Tips for the Eco-Conscious Traveller

When we go on holiday, it’s easy to over-indulge. Whether it’s staying in fancy hotels, taking private transportation, or treating ourselves to extravagant meals – it’s easy to get carried away and forget about our environmental impact. Sometimes eating vegan is simply not enough. Have you ever thought about your consumption habits while on holiday?

If you’re a budget traveller, the same rules apply. How much plastic waste do you produce on holiday? Are you eating local food or imported Western meals? Are you walking, cycling or paying for taxis? As someone who travels on a regular basis, I’ve only recently become aware of the environmental impact I make when I travel. Below are some tips to think about the next time you plan your holiday.

Destination

Where you’re going and how you get there are probably the biggest things to consider. By far, flying creates a larger carbon footprint than taking ground transportation. Instead of taking short-haul flights, try taking a train or bus when available (which are usually much cheaper as well!) For destinations where you must fly, you can buy carbon offsets which go to various sustainable organizations.

image via sustainabilityarchive.com

Choose locations that maybe aren’t so crowded or tourist-centered. Not only will you be contributing more to the local communities, but your presence won’t cause such a collective impact.

Accommodation

When we stay in hotels, it’s difficult to resist using all the free luxuries provided to us. Free body wash bottles? Sure, I’ll take them home with me. Free cotton earbuds? I can always use more of those! Complimentary bottles of water? Well, they’re free, so why not?

The problem is living like a “king” while we stay in hotels, although it may be enjoyable, isn’t environmentally-friendly. I first noticed this myself when I stayed in Vietnam earlier this year. I was taking an extravagant bubble bath every night – something I would never do at home! It got me thinking to how much water I was unnecessarily wasting every day. Try limiting your water usage, even if you’re technically not paying for it. On that note, do you really need to get your linens and towels cleaned every day?

Try to think if you would do these things at home. If you answer “NO” to yourself, then try to adopt a similar lifestyle to one that you have at home.

It’s also a good idea to use eco-friendly hotels or even vegan resorts when available! One of our favourites is Swasti Eco Cottages in Ubud, Bali, which has a mostly vegan menu and rescues animals like sheep and goats. You can also visit veggie-hotels.com to find vegetarian and vegan hotels around the world.

Hanging out with the sheep at Swasti Eco Cottages!

Toiletries

Toiletries are always a pain to pack and organize. Often we’re stuck filling up tiny bottles or putting everything in giant plastic bags to avoid liquids leaking all over the place. My favourite toiletries to bring, especially if I’m only bringing a carry-on bag, are solid products.

One of my favourite companies (and coincidentally one that I used to work for!) is Lush Cosmetics. Check out their shampoo bars (up to 80 washes per bar), solid toothpaste, deodorant, soaps, cleanser, sunscreen and solid facial moisturizers. Most of their products are vegan and best of all, the products mentioned are naked, which means they have no packaging!

Images via lush.com

DIY — Some people enjoy making their own travel toiletries, such as homemade toothpaste. Check out the video below about how to make your own paper soaps, which are compact, and eliminate the need for you to buy plastic soap bottles whilst on the road!

Makeup – Ladies, you don’t really need to bring a lot of make-up when you’re travelling to a hot country! Instead opt for a tinted moisturizer or use a powdered sunscreen.

Feminine Products  — Using a menstrual cup is definitely the best way to go, especially since we all know pads and tampons are not environmentally-friendly. In some countries, you may not even be able to find tampons (and they will be extremely expensive if you do).

Shaving cream – Try using a cream-based shaving cream instead of the foaming kind, which are bulky and come in excessive packaging. My favourites are from Alba Botanica and Kiss My Face.

Food and Drink

It always blows my mind when I see tourists refusing to eat local food, and instead eat Western meals like burgers and fries when staying in amazing foreign countries! Eating local meals uses local ingredients, supports the local people, is much cheaper, and does not require imported items from other places – so much better for the environment!

Straws — Bring your own reusable one! If you’re like me and you like drinking cocktails while watching the sunset, simply say “no” to a straw, or bring your own. My favourite design is a stainless steel one, which is durable.

Water – While travelling through certain countries, the water may not be suitable for drinking. Sometimes you’re left with no choice but to buy bottled water. It can be infuriating to do this when you have no choice (and the place where you are staying may not have recycling facilities). My suggestion is to bring a reusable bottle and fill it up in places where you know there is clean water. In many European countries, it’s easy to find public water fountains. In other places, fill up your bottle at a restaurant or at the airport. You can even buy bottles which have a filter directly inside, which is great for when you’re trekking or camping. Check out One Green Planet‘s recommendations on water bottles and filters.

Transportation

We all know that walking is a much better option than taking cars or buses. I’ve explored cities by both air conditioned bus, tram, car, and walking. By far, walking gives you the best experience! You can see things at your own pace, discover places tucked away from the main roads, and get some exercise at the same time. In some countries, the climate may not allow for you to comfortably walk long distances, but in this case, it gives you more reasons to “take a break” and warm up/cool down in cafes. For me being a greedy vegan, it gives me more chances to try delicious local foods!

Cycling is another great way to see a city that doesn’t negatively impact the environment. But be careful – traffic laws vary by country (and if you have a tour guide, don’t follow him/her into oncoming traffic!) I’ve almost died several times whilst on a bicycle, but at least I didn’t kill any trees.

Cycling through Vienna, Austria.

Finally, pay particular attention to places that use animals to transport people. Opt for the cable car in Santorini to take you up the island instead of forcing a poor donkey to carry you and your heavy bags. Say no to horse and carriage transportation in the Gili Islands and use your own two legs to get to where you need to go! And most importantly, don’t ride elephants!

Don’t ride horses!

Tourist Activities

As our planet’s population grows larger, and as people become more economically stable, tourism has completely decimated certain places. Places like Boracay have been shut down by the government; once-crystal-clear diving waters in Bali are now filled with plastic; and cities like Barcelona have graffiti everywhere urging tourists to “go home.”

No matter where you go, choose activities and tours that are ethical and non-invasive. Better yet, choose an eco-tour or company that contributes to conservation or environment protection, such as Elephant Nature Park. You can easily google “eco tours” for the destination you’re planning.

One of my favourite companies to use, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is Sandemans New Europe. They offer free walking tours in most major cities as well as affordable pre-paid tour packages. The free walking tours are a great way to see a city on foot with local guides and mostly young, adventurous travellers. You must be wondering how a tour is free? Well at the end, you give a tip to your tour guide if you wish. This kind of tour is great because it encourages the guide to be fantastic (in order to earn money!) and caters to travellers of all budgets.

Finally, volunteering is such great way to travel. Not only do you get a sense of fulfillment from helping others, but you can make a direct impact on the environment and the locals where you’re staying. Many volunteer programs offer free room and board in exchange for your work. What you decide to do exactly could vary from tree planting, to working in an animal shelter, or teaching English to refugees. A great place to find volunteer opportunities abroad that suit you is WorkAway.

It’s wonderful to travel, but it’s irresponsible to be wasteful while we’re doing it. Hopefully these tips will help you to plan your next eco-conscious holiday!

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