Since the beginning of COVID-19 and the basic freeze of the tourism industry, more and more travelers have started evaluating their environmental footprint. It seems as if the pandemic has shifted many individuals’ mindset of their personal impact on the environment and are trying to be more eco-friendly.
As someone who has recently begun to shift to a more zero waste lifestyle, I feel it is important to also acknowledge the waste people produce with traveling. Several reports state consumers produce twice or three times as much waste than they normally would at home. This can be food waste, plastic waste, or just not properly following the local recycling rules.
Traveling isn’t easy, and it’s even tougher when you are trying to produce little to zero waste. So if you are serious about minimizing your environmental footprint while traveling, then stick around for the best advice.
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Table of Contents
Bring your own water bottle and/or coffee cup
Bringing your own containers can be one of the easiest ways to save money, along with the environment. Imagine all the times you’ve purchased a coffee or plastic water bottle and just thrown it away. You’ve probably thrown away more than 100,000 single use cups/bottles over your lifetime, and those bottles don’t decompose easily, if ever at all. These plastics are the most common plastics found in the ocean, washing up on beaches, and polluting poor countries who do not have the resources to dispose of these plastics properly. By bringing your own bottle/cup, you can save so much money by getting discounts on coffee and by not purchasing single use bottles.
Bring a reusable straw and utensils
You’ve probably seen the video and the phrase “Save the Turtles” in relation to plastic straws in the ocean. There are many reusable straws that you can choose from ranging from stainless steel to silicone. Amazon has many to choose from, but my personal preference has been stainless steel straws as that is easier to recycle at end of life and are the most durable.
Use a shampoo bar and conditioner bar
This is by far one of the most eco-friendly things you can do that provides a lower effect on the local environment. Most of these products do not have SLS (sodium laureate sulfate), which is harmful to the environment, and they are easily packable in your carry-on or check-in luggage.
The most popular shampoo bars are from Lush, which I personally love, but you can also find some good ones on Ethique. For conditioner bars, I recommend Ethique over Lush because the product transfers onto my hair much easier. Both companies offer bar containers which are great for traveling and letting it air dry quicker.
Use a silicone container to bring your own shampoo and conditioner
If using shampoo and conditioner bars is not for you, you can always use a silicone squeeze container, like this one, where you can store your shampoo or conditioner as a more inexpensive option and can change your products out as much as you want.
Use reusable period products
Ladies, being on your period sucks, and it sucks even more when you’re traveling on your period too. If you want to be more sustainable with traveling on your period, here are a few ways to achieve that. Personally, I use period underwear whenever I’m on my period but for some that may not be the best option for them while traveling. There are so many great reusable period underwear brands like Thinx, ModiBodi, and Proof.
Bring a Kindle/Nook/iPad
If you’re someone who reads a lot during their vacation, or even just a book, you may want to bring a Kindle or iPad where you can read . This is also a good sustainable option as well since more trees won’t be cut down to produce a physical book.
Purchase reusable materials (i.e. glass, paper, produce without plastic)
Most countries have comprehensive recycling programs, so it is important to know what each colored bin means and what is acceptable to put in there. Plus, if the material isn’t too damaged you could clean it and reuse it instead of recycling, which is just as good.
Buy secondhand (if possible)
If you like shopping in a new city that you visit I recommend either purchasing from a secondhand shop or a charity shop, like the British Heart Foundation stores. These stores give new life to old clothing and reduces carbon emissions of transporting these clothes to other countries or when they are placed in a landfill.
Use a reusable razor (or no razor at all!)
Depending on how long you are traveling, you may not even need to bring a razor! But if you do want one, I recommend using a reusable blade razor. These are mostly zero waste products as the razor blades themselves can be recycled and the razor itself at the end of its lifecycle. Many low/zero waste people swear by the butterfly razor, but I find those to be more difficult, which is why I recommend the new zero waste razor, the Leaf.
This razor is similar to the plastic ones we use every day, except you only need the recyclable blades which can be pretty inexpensive. The razor pivots like other razors and can hold up to 3 blades, providing a close shave. It also comes in gold, rose gold, black, and other colors.
Bring a mini sewing kit
This can be a lifesaver! Most clothes only need to be mended due to fraying stitches or rips, and yet many people will throw out these items for these minor issues. The key thing is that you need to know how to sew, but you can easily learn this through YouTube videos or learn from friends or family members. This is a major way to be sustainable as clothing waste is a major environmental issue, especially in poorer countries where these items are shipped to and don’t have the proper recycling systems in place.
Do a book exchange
If you’re staying at a hostel feel free to participate in their book exchange! Most hostels offer a small section of the common room for travelers to pick up and leave books for the next guest. This can be a great example of sustainability because most people (especially me) have so many books that they only read once and then never read again, so by bringing a book that you are finished reading and exchanging for another book is a good way to provide another life for the book.
If you don’t have any books to offer, you can always go to the local thrift store and purchase a used book to leave for others, as this will put more money in the local economy and giving the book another life that it may not have received if you didn’t.
Bring a bamboo toothbrush
Plastic toothbrushes make up one of the most polluted products in the world. Bamboo toothbrushes are the most sustainable option as they can be composted and decompose in 90 days. You can find plenty of options on Amazon and only cost a little more than what you may usually spend, especially buying more in bulk.
Use toothpaste bites or a recyclable toothpaste container
Okay so this one might be a bit harder (no pun intended) for some people than others as toothpaste bites may not be for everyone. Lush is by far one of the most popular options, but Bite is another great option! They have zero waste mouthwash as well if you’re looking for a low/zero waste oral care routine.
Bring a soap bar
Similar to shampoo bars, you can bring a soap bar to use as your body wash or even hand soap if there is none available. It saves plenty of space in your bag, and you can save it in the same container as your shampoo bar.
Reuse your towel
This has become a common recommendation by hotels and hostels, but you should reuse your towel for up to 3-4 uses as it will minimize the number of times the towel will get washed, therefore reducing water consumption. In all honesty, your towel doesn’t get as dirty as people believe after getting out of the shower, which is why you can use it multiple times before washing it.
Bring your own shopping bag or produce bag
This one is so simple to do, and it won’t take up too much luggage space! Whenever you go shopping in a new place, bring a shopping bag or produce bag (if you’re going to buy fresh produce). If you are grocery shopping in the EU, this could save you several cents as most countries charge per bag that you use, but also it just makes it way more convenient for yourself and helps save the planet.
Don’t use disposable wipes
Disposable make-up wipes or other hygenic wipes are especially harmful to the environment as they are made out of plastic and the chemicals used for them can create longlasting environmental issues if improperly disposed of down a toilet or leaching from a landfill.
Choose sustainable lodging (eco-lodge or sustainable hostel)
Eco-lodges and sustainable hostels are becoming an increasingly popular destination for tourists! In Europe, there are several sustainable/self-sustaining hostels in various cities around the continent. They vary in the sustainable practices that they use, but all have the same goal of leaving minimal impact to their community and environment. These are great options if you want to limit your environmental footprint, and you can learn more about how they are able to be sustainable.
A list of Eco-lodge hostels all over the world provided by Hostelworld can be found here!
Take quick showers
I feel like this is self-explanatory, but taking a quick shower greatly reduces your water consumption footprint. It is especially important when you are traveling to water deserts like Cape Town or Los Angeles, as it is unfair to the residents who rely on the limited water supply.
Take public transport or walk
I feel like this is a common thing most travelers do, but here’s a friendly reminder to use public transportation or just walk to wherever you plan on going. This is easiest to do if you’re in major cities like Paris, London, or Rome, so if you’re planning on visiting more remote towns, then this may not pertain to you. By taking public transportation instead of say Uber for only you, then you are saving hundreds of CO2 emissions from the air.
Usually the view from the public transport is much nicer than from a car, plus it is much easier on your wallet. Additionally, if you want to explore more remote places, usually a tour bus is also a great route to go (no pun intended!) since they will schedule places to stay, most popular tourist locations, and can meet others! This may be best in locations like Iceland or Scotland where you are more likely to travel to the same places as others.
Be mindful of the recycling system in your location (i.e. Italy, Paris, etc.)
Many cities and countries have specific recycling laws and systems, so it is important to keep up-to-date on what the rules are when you are visiting. I know several countries and/or cities take their recycling very seriously, like Italy for example, and get upset when others do not follow them.
Volunteer to participate in a clean-up
There are clean-ups occurring all the time throughout the world, so you will likely find a clean-up near you at some point, even when on vacation.
By incorporating some of these while traveling, you can assist the local community in reducing their plastic consumption and leaving it better than you found it.
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