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 17 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.
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). 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!
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) Prepare an eco-friendly travel kit
From recyclable toothbrushes to shampoo bars, there are many swaps you can do to ensure your toiletries and other everyday essentials are more environmentally-friendly. Make sure your day bags include things like reusable water bottles, canvas tote bags, produce bags, reusable cups, straws and cutlery. Bring some reusable face wipes and cotton wool sticks in your toiletries bag.
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).
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. Not only is it a fantastic way to explore a new destination, it’s good exercise, saves money and reduces carbon emissions from taxis and Ubers you might have otherwise taken. Download offline versions of maps.me and Googlemaps to help you navigate the city. If it isn’t possible to see everything on foot, rent a bicycle or take public transport to cut costs and carbon emissions, and gain 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 economy, instead of the pockets of 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 and tacky sunglasses. 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. Pop into local charity shops to buy second-hand, pre-loved clothes and accessories.
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’!).
We can all make a difference – with every intentional purchase we make and every single-use, throwaway item we refuse. Did you know that the world generates more than 2 billion metric tonnes of waste per year, and 86% of this waste cannot be recycled!? The rest will be only a couple of times. Another staggering statistic is that plastic bottles represent 15 percent of marine waste. Let’s strive to keep our oceans full of fish and not plastic!
10) Choose your airline carefully
Research ‘green airlines’ which offset their omissions and/or compost their in-flight food and drink leftovers. For example, using one of the 30+ IATA (International Air Transport Association) member airlines who offer carbon offset programs and invest in carbon reduction projects.
11) Ask companies about their ethics and policies
In my experience, companies with genuine green policies are usually very open and transparent about it. Prior to booking, ask hotel & hostel staff if they use environmentally friendly energy sources, such as solar power, wind turbines and energy-efficient lighting. Ask how they dispose of their waste and if they have a recycling programme. If the latter is not in place, encourage them to start one.
Ask tour providers what measures they take to help and give back to the local community. Do they hire local guides? What role do they take in preserving the area’s natural resources?
12) Recycle tourist information
Give maps, brochures, and other tourist information back to your hostel & hotel reception staff once you’re finished with them. That way they can be reused by future guests. Similarly, return maps and other hand-outs to the front desk of art galleries and museums once you’re ready to leave.
13) Make yourself at home
In the sense that you should behave as you would in your own home! Many of us become a bit complacent when we’re staying in a hotel or an Airbnb apartment. We may not be paying the electricity bill… but we’ll all ultimately pay the price! Turn off the air-conditioning, lights, television and/or heating when you go out. Unplug your electronic devices once they are charged. If your accommodation has a dishwasher or washing machine, make sure it’s fully loaded before use. Hand dry clothes rather than using the tumble dryer, whenever possible. Have short showers to avoid wasting water.
14) Avoid animal exploitation
Don’t take any tour that promises hands-on encounters with wild animals, such as riding elephants. holding sea animals or posing next to lethargic, heavily-drugged tigers. Don’t give money to street performers who parade bears or monkeys with chains around their necks. If you do, you’re supporting an industry that illegally captures, transports, and abuses millions of animals each year. Read this harrowing report by National Geographic to understand the atrocities better.
15) Eat and drink in whenever possible
Instead of getting your coffee to go in a disposable cup, sit down and savour your drink in an actual cup. Rather than ordering a takeaway, eat in at the café or restaurant, or bring your own reusable container if you’d rather eat elsewhere.
16) Shop smart
If you are visiting a supermarket, shopping centre or street market, bring canvas tote bags and produce bags (for fruit and vegetables). Alternatively ensure your backpack or handbag has plenty of space for any new purchases. That way, you won’t need to ask for plastic bags.
17) Support local farmers and suppliers
By eating locally sourced food and drinking beverages that haven’t been imported, you can support the local economy and consume products which have a smaller CO2 footprint. Pay attention to the seasonality of your food and where it has been grown or produced.
I hope these tips have given you some useful ideas about sustainable, 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. Practise the same good habits you use when you’re at home.
This list is by no means exhaustive; we can all learn from each other, so please share any other suggestions in the comments section.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash