As I’ve mentioned in my Zero-Waste living: my beginner’s journey post, each month I will focus on one area of my life where I can reduce waste. Since I was travelling through South-East Asia in February, it made sense to dedicate my efforts into becoming an eco-conscious traveler.
Below I share some practical tips for sustainable travelling that I have implemented into my habits. While most of them are rather obvious and can be applied to everyday life, it’s always useful to be reminded of ways we can help the Earth.
Tips for sustainable travelling
Bring a reusable water bottle
A small part of my soul shrivels whenever I purchase a plastic water bottle. However, compared to my recent trip in Iceland where the tap water tastes like it’s sent from God/Thor and is filled with miraculous healing powers (or so the country’s inhabitants told me), consuming tap water in Vietnam would have left me permanently squatting above a toilet seat. Wishing to avoid this fate, my husband and I did buy commercialized water but made the effort to buy the big formats (4L) in order to fill our two reusable bottles in the morning before leaving for our adventures and to hydrate ourselves when we got back to our room. Therefore I was able to replace 8 x 500 ml bottles this way. Unfortunately, we did have to purchase water throughout the day but occasionally one must choose to not contract typhoid disease over rigidly sticking to one’s beliefs.
Book environment-committed accommodations
It’s astonishing how many hotels don’t even have a recycling bin in each room. Thankfully, more and more hotels are taking action to preserve the environment. Googling “eco-friendly hotel [insert name of destination]” will give you tons of ideas. Also, depending on where you are travelling to, there might be an independent committee who ensures that hotels are doing their share in reducing waste (ex. LEED certified hotels in North America).
If you stayed in a hotel that you loved but that lacked an eco-conscious approach, when leaving your TripAdvisor or Booking.com review, encourage them to start a recycling program or share other great ideas you might have. (Hey, you never know!)
Alternatively, I have found that staying in Airbnbs, guesthouses and hostels to be less wasteful as small-businesses tend to be more mindful of the environment.
Don’t clean your hotel room everyday
While some believe that not having to pick up after oneself is one of the many joys of staying in a hotel (remind me to never book a room with these people), I make an effort to keep my room tidy and my towels fresh so I don’t need to have them changed daily. Reusing the towels can reduce the waste of water, energy and labor costs by 17%.
Bring your own toiletry
Unless I am travelling solely with a carry-on and am thus limited in the amount of liquid I can take onboard, I bring my own toiletries in travel-sized bottles. If I have to use the samples given by the hotel, I bring them along with me if I haven’t finished them and am changing destination to avoid throwing them out and opening a new sample elsewhere.
(Confession: I used to buy full sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner when I was travelling with carry-ons and left them behind when I flew back home. Oh the waste!)
Bring reusable shopping bags
To avoid wasting plastic bags, I pack a canvas bag in my luggage and bring it with me whenever I think I might be shopping. While I was occasionally met with bewildered stares when I said I didn’t need a plastic bag, I think in part it was due to my poor sign language skills… 😉 (the joys of being misunderstood while travelling in a foreign country!) In general though, I find that most developing countries are starting to educate their consumers to reduce the use of plastic bags.
Avoid buying simply because it’s cheap
While we’re on the subject of shopping, there are so many night markets in Asia selling inexpensive goods that it is tempting to buy everything that glitters. However, it’s useful to stop and think if you really need it. If the answer is no, avoid getting something that will just end up in your clutter drawer.
Skip that magazine at the airport
I used to associate transit time in an airport with buying a mindless magazine to kill the time. However, I’ve come to realize that this generates waste as I usually leave behind the magazine after a few reads. Instead, bring a good book/audiobook from home that will stimulate your mind and that you know you’ll keep.
Download mobile maps and return brochures
Avoid the dreaded “lost tourist with giant map” look and either download offline maps of your destination or buy a SIM card with data for your unlocked smartphone (I am useless without Google Maps). It’ll save paper and without the upside-down map giving you away as a tourist, you’ll be less of a target for pick-pocketers. Also, when visiting tourist information centers, take a picture of the brochures and pamphlets that interest you and then return them to the kiosk. I tend to loose them so that’s why having the information on my phone is more helpful for me.
Take advantage of the city’s public transportation if they have one. It’s one of the best way to observe how the locals live, saves you money and it is usually the most efficient way to travel in places where the traffic is insane. To top it all off, you’ll reduce your carbon footprint. How can Uber compete with that?
Sustainability isn’t always easy nor convenient. And this is especially true when you’re travelling and can’t find a recycling bin within 5 km to save your life. However, as I walked barefoot through a secluded beach in Koh Lanta admiring what Nature created, I was reminded that the “inconveniences” I must go through were worth it if it meant that I, and future generations, could enjoy moments like this for years to come.
What are your tips for becoming an eco-friendly traveler? Please let me know in the comments below!
Much love and hugs,