This isn’t a research-filled, eco-centric post that is asking you to change everything about the way you travel. It’s not fair to demand that kind of switch overnight. It’d cost too much, be a huge upheaval and possibly do more damage to the world. (Throwing away all your plastic items? Please don’t!)
This post is because I’ve been trying to be more environmentally aware recently.
I mean, I’ve always tried to bring my own bags to the grocery store and I turn off the tap while I brush my teeth. For a while, I thought that was doing a lot.
But, as every media outlet and planet earth show will tell you, it’s not enough.
I got bogged down in that fact for a while. I was so overwhelmed with the need to be 100% sustainable that I actually forgot my reusable grocery bags!
Getting crazy about the environment can actually cause more problems. Especially if you dive in too quickly.
Travel vs. Sustainability
Travel is an interesting time to be eco-friendly.
You’re starting by hopping on a behemoth air machine that guzzles gas like crazy and is filled with plastic bits and bobs for your use throughout the flight. Or maybe you’re crammed into a slightly less gas-inhaling car.
And once you get to your destination, you’re not living like you do at home. From mini shampoo bottles to shopping bags, things can get non-eco-friendly (is that a word??) quick!
Whatever the case, travel (especially city travel) makes being sustainable hard.
That’s not to say it’s impossible. There are countless (seriously, I’m refusing to count them) eco-friendly and sustainable travel bloggers out there who do it full time.
But for those of us who are just dipping our toes in the water, moving outside of our usual environment can make it a challenge.
Ease into Sustainable Travel
You have to ease in slowly to be successful.
Start with these 5 small changes first. Maybe they’ll be really easy. Then you can try to find a 6th and a 7th change to make.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
First we have to start with 5.
1. It’s Ok to Be a Bag Lady
How can we be expected to remember reusable bags when we’re travelling if we can’t even remember them at the grocery store?
Simple! Buy a few compact reusable bags and spread them amongst your day bags or coats.
I used to cart around the big grocery store bags on my travels until my mom and step-dad got me one of these in Europe last year. It was such a life saver.
I carried it with me constantly. I could fold it up to fit in my palm. The bag could fit in my backpack, purse or coat pocket without any fuss.
It was so easy to always have it with me.
When it finally broke after a year of overfilling it with groceries, washing it hostel washing machines and trekking through 12+ countries, I was heartbroken. …Well, not heartbroken but pretty sad for losing a nylon grocery bag.
Buying a few of of these pocket-sized reusable bags is a game changer for travelling. You can use them as grocery bags, day bags, covers for shoes in your luggage, laundry bags or just something to squeeze in your pocket.
They’re also cheap. No more shelling out for $1 reusable bags at stores or paying 5 cents extra for plastic.
You can find these bags at your local sporting goods store, like Kathmandu or Mount Equipment Co-op. They’re also in most grocery stores. Amazon has dozens of options in various prints and colours.
2. Drink Responsibly … and Sustainably
Carry a reusable water bottle. This may seem like common sense, but SO many people I know don’t bother with this on vacation.
It’s not practical in a country where the tap water isn’t drinkable. But in most countries it’s super helpful. Most stores or restaurants will fill them up for free, so you can spend your hard earned money on something more fun than Evian.
I recommend buying a metal bottle or a filtered bottle.
Metal bottles are better for the environment than plastic ones. In my experience, they last longer and are easier to clean.
Getting a bottle that purifies your water, like the Brita water bottle, is a great choice to have filtered water on the go. It’ll cost more up front, but you’ll save so much on water bottles in the long run.
If you don’t carry a daypack while travelling, find a water bottle with a clasp so you can hook it to your purse or belt loop when you don’t feel like carrying it. Or get a giant satchel, like me, that can fit your 1L water bottle (seriously, the thing is like Mary Poppins’ bag. It’s magic!).
3. Save the Turtles … and the Plastic Cutlery
Saving the turtles is the current eco-trend dominating social media. You’ve probably seen the anti-plastic straw campaigns – like the one that got Starbucks to stop selling plastic straws by 2020-something. Now metal reusable straws are the thing to have.
That’s great, but there’s more than just straws to worry about.
You should also avoid plastic cutlery. Besides being almost useless (what does can that knife even cut through? Air??), it’s not eco-friendly.
That doesn’t mean you have to stop eating out!
Or use the cutlery around you. Eat in instead of getting take out. Ask your hotel for cutlery.
Sometimes these won’t be possible, but saving a plastic knife here or there can make a difference (especially when they charge for them!).
4. You’ve Got Legs: Use Them!
One of my favourite things to do when I travel is to walk. It’s cheap, it’s healthy, it’s eco-friendly and it’s a great way to see the sights.
When you’re travelling, make use of the free transportation attached to you. Go on walking tours rather than bus tours. Skip the taxi and stroll to your destination. Connect with the city by putting your feet to work. Make room for a second dinner with each stride (none of this earning your first dinner nonsense; you’re on vacation!).
Walk when you’re able to. Sure it’ll take longer, but that gives you more time to see the place you’re in.
5. Keep it Balanced
You have to accept that you can’t always be eco-friendly.
If you’re in Morocco, you’ll have to drink bottled water. If you’re going to a see wild penguins on a peninsula, you’ll have to drive. If you get plastic utensils with your meal, you’ll survive.
Don’t obsess about the exact ways you’re trying to be eco-conscious.
Maybe you use a bar of soap rather than the mini body washes. Or you walk to work more at home. Don’t have your sheets and towels changed daily. Try eliminating plastic bottles from your drinks for a week after your trip.
There are dozens of ways to balance things out.
After drinking what felt like a thousand water bottles in Singapore, I’ve started buying drinks in glass or cardboard in New Zealand. After a two-week sinus infection that had me use up 10 rolls of toilet paper (I always use that rather than Kleenex. I don’t know why) blowing my nose, I’ve been using less paper napkins. And I’ve been refilling my mini shampoo bottles so I don’t have to buy more.
Like I said, these tips help the environment and your wallet!
Being environmentally friendly is important to a lot of people. That doesn’t change when they go on holiday.
Finding small ways to be eco-conscious while you’re exploring the world allows you to give back to the planet you’re roaming.
Since many of us need an incentive to do that: these tips are also cost-effective. You’ll save money using these tips while you travel.
I’ve been implementing these over the years. It’s made a huge difference to the way I travel.
Not only is it more sustainable for the planet, it’s also better for me. When you travel long-term the way that I do, accumulating plastic bags and bottles and other nonsense is a pain. Eliminating them saves me money and precious space.
I’ve been a lot happier since I stopped carrying around a giant ball of plastic bags “just in case” or having to stop to buy plastic water bottles constantly.
It also makes me happy to be giving back to the world that I love to wander.
Share your eco-friendly travel tips in the comments! I’d love to learn more ways to be sustainable when I travel.