12 ways to travel like you care about the planet
Take only photographs and leave only footprints” but how can you really do that while traveling?
Read on to find 12 ways to tread lightly on the planet, while out adventuring or living in your home town. From sustainable feminine hygiene to cycling adventures – we’ve got you covered! Let’s create a new norm: the sustainable traveler.
1. BYO coffee cup (stick it in your bag n’ take it everywhere)!
Coffee… You never know when the craving might occur. Sometimes, even when dining in, cafes still use one-use cups. Shocking, I know!!! Coffee cups aren’t just made of paper, often they are lined with plastic polyethylene to make them waterproof. So try to tread lightly and enjoy your coffee from a lovely ceramic or artistic reusable cup, or an ordinary flask like mine. Word of warning: I will repeat the following mantra: ask, ask, ask, before it is served! Plus, many places offer a discount for BYO cup. So get on it!
2. Wear period underwear and/or use a menstrual cup
It might be a weird concept at first but trust me it is the future in feminine hygiene. It’s an environmentally sustainable and easier way to travel as a woman! I have two pairs of period underpants that I travel with. Made from high absorbency fabric, that are also antibacterial – perfect for sleeping in, or those heavy days. There are so many brands online to choose from, my advice would be to go for the regular looking ones, not the sexy ones with mesh etc. at the sides as these tend to tear more easily and don’t last as long.
Menstrual cups really deserve a whole blog post dedicated just to them. These godsends are: easy to travel with, hygienic and help save cotton and plastic that regular tampons use. Made from medical grade silicon, they form a cup to catch the flow. They need to be emptied every 4 hours or so. To do so, just go to the bathroom, rinse and re-insert. They make traveling to third-world countries super easy – as it is not always an effortless task to get hold of sanitary items, and also then to know where to dispose of them.
“I once went to a tropical island for the day, ended up having an amazing time and crashed for the night in an abandoned hotel. If I didn’t have my menstrual cup with me it would have honestly been awful, as all of the shops on this small island shut early.” – Me!
Keep the cup in a little container, in a secret pocket of your bag and you will always have it there for any little surprises that come about.
3. Cool chicks cycle
Long distance cycling may sound like a crazy idea, but there are tons of itineraries that follow tranquil rivers or canals in Europe, and many other continents. In the Netherlands, for example you can access a list of homes and B&Bs offering accommodation only for hikers and cyclists. Some will even pack a lunch for you if you ask in advance!
This environmentally friendly way of traveling – burning fat not oil, will allow you to see pristine environments and meet a different breed of traveler. In countries where cycling long-distance may not be the norm, you will find locals are super curious about your travels, and will often invite you to lunch or to stay with them. There are a bunch of solo female cyclist trailblazers, who prove you can go anywhere and do anything on two wheels. For more info check out Irish born Dervla Murphy, who has ridden and volunteered for many years in many continents, or Rwanda’s first female professional cyclist Jean D’arc Girubuntu, who was invited to join the previously all-male national cycling team.
4. Take a small, light plate and cutlery (mine is made from bamboo and I love it)!
I’ve been doing this for a while but I have still not perfected the art of always having it with me. However, I found it works to have a nice little set in a linen or similar bag and to keep it in the back of my backpack. Pre-empt (ASK, ASK, ASK) when plastic is going to be used and explain that you are trying to limit your individual impact on the planet, and ask before the take-away stand or restaurant starts preparing your food. See this theme of always asking…? 😀 Seriously, plastic pops up everywhere! In Acapulco, Mexico I was flabbergasted by how a giant one-use plastic container was used to house the poolside nachos I ordered at a fancy resort. I mean – I just didn’t think to ask. So always ask and you will find that many people smile, congratulate you on your efforts, and you may just have sewn a little seed in their minds for how they can join in.
5. No straw thanks or BYO slick straw
Have you ever drunk straight from a coconut? I mean put your lips to the top of it, after a long hike and just swigged down all the goodness that is inside? I can tell you it is far more pleasurable than using a straw, so again preempt when straws will be used and say no, or whip out your own fancy reusable one.
There are many places now banning straws. I first became aware of this in Ubud, Bali, a place where a conscious collective effort has ensured that bamboo straws and papaya stalks (yes this really works) or beautiful glass and metal straws are used in their place. #nomorestraw
6. Go for artisanal, recycled and hipster to the max
Artists and creatives everywhere are producing handicrafts, food items, clothing – you name it, from recycled or reused items. There is something so whimsical and quaint about purchasing these objects. A kind of wonderful, nostalgic feeling that can’t be created with mass produced items.
So whether you want to buy a rug made with rags, homemade jam in an old jar, a rice bag converted into a camera case or an old tyre wallet, know that you will be getting a one-of-a-kind object that is unequivocally hipster, and even hipper for planet earth! If you are not sure where to find these items, you can ask around. Some charities have shops that sell items made by people with a disability or from local collectives. Keep your eyes peeled. If it isn’t made locally, it isn’t a souvenir (unless of course you are in China)!
7. Check out restaurants that are already doing these things: composting, recycling, growing their own food.
When in a new town, ask around or use old mate Google, and I am confident you will find many businesses operating in a sustainable fashion. Food outlets might use fair trade, organic or locally grown ingredients. They might use paper and biodegradable cutlery.
Let’s take a minute here to also honour simple food, sold by the side of the road that may just be salted peanuts or fried beans, or tamales wrapped in banana leaves. Whatsmore, if vendors do use plastic and you already have your own plate and cutlery ready, you can still be plastic-free! If you see a small enterprising food stall that is going au natural then by all means put your money where your mouth is! Comment how you love their natural approach; and if they are a more established business, why not leave them a lovely Trip Advisor review?
8. Go fresh and ditch the processed food
When I eat fresh produce from markets I feel alive! This is the best way to be healthy and also reduce all that unnecessary plastic wrapping found in supermarkets. You can get to know vendors and find out where they grow their produce. In Mexico, I like to buy fruit and vegetables from little old women selling them in the street. They are only too happy to have a chat, which is great if you are trying to pick up a second language.
9. Give away your things to people
Most hostels have a give box. I had a bunch of nice clothes that I thought I would offer to a young girl working in a taco stand. I didn’t give them to her as an act of shaming charity, I thought she would actually appreciate them and she would be helping me by making my backpack smaller.
It kills me when I see people put good items in the bin. If your shirt, backpack, or other random item is in decent condition and you don’t know what to do with it, stick a free sign on it and put it on the kerb. If it is damaged or stained it should go in the bin, as the line between giving away and dumping is crossed, if the item you are getting rid of should go in landfill. Of course there are many charity shops that would be happy to take items off your hands, and you can always find websites to list free stuff – that saves needing to cart things around.
10. Reusable water bottle (Go plastic BPA-free or Metal)
Uh this is an obvious one. But not so obvious, is how to get access to more water when you are out. I like to take my bottle with me, and even at restaurants and bars, where waiters are generally all too ready to sell a plastic single-use water bottle, I ask for a re-fill and if they want me to pay, then I really don’t mind, because I am still doing my bit. Another fun thing to do is drink from a former alcohol bottle – personally I love the Absolut bottles because they are so sturdy! You can drop them and they don’t break (I tried a few times). It’s a little bit funny when people think you are drinking Vodka, when you are really just trying to drink water from glass instead of plastic. Definitely a conversation starter.
11. Volunteer your time and be rewarded with happiness
Websites like Workaway contain tons of volunteering options. Not all of them have a small environmental footprint, but if you volunteer somewhere you can always lead by example and suggest a few practical changes. It could be as simple as getting a hostel to compost, or you could help volunteer organisations that work with animals or vegetation. There are a lot of pros to volunteering with the environment, as it is an area you can have a big impact on in a small amount of time, and one that does not interrupt people’s lives or emotional attachments, if you are only going to be volunteering for a short time.
If you don’t want to be tied down to working for an organisation, why not pick up a bag of trash from the beach or get involved in community beach clean-up days. Find an issue or area you are passionate about and go for it! Traveling and hitting refresh doesn’t have to be about just hanging out and taking it easy (not that it ever is that easy)! Think of volunteering as a way of upskilling. Many grassroots organisations will have gaps that need to be filled with skills you might not even have yet. The opportunities are calling you!
12. Say NO to plastic bags
I’m not going to smother you with trash talk about plastic bags – we know they are b-b-bad! So let’s use other alternatives. Encourage your buddies to do the same (carry an extra reusable bag on you)!
Mother nature wanted to pass on this message: “Thank you,”
Safe and happy travels xo