It is so easy to forget your impact on the world when you are busy exploring it. Which, frankly, seems kind of crazy.
But consider this: you are on vacation in some exotic, beautiful country but you cannot drink the water - so you have to buy plastic water bottles constantly. Then, because you are in such a magical spot, you feel like you need to go on every single tour possible, including ones that involve “wild” animals (elephants, tigers, etc.) and visits to “local” villages so you can gaze at indigenous tribal members going about their day. Finally, after all that, you wander around the local cities and towns and barely interact with any of the local citizens or when you do it is only in your native tongue.
Sound like a quintessential fast vacation? We get it. When you are on holiday you don't want to think - you just want to relax and enjoy the fantastic country or place you are in. But what if you could do all of that and still be making a more positive change for the planet?
By making a few small changes you can go from being a run-of-the-mill vacationer, to a more sustainable traveler. Here is how.
\\ Book Flights That Are Greener
Taking a plane is one of the most common forms of transportation when it comes to travel. There really is no quicker way to get from Point A to Point B, especially when looking at traveling to places far away, than on a train.
While planes do give off a ton of CO2 (carbon dioxide) - there is no denying that - thankfully, many airlines around the world are starting to make necessary changes to ensure they are doing their part to help the planet.
This includes using more environmentally friendly materials, like installing carbon fiber seats, using environmentally friendly paper for items like magazines (or just getting rid of them altogether), serving vegetarian and vegan meals, and using less single-use plastic goods (like cups, silverware, etc.). Similarly, many planes are actually beginning to switch to more eco-friendly fuel (like biofuel) and even changing the design of the planes themselves so they have less drag, which means less fuel consumption overall.
Today, it is easier than ever for travelers to choose to fly with more eco-conscious airlines. Some of the most common are Alaska Airlines, Delta, KLM, Cathay Pacific and Flybe, just to name a few.
TIP: We book almost all of our flights on Skyscanner. Luckily, they let you know which flights are greener by notating them with a green leaf.
This is another helpful tool to ensure you are booking more eco-friendly flights.
\\ Offset Your Carbon Emissions
Now if you don’t have the option to book a greener flight there is still the opportunity to offset your carbon emissions from flying once you land.
There are a couple of ways to do this, including going online and paying for the amount of carbon your flight gave off. That money (usually - definitely do your research) is then used to help environmentally conscious projects around the world, including reforestation efforts, solar panel installations and even distributing more efficient cookstoves for women in Kenya.
See how much you can offset here.
\\ Walk Everywhere You Can, and Take Public Transport (or Bikes!) Everywhere Else
Once you arrive at your destination you will likely have an uncontrollable urge to explore everything. Good - that is one of the great perks of travel: exploration. And one of the best ways, and one of the most eco-friendly ways, to do that exploring is on your own two feet.
Most cities are actually pretty walkable. Even ones without clear sidewalks (like Chiang Mai, Thailand) are still very easy to maneuver on your own two feet - just be prepared to maneuver around food stalls (learn more about Chiang Mai here).
Walking around a city doesn’t just allow you to explore it more personally (a local shopkeeper won’t be able to show you his crafts if you are in a car…), but it is also a great way to combine curiosity with fitness. Plus, when you walk instead of drive you are also of course doing good for the planet.
Now not every city will be super walkable (here are 10 that are), so instead consider taking other forms of eco-friendly focused transportation. Including, bicycles, electric scooters and even public transportation like trains and buses.
Just don’t drive everywhere. Please.
| We try to walk as much as possible when traveling, so we always have our Allbirds with us. They aren’t only super comfortable, but also super environmentally friendly! |
\\ Eat Local Food As Much As Possible
This should not just be the case when you are traveling abroad, but also when you are at home. If given the chance, you should always try to eat as local (and as seasonal) as you can. Why? Because when you eat food that is grown closer to where you live, you drastically cut down on the overall carbon emissions put out to get that item to market.
Plus, isn’t the unique cuisine of the country you are visiting one of the biggest perks of traveling anyway? Why would you want to sacrifice the ability to eat delicious food, especially produce, in the place it was grown. We promise that the local mango, pineapple, and coconuts (and everything else? tastes much better when it has come from the local farm down the road instead of off a container ship from across an ocean.
While it can sometimes be a bit nerve-wracking to try new foods, to offset that fear, try to do some research before heading out to the market so you have some idea of what each thing is. Or if you are feeling confident, simply ask the shopkeeper what the items are.
Similarly, when out at dinner, if you don't know what each thing is - or where to even start - a great option is to ask the waitress what they would recommend. Because if anyone is going to know what is tasty, it will probably be the people working with it daily.
\\ Shop at Local Markets Instead of Grocery Stores (When You Can)
This very much aligns with the previous point. When you have the option while traveling to get food from either a local market or a big box grocery store, always (always) choose the market.
Yes, we know shopping in local markets can be a bit scary, a bit overwhelming. But promise it will be worth it when you purchase a piece of fruit from the person who actually grew it in their field!
If you are hoping to connect with a culture, then shopping at the local market and buying directly from the producer is a great way to do that. In many places, including our home country of the USA, the opportunity to interact with the people who grow the food you eat is very rare - something that research shows leads to less connection with your food overall.
So if you get the opportunity, head to the market - you won’t only walk away with delicious food, you will also likely get a better idea of the country’s culture. Plus, you will probably save a few bucks too.
\\ Use Reusable Containers & Bags
When out shopping, no matter where you are, you should always use reusable shopping bags instead of plastic ones. Now we know that you can’t always get away from plastic bags - trust us, we totally understand. But. When you have the option to substitute using a reusable bag instead of a plastic one, always, always go reusable.
Because Consider This:
| It only takes about 14 plastic bags for the equivalent of the gas required to drive one mile.
| There were 1.9 million grocery bags and other plastic bags collected in the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup.
| Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. It lasts forever. In the ocean, it breaks down and degrades into little pieces, which are then ingested by marine animals. This often kills them. In fact, these plastic-sized particles outnumber plankton 6-1.
| It is estimated that the world uses between 500 billion and 1 TRILLION plastic bags a year.
\\ Use Less Plastic Overall
But you shouldn’t just give up plastic bags. No, you should try to give up plastic altogether.
While it might sound challenging, in truth, today there are many eco-friendly options available on the market. many of which are not any more expensive than their plastic counterparts.
Here are some great places to start:
| Switch from plastic straws to a reusable metal one. Like these.
| Use metal or bamboo utensils instead of single-use plastic. We like these.
| Reusable bags for produce instead of those clear plastic ones. These are pretty great.
| Shampoo bars (and other soap bars) instead of plastic containers. Check out these from The Earthling Co.
| Toothpaste tablets instead of an actual plastic toothpaste tube. Why? Because an estimated 400 million toothpaste tubes are thrown away each year in the U.S. alone.
By starting with these small, rather simple, changes, you are more likely to decrease your plastic consumption overall. While plastic usage may seem like an unmovable negative force, something that is too big to even start to fix, when it comes down to it, if we all make small changes every day, we will have a positive impact overall.
More Facts on Plastic:
| Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
| Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.
| Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics. Nearly every species of seabird eats plastics.
| Microplastics have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough.
| About 34% of dead leatherback sea turtles have ingested plastics.
\\ Bring a Water Bottle & Filter
We never go anywhere without a reusable water bottle, and you shouldn’t either.
Now we understand that in some countries you cannot drink the tap water, which definitely makes things a bit more challenging. But in many cases, if the water is not safe to drink you do have a couple of options that don’t include buying plastic water bottles all the time.