Many of us are looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly, in our daily lives and habits. However, when we’re abroad, it can be difficult to maintain the same good practice. We may not know where the nearest recycling bins are (or if the country we’re in has a recycling system). We might not be able to identify which items can or can’t be recycled just by looking at the packaging. We may not be confident about our ability to refuse certain items – like plastic straws or disposable cups – in the local language. In this post, I would like to share some very practical tips that you can adopt immediately to begin travelling in a more eco-friendly way.
1) Fly less (or not at all)
As someone who enjoys flying (and loves the end result of being in a foreign country), this is a bitter pill to swallow. The bottom line is – flying is terrible for the environment. In terms of CO2 emissions, it’s the worst compared to buses, cars, trains and other modes of transport. However, it can be very difficult to resist the allure of air travel in terms of speed, comfort and convenience. Even more so here in Europe where we are spoilt by an array of low-cost airlines. Not only is it quicker to fly (rather than take the train or drive), it is often cheaper too. I live in Hamburg and wanted to visit Berlin a few months ago. Germany’s capital is only 288km away and there is a direct train that takes less than two hours. However, as I didn’t book months and months in advance, the price of a day return was between €140-300. An absolutely ridiculous price! I could do several return journeys to other European cities for the same amount. In the end, I took the coach for €25 (journey time 3hrs each way). However, with such expensive train prices, it’s not surprising that so many people opt for flying instead.
If you don’t want to stop flying altogether, I suggest exploring train and coach options for shorter distances, such as travelling within your own country, or to neighbouring countries. Remember to look for special ticket offers and book far in advance. When you fly, try to go directly from one place to another, instead of having stopovers. Another thing you can do is visit Terrapass, an American website which helps you calculate your carbon footprint. It takes a matter of seconds to input details about your journey (for example where you flew to and from) and you are given the total CO2 emission in lbs. You can also calculate the impact of car journeys and home energy use (heating and cooling).
For example, last month I flew from Hamburg airport to London Stansted. This return journey equates to 471lbs of CO2e. Terrapass suggests I donate $2.35 to charities supporting clean energy and environmental projects. You can pick the projects funded by your offset purchases. For more information, check out their FAQ page. If you’re in the UK, Climate Care offers the same service, supporting projects around the world and letting you pay in pounds.
2) Fly paper-free
Download your boarding passes onto your smart phones, instead of printing them. Scan copies of important documents into Google Drive, such as your health insurance or your passport. If you want a hard copy of these important papers, print them one time and keep them in good condition in a folder (rather than printing a new copy every time you travel).
3) Pack smart
Packing light is not only good for the environment, reducing fuel costs for planes, cars, buses and taxis which transport you and your case around, but you can also save money by not checking a full-sized suitcase. Win-win! Some eco-friendly essentials for your suitcase or backpack include reusable water bottles, canvas tote bags and your own toiletries. You could also bring reusable cutlery (either bamboo or metal), straws, coffee cups, food containers or produce bags (for fresh fruit and vegetables at markets).
Instead of buying miniature plastic bottles of shower gel and shampoo, buy small glass bottles (under 100ml) and pour in shower gel and shampoo from your regular-sized bottles. Or buy shampoo bars or conditioner bars from Lush , which last up to 80 hair washes and fit into a small, reusable tin. You may have dozens of creams, serums and sprays as part of your daily make-up routine, but try to streamline on holiday – for example just bringing one moisturizer for your face and body.
4) Do your research beforehand
When visiting a new destination, here are some questions you can google. Is the water drinkable? Does the city have a recycling system? Are there any local zero or low waste shops close to where I’m staying? If I have access to a kitchen, are there any bulk supermarkets I can visit?
5) Choose local accommodation
There is a lot of debate around the pros and cons of Airbnb and other apartment rental websites, but regardless of how you feel about these apartments, it is definitely true that you have a lot more control over your waste, recycling and energy consumption while staying there. You have the option to eat in, prepare food to take out and about with you, sort your own trash and use the recycling bins outside or near your apartment. Your towels and linen aren’t washed during your stay (although many properties have washing machines you can use if you need to). You can get €29 off your first stay with Airbnb by using this referral code
If you really want to stay in a hotel, put the “Do not disturb” sign on your door to save on laundry and cleaning energy costs. We don’t change our towels or bedding at home every night so it really isn’t necessary to receive this service when on holiday. You can quickly and easily wash thin tops and underwear in the bathroom sink, and leave them to air dry in the room (or on the balcony if you have one). Bring your own toiletries, instead of using the ones provided by the hotel (which are usually in plastic containers). Refuse freebies offered by the hotel, unless they are things you will definitely use. Avoid food waste – don’t go mad at the breakfast buffet just because it’s ‘free’. Look into eco hotels and resorts for a more environmentally-friendly option. Wherever you are staying, be mindful of your waste, air conditioning and heating. Try not to leave air con, lights or appliances on while you’re out.
6) Walk or cycle around the city
When you’re exploring a new city, the best way to discover its wonderful hidden gems is on foot. You can wander down side alleys and duck into doorways that you wouldn’t be able to reach by car, taxi or tour bus. If it isn’t possible to see everything on foot, rent a bicycle or take public transport to save money and get an insight into the daily lives of the city’s residents.
7) Eat locally
Buy fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds from markets and carry them around in food containers or produce bags. If you buy snacks on the go, either go for large bags that you can eat the following day (rather than single servings) and ask for your icecream in a cone rather than a plastic cup.
Support local restaurants, cafes and bars, rather than big international chains or hotel restaurants. I love doing this, as you can sample local specialties and taste ingredients you’ve never tried before. What’s more, the money you contribute to local restaurants goes back into the local economy, instead of the pockets of Mr Hilton, Mrs McDonalds and Mr Starbucks!
8) Show restraint with souvenirs
I used to have an unspoken rule to buy something – anything! – when I went on holiday. I loved having something tangible to help me remember my trip. Unsurprisingly, I bought a lot of rubbish, like plastic photo frames, key rings, tacky sunglasses and trinkets. As I’ve grown more conscious of my spending and environmental impact, I’ve become much more selective about my purchases. I occasionally buy jewellery, accessories, post cards or fridge magnets but only if I find something I really like. If something isn’t your style or within your budget, you don’t need to buy it just to have a keepsake. Especially if it’s a mass-produced, low quality souvenir that you can see on every market stall. Avoid large shopping streets and malls to resist temptation. If you want to bring something back for yourself or a loved one, support the local shopkeepers, artists and designers. Visit their shops and galleries to find something handmade and unique.
9) Refuse single-use items
Whether it is straws, paper napkins, plastic lids, plastic bags, disposable cutlery or random freebies given out on the street, learn to say “No thank you” in the local language. If you want to go one further, learning to say “No straw” or “No bag” would be a good idea. If the local language is really difficult, shaking your head and politely waving your hand can put across your message (unless you’re in Bulgaria, where a shaking head means ‘yes’!).
I hope these tips have given you some useful ideas about eco-friendly travel. At the end of the day, you can have a wonderful holiday whilst still being mindful about your environmental impact. You may be in a foreign country but it’s someone else’s home so treat it with respect. Don’t litter, don’t be wasteful and try to practise the same good habits you use when you’re at home.
If you have any more suggestions, please add them in the comments below!