Last Updated on February 23, 2020
You’ve worked hard to make your life more sustainable, so you don’t want to leave all those good habits behind when you leave home. Below are top sustainable travel tips to make your next trip more eco-friendly.
Sustainable Travel Basics: Pack Green
It’s not hard to travel a bit greener with a little savvy planning!
There are several things to think about when you pack your bags for an eco-friendly vacation. If you’re flying, traveling light means your plane will need to use less fuel to get you and your baggage where you’re going. (More on the greenest transportation options below.)
Perhaps more importantly, bringing the tools that make it easier to navigate our less-than-eco-friendly world will make your trip a whole lot more environmentally friendly.
Sustainable Travel Packing List
1. Reusable water bottle (and/or travel mug if you plan to get hot drinks on the go). It’s easy to refill your bottle at water fountains or wherever you buy food. This one simple step will save you soooooo many single-use plastic water bottles! Think how many that would be over the course of a two-week vacation. Not to mention the money you’ll save, easily enough to buy you several delicious dinners.
2. Lightweight shopping bags. Some simple totes are useful for corraling all sorts of things, whether it’s gear for the beach, snacks, souvenirs or some groceries. I keep one in my purse so I’m always prepared. When we rent apartments in other cities, I keep several in my backpack to gather up all the yummy local produce from fruit stands and markets. They also make carrying home a big pile of groceries for the whole family much easier.
3. Toiletries. Skip the hotel shampoos and lotions and use refillable containers with your favorite non-toxic personal care. You avoid all the chemical nasties and skip so much unnecessary plastic waste. A long-lasting zero waste shampoo bar and bar soap also pack lighter than heavy liquids, particularly useful for long trips.
I also highly recommend packing some laundry detergent if you’ll be gone long enough to need to wash your clothes. The last time I went to Europe, I was surprised how hard it was to find non-chemical laundry detergent in numerous European cities, and if you’re lucky enough to find some, you’ll have to buy far more than you need. The next time I traveled, I made sure to pack a small container of laundry powder, which made washing clothes so much easier. (And less stinky than if I had used the chemical detergents we found in our many Air BnB apartments. This is the detergent I packed, and I was happy with how it performed.)
If you’re staying in an apartment: We’ve found it very helpful to have a couple cloths for cleaning counters and some sturdy containers so we can avoid going through tons of paper towels and plastic wrap. We’ve done some long trips with stays in multiple cities, and our durable metal containers came in very handy for storing food and packing snacks. We also repurpose glass jars and use pots and bowls to store leftover food in the fridge.
Related: How to Start Going Zero Waste
Choose Eco-Friendly Transportation
Airplanes unfortunately have a pretty enormous carbon footprint, so air travel is the least eco-friendly travel choice. When possible, take trains or buses to get where you’re going rather than flying or driving.
Once you’ve arrived, try walking, biking, or use mass transit to get around rather than relying on cabs or renting a car. Walking lets you see the places you visit from different perspectives and is a great way to get some exercise while you take in the sights!
Make Eco-Friendly Choices on the Road
Many of the same choices you make at home can be made when you travel, though in some cases it will take a little more careful thought or effort.
Some of the ones I’ve found most important, but also the most do-able:
Skip the single-use plastics. Away from home you can continue to make planet-friendly choices like saying no to single-use plastics in restaurants. Make like the locals and sit down to enjoy your espresso in a china cup sitting in an appealing cafe rather than getting your java to-go.
Pick unpackaged groceries when possible. I’ve noticed that in the cities we’ve visited, while a lot of produce comes packaged in plastic, there are also many lovely shops and markets specializing in fruits and vegetables where I can pick out delicious local produce with no packaging. Learn to say “No bag, please” in the local language for extra eco-credit.
Dispose of waste responsibly. While it’s not an option everywhere, more cities are making on-street recycling and compost collection an option. Even if where you stay only has a garbage can, you can bring your recyclables and compostables when you go out and keep them out of the waste stream.
Save energy and water when you can. Turn out lights and conserve water just like you do at home. Take the stairs instead of an elevator when feasible. If you’re in a hotel, don’t have them change your towels every day.
Leave Your Home on Energy Saver
When you leave home, make sure you’re not wasting energy while you’re away. Turn down your thermostat and water heater, and don’t forget to unplug devices that would be pulling electricity while you’re gone, like your television set or printer. (You already have a smart strip for that, though, don’t you?)
These devices pull power 24/7 even if you use them only 10 minutes a day, so be sure to put them on a strip and leave the power off to avoid wasting energy and money.
How about you? What are some other ways you’ve found to be eco-friendly while you travel?
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Photos courtesy of Canva.com
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.