We’re all aware of it – traveling is not the most eco-friendly activity to take part in. But hey, this planet is still too beautiful to not explore it. However, the sad truth is that a lot of places are drowning in plastic, and are not as beautiful as they used to be. If we keep going this way, this beautiful planet will not have unspoiled places left to offer us travelers.
In the “western” world, we have been told for years that we need to reuse, reduce and recycle. We have started to compost in major cities, and overall, we’re fairly aware of the toxic effects of using single-use plastic, plastic in general, and the effects of consumerism. Of course we aren’t perfect by any means, but we generally understand the consequences of our actions on the environment. In developing countries, where such infrastructures don’t exist, and there are bigger concerns like daily survival, recycling and keeping our earth clean are just not priorities.
When you travel, it’s easy to “take a break” from being the usual eco-friendly green being that you are at home. But, the truth is, it’s a lot easier than you think to keep up the good habits. So here are some simple tips and tricks you can use to stay green and keep the planet clean. If we all chip in, we’ll make a far bigger impact together.
How you travel
So you want to head out and explore the world? Cool, this is the first place to start thinking green!
1. Skip the plane… if you can
I know! Easier said than done. But this is the first place you can cut your carbon footprint. The carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by a plane is incredibly damaging. So if you can, take a bus, a boat, a train, a bike or your legs to go explore that crazy beautiful place you have in mind. Whatever way you can to produce less greenhouse emissions is the best way. This is probably not the easiest rule to put into practice, but if you can do it, please do! Often, the alternate means of transportation will probably offer more scenic views too, so it’s a double win.
2. Join the daily commute
Once you make it to your destination, travel like a local. Avoid taking cabs and Ubers. Instead, take the local bus or subway, trains or ferries to get around. The more people take public transportation, the better it is. Not only will there be less traffic on the road, governments will invest more into these infrastructures, offering better service and reducing the number of cars on the road. Often, it’s also a cheaper way to get around than to cab it all the time. Or better yet, pick a central hotel where you can walk to the main attractions.
If you have to take a cab, try to split the fare with others going to the same location. Ask around your hotel/hostel. It’s a cheaper, more eco-friendly and fun way of getting around anyway!
During your stay
Finding a place to stay isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but there are a ton of things you can do to make your stay eco-friendly
3. Pick the right type of hotel
This is a no-brainer. If you want to splurge and stay in a hotel, pick one that is eco-friendly. Nowadays, a lot of places around the world are putting in efforts to be more green. It can be small and simple things like being an eco-building, using recycled materials or not washing towels every day. Or it can be a truly green place that doesn’t offer anything plastic, that does trash clean-ups, that practices sustainable activities in their community. All you have to do is some research and you’ll see, these places are easier to find than you think! Our favorites so far have been Babel Guesthouse in Siem Reap and Hotel Penaga in Penang.
4. Stay with locals
Ok, so I can already hear some people thinking this is crazy but Couchsurfing is an awesome way to travel. You get to stay with locals, exchange ideas, and connect with people on a whole new level. We couchsurfed quite a few times when in Asia and we loved it. We know we have made friends for life. So obviously, staying with a local is a lot more eco-friendly than staying in a hotel, especially because you don’t take up much more energy in the powering of the place. If you’re not comfy with this idea (although we highly encourage you to try it at least once), you can always opt for a shared accommodation in an Airbnb.
5. Skip on the fresh towels every day
Let’s be honest here. Back home, you don’t wash your towels after every use. So why would you do it on the road? Most hotels will offer to wash your towels and bring you new ones each day, but this creates a lot of wasted water. Not to mention all the detergent that ends up in the waterways. So just leave your used towel on the rack and usually, they know not to replace it. If you’re unsure about their policy, just ask at the front desk or leave a note asking that your towel not be switched out. Easy peasy!
6. Skip on room cleaning too
Here’s another no-brainer. Again, do you clean your room every day back home? Nope! So avoid doing it when you travel… well, unless you’re a super messy person! Usually, when they clean your room, they spray a whole bunch of chemicals in there, which is not good for your health or the environment. Then, they give you new trash bags (plastic, of course) and all those tiny plastic bottles of soap and shampoo and lotion (damn, more plastic). Once you realize that this cleaning is just creating more plastic waste, you’ll want to avoid it. Many hotels will offer to clean your room only when you need it to, so go for this option. If not, just hang the “do not disturb” sign on your door, and voilà!
7. Avoid the plastic bottles they offer
Most hotels in South East Asia will give you complimentary water bottles every day during your stay. Avoid them! How? Well that’s easy! Either carry around a reusable water bottle that you can fill at refill stations (usually, your hotel will be able to do this) or get a Lifestraw Go like we have. We can refill it with tap water anywhere in the world and make the water drinkable! WIN!
If you’re like us, you like to eat. A LOT! I mean, we eat insane amounts of food. Derek is 6 foot 4, so that’s a lot of man to feed. But when we do, we do these simple things to reduce the amount of waste we create
8. Markets are delicious but so trashy
We LOVE eating local food. The best place to do this is at local markets. Unfortunately, this is a place that creates huge amounts of waste. They put your food in polystyrene containers. Don’t get me started on polystyrene/styrofoam. It’s a killer and should be banned everywhere. It should not exist… damn, I got started!
Not only is this plastic bad for your health (chemicals steep into your food) but it’s terrible for the environment too. It always ends up floating into our oceans and killing our marine life. Avoiding it is easy. Just bring your own containers to the market. Mason jars, reusable containers, whatever you have that will help you take your hot food home to enjoy.
9. Ditch the plastic utensils
If you’re already bringing your own container, take it a little step further and bring your own cutlery too. As travelers, we always have our cutlery with us – it’s perfect when you just feel like having an impromptu picnic or you feel like making yourself a snack with some local groceries. If you don’t have your own set of travel cutlery, you can always take your meal back to the hotel and ask them for metal cutlery. This will make you a total environmental champion (and we love champs like you!)
10. Avoid fast food restaurants
This may be another “easier said than done” solution, but if you can avoid it, please do. We totally get that eating the same type of cuisine day-in and day-out is not the most thrilling part of traveling, and that sometimes, you just want some golden fries that taste like home. Just know that massive fast food franchises tend to generate a lot of waste and pollution. Just think about the transport of that frozen food, the tons of plastic and styrofoam used to wrap it all, the single-use plastic utensils… it all adds up. And really, don’t you prefer eating a local dish to support a local family and economy? Yes, yes you do!
11. Order your drink without a straw
This is probably the easiest thing you can do. And it will go a long way as most straws, especially in beachside locations, end up in the ocean and kill our wildlife. Call us selfish, but since we just started scuba diving, we want to keep the underwater world as clean as possible. So next time you order a drink, make sure you specify you don’t want a straw. If you absolutely need a straw for your smoothie, bring a reusable one with you made from bamboo or stainless steel. See how easy that is?! Don’t you feel better for saving the planet? Yes, you do!
12. Avoid snacks with packaging
Who doesn’t love a good snack? We all need a little sugar pick-me-up once in a while, but instead of heading to the convenience store to get your favorite treat, why don’t you opt for something Mother Nature created for you? One of the best things about traveling is getting to eat fruits and veggies that you don’t have access to at home. So skip out on that heavily-packaged, sugar-filled fake-food, and go enjoy a local delicacy.
Set an example for locals
This is one of our favorite things to do, and we really urge others to do this as much as they can. It can be as easy as refusing the plastic bag and showing that you can put it all in your backpack or it can get a little more complex. Either way, education is key!
13. Pick up trash
Yup! It’s that easy. If you see trash, pick it up. It doesn’t matter that it’s not yours. If it’s on the ground, chances are, it’s going to end up in waterways, in your food (because your food will eat it. Unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case, we love you!) or it’s just going to make a super beautiful place look like a dump. People may question what you’re doing, or say it’s useless, but if everyone picks up 3 pieces of trash each day, we’ll have one hell of a clean planet real quick! This is another example of how every bit helps. So regardless of where you are (traveling or not), please just pick it up and throw it out in the bin, or recycle it if you can. Thank you!
14. Educate others
Sometimes, people don’t know any better. And it’s not their fault. Not all countries have access to this type of education. I mean honestly, only a few years ago (ok, like 10-15 years ago), people were littering the streets back home and no one would flinch. So it’s understandable that people with less means and less education don’t understand the impact of littering or single-use plastic. So let them know, in a kind and friendly way. No need to be berating or condescending. But sometimes, just a quick line about how plastic is bad or useless is enough to get them thinking. If you have a better relationship with the person, then you can get into the details of explaining why it’s bad.
15. Always BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)
One of the best ways we’ve found of educating people is simply by bringing our own bag – to the market, to the grocery store, to the fruit stand, wherever. These are places where they are always keen on giving you some toxic plastic bag you don’t need. We always joke (but we’re not actually joking) and tell the cashier we’re out to save the world, and that we don’t need plastic. It puts a smile on their face and they acknowledge that they don’t need to automatically offer it. Often, the people behind us in line will end up refusing a bag too, and that’s one domino effect we love to see!
Shopping & Activities
One of the best things to do when you travel is to get gifts (for yourself or others) or live crazy once-in-a-lifetime experiences. We won’t stop you from doing that, but before you do it, just think about this.
16. Shop local
This is something they tell us back home, and you should also try to do it when you’re traveling. Shop local. Get something from a local artist or artisan, handmade with love and craftsmanship. Whatever it is, try and support a local family and the local economy. At least try to make sure the product is produced in the country, as tons of things are make in China but sold as being local. And if you haggle the price, which is sometimes half the fun, make sure you are being fair. If the vendor starts to get upset, you’ve gone too far – that dollar that you are saving may not be much to you, but it’s a fortune to the vendor.
17. Don’t shop at all
This is something that we can do as long-term travelers. To be honest, we have not bought a single souvenir since we have started this year-long trip (sorry, not sorry friends and family!). Why? Well space and weight are big things, but it’s also because we don’t want things. Before we left, we started living a more minimalist lifestyle, realizing that we prefer to live experiences over having things. We’ve carried on with this mentality during the trip, and you can do it to. Sure, people may think you’re selfish for not bringing back a gift, but instead, you can learn how to cook the local cuisine and invite them over for a traditional feast when you’re back. Or you can make a donation to a local charity in their name. There are tons of creative ways to offer “travel” gifts without buying things.
18. Animal Tourism
So you’re half-way around the world and you have a chance to see some pretty awesome animals that you’ve never seen back home. Yeah, freakin’ cool! But before you do, make sure you look into the company that is offering this.
Are they harming animals? Chances are that if a wild animal will do tricks for you or that you get to ride it, they are harming them. We opted to go see elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, because they were an ethical sanctuary for these gentle giants and we didn’t ride them.
Are you taking a picture with an animal that would usually bite your head off if you saw it in the wild? Yup, avoid this as well. For example, in Thailand, we saw many offers to go hang out with tigers. What people don’t know is that those tigers are drugged to keep them docile.
Is the activity ruining the natural ecosystem or instincts of the animal? Then avoid that as well! For example, in the Philippines, you can go swimming with whale sharks. How awesome, except for the fact that this makes the whale sharks forget their natural hunting instincts and ruins the balance of the ecosystem they live in because they are being fed instead of “hunting”. Instead, we got to see a whale shark in its natural habitat in Koh Tao, where it took us by surprise. A much better experience overall for everyone!
19. Eco Tours are the way to go
Whatever tour you decide to do, try to find one that is eco-friendly. In most places, tour operators now understand that if they don’t start taking care of the environment, they will not have a job in a few years. So when you’re looking for a way to explore that cool place you’ve been dying to go to, find an operator that has higher environmental standards. We found Visit.org which does great work offering eco-friendly tours and activities around the world that support the local community.
20. Use a sunscreen that won’t kill corals
Recently, there have been many studies showing that using certain types of sunscreen can kill the corals. Again, we’re super selfish, and since we started scuba diving, we want to see the corals at their best. This is why we’ve opted for wearing sunscreen that doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals like oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate or 4-methylbenzylidene camphor. Another way to avoid killing coral is to put your sunscreen on 30 minutes before heading into the water. Or better yet, cover up with a rash guard or wetsuit if you’ll be in the water for a long time (aka snorkeling or scuba diving).
Health and beauty
This section may be more for women, but we thought it was important to include it. These steps can easily be done at home too, so it’s really a double win.
21. Avoid disposable makeup remover wipes
We all love the convenience of these wipes. Makeup just magically disappears with one swipe. But the truth is, not only are they full of chemicals, they are often not biodegradable. Instead of disposable wipes, opt for a reusable one like Face It by Cloth in a box. Just use water to wipe the makeup off, then rise it and let it dry until you need it tomorrow. Eco-friendly, and travel-friendly because you’ll never need to carry makeup remover with you.
22. Menstruate better
Ok, ladies, not sure about you, but there are a few days each month when I hate life. You know what I’m talkin’ about: periods. Cramps, pain, discomfort, and the only thing I want to do is crawl up and sleep for those 3 days. Add to that the often uncomfortable and annoying pads or tampons, and you have a recipe for disaster.
I’m not just talking about disaster for our planet with all the plastic waste, but also for our health. Tampons have harsh chemicals and bleaches, pads have glue and more chemicals, and they’re bulky AF. So how do you avoid all this?
Meet Thinx. This US-based company makes a range of comfy and stylish period underwear. Yeah, you can actually look good as you bleed! What I love most, is that they care about the environment, people and tell you like it is. On most days, I can just walk around in their underwear, without any other protection, which is awesome in the hot, hot heat we’ve experienced. They have been a saviour on this trip! You can get your own here, with a discount.
23. Kick it old school with bars
We all grew up with soap bars, but one day, it all changed and now we’ve gotten used to cleaning up with liquid soaps and shampoos. What we forget to consider is that liquids are actually a lot more expensive than bars, you get less washes out of them, and they come in plastic that ends up sticking around longer than we want it to. Especially when traveling, these bottles are bulky and heavy to carry around.
So what’s the solution?
Going back to the good old days of bars. They have come a long way themselves – more natural options are available, softer on sensitive skin and longer lasting. And their packaging is easily biodegradable which is great considering many countries don’t recycle. We’re loving this bar shampoo by Lush that can give you up to 80 washes, or replace 3 medium bottles of shampoo.
Have you found innovative or easy ways to be a more eco-friendly traveler? Let us know in the comments. We’re always looking for new ways to be more green!
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