With the 48th Earth day approaching us on the 22nd April, I’ve been thinking more and more about how I can do my bit to be greener and kinder to the beautiful world we live in. I’m going to be honest with you, (and I want you to be honest with yourselves, too) I’m not doing as much as I should and could when it comes to being eco-friendly. Another water bottle here, another carrier bag there, everything feels unorganised and it’s just easier to grab another thing instead of thinking of a reusable alternative. But hey, these are all just excuses and poor ones at that. So I’ve put together some easy-to-action sustainable travel tips that you can start using even when you’re already travelling.
With just a little bit of organisation and forward thinking, it can ridiculously easy to quit with all the one-use plastic crap that floods society (and our beautiful beaches), reduce the toxic waste that comes as a result of fast fashion and help reduce our contribution to global warming. Travelling is a privilege that some of us have but with this comes a lack of routine space and usually a pretty strict budget. Fortunately, all these tips really don’t require much effort or cost. What they do require is a change of habit and a bit of commitment to help us all become more responsible travellers. We can do it, guys!
1. Don’t throw out old clothes – swap them!
I recently read a post by one of my favourite bloggers (Nicola at Polkadot Passport) about the impact the fashion industry has on the environment. Did you that the fashion industry is the second largest water pollutant, outdone only by the oil industry? And that 90% of clothes donated to charity are never sold and end up in landfill? It scared me, I’m not going to lie. And I bet nearly everyone reading this are guilty of contributing to ‘fast fashion’.
You can read Nicola’s post here about ethical clothing brands which are gorgeous, but to be fair, also pricey. For many of us, our budgets won’t stretch that far, but a great alternative is to hold a clothes swap. Whether you’re in a hostel moving on every few days or staying somewhere a bit more permanently, a clothes swap is so easy to organise, a way to get a wardrobe update and you’ll be greatly reducing the textile waste being dumped into the environment.
2. Buy refillable or big bottles of toiletries and share it out
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with those travel sized bottles you can buy and fill up for yourselves. They’re great when it comes to saving weight and space in your backpack, but what happens when they run out? How are you meant to refill them when the only things you can buy in shops are full-size bottles or those pre-filled miniatures? Both of these options involve using more plastic which is not environmentally friendly.
My solution? Try and find somewhere that will refill them for you. Lush has amazing products that are handmade, fair trade and not tested on animals. Many of their products such as shampoo and conditioner come in solid forms and you can just buy another lump to put in one of their reusable metal tins. However, if you’re not near somewhere like this, DO buy a full-size bottle but then share it out with those who also need their bottles refilled. One bottle will fill up loads of little ones and stop more big ones being bought.
3. Carry your own reusable cutlery
For me, one of the best things about travelling is all the food and in particular, street food and markets. But with these kinds of meals also comes those big tubs full of plastic cutlery. Before you realise what you’ve done, your hand is in that tub, your digging into your delicious tucker, and then it all ends up in the bin. Then in landfill where it sit or worse places such as our beaches. To stop this from happening, why not put together a little reusable cutlery kit to go in your day bag? You can buy some great sets made from either metal or wood that come with a case, or if you can’t find these, try and keep hold of some sturdy cutlery pieces from eateries you visit that can be washed and reused. Having your own cutlery is perfect for impromptu picnics too!
4. Get a reusable shopping bag
I LOVE that so many places in the UK are now charging for plastic shopping bags and reports state that this has reduced their usage by up to 80%! That’s an insane reduction! But there’s always more we can do. Get your hands on a foldable shopping bag and make sure you use it! They fold up super small and weigh virtually nothing so there’s really no excuse. Get into the habit of taking it everywhere with you, just as you would your keys and wallet.
5. Walk when you can
It’s common knowledge that walking is the most environmentally friendly way to travel, and although we obviously can’t do that for everywhere, walking when possible certainly helps. It’s also a great way to explore a new place and meet local people.
6. If you can’t walk, use public transport
Even if the public transport, such as buses, are not the cleanest vehicles on the road, it is a far more eco-friendly way to travel than if everyone on there was to use their own car or taxi. Reducing the number of individual vehicles reduces pollution in terms of fuel emissions and noise, as well as reducing the traffic.
7. Stay in eco-friendly accommodation
Eco-friendly accommodation are places that have made significant changes in order to minimise the impact they have on the environment. This can be done through so many ways such as using toxic free laundry detergent, becoming more self-sufficient through growing food for its restaurant and acting in ways to conserve the environment it’s in. It might sound like this type of accommodation would come with a hefty price tag but nowadays many hostels and budget-friendly hotels are putting emphasis on reducing their environmental impact too. As well as using your usual booking websites, just do a quick google search for eco-friendly accommodation in that area and see what you find.
8. Encourage accommodation to become more eco-friendly
Just because you might not be staying in a place that’s classed as eco-friendly, it doesn’t mean you can’t do your part. Why not speak to the hotel manager about ways it can be more eco-friendly? Suggest things such as adding recycling bins or cutting out the miniature toiletries in plastic bottles. And while I’m here, hang your towels up in the bathroom! It’s a universal indicator that you don’t need your towels washed, which therefore reduces the amount of water and detergent used for laundry.
9. Buy a flask and reusable coffee cups
In places where you can drink the tap water, it’s time to just stop buying water from the supermarket altogether. Get a flask and fill it up before you go out. So many places also have water fountains in public areas where you can refill them too. My sister bought me a collapsible flask (here) for Christmas and it is the perfect thing for a day bag. Once it’s empty it takes up virtually no space and is super light. Similarly, if your a bit of a caffeine head, get a reusable coffee cup and get that filled up at your favourite cafe instead of using a cardboard cup. Lots of places have also started offering discounts to use a refillable cup, too.
10. See if there are recycling places nearby
This could be a bit tricky sometimes as not all countries have as many recycling facilities as others, but it’s a great idea to take note of a place if you do see recycling facilities. Save up your recyclable rubbish and take a trip there instead of just chucking everything in the main bin. This one does take a bit more effort, but it’s worth it!
11. Put. Down. The brochures
Be honest with yourself here, do you really need all those maps? And are you really going to read all the leaflets and brochures about every single museum in every place you visit? My money’s on that you won’t. I have no idea how much paper and ink is used throughout the world to create these but it’s incredibly wasteful, and by picking them up, we’re encouraging the production. If you really do want them then return them or pass them on to someone else afterwards. Even better, why not ask for information centres to send you information via email instead?
12. Always take your rubbish with you
This one shouldn’t take any explaining, but still, I see people leaving their rubbish all over the place nearly everywhere I go and it actually pains me! Leaving it lying around increases the chances of animals eating it or getting tangled and the wind blowing it into waterways where it washes up on the shore. No one wants to be sitting on a beautiful beach next to a dirty nappy and carrier bag so don’t EVER leave your rubbish behind thinking someone else will deal with it for you.
13. Buy local produce and products
I love doing my part to support local businesses anywhere I go. Hunting out some cute hidden shop, cafe or market is one of the best things about being in a new place. But by shopping local, not only will you be supporting a small business but you’re also being more environmentally friendly. Imported goods involve the use of planes or boats for transportation, loads more packaging to protect it (usually made from plastic) and also lorries or trains to get the product to its final destination. Fossil fuels and plastic = not good guys!
14. Volunteer for eco-friendly projects
While you’re travelling, why not take a bit of your time to help out with a local project? This could be anything such as litter picking at beaches and parks, helping to plant trees or educating others about how they can be more green. There are so many things out there that you can join, or if not, why not get some friends together and go and do it for yourself?
15. Save electricity and water
Turning lights off when you’re not in the room is something that my parents have drummed into before I was even tall enough to reach the switch. But honestly, it’s such a waste to leave it on and it’s down to pure laziness if you do. But as well as this, be sure to turn off anything electrical when not in use such as the air conditioning, heating and don’t leave things on standby.
Similarly, trillions of gallons of water each year is wasted, yet there are still so many countries in the world who don’t have enough of it. Simple things like showering rather than taking a bath, filling the sink with water for washing up and turning the tap off whilst brushing your teeth will all help to reduce this wastage.