I know traveling isn’t the most eco-friendly hobby. Air travel has actually been called the biggest carbon sin of all. I try my hardest to live an eco-conscious lifestyle and am working towards the very ambitious goal of going zero waste, and it’s really hard (if not impossible) to fit this passion of mine into both of those categories. Despite this challenge, how can we still be good environmental stewards? How can you make the effort to go above and beyond to be a responsible traveler? Here are some ways (both big and small) we can travel responsibly and live this love for the land even when adventuring.
1. Bring the bag. Reuse a bottle. Say no to the straw.
Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wraps each year. On average, the plastic grocery bag has a usefulness of 7 minutes, but an eternal lifespan since they don’t biodegrade. I always keep reusable shopping bags in my car, then at least one more packable one in my purse. When I check out, I tell the cashier that I don’t need a bag, especially when I’m buying one item (I usually just put that one item straight in my purse after I pay).
I also always have a reusable water bottle with me. I have quite a few Nalgenes and S’well bottles that I will switch out and carry. They’re so much cuter than single use plastic bottles, AND with how much water I drink, they prevent me from putting 5+ bottles in the trash every single day. Plus, bottled water is not any cleaner or healthier than tap water, despite what that industry may claim. And bottled water can cost up to 500 times the cost of tap water. Y’all. That’s just insane.
I also use my own stainless steel straws instead of using single use plastic straws because more than 500 million straws are thrown away each day in the US. That’s enough to circle the Earth 2.5 times. When I go out to restaurants, I always make sure to say “water, no straw” when the server asks what I’d like to drink.
2. Cut down on plastic waste AND make it easier to get through TSA by using solid toiletries!
You know how much of a pain it can be to pack all your necessities in a carry-on? Mainly because of that liquid rule? Well, by using solid shampoo, conditioner, and even toothpaste you can avoid that annoying situation of measuring out your liquids, putting them in a ziploc bag, and praying TSA doesn’t have it in for you when you’re running late for your flight and get caught in security. My personal favorite brand for all these goodies is Lush. I love the Godiva bar for shampoo (bottom left), Jungle for conditioner (top left), Movis facial cleanser (top right), and Full of Grace solid facial moisturizer (bottom right). Lush is also amazing because they put an enormous amount of love and care into every single product. They believe in ethical buying and source the best, safest, and most sustainable ingredients possible. They have been fighting animal testing for decades and only buy ingredients from companies that don’t commission tests on animals. And along with that, all their products are 100% vegetarian and cruelty-free. I love this company because they truly walk the walk.
3. Use a Diva Cup!
This one is for the LADIES! (Read that in the voice of an obnoxious DJ) But seriously, dudes you can skip this one. Girls, have you ever thought about how much waste we create with pads and tampons? It’s insane. And it’s expensive! I recently switched to the Diva Cup. OK, I actually bought a competitor brand, the name of which I can’t remember, but what’s in a name and all that…
(Plus, I really don’t want to use the term “menstrual cup”)
Anyways, I seriously love it. These cups are reusable for an entire DECADE. That’s only $30 FOR TEN YEARS Y’ALL. Considering that the average woman spends $200 per year on “feminine products,” I am so stoked about that $30. Cups don’t contain latex, BPA, dye or any other creepy additives. Almost all tampons contain bleached rayon—a material that can create the possibly carcinogenic byproduct dioxin. You can wear it safely for up to 12 hours, and it is designed for any activity. (Seriously, the first time I used this thing I went to my hip-hop dance class and was absolutely amazed!) The cup saves you space in your bag, saves you money, and saves space in the landfill.
I know this may not be for everyone. I totally get that because I almost gave up on it the first time I tried it. There is a very short learning curve with the cup. But just stick with it! Don’t give up! This thing is amazing and so worth it!
4. Cut down on the meat and dairy.
You don’t have to commit to being a vegan, but you can definitely reduce your carbon footprint by cutting down on animal product consumption every now and then. Try #MeatlessMondays or the vegan option sometimes. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, vegan food can be absolutely delicious! There’s a cool website/app called HappyCow to help you find ethical, vegan or vegetarian eats!
5. Respect local social, religious, and cultural norms.
Take the time to learn about the country you’re visiting and conduct yourself in a way that is sensitive to their culture. Always dress appropriately with these norms in mind.
6. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
When you go hiking or even just walking around a city you’re visiting make sure you “take only pictures and leave only footprints.” Plants, rocks, and all natural features should be left as they are, as should historical artifacts. And always make sure you dispose of all your litter properly. Never leave any of your waste behind. The earth is not your trash can!
7. Volunteer a little of your time.
Volunteering your time to a worthwhile cause with a reputable local organization can make a huge difference in the community you’re visiting. Whether you’re volunteering your expertise and skills, or just bringing supplies they may need, the locals will be so thankful. For more info, check out programs like Grassroots Volunteering and Pack for a Purpose.
8. Purchase locally.
This is very important in developing countries, but it can be said for any destination. When you book local and shop small, your money is going back into the local economy and communities directly to help them build their lives. Some companies may even give back through community initiatives and philanthropy! And be mindful that haggling may be a fun cultural norm, but make sure you don’t neglect to provide a fair wage to the artisan/vendor.
9. Shop ethical.
Hopefully this goes without saying, but do not buy products made from endangered species. That means say no to ivory products and the like. If you’re considering buying local gems, research the legality and ethics of those gems before you do.
10. Opt for public transportation when you can.
Instead of Ubering or taking taxis from point A to point B, live like a local and take public transportation to reduce your footprint! Or if the weather is nice, walk and explore the city from a pedestrian point of view.
11. Participate in ethical activities.
Support ethical organizations that support animal welfare. Research any wildlife attraction you’re considering to ensure they conform to the nationally recognized standards on the ethical treatment of animals. Look for companies who will positively benefit from your tourism dollars, and will further the mission of conservation and ethical treatment of animals. Respect wild habitats and protected areas, and do not partake in any tour or activity that encourages wildlife interaction within their natural habitat.
For example, here’s a great list of 6 ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand. When we make our way there someday, I will definitely support one of these organizations by visiting.
12. Conserve water.
I live in a country where water supply is ample and most people take that for granted. But no matter what, we all need to conserve water to prevent a crisis in the future. Freshwater makes up a very small fraction of all water on earth. While nearly 70% of the world is covered by water, only 2.5% of it is fresh. Even then, just 1% of our freshwater is easily accessible, since much of it is trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007% of the planet’s water is available to sustain 7.4 billion people. Your travels may bring you to places where water is a supply crisis. You can be a responsible water user by taking a shorter shower, reusing your towels at the hotel (instead of getting them washed/replaced every day), etc. Every drop of water you conserve is a drop that can go toward agriculture and local health.
13. Don’t stop the good habits once you get home.
Think about how your habits impact the environment, and let that motivate you to make small changes over time. Move from being a responsible traveler to a generally responsible citizen of this world. Can you skip the straw during your date night? Maybe bring your reusable cup to fill up for your Starbucks fix? Can you bring a reusable water bottle to work instead of opting for the single-use plastic bottle? How about opting for a meatless dinner tonight? It may not feel like you’re making a difference because you’re only one person. But when you start making eco-responsible choices, soon someone else will take notice and they might pick up that habit as well. Then their family will join in. Soon it’s dozens of people. Then it’s hundreds. Thousands. Millions. Be that one person who inspires the chain!
It’s my hope that you walk away from this post inspired to make at least one small change in your travel habits, or even in your daily life. Do y’all have any other tips for me? If so, leave them below! I’m always looking for more ways to be a responsible traveler.
Happy wanderlusting, friends. Don’t forget to respect your Mother Earth.