13 easy ways to be more sustainable while travelling

It’s not like we have been doing a lot of travelling lately, right? But when the pandemic kicked us in the butt, and literally most corners of the world were closed up, and we humans cocooning at home, a lot was said about how much carbon emissions had reduced, how the planet was able to breathe, we heard stories (lies) about wildlife invading cities as if reconquering what was once theirs. Regardless of the truthiness or the accuracy of these news stories, I remember reflecting upon them. Even overthinking. Again, I was starting to feel guilty.

Did I use to travel too much? Am I a part of the problem?

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Overthinking was the hobby 2020/21. Artist: Sarah Anderson

I have always tried to be as environmentally friendly as possible. I say as possible because unfortunately, it’s not always possible due to reasons that are external to us or outside of our control – whether economic, societal, educational, etc – but as I became an independent salaried adult in a developed country, I started feeling even more of a bigger responsibility to be part of the movement to ensure future generations will still have a home to live in, whether that’s by protecting the environment, being less wasteful or supporting the local communities. And of course, there is a bunch of things I have been incorporating more and more into my daily life, but I thought I would write about how I try to be more sustainable when I am taking advantage of my own privilege of being able to travel.

Just before the pandemic, I kept reading about ecological vacations, which ended up being quite expensive. We were supposed to stay in these almost luxurious places, made of all-natural wood, and everything was sustainable about it. But paying for that kind of rental isn’t exactly for everyone’s pocket and in the end, was more for greenwashing Instagram accounts than anything else. My tips are simple and attainable for any traveller, some of them are quite obvious, but hopefully, these would be useful for anyone out there trying to be more sustainable in their travels, whether on a budget or with a bigger wallet.

1 – Travel light & choose economy flights

These two things often come hand in hand. Air passengers emissions are determined by the amount of space they occupy on the plane. Business class, having bigger seats, would then have a major impact in increasing carbon emissions in comparison to the economy seats. The same goes for the weight of your suitcase – the heavier, the more it will contribute to carbon emissions. This is an easy one for me – normally, I fly in economy anyway. It’s a win-win – to my wallet and to the environment, even though my long legs often would love to get the legroom in business class…

Surviving Long Haul Flights {In Economy Class} - Gr8 Travel Tips

2 – Take with you a reusable water bottle

This is a no-brainer, right? If you don’t own one yet, please get one. There are bottles of all sizes, shapes, materials and colours, to fit every style and personality. I always avoid buying plastic bottles of water – only if strictly necessary – to help reduce plastic waste. As I wrote once in my travel checklist, I always research before any trip if the tap water is drinkable. That makes everything so easy – I can just refill my bottle from the tap. Unfortunately, not all countries and places have this access to potable water. When I went to Mexico or Morocco, this was indeed an issue, but it has solutions. Do take a reusable water bottle with you anyway, because you can either get some water purifiers to clean your water or, instead of buying multiple plastic bottles, get a bigger one, and refill your bottle from there. Of course, you’ll still be consuming plastic, but in much less quantity. Also, you save money!

3 – Keep a tote bag with you at all times

Again, it’s about reducing plastic waste. Same as bottles, there are tote bags for every taste and style, and sometimes I even get them as souvenirs. Also, it doesn’t weigh anything, you can fold it and it will always fit in your suitcase and your daily backpack/bag. So when you go to the supermarket or anywhere else you don’t have to get a plastic bag or buy one. It ends up saving you some money as well!

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Let’s help stop this.

4 – … no, I don’t need a bag, thanks.

Goes in line with what I said above. Sometimes even when buying souvenirs they will ask you if you want a bag, sometimes they won’t. Even if you don’t have to pay for it, just say you don’t need a bag. Easy! (unless of course you REALLY need it).

5 – Buy souvenirs that are locally made/produced

I did mention in my post about my favourite souvenirs that I have learned to appreciate what a good souvenir is. In my early travel experiences, I would fall for the obvious, get cheap souvenirs, sometimes way too many (falling into the trap of get X and only pay Y). But those souvenirs are cheap for a reason – they are actually made in China or some other country likely by underpaid workers. The quality is often poor and you’re not actually buying a souvenir from the place you’re visiting. So I have learned to visit the local markets, look out for the artisans. Search for the label that says that is locally produced and often even made with sustainable materials. Yes, it may be more expensive, but I also don’t need five magnets. By acting like this, I’m not only getting a better souvenir for myself, I’m also supporting local artisans and fighting overconsumption. My suitcase will also be lighter!

An artisan hand-painting a clay pot in Fez, Morocco

6 – Staying in family-owned/locally owned accommodation

Avoiding the big chains and resorts, at all costs, at least for me. I was never inclined to go to those – are expensive, artificial, and once again the money doesn’t stay there. You can argue that these big chains employ a lot of locals, which is true. But these workers are also likely being underpaid. I have taken such huge pleasure in staying in smaller hotels and residences, where you end up having a more authentic experience. Everyone is typically nicer because they truly want you to enjoy their town. Of course, do your research – I have mentioned this in my post about travelling alone as a woman, but Booking.com is my favourite place to go to find accommodation with high reviews.

In Tulum, I stayed in the iTour Guesthouse, and every day I had a new animal waiting for me.

7 – Just because you’re not home, don’t overuse energy and water

Like, just don’t. Would you leave the lights on all day, when you’re not at home? Would you live the bathroom light on, when not using it? Would you live the TV on for no reason at all at home? What about long, long, long showers? And turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth. Just because you’re on holiday and you’re not paying more for higher consumption of electricity or gas, it doesn’t mean the planet is also on holiday. Be conscious about this, especially when you’re somewhere where water is such a precious thing. Also, use your towels wisely. Plenty of accommodations now have a sign asking guests to be conscious. Only to leave their towels to be cleaned after multiple uses. Just… be conscious!

8 – Don’t take stuff from the hotel that you did not use

Some places will have soaps and mini bottles of shampoo and body wash available for you to use. Usually, I take my shampoo and conditioner with me, so I don’t use them. And because I don’t use them, I just leave them there, so the next guest can. It’s again a no-brainer. Do you need to take things from a place that you don’t really need? I can hear some people arguing “I paid for all of that!” and to these people….eye roll.

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9 – Use reusable bottles for your toiletries

Travel-sized shampoos/conditioners and etc are overpriced and incredibly harmful to the environment. Unless for some reason I forgot, I reuse travel size bottles by filling them with the quantity of liquid I need. As a contact lens wearer, I always need to buy a travel size lens cleaner… however, I also use my old contact lens cases to put the right amount of foundation and face creams that I need, so I don’t have to take the whole bottle – it saves space in my suitcase, and it makes it lighter.

10 – Taking public transport or simply walking more

I have to say though SAFETY comes first. If you feel unsafe, and prefer to take a cab or a Uber, that is perfectly normal and I do it often, especially to travel at night or even if there are not many options to take me from the airport to the city. However, for everything else, I try to understand and use public transport and do walking. I do walk kilometres when I travel because I always feel that’s the best way to truly experience a new place and well… complete environmentally friendly.

I even cycled in Tulum!

11 – Avoid printing out tickets, if you can show them on your phone

Why waste paper, if you don’t have to? Sometimes it is nice to have a ticket as a souvenir, but to me at least, it’s only a real souvenir if it was given to me at the ticket box and looks pretty.

12 – Choose tours that are local friendly and wildlife responsible

I’ve mentioned this multiple times in this blog, but I love to take the free walking tours often available in cities. They are organised by local volunteers, often young students, who are truly doing it out of passion and to try to gather some extra money to help them with their studies. Those tours are simply the best, and again your money is staying in the community. If you are going to take a paid tour, especially for wildlife observation, be careful. You want to make sure the tour is wildlife-friendly. This means you won’t be chasing/bothering/touching the animals, or even potentially destroying their natural habitat. When in Mexico, I took a fantastic tour of the Sian Kan Natural Reserve. We could see dolphins and sea turtles, but there was a possibility we wouldn’t see it either and we needed to be okay with that. I will never forget the words of the tour guide. ” We won’t be chasing animals on this trip. We won’t be scaring them away. Sea turtles for instance are very shy and sensitive animals. If they spend their energy running away from us, it means they may not have the energy to go hunting for food. They won’t have enough energy to feed their offspring. And then they all die. We don’t want that, do we?”. Well, I know I don’t.

Locals shared food with us while on a free walking tour in Bucharest, Romania.

13 – Avoid coffee on the go & take reusable cutlery with you

From where I’m from, coffee on the go isn’t a thing really. But I grew up seeing on the big screen when watching American movies and shows. I thought it was stylish. Cool. Then when I moved to London, and well it’s also big here. And I don’t think it’s stylish or cool anymore, because of all of those paper cups and plastic lids… where does it all end up? I have always been the kind of person that will usually take my daily coffee in an actual mug every time I have the option to do that. And if you are on vacation… you typically will have the time to have coffee or tea in a cup. You can also get a travel coffee cup of course. Additionally, I often do get meals in the supermarket and I hate when I have to use plastic knives and forks. It’s again a waste. You can get a portable set of cutlery and just take it with you on your travels. It is a great way to reduce plastic waste as well.

And this is all for today, folks! Hope this was useful in any way, and please let me know if you have any additional tips to give me 🙂

Love, Nic

4 thoughts on “13 easy ways to be more sustainable while travelling

  1. What a great list you have here Nic! At every point I was nodding my head in agreement … the tote bag is a great item to pack in (we always have ours whether we travel local or overseas). And I’m with you on no big resorts … in the smaller accommodation, there’s more personal contact with the locals and yes … bonus, it’s cheaper 😉.

    Liked by 1 person

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