In our era of cheap and convenient travel, an increasing number of people are choosing to prioritise ‘the road’ in their life plans, putting time and money aside to travel, finding ways to work on-the-go, or moving every few years. As more of us make discovering the world a pillar of our lifestyles, it should also follow that more of us make feeling responsible for the world a pillar of our lifestyles. To be a traveller, one whose life mission is to discover and experience as much as possible, must go hand in hand with being an environmentalist, whose purpose is to protect and preserve what there is to discover and experience. It is the duty of those who see to take action and spread awareness, and travellers can lead the way here, with their first-hand knowledge of the changes the world is going through.
As the cliché states, change starts from within. The easiest way for us explorers to spread awareness and change attitudes towards the environment and travel is to enact this change ourselves. Being environmentally conscious at home is one thing (don’t use plastic, buy local, buy ethical, limit waste, etc.), but on the road it’s a different affair. There are tricks at your fingertips to travel in ways that limit your ecological and environmental impact. Most of the following will feel like simple common sense – these are steps everyone knows, but may not have thought of in this context. Bear with me!
The first step in travelling is boarding a mode of transport. I won’t bash planes, ships, or trains here, because they are part of the travel revolution, and we are all very grateful for them despite their negative ecological impact. With mindfulness, we can use these modes of transport as responsibly as possible, minimising our impact. The primary issue is the waste that goes around at airports and stations: airport consumerism is going strong. Take-away meals, plastic or paper cups, plastic straws and cutlery, food and retail products that are not ethically or locally sourced, plastic bags… The easiest way to step off this waste bandwagon is to bring all your own food and drink, in your own containers, and shop responsibly. If you are going to buy consumables (and who doesn’t enjoy a sneaky airport meal, snack, and drink?), have your own reusable takeaway containers, cutlery, bottle, and coffee cup ready!
Once on the ground, the mission continues. As far as possible, walk everywhere, and if necessary, use public transport. This is not only better for your wallet, but it’s better for the environment as well. Walking through a city is also the best way to get your bearings, see and feel the city, and come to grips with local life.
You can limit waste on the road much as you would at home, reusing as much as possible and recycling what you can, always shopping mindfully and avoiding the purchase of items that create a lot of waste: look at the packaging, plastic content, provenance, etc. Sticking to the ‘no-plastic’ rule can be difficult outside of your comfort zone. Depending on the kind of travel you are doing, you may not be in a position to emulate your home habits (buying raw whole foods, using your own shopping bags, produce bags, and bulk bags, buying meat from the butcher as opposed to the refrigerated aisle, and steering clear of anything with too much plastic). If you’re buying food on-the-go focus on fresh meals with no wrapping (pies, sandwiches, slices) or items that you can transfer to your own containers (soups, salads, deli meals). As you wander around, sip frequently from your reusable water bottle and coffee cup, say no to plastic straws and cutlery, using your own reusable alternatives, and favour your own reusable containers when it comes to take-away or doggy bags. It’s always good to leave a restaurant with more food than you arrived with!
Waste reduction becomes a habit, so at first, it may seem strange and a little ‘precious’ or fussy to refuse the usual plastic wrapping and utensils provided, but it will quickly become natural and easy. You’ll create less rubbish this way, and always be ready for anything! (Impromptu meals are my favourite).
When it comes to personal hygiene, shower gel, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, creams and cleansers are all products you can create at home and travel with in adapted containers. These days you can buy or make most of the above in the form of handy little bars, thus avoiding pesky plastic containers and wrappings altogether, and enabling you to carry more products in your hand luggage. DIY-ing your own hygiene and beauty products has a wide range of advantages, from health (they will be chemical and toxin-free), to finance (you can bulk buy ingredients and make enough product to last a lifetime), to the environment, cutting out the plastic container and ensuring all components are locally sourced. It’s also a lot of fun. If you’re travelling in insect-inhabited lands, you can make your own insect repellent too!
Suncream is a big one: traditional suncreams are a bane to our delicate ocean eco-systems and contain chemicals that we probably shouldn’t be comfortable putting on our skin. You can definitely DIY your own suncream, but if a branded lotion with an identifiable protection factor reassures you more, focus your resources on reef-safe, chemical and plastic free alternatives.
There you have it! A few tips to make your travels as environmentally friendly and ethical as possible. As we go about experiencing the world, we should begin to consider how the world experiences us – we all know the answer is not a positive one. So take these habits home, take them on the road, and make sure that the world you look forward to exploring is still there for the travellers of the future. Travel and environmentalism are one: without travel, there is no one to see the world, and without the world, there is no travelling to be done.
Here are some good resources to help you on your zero-waste journeying: