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Long-term sustainable travel: 5 spots for Americans to take it slow

Long-term sustainable travel is a great way to reduce your environmental impact and live like a local. Here are five countries where U.S. travelers can easily stay for six months or longer.

The pandemic has changed a lot of things about travel. One of those things is a renewed focus on long-term sustainable travel. Many of us are looking to leave a smaller footprint and make greener choices when we travel. One way to do that is to take fewer vacations for longer periods of time. But it can be tricky to find the right destinations. We offer some destinations that are ideal for U.S. travelers, as well as all the details you need to start planning your stay.

What is long-term sustainable travel?

On its surface, long-term sustainable travel is an environmentally conscious way to reduce your carbon footprint. You take fewer flights and visit fewer destinations and therefore use fewer resources. 

But there is also a cultural side to it. Long-term sustainable travel allows you to live more like a local. Your everyday expenses will go to the local community, and you will gain a deeper appreciation for the people and culture.

Sustainable travel minimizes the environmental and social impacts of tourism, benefiting — more than harming — the places we visit.

Why does long-term sustainable travel matter?

The pandemic has only made long-term sustainable travel more top of mind for travelers and the tourism industry. A recent industry report found that 72% of travel professionals “expected their customers to be more concerned with sustainability after COVID-19.” That’s up from 68% in 2020. 

We’re all becoming more conscious of our total impact on the planet and on each other. The pandemic has only made that more important.

Where can I go for long-term sustainable travel from the U.S.?

With today’s rapidly changing environment, how do you know where to go for a long-term sustainable holiday? 

The standard tourist visa usually gives Americans three months (90 days) to tour a country. To really dig in and experience the local culture, you’ll likely want to stay longer than that.

Here are five destinations that offer travelers from the U.S. the opportunity to stay a minimum of six months. Remember that things can change quickly and countries can shut down at a moment’s notice. Be sure to check each country’s visa regulations and COVID-19 requirements before booking a flight.

Barbados

Barbados is the perfect long-term sustainable travel destination for an island escape.
Barbados has more than enough white sand beaches to enjoy during a long-term stay.

This most easterly island in the Caribbean chain features sparkling white sand beaches, colorful coral reefs and world-class surfing waves that offer plenty of options for long-term sustainable travel.

The mild tropical climate is perfect year-round and boasts more than 3,000 hours of sunshine throughout each year. The best time to visit is the dry season from January to June.

How long can I stay and what visas do I need?

Americans with a valid passport and return ticket may stay for up to six months without obtaining a special visa. Stays longer than six months, or for work purposes, require a visa.

What are the current COVID restrictions and quarantine requirements in Barbados?

Fully vaccinated travelers must provide a vaccination certificate and proof of a negative PCR test within three days before travel. You’ll still have to take a second PCR test upon arrival and quarantine for one or two days at an approved accommodation.

Panama

Staying long term allows you to enjoy more of the big-city nightlife and culture of Panama City.
Panama City is the most modern city in Central America and a perfect place to settle into Panamanian culture.

This small isthmus nation is a great alternative to its more popular and crowded neighbor to the north, Costa Rica. The coffee highlands have recently drawn American and Canadian retirees with a temperate climate and low cost of living.

The Pearl Islands off the Pacific coast and chill Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side are just two of many laid-back seaside options throughout Panama. For those who want more urban adventures, Panama City is the most modern city in Central America. 

How long can I stay and what visas do I need?

There is no visa required for travelers from the U.S. Your stay is initially capped at six months, but you can apply for a visa extension to stay longer.

What are the current COVID restrictions and quarantine requirements in Panama?

All travelers must show a negative COVID-19 or antigen test taken not more than 72 hours before arrival. Rapid tests are available upon arrival for a fee. If the results are positive, you’ll be placed under mandatory 14-day quarantine in a Hotel Hospital. You also must register and fill out a Health Affidavit before boarding your flight to Panama.

Dominica

Dominica's Trafalgar Falls is one of the many reasons to consider a long-term trip to the island.
Trafalgar Falls is one of the many highlights of Dominica’s natural beauty.

Not many travelers make it to this small volcanic island oasis. That’s one of the many reasons to plan a longer stay. Its off-the-beaten-track vibe makes Dominica a great destination for long-term sustainable travel. Nature lovers will have plenty of time to find each of the 365 rivers that are claimed to be on the island.

The world’s second-largest boiling lake is the reward for a grueling hike in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. That’s also where you can find Trafalgar Falls. It’s a twin waterfall that drops into hot sulfur springs and a natural swimming hole.

How long can I stay and what visas do I need?

Visitors from the U.S. can stay for six months with just a valid passport and a return ticket. That can be extended for up to three months at a time with some legwork and a $100 fee.

What are the current COVID restrictions and quarantine requirements in Dominica?

Travelers from the U.S. must submit a health questionnaire online at least 24 hours before arrival. You’ll also need to upload a negative PCR test 24-72 hours prior to arrival and take a rapid test when you arrive. All travelers must quarantine at a government facility or certified private property for five days.

Mexico

Join other expats who have made San Miguel de Allende their second home in Mexico.
San Miguel de Allende is a popular place for ex-pats from all over the world to settle into a long-term trip to Mexico.

A long-term sustainable trip to Mexico will change your view of our neighbor to the south. More than just a cheap weekend resort destination, Mexico features a variety of sights and cultures in its interior.

Check out the Maya ruins in Chiapas and the Yucatan Peninsula. Walk the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende. Taste the regional culinary delights of Oaxaca and the Baja California Peninsula. You’ll still have time to explore the beaches of the Riviera Maya and snorkel with whale sharks off of Isla Mujeres.

How long can I stay and what visas do I need?

Most of us are used to just showing our passports and filling out an immigration form (i.e. no tourist visa required). That will get you a 6-month stay and it can’t be renewed or extended. If you want to remain longer, you’ll need to leave the country and re-enter or apply for a temporary resident visa.

What are the current COVID restrictions and quarantine requirements in Mexico?

All travelers to Mexico have to complete a mobile health questionnaire prior to departure. That will give you a QR code to be scanned by officials at the airport. There also might be temperature checks and other health measures at your destination airport upon landing.

Canada

Canada has plenty of outdoor and city adventures to fill six months of long-term travel.
Even in Toronto, you’re never far from nature and outdoor activities in Canada.

Many Americans are familiar with Canada through border attractions like Niagara Falls. But there is a lot of variety to enjoy across the vast expanse of its 10 provinces and three territories.

Dive into the culture of Montreal. Wander the streets of Toronto. Explore the spectacular nature of the Canadian Rockies. There’s more than enough to fill six months of travel.

How long can I stay and what visas do I need?

U.S. citizens with valid government-issued IDs can stay in Canada for a maximum of six months. You’ll need a passport to re-enter the U.S., so it’s best to have that with you. To stay longer, apply for an extension at least 30 days before the end of your stay.

What are the current COVID restrictions and quarantine requirements in Canada?

Starting August 9, 2021, U.S. travelers who can prove they’re fully vaccinated are allowed to visit Canada for discretionary travel. You have to prove you’ve had a vaccine and that your last dose was at least 14 days prior to entry. You still need a pre-entry COVID-19 test and an entry test, which can be scheduled ahead of arrival.

Long-term sustainable travel keeps you in the present

Wherever you choose to go, the most rewarding part of taking a long-term trip is the opportunity it allows you to be present in the moment. Travel just feels more rewarding when you’re not packing and repacking your bags and hopping on a bus, train or plane every three days.

Not only do you use fewer resources — and give more back to the local people and businesses — but you give something deeper to yourself. Deeper experiences, connections and memories that will last much longer.

What are you waiting for? Start planning your long-term adventure now!

Frequently asked questions

What are some simple ways to practice sustainable tourism?

There are many things you can do to travel sustainably and leave a smaller footprint. Consider traveling with your own reusable bag, mug or water bottle to reduce the amount of plastic you use. Search for eco-friendly accommodations, tour companies and souvenir shops. Eat and shop locally. Hang up your towels and put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door to reduce unnecessary washing of linens when you’re staying in a hotel. Take the bus or train locally. Choose greener options when flying if you can. These are just some of the small things that can add up quickly.

How much money do I need for 6 months of travel?

It depends a lot on where you go, the type of accommodation you stay in and how often you move from one place to another. Estimates range from less than $1,000 to $2,000+ per month for long-term travel. The bigger point is that you don’t have to be rich to do it. You just need to do your research, plan ahead and save up. It’s also a good idea to check visa requirements for your destination. Some countries want to see that you have enough funds to support yourself if you’re going to stay for a long period of time.

Is ecotourism considered sustainable travel?

When done right, ecotourism can contribute to the preservation, conservation and stewardship of precious natural resources and endangered environments. It can also provide benefits to the local economy and social structure. However, it’s worth doing your homework to make sure what’s being advertised as ecotourism actually is. Ask yourself: Is this truly locally owned? Where does my money really go? Am I participating in an activity that helps the area I’m visiting and minimizes any impacts? Asking these questions will go a long way to making sure you’re actually participating in sustainable travel activities.

Discover where you can go now

Making plans to get back out there? Find out whose borders are open with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.”

A white and orange map for international COVID-19 restrictions

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