Sustainable travel is big business. More and more people are becoming aware of the environmental cost and carbon footprint of their lifestyle. And looking for a change. Which is great!
The travel industry, and especially mass tourism, can be very unsustainable. Carbon emissions, endless consumption, pollution, economic and social exploitation, etc. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
There are lots of little ways we can change our habits to be more eco-friendly. These small sustainable swaps for travelers make a big difference.
Electronic instead of paper
Do you ever look inside your bag and have to rifle through a mountain of receipts, flyers and other loose scraps of paper? Or is it just me? For all our technological advancements, we still use a lot of paper. Far more than we need and a lot of it isn’t getting recycled because it gets contaminated.
Luckily, there are lots of ways that eco-friendly travelers can reduce their paper waste by opting for digital solutions:
- Use electronic boarding passes. Airlines and other transport companies usually have an app that gives you a QR boarding pass.
- Download a public transport app to buy digital tickets.
- Save digital copies and screenshots of important documents on your phone and in the cloud.
- Use an app to manage and plan your trip, instead of loose papers.
- Get travel inspiration from online sources rather than guidebooks or magazines.
- Read e-books and online magazines instead of paper magazines.
- Pay by card instead of cash
- Say no to paper receipts and opt for a digital receipt whenever possible. Some shops have an app that allows you to store your receipts electronically.
- Refuse flyers and business cards and take a picture of it instead.
So before you print, think about whether you really need to! Most of these will not only help you reduce your use of paper but also keep everything organized. And if you do end up with paper, try to reuse it or recycle it. Like turning tickets stubs and mementos into a fun travel scrapbook.
Reusable instead of single use
Reusing is the biggest thing we can do to limit waste. Everything you buy and use will have to be disposed off, either by composting, recycling or in a landfill. And when it comes to some materials, like plastic, it never truly disappears. All plastic that has ever been produced still exists in some form in the world.
The key to avoiding single use (especially single use plastic), is by being prepared and bringing your own. Luckily, nowadays, there are lots of reusable travel gadgets on the market, eliminating the need for single use. Here are a few reusable gadgets I own, that I recommend for all travelers:
- A water bottle, in particular a filter bottle like Lifestraw or Grayl.
- Cutlery and straws
- A reusable shopping bag and produce bags
- A food container
But don’t rush to the store to get the newest “sustainable gadget”. Use what you have before you buy something new, even if it’s a more eco-friendly version. Also, when something breaks, see if you can fix it instead of just buying a new one. Because the most eco-friendly thing you can do is consume less.
Even recycling isn’t all it’s been made out to be. Unfortunately, a lot doesn’t get disposed off right or isn’t valuable enough to recycle so it ends up in a landfill or ocean anyway. So always ask yourself: “do I need to buy this?”.
Second-hand instead of new
If you do have to buy something new, buy second-hand. People give away and sell perfectly good items in need of a home. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure! 😉
Avoid fast fashion
This is especially true for clothing. Fast fashion is one of the biggest polluters, producing 10% of all carbon emissions, and second-largest consumer of water. And despite that cost, 85% of clothing ends up in landfills every year! So instead of buying something new, buy something pre-owned. I’ve found so many amazing pieces in thrift stores and flea markets for a fraction of what they would cost new. Or organize a clothing swap with friends to refresh your wardrobe.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for second-hand, go for a sustainable option. Buy clothing from eco-friendly fiber like bamboo, sustainable shops with minimal packaging and buy quality items that are made to last. The planet is worth the investment!
Crowdsource your travel gear
Second-hand doesn’t just work for clothes, but also for travel gear. eBay, Craigslist, army surplus stores, Facebook marketplace and local Facebook groups are all great places to shop for travel items. I once managed to go on a camping trip for $40, because bought a tent and camping gear from fellow backpackers and sold it after the trip. Eco-friendly and budget-friendly at the same time.
And don’t forget about the age-old option of borrowing! Instead of buying new travel gear, see if you can borrow some from friends. Someone might have a backpack, tent, sleeping bag or a pair of hiking boots lying around that you can use.
And finally, if you can avoid it, do not order online. Especially from big companies like Amazon. I know it’s convenient and tempting, but there are so many benefits to buying in store:
- support local business
- avoid carbon emissions from delivery
- try items on/out and get personal assistance and advice
- no unnecessary returns that end up in the landfill
You are much more likely to purchase the right thing if you do it in store, saving you hassle and money. And most online orders that we return are never repackaged and sold, but instead just thrown out!
Walk instead of drive
An easy way to reduce your carbon footprint is by choosing low emission forms of transportation. And no form of transportation is as sustainable as walking. So get those comfy shoes out and your steps in!
Walking is my favorite way to explore anywhere that I travel. Be it strolling through a city or hiking in the mountains. I love how flexible it makes, free to dip into any side street or take any detour I want. It’s one of the few forms of exercise I enjoy.
So on your next trip, instead of driving everywhere, try walking. It’ll save you a lot of money and allows you to explore your destination in a new way. If walking is not your speed, opt for a rental bike or even an e-bike. Those are faster than by foot, but still eco-friendly.
For the less mobile travelers, opt for public transportation over cars or taxi’s. Sharing a form of transportation lowers the emission per passenger and kilometer, so it’s more sustainable.
Solid instead of liquid
A lot about a more sustainable lifestyle is about going back to basics. Making and fixing things yourself and reducing consumption. Another great “old school lifehack” is using solid toiletries.
Liquid cosmetic products like shampoo and soap are much harder on the environment than you might think. They pollute water and kill corals when introduced into the ocean.
Luckily, solids are a great alternative. Here are a few solid and sustainable toiletry swaps that you can make:
- Shampoo and conditioner bars
- Soap bars (these also make for great souvenirs)
- Toothpaste tabs or powder
- Washing powder instead of liquid detergent
- Salt deodorant block
- Sunscreen stick
- Perfume block
- Shaving soap
- Solid lip balm
And as a bonus: solids can go into your carry-on luggage so you don’t have to worry about those pesky liquids rules and travel size toiletries. And while solid toiletries like shampoo bars might seem more expensive, they actually last a lot longer, so you save money in the end.
As you can see, becoming a more sustainable traveler doesn’t have to be a daunting task. It’s by educating ourselves, looking critically at our habits and taking one small step at a time, that we can make a big difference. Adopting these sustainable swaps won’t make you an eco-warrior overnight, but they are a step in the right direction.
So, which one are you adopting first? Or which sustainable swaps have you made in the way you travel? Leave a comment below.
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