Travelling is one of the best ways to expand your horizons and to enjoy life, but travelling also has the potential for generating a lot of unnecessary waste if you do it improperly. So if you’re planning on going abroad sometime soon, here are a few tips to reduce your plastic use and overall environmental impact.
1) Shop Local, Travel Local, Live Local
This first tip is a simple reminder that the same ideas for reducing your impact at home apply to your travelling plans as well. Shop at locally owned stores instead of chains to reduce the carbon impact of your purchasing, as well as to help out the local economy. Get around on public transport when possible instead of always relying on a rental car. Buy locally grown produce if it’s possible and safe water wise. Go to the entertainment that the locals are going to. Drink a local beer instead of the big name ones. Carpool for your outings when possible. Now, you don’t have to be super strict with this in case you want to see how a big name corporation changes from one country to the next (if you’ve never been to a Pizza Hut in mainland China, it’s an experience), but just remember that local is generally going to be better, even when in a very different location.
2) Mesh bags
The big trick for any travel is figuring out how to make the most out of living out of a small suitcase. This worry becomes magnified if you're flying and looking to cut down on your waste and carbon footprint. Flying is actually not that bad of a way to travel carbon wise if there's a decent amount of people on the flight and you can limit your transfers. But when doing this remember that weight counts, so cutting down on what you bring impacts your carbon footprint, no matter how trivial it might be.
One cheeky idea is to bring a mesh bag to use both as a beach bag and a grocery bag. Mesh is nice because it wont trap the sand in it so that it can rinse out easier when you need it as a grocery bag. If you don't want to leave home without your trusty canvas grocery bags though, try using them as a quick way to organize your luggage instead.
Again, especially when travelling on an airplane, the less you bring the more environmentally you are being. Try and pair down your wardrobe options as much as possible, and see if you can wash them halfway through the trip so that you can pack even less. But wanna spice things up with that limited wardrobe? Enter the scarf.
There are a ridiculous number of ways to wear a scarf around your neck, not to mention that you can use a scarf as a shawl, a belt, headgear, and a coverup. But the versatility of the scarf doesn’t end there. Refuse the little airline pillow and use the scarf instead. Or use it as a blanket. Or a sleeping mask. Or tie it into a bag. A scarf is such a simple item with a huge amount of uses, just needs a bit of creativity.
4) Fanny Pack is Back!
Did you know that the fanny pack is back in fashion? Just wear it over the shoulders instead of around the waist and you can look as cool as Rihanna. Yeah...I don't get it either, but a fanny pack is super practical for storing your personals and your camera when travelling. For safety reasons, I would recommend wearing it in the front and resting your hand on it to help deter pickpockets, and as minimal as I’ve been trying to go I’d still I’d recommend a concealable money belt for extremely valuable stuff such a passport.
That said a zippered pouch for all your travel gear is always going to be a staple of the vacationer. So if you are looking for one, check out these upcycled fanny packs Travel Kits from Rust and Fray. It comes in tweed to reduce the plastic use from nylons and to help it not scream “tourist.” And just like everything else at Rust and Fray, the material is 100% upcycled from factory raw unprocessed materials, including the zippers, so that you’ll be helping to reduce your waste output as you travel.
5) Mason Jars
Anyone who is super committed to the zero-waste lifestyle can elaborate on the virtues of mason jars for freezing food, organizing pantries, and their million other uses, so it’s no surprise that they made it onto this list. But let's just talk about their traveling specific uses.
Their first main use of course is for storing snacks. Airport food is terrible, overpriced, and pull of plastic wrappings. Gas station food is terrible, overpriced, and full of plastic wrappings. You get the picture. A nice mason jar full of treats will keep the cravings at bay while also saving you money. When you eat through all the snacks, the jar then becomes a water cup for the hotel. Then bring it along to the restaurant with you to store your leftovers in for your midnight snack. Next morning, wash it out then bring it down to the lobby to drink the free coffee in. A quick rinse later and your ready to bring it along with you for buying items at the farmers market for a later snack. Head out to dinner and, well, you get the picture.
6) Know before you go
Finally, do your research before you go, especially if your travelling to a different culture. Yeah, this is not technically a way to reduce the amount of plastic you're using, but if you want to be a respectful visitor and make choices that are good for both the environment and the culture you need to do thorough research.
I’ll use the example of elephants in Thailand. You don’t want to be the tourist that rides the elephants without any knowledge about the problems with the practice. But if after a quick google search shows you pictures of baby elephants being abused by unscrupulous users and you therefore swear off all elephant related activities Thailand, you are also being problematic because you’re still not learning context. You’re just condemning a culture instead of being helpful. If you want to be a good tourist you need to promote sustainability within the culture you are visiting, and you won't be able to do that without doing your research.
For the record, the context for elephant tourism in Thailand is as follows. In 1989 Thailand enacted an emergency ban on all logging due to deforestation causing devastation to the environment. While it was definitely a good move, it put a lot of rural mahouts (elephant handlers) out of business, as they were the main force in the industry. These mahouts turned to elephant riding tourism because elephants are considerably expensive to own and purchase, so if they weren’t giving out elephant rides those elephants were going to be sold to circuses to give rides in even worse condition as well as harmful performing practices. That said, places such as Elephant World Sanctuary and Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary are working towards transitioning elephant tourism away from elephant riding without bankrupting the mahouts. Basically, they act as elephant “retirement” homes where tourists can volunteer to feed and bath the elephants (but not ride), and the elephants get to live in a happier, more natural environment. These parks both employ mahouts and promote more sustainable tourism practices that don’t make the elephants “work.”
The trick to being a good traveler is being practical and packing light, so the transition to a zero-waste or waste-lite traveler is a natural one. Don’t be afraid to travel, just be willing to get creative with what you have and respect where you are going and you’ll have a great time while staying sustainable.