How to Stop Being an Environmental Slob While Traveling

This month, we’re diving into Plastic Free July, a time where we can finally shine the light on plastic consumption like the fluorescent bulb at a department store changing room. Talking about plastic consumption isn’t pretty, can be uncomfortable, and at times shows flaws in ourselves that we didn’t even know we had (Oh hello there, dimples!). And while we’re at it, why stop at plastic? Let’s hit a few key areas of where humans tend to be incredibly sloppy when it comes to travel.

Let's not be this guy. (When satire comes too close to reality...)

Let’s not be this guy. (When satire comes too close to reality…)

The travel industry in particular deserves a nose-bop (or if you ask the ocean, a face-punch) when it comes to waste production. It encourages single use plastics like disposable packaging, increased CO2 emissions, and often when we visit developing countries, we do more environmental damage than good. And while I’m no environmental saint, something I’ve documented at length, I do try to be an eco conscious traveler instead of a mindless consumer when I hit the road.

Steamers Beach Jervis Bay Chantae3

Trying not to think about how every moment of my existence is damaging the planet 🙂

Fortunately, there are ways to cut down your plastic usage and green your travel style. Try one thing on the list that stands out, or try them all. Either way, you’re taking a step to become less of an environmental slob.

I’m thinking of making an entire series about cutting down plastic usage and waste, as it’s one of my biggest passions and challenges lately. If this interests you, please give me a shout in the comments or shoot over an email.

(Read: Is Minimalism the Love Child of Long Term Travel?)
How to be an eco friendly and green traveler - tips for traveling sustainably.

The #1 Way to Be Green: Refuse

The best way to green your travel? Refuse the plastic or waste in the first place. This applies to everything from hotel toiletries to airplane water bottles. If you refuse it, the demand for the production is decreased. We can’t halt the production of junk, plastic, single-use items, but we can stop the need to create it.

A delicious, plastic-free treat.

A delicious, plastic-free treat.

What to Pack

Stainless Steel Water Bottle Or Compact Bottle

I love the Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle and get questions about it from people who see it in public constantly — who knew a water bottle could be such a conversation starter? It’s durable and contains zero plastic so you don’t have to worry about leaving water in it for a long period of time. Many steel water bottles are lined with plastic, something to consider if you’re purchasing a new one.

If you are backpacking or don’t have much space in your luggage, consider getting a collapsible bladder that you can fill up as needed and fold up for storage. It’s a little more inconvenient to drink out of, but does the job.

Coffee Cup

Did you know that many single use coffee cups are lined in plastic? Disposable coffee cups are a nightmare to recycle since they’re often made up of both plastic and paper.

If I have enough space, I pack my Keep Cup, a glass and silicone coffee cup that can fit under any coffee machine (the large version isn’t). So far I have no complaints. It’s leak-proof, sturdy, and easy to throw into a bag. You can customize the colors of the cup online.

keepcup

Compact Reusable Bag

Reusable bags have always been a beautiful thing, but bags that fold up into themselves? Revolutionary. These bags can be chucked into your luggage or clipped to your purse to become useful at any moment. I use them to store dirty laundry, buy groceries, and as a beach bag in daily life and on the road.

Comic by Cyanide and Happiness

Comic by Cyanide and Happiness

Food Containers and Cutlery

Tell your waiter “no straw” when ordering a drink (if you must have one, bring your own steel straw) and keep a set of cutlery on you at all times. It’s ridiculous that a product made to last forever is used for the span of one meal, and then discarded. I try to keep a set of cutlery in my purse (you can get a cute set on Amazon) and rinse it in the sink when I get a chance. I also pack a container whenever I travel, often throwing in trail mix or leftovers.

camping equipment for margaret river

Toiletries

Don’t use the hotel-provided toiletries. When you take those, you’re essentially saying, “Yes, please make more of these!” Bring and use your own, which are likely to be better quality than the ones the hotel provides anyways.

In my toiletries, I pack:

  • Solid shampoo bar from LUSH. I’ve used three different bars. My personal favorites are the “Jason and the Argan Oil,” and the “Karma Korma.” The “Godiva” bar smells like feet the second that stink bomb hits water, so buyer beware.
  • A bar of soap. I pick up any unwrapped bar I can find from farmers markets or whatever one smells nice from a shop. Sometimes, I’ll even use my shampoo bar as soap since it works just as well.
  • Cruelty free makeup. Makeup is a very personal thing, so check to see if your favorite brands test on animals or use palm oil.
  • For exfoliation, mix old coffee grinds or sugar with a dollop of coconut oil and scrub away. Don’t buy anything that contains microbeads.
  • Diva cup. Preparing for a long trip is actually what inspired me to start using a menstrual cup instead of other items. Saves money, waste, and ensures that you’re always prepared, especially in countries where feminine products can be hard to find. Hesitant? No worries, I was too at first. You can read a full review that I 100% stand behind on Adventures Around Asia.

Toiletries I’m trying to find package-free (and would love recommendations).

  • Solid conditioner – does anyone have one that works well for dry hair?
  • Solid deodorant – I’ve tried all kinds at LUSH, and did not have the best luck with them.
  • Toothpaste powder – I’m still not totally open to using tooth powder in lieu of toothpaste but I’m keen to hear some thoughts.
  • Sunscreen – I’m in the market for a natural sunscreen brand that’s long lasting in the water and comes with minimal packaging.

Borrow Instead of Buying

Whenever possible, borrow a specific item instead of buying it for your trip — especially if it’s equipment that you’ll likely need only once. If you like the item and find it useful, you can always replace it once you’re home.

On the Road

Slow Travel

Public transportation or using your own legs as locomotion is best. Flights emit a tragic amount of CO2 into the environment, especially during take-off and landing. So whenever possible, catch that bus, ride a bicycle, or take the train on your journey.

ChiangMaiClouds2

(Read The Bike to Surf Movement: An Interview With My Wave Addiction)

Airplane Flights: Refuse Plastics and Care Packages

You don’t need that welcome package of junk they give you on long-haul flights. Bring your own quality eye mask, ear plugs, and socks instead. There’s no need to hoard duplicate items that are cheaply made and only add to the waste stream.

On the plane, I usually keep my water bottle close by for refills and use just one or my personal cup the entire flight for drinks. Airline meals are often impossible to eat without producing plastic waste, so consider bringing your own or using cutlery that’s already in your bag. Many plastic-free people forgo airplane meals and bring their own healthier meal instead.

Tour with Responsible Operators

Before shelling out money or time for a tour operator, know what you’re getting. Do research on whether that elephant ride, visit to the tiger temple, and snorkel session with the whale shark is cruelty-free. Responsible operators keep to trails, do not disturb wildlife, and pick up after themselves. If you join a tour that turns out to be damaging to the environment, demand a refund and write am honest review.

Elephants swimming in river elephant nature park

(Read: A Day at Elephant Nature Park)

Complications: Going Green in Developing Countries

Unfortunately, the travel industry often his island-based and developing countries hardest, because the infrastructure to accommodate tourism-driven waste isn’t there. Takeaway containers, plastic bottles, and plastic bags are likely to end up in the country’s waterways or burned, releasing carcinogens into the air. Recycling efforts are generally nonexistent. So, again, the best thing to do is refuse the plastic in the first place and prevent it from reaching your hands.

trash in waterways

Many times, tap water is undrinkable in places that only serve dirty water. While I’ve heard great reviews about the Steripen, a UV water purifier that sterilizes contaminated water, I’ve yet to try it myself. If you must buy plastic water bottles, purchase the largest bottle possible to save on packaging. Consider splitting a huge jug with your travel mates or others at your hostel.

trashmonkeys

You’d be surprised at how many environmental groups exist worldwide today. For a social activity and one that leaves a place better than you found it, check into joining a beach clean-up or environmental project. Personally, I enjoy events held by the Surfrider Foundation and Sea Shepherd for beach-based destinations.

(Read: The Worst Thing About Indonesia: The Trash Problem)

Leave Eco-Themed Reviews

When leaving a review I often evaluate how my service was, how the product was, and how environmentally friendly the company is. The sooner we speak up and demand environmental change, the faster it can happen. It’s your world too, so never be afraid to share ways that a company can do better. Sometimes companies lash out at those who demand better environmental standards. Don’t take it personally — no progress of any sort has come without defensive naysayers and obstacles.

Resources

…And More

There is so much more than can be hashed out in one blog post. I approach traveling responsibly as a project that I’m constantly experimenting with and trying to get better at. Some things I’ve mastered, and others I’ve yet to take the first step. Wherever you are in your responsible travel journey, keep pushing forward. It might be awkward at first, but with time low-eco-impact strategies simply become a habit. You got this.

HOW TO BE AN ECO FRIENDLY TRAVELER (1)

If you have any of your own personal tips or thoughts, feel free to share them below. 

This post contains a few Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something I’ve recommended, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

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67 Responses

  1. Justine says:

    I’m super passionate about this too. Though I am also far from being a saint! I would love for you to do some sort of series on this. I feel like I’m at my least green when I travel. For example, I never use plastic water bottles at home but when I travel I go through a disturbing amount of them. I do try to always refill my Nalgene when possible. But I could be more diligent. I think all travelers could do better. I’m heading back to Bali for the summer. As you know Bali’s trash issue has always saddened and disturbed me. So the being green thing will definitely be on my mind while I’m there. I’m sure I’ll be writing about it too 😉 Anyway, love this post!
    Justine recently posted…This Expat Life: Month 22 (Beijing)My Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Ah yeah, it is super hard to travel and be green – I found it really hard to find a place to refill my water in many places in Cambodia, Bali as well! How long will you be in Bali for :)?

  2. Dulice Reden says:

    This was so good! It is so painfully true. You would be proud, the boys, your little sand monkey cousins, pick up the beach before they leave. I am sending this too many friends, I am so proud of you, this is a great post.

  3. Laura says:

    LOVE this!! It’s probably not exactly what you’re looking for, as I don’t think the SPF is that high and it’s not waterproof, but coconut oil does work as a sunscreen on at least some level (I feel like it’s maybe factor 10)?

    Really glad you wrote this article, it’s really useful and these are things everyone should be doing!

    • Chantae says:

      Thanks for the tip 🙂 That’s a great suggestion for short-term outside wear I think (whereas I’d usually wear nothing at all or lay on my only thick sunscreen). Thanks 🙂

  4. This is so important, I hate the way that normal recycling has to go out of the window (not literally!) while you’re travelling sometimes. It’s much better to have reusable items wherever you can. I like the coffee cup idea for machines very much!
    Katie Featherstone recently posted…Storms, sea shells and sand boarding in Mui Ne, Vietnam.My Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Very true! Especially in transit when bins and options are less available (or you place them there and don’t *really* know what happens). Thanks for the comment 🙂

  5. Kylie says:

    Totally agree! It’s sad how much we damage this beautiful earth, especially because people can be lazy (including me) and don’t actually think global warming is happening.

    A convenient thing I do is place reusable bags in my car in advance, so when I spontaneously go grocery shopping I can use them. Plus, they hold more items and don’t strangle your fingers when you bring the groceries back home from your car!

    It still bothers me when someone brings a reusable coffee mug to the coffee shop and then the cashier uses a paper cup to measure of its a small, medium or large, and then throw away the paper cup! Totally defeats the purpose!

    Thanks for raising the extra awareness and giving ideas that we can do to help out future generations.

    • Chantae says:

      Thanks 🙂 The bag in the car is a really good idea – it’s best to just have them everywhere to be lazy-friendly 😛 haha. The coffee cup thing frustrates me too! Gahhh!

  6. Richelle says:

    This is such a great post! I hate the amount of disposable waste I have in China from takeout containers, so I’ve begun carrying one with me. I also always refuse the disposable wooden chopsticks in favor of the metal ones I keep in my purse. Finally, thanks so much for linking to my diva cup post! Honestly, it’s LIFE CHANGING. I’m never going back. I also use THINX period panties too.

    • Chantae says:

      Yeah, Southeast Asia in general is really hard to go without plastics! They take it to the next level at times 😛 that’s awesome you’re bringing your own container – makes my heart sing! I’ve seriously sent you Diva cup post to so many chicks who are apprehensive about using it, it’s been a lifesaver.
      <3

  7. We always travel with our reusable plastic bottles and I bring my thermos to drink coffee from. In Mexico, we used water purified instead constantly buying water. In Croatia, we recycle bottles constantly. It is not much, but you need to start from somewhere. 🙂
    Maja | Mexatia recently posted…Make your own homemade ice cream! It is easy!My Profile

  8. Jen Morrow says:

    Great tips! I see the impact of plastic waste amplified on beaches and while scuba diving. There are so many ways to use less plastic, but we also need to clean up the discarded trash that is already out there.

  9. Sheri says:

    These are great tips and I do some of these and support the idea of reusing items. Although I cant imagine carrying cutlery around in my purse! Will be looking at some of your links.

    • Chantae says:

      Thanks Sheri! Yeah, some tips fit or stand out to people more than others. I tend to forget cutlery at times, but bringing containers or bottles is always easy for some reason 😛 Doesn’t make any sense haha.

  10. Nickiea says:

    Wow you have some great tips for traveling and being green. I have to agree with the recycling efforts in developing countries. Usually most trash end up on the side of the roads, in streams, and canals. Great post.
    Nickiea recently posted…Create Your Own Candy Bar in Chocolate World at Hersheypark #ChocolateWorld #SweetestMoms #HersheyparkHappyMy Profile

  11. Liz says:

    This is a very educational post! It’s great that more and more people are becoming environmentally aware. I’m also a fan of bags that fold onto themselves – I always have one in my bag and it’s extremely useful on the road. I’ve been refusing straws for several years now, but will add refusing hotel and airline care packages. You’re absolutely right – they ARE inferior to what I bring, so I should just stick with what I have and resist the environmentally damaging freebies. 🙂
    Liz recently posted…Exploring Busan, South Korea: Scenes and Spots to Check OutMy Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Thanks Liz! Yeah, the foldable bags are a lifesaver! That’s awesome you’ve been denying straws – I often forget 🙁 Cheers 🙂

  12. Inês says:

    Oh my gosh this is amazing! Such a thorough post! I’m definitely guilty of always asking for a straw but your idea for a steel one is great! Looking into it asap 😉

  13. Liana says:

    I’m far from being an eco traveler, but I love the concet and I totally endorsed it. I support everyone doing so, but even if I’m vegan, I personally tend to forget about it. Living in France, we’re starting to induce those policies and now, you’re not going to get plastic bags unless you want to pay for them. And I guess that”s a pretty big move! Anyway, you’re so right, we can do so much more when we travel or not and just not pretending those things don’t have an impact is cruelty, because if you care about Mother Nature, you perfectly know what’s happening around you and how you destroy the environment. Let’s just mention the ecosystem and how everything is upside down now! The temperatures are getting crazy and we don’t have anything close to Spring anymore! So I definitely support you for the protection of Mother nature and all of her children aka our animals friends! x
    Liana recently posted…4 Reasons Why You Should Be ConfidentMy Profile

    • Chantae says:

      Thanks Liana 🙂 I also love how in France, they’ve started making the large grocery stores donate food instead of throwing it out. It’s such a good move. I agree 100% with your comment – we definitely have to do something asap, the weather is getting weird all over the globe :O

  14. I take care of my belongings and make sure that nothing that I do or those who are accompanying me do; to hurt the environment. I believe our environment is at a crucial stage right now. And every little effort from our part would help in upgrading the state of our surroundings.

  15. Kevin Wagar says:

    We do our best to bring as much reuseable material with us when we travel. Water bottles and packing containers instead of bags and plastic bottles, but there is always more we can do. Thanks for the great tips. And Kudos for the Cyanide and Happiness reference 🙂

  16. Voyager says:

    As a traveler it is our responsibility to do our mite in help sustaining this environment so that our beautiful Earth is protected. Otherwise there will come a day when we may not have much left to travel to.
    Voyager recently posted…A Day Trip to The Leaning Tower PisaMy Profile

  17. Danjuma says:

    reuseable materials to me counts as tops on such travel and most defnitely the environment gotta be kept safe for all time along with travels… nice writeup and thanks for sharing…

  18. Miriam Ernst says:

    I totally agree on the fact that we have to be a bit more conscious on the effect we cause by using and wasting non degradable materials, specially when travelling that most people just seem not to care about the place they are visiting!

  19. Your post is awesome, and a perfect guide for all of use, travelers or non-travelers. Plastic waste needs hundreds of years before it breaks-down, and its just a blink of an eye to destroy our environment. I mean, let’s have this guide and practice saving the environment, and make it a lifestyle.. nothing wrong with that.
    Blair Villanueva recently posted…How Enhance Your Natural Glow & Younger looking skin w/ HyC150My Profile

  20. adam says:

    tips in indonesia: (i) at the surfspot warungs, if u find drinking raw coconut without a straw too challenging, at least just wash and recycle the straw back to them. they like it, saves them money too. (ii) look for groups of kids hanging around, and make a fun game of pickup trash off the beach. makes them feel industrious. then pay them like 2000 rp each (20c) or 5000rp if u feel generous;) its all good, keeps them busy, doing good, making good pocket money

  21. It’s usually pretty hard to stay green while travelling. I personally am a big believer but always struggle. This educational post is pretty amazing & will be handy on my next travel!

  22. Suanlee says:

    This is such a well researched and informative post, Chantae. I really feel I’ve benefited from this information. I try to be as green and self sufficient as I can, especially after visiting Japan I’ve assumed a bigger focus on recycling and have become more aware of the products being bought. Your post has definitely helped me focus on it a little more! Thanks 🙂

  23. Komang ayu says:

    it looks like the picture in bali. I live in Bali, I am sad to see that picture. 🙁

  24. Sanket D. says:

    Not something I give a lot of thought about, but its growing on my conscious mind by the minute. Certainly an important factor and needs more attention from all of us!
    Sanket D. recently posted…Solo Travel – Why I do It, And Why You Should TooMy Profile

  25. Thanks for the suggestions! I find it hard to avoid using plastic bottles when traveling in some countries because the tap water isn’t safe. I was lucky to stay in places where clean water was provided in a communal system but that’s not always the case. I do walk as much as possible though!
    Stella the Travelerette recently posted…The Best Things to Do in BerlinMy Profile

  26. Tamshuk says:

    Really appreciate you putting up this post. As a traveler I strongly feel for eco-friendly habits especially after I have seen many folks literally abusing the environment
    Tamshuk recently posted…Interview with Veronica Pototska – SiniciliyaMy Profile

  27. Claire says:

    Loved this article. An eco-traveller myself, I always adhere to these bits of advice but they’re important reminders to keep spreading and reminding people of! Thanks for posting, have shared to my facebook 🙂

  28. Jennifer says:

    This is a fantastic post. We stay at eco-friendly resorts. We just need to practice it even more.

  29. Danielle says:

    Some really great tips here for sustainable travel! Living in Japan, I feel like I have to work twice as hard to help this problem (they wrap banana’s in individual plastic bags – THEY HAVE A PROTECTIVE SKIN!), so these tips are super helpful!
    Danielle recently posted…Memoirs of a Geek-sha at Fushimi InariMy Profile

  30. Teresa says:

    What a fantastic post! It’s so painfully true. Just reading this post makes me realize how wasteful I can be when planning and taking trips. One thing I have implemented is the use of a steel water bottle. It’s more eco-friendly and it saves me $$ when traveling so I’m not tempted to buy plastic, disposable bottles.

    • Chantae says:

      Yeah, it’s so hard to be mindful when our world literally revolves around plastic. Love the steel water bottle, I’m really attached to mine too 🙂

  31. So far, we have used very little single-use items at any time, but many of the hotels we have been staying at do not offer recycling. And we have taught our kids all about avoiding littering; we caught him yelling at a stranger for dropping something. We always have work to do but I think we have started on the right foot.

    • Chantae says:

      That’s amazing 🙂 Kids are the future and it sounds like yours will influence their friends to make awesome eco choices as well. LOL at them yelling at a stranger, I love it! Little activists 😀

  32. Veronica says:

    I love the idea of refusing from plastic! We do not have a Planet B!
    I have a friend who doesn’t use plastic for the whole year already, she is such a great example for the others.
    Veronica recently posted…Get to Greet Fairies in the Isle of ManMy Profile

  33. lee says:

    Really enjoyed this post and your passion. I dislike plastic and wish hotels (where possible) would consider installing water filters and a drinkable tap, which would lower the demand of plastic bottle altogether.

  34. Marie says:

    These are great tips! I have been focusing on finding ways to make my own travels more eco-friendly and socially conscious of late, and this has been a helpful resource.

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