These firm policies have had a real impact — traffic in the city has decreased by 12% since 2011.

Two tourists cruising down the river Ljubljanica on green transportation – sourced from Slovenia Info.

If city breaks aren’t your thing, think twice before dismissing Ljubljana as a serious contender, as there are plenty of other green things to do. These include exploring the Rogaška Slatina (a source of mineral water with the highest magnesium content in the world), taking a day trip to Lake Bled (a natural escape that can be reached in 40 minutes), and wandering around any three of its National parks (all marked by green labels on Slovenia’s official map).

Bristol, England

Ever fancied visiting the UK but just can’t justify the trip to polluted London? Just over 100 miles away lies the green city of Bristol — the perfect alternative for a waste-free advocate.

Bristol is a happy medium between a bustling city and an escape to the English countryside, and in 2015, Bristol also won the same award Ljubljana holds; the European Green Capital Award. Why did Bristol win? Well, this city boasted some impressive investment plans for both transport improvements and energy efficiency. The city had also focused on providing new jobs in its growing economy in low-carbon sectors. In other words, Bristol’s win wasn’t a fluke; this large and thriving city is consciously creating a difference. The EU even went as far as to say that the city represents a model for Europe.

A colorful view of the city by water – sourced from Visit Bristol.

If you’re the type that’s worried about the sustainable credentials of where you eat, shop, and drink, Zero Green has got you covered. For a sustainable self-catering holiday, Zero Green is Bristol’s first zero-waste shop and sells most of the essentials such as cereals and tea. If you don’t fancy doing the cooking while you’re away, UK packaging suppliers are also cutting down on wasteful plastic packaging across Britain’s takeaway sector.

Takeaway Packaging is a national environmental packaging provider that might just save you from doing the dishes. Who feels like doing chores while on vacation, anyway?

As an extra measure, Bristol has also formed a collection of businesses named the Green Capital Partnership. This is a network of over 850 organizations that have made sustainable pledges around their business operations.

It’s settled. If you want to visit the UK in sustainable style, forget London — visit Bristol instead.

Singapore, Southern Malaysia

Home to the world’s most impressive airport — complete with a 130-foot indoor waterfall — Singapore is both grand and green at the same time.

The same airport is also known for being green (or as green as airports go), with the Singaporean government undertaking ten energy efficiency projects in the last three years at the site.

It’s not just the airport that’s green either, as when you arrive in Singapore and check into a hotel, there are plenty of environmental options to choose from. These futuristic and undoubtedly future-focused hotels are listed by Green is the New Black, complete with high-resolution images of the city-state’s impressive glass towers.

One of Singapore’s many impressive yet environmental hotels, The Parkroyal on Pickering – sourced from Post Magazine.

If you thought environmentally approved destinations meant basic beach huts and accommodation that leaves a little more to be desired, you were wrong. As pictured above, Singapore’s Parkroyal on Pickering is anything but boring. What appears to be a mix of a New York skyscraper and an idyllic garden in the tropics, this hotel (like many others in Singapore) is focused on green initiatives. If you’re a waste-free advocate in Asia, your options might be slightly more limited, as the continent is the worst performing in terms of hotel environmentalism. According to expert sources, only 0.9% of hotels in Asia are certified by a third party as “green”.

It’s not hard to believe, then, that Singapore has been named the greenest city in Asia by the Green City Index. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this means Singapore is just the best of a bad bunch. Compared to other green locations on this list, Singapore does its fair share of environmental activities to ensure it earns its sustainable status.

The government in Singapore is known for enforcing strict rules on residents to keep the city in order. This approach isn’t only reserved for environmental purposes, as the city also has strict laws about chewing gum in order to keep the city clean and well-maintained. The ban has been in place since 1992 and extends to tourists, who are limited to how much chewing gum they can bring with them.

Environmental equivalents also exist in Singaporean legislation. This includes the restoration of green space. For example, developers who build a new development within the city are held responsible for the replacement of the demolished greenery elsewhere.

Unlike Bristol, Ljubljana, and the Maldives, environmentalism isn’t imposed on tourists, and as such, the core focus is on permanent residents in Singapore. This ensures that you can enjoy your vacation and relax in the knowledge that by contributing to the Singaporean economy, you’re supporting the production of a green city.

Copenhagen, Denmark

While both Bristol and Ljubljana have already featured on this list as some of the best places in Europe to visit for guilt-free holidays, it might be difficult to knock Copenhagen in Denmark off the top spot. Why? Unlike other countries, the entirety of Denmark is focused on being green.

Denmark names itself a “safe and balanced society” where all cities are bicycle-friendly and green. The Danish way of living is centered on moralistic values such as equal rights, equal opportunities, and individual freedom. Although Denmark is regarded highly in the media, Copenhagen specifically is shouted about as being a perfect example of a forward-thinking city. Visit Copenhagen reveals the city’s aim to become the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

Copenhagen is a city surrounded by clear water, dedicated to providing environmental activities for eco-tourists – sourced from Visit Copenhagen.

As well as making city infrastructure easy for bike riders, Copenhagen offers electric buses and cars to encourage residents and tourists to travel via sustainable transport. This is just one of the many green initiatives that Copenhagen champions. Other environmental endeavors include clean water, free city drinking water, and a focus on installing solar panels across the district.

Although you’ll be visiting as a tourist, it’s important to know how district residents will benefit from Copenhagen’s sustainable city solutions. You never know, the idea of a holiday in this Danish city might evolve into a plan to emigrate, as there are tons of benefits for those who live there. City residents will be part of an efficient district heating system that’s connected to 98% of households.

They will also benefit from a localized cooling system where water is taken from the city’s harbor. This method saves 70% of energy when compared to traditional air-conditioning. These facts and more information can be found on The State of Green’s page regarding Copenhagen’s CPH 2025 Climate Plan.

Take a trip to Copenhagen and discover how the other, “green”, half lives.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is renowned for being green — but not always in the environmental sense. Although this major city in The Netherlands is famed for its relaxed laws on drugs and prostitution, as well as it’s many cultural and historical highlights, Amsterdam is also an attractive prospect for environmentalists.

As if you didn’t already have enough options to choose from in Europe, we’re giving you yet another. Like the many green cities in Europe that we’ve featured so far, Amsterdam has an ambitious goal — to reduce CO2 by 40% in 2025 compared to 1990.

Just because a city makes a plan to become more environmental doesn’t automatically make the location a safe haven of sustainability. However, Amsterdam has already proven its status as an environmentally approved destination. Much like Denmark, Amsterdam focuses on bikes as a primary source of travel — 60% of residents now travel by bicycle daily. This means cyclists now largely outnumber cars.

Yellow Bike bicycles line the streets of Amsterdam for tourists and residents to rent – sourced from Huff Post.

In truth, Amsterdam is a European dark horse when it comes to being green. It keeps fairly quiet about its environmental efforts, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. The city is working on improving air quality, increasing its air power capacity, and making similar changes we’ve seen in Copenhagen for permanent residents. It might not always achieve its set goals on schedule, as Huff Post reminds us, but we can’t deny that the Netherlands is trying.

This is a city that is already frequently talked about in terms of travel. You can visit the world-famous Anne Frank house, wander around the artsy Jordaan neighborhood, or go beer tasting in a windmill. And, most importantly, you can do all of these things without any sense of guilt.

San Francisco, California

The final holiday destination on our list is the only location in the US — San Francisco, California.

If you were pushed to name a city in California that’s most known for environmentalism, you might think of free-spirited hippies in downtown Los Angeles. But as a location, Los Angeles is far too congested with traffic to ever make the cut. Instead, we turn our attention to San Francisco; a place with both the spirit and the practices to back it up.

Once again, we see the greenest cities thinking of their permanent residents first and foremost. The city is granting homeowners loans to assist them in getting solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, or low-flow toilets installed. This scheme is facilitated by GreenFinanceSF and is a bid to make sustainable living more affordable in the initial stages.

For the first time in this list, we can see environmentalism being injected into the city’s culture to encourage residents, tourists, and officials to discuss climate change. San Francisco has done this by hosting one of the leading Green Film Festivals, which exist to share environmental storylines. And this isn’t a family affair — the San Francisco Green Film Festival is global, featuring over 50 environmental films from over 100 filmmakers across the globe.

A guest room at the Intercontinental, San Francisco; one of the many green hotels in the city – sourced from Culture Trip.

If you fancy visiting the film festival for yourself, it’s easy to pick a suitable place for a good night’s sleep. Culture Trip has compiled a comprehensive list of green hotels in the area, paired with information on how each provider commits to environmental initiatives.

If you’re still not convinced by the City by the Bay, you should know that when compared to the 26 other major cities in North America, San Francisco came out on top with a green city ranking of 83.8 — not too shabby. The scoring was led by the Economist Intelligence Unit and commissioned by Siemens to determine North America’s greenest city based on eight factors — CO2, energy, land use, buildings, transport, water, waste, air and environmental governance.

Whichever environmental factor you personally find most important when scoring holiday destinations, San Francisco is a safe bet.