Living an eco-friendly lifestyle is becoming a pretty big deal. Given the current state of the world, it’s no surprise that more and more people are turning to sustainable lifestyles such as zero-waste living. We are all either experiencing or hearing about extreme weather conditions a lot more often these days. The more frequent hurricanes, stronger storms, devastating coastal flooding and deadly heat waves are all linked to global warming. And sure, while you’re at home, using biodegradable products and bamboo drinking straws is easy enough, but when you’re on the road, trying to be an eco-friendly traveler seems almost impossible.
Well here’s 5 top eco-friendly travel tips that can easily be applied to your next trip.
Eco-Friendly Traveler Planning Tips
Thanks to social media’s many travel influencers, a lot of tourist destinations have become wildly popular and this isn’t always a good thing. Fragile ecosystems such as coral reefs and mountain terrain are already suffering due to over-tourism. When I was teaching in Ladakh, I heard so many stories about how thousands of tourists would visit during the summer and leave behind their trash for locals to deal with, in a region that has traditionally been self-sustaining and therefore not equipped to deal with the sudden influx of non-biodegradable waste.
Avoid Destinations Overburdened By Tourism
Places like Venice, Bali, and even Croatia could do without the extra tourism and if they really are on your bucket list, consider visiting during off-season. This way you’ll miss the crowds, save some cash and not be a burden. Additionally, you might want to consider visiting similar destinations that are off the beaten path and less crowded, for instance, make a trip to Gokarna instead of Goa on your next trip to the Indian coast.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint By Hopping On A Bus
Aviation emissions are arguably one of the biggest contributions your travel will make to your carbon footprint. When you actually look at the data, the CO2 release reported by airlines is only half the story. Nitrogen oxides and water vapor have additional warming effects. Now, as a traveler, flying cannot always be avoided but when possible, opting for travel by bus or train can be a great way to help the planet (and your budget!). Another reason I try to avoid flying when possible is because traveling by land allows you to see more of the countryside and interact with the locals. So as an eco-friendly traveler perhaps embrace the saying “It’s the journey not the destination”.
Eco-Friendly Traveler Tip: If you absolutely must travel by air, try and book non-stop flights as a big chunk of fuel is burnt during take-off and landing.
Finally, travel as light as possible. Every additional pound the plane weighs, the more emissions are produced. Many travelers only take carry-on luggage these days, once you start packing light you’ll be amazed at how little you really need to bring with you on trips.
Eco-Friendly Traveler Accommodation Hacks
Now that you’ve reached your destination, the next factor to consider is your accommodation. I personally prefer staying in local guesthouses and home-stays as not only do they provide you with a more authentic experience, they’re better for the local economy and environment when compared to large hotel chains. If you do choose to stay at a hotel, try and be conscious of the resources you’re using. Ask yourself if you really need your towels and sheets changed every day. And unless you plan on taking those little bottles home (something my Asian parents have taught me since childhood), try not to open them because chances are, they will be thrown out, even if the product is entirely reusable.
Even though many hotels are slowly switching over to shower gel and shampoo dispensers, something I’ve found to be of great value is buying reusable, travel-sized bottles, I personally love these leakproof silicone travel bottles. I fill them up with my choice of vegan, paraben and sulfate-free products from home. This is how eco-friendly travelers avoid adding additional pollutants to the water at the same time as avoiding skin breakouts (if they have sensitive skin)… so win-win!
Be Mindful When You Plan What To See and Eat
A large part of travel involves sight-seeing and organized tours. This is where you need to break out your research skills. If you’re taking guided tours, try your best to opt for locally run, sustainable agencies that understand and respect the environment. Stay away from cruise packages, not only are the emissions horrible for the environment, the cruise industry is known for being very non-eco-conscious.
Eating local cuisine is one of my favorite things to do when I’m on a trip, it gives me a great insight into the culture and helps me understand a lot about the place I’m visiting. In addition, it cuts down on food miles and helps the local farms. Don’t forget to opt for locally brewed beers too! While it might not always be the easiest thing to do, due to various reasons like dietary requirements or just not enjoying a particular cuisine, try and avoid eating meals with ingredients that cannot be sustainably sourced.
I remember seeing insanely overpriced parmesan cheese and green curry paste at a store in Leh City that clearly catered to tourists because the local diet consisting mainly of barley and root vegetables could not be further from it.
5 Eco-Friendly Packing Tips
Even though packing light is a good idea, both for the planet and your back (never carrying a heavy suitcase up the stairs of a monastery again) there are a few products that I think make traveling sustainably a much easier experience.
1) Carrying a water bottle wherever you go helps with staying hydrated and keeps you from unnecessarily buying (and inevitably throwing) yet another plastic bottle. You can choose from glass, metal or if planning on traveling light then invest in a collapsible silicone bottle to save room in your luggage. I usually use this an insulated steel bottle (the contigo couture vacuum bottle) because it allows me to keep water and other beverages hot or cold, depending on my needs and where I am.
2) As someone who likes wearing makeup even when traveling, having reusable makeup wipes makes so much more sense than having to pack a bunch of cotton pads that I’d have to throw away after each use.
3) Shopping while on vacation is something I definitely enjoy, and I know lots of other people do as well. Bringing a reusable tote bag is a good way to avoid the otherwise inevitable plastic bags and also keeps me from getting too carried away with my purchases because it forces me to be aware of how much stuff I can actually carry around with me.
4) If you’re a big-time straw user, having a bamboo, metal or silicone straw on hand is always a good idea- irrespective of whether you’re traveling or not.
5) Investing in a menstrual cup has definitely been one of the best decisions I’ve made with regards to sustainability. Not only is it small and compact, therefore helping me avoid the stress of either having to pack bulky pads or having to take a chance on finding me preferred brand when I actually get to my destination, it is also very easy to use and super convenient once you’re actually used to it. The fact that you don’t have to change it as often as a regular pad or tampon is definitely a plus too as I can walk around the entire day without worrying about finding a clean and comfortable restroom to change in, something that can be especially hard when exploring a new place.
Travel and sustainability do not have to be mutually exclusive! Of course, nobody is perfect and we all get lazy when we have so many other things to deal with while traveling abroad. But if everybody made just a few of the above-mentioned changes to their usual travel routine, the world would really be a much better place. Tiny changes over time can reduce the size of your carbon footprint in a massive way so give yourself a pat on the back for treading a little more lightly as a mindful, eco-friendly traveler. High five!
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