SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL TIPS
As I spend time traversing Southeast Asia, I’m becoming more and more mindful of both responsible travel and sustainable travel.
How do I separate the two?
To me, responsible travel means having consideration for the place you’re visiting in terms of culture and customs. Essentially, active awareness about the impact travel has on the places you visit.
And, sustainable travel, to me, is travelling with consideration for impact your trip has on the environment.
Arguably, they’re one and the same to a degree.
Sustainable travel is something I’ve thought about before and have always tried to be considerate of, but really dug into when I visited the Thai islands.
The Thai islands are incredible. Absolutely stunning. But, so many parts are also over-developed, covered in trash, and at the visible point of destruction.
Trash heaps everywhere in Koh Lipe.
The closure of Maya Bay in Phi Phi.
Piles of plastic wastage at monkey island in Phi Phi.
I could go on and on.
As beautiful as the islands were, what I saw was so disheartening, I considered not even writing about the islands or sharing photos, so as not to help encourage further tourism.
But, whether I share my experiences or not won’t change what’s happening- the Thai islands are one of the world’s most sought after beach destinations. And, they’re just one of many examples where tourism is having an indisputable impact (not in a good way).
Whenever people talk about reducing environmental impact when travelling, I find casual travellers (those who holiday a few weekends or weeks a year) tend to tune it out.
Although I don’t have an official survey, I’d bet if the tune out happens, it’s because ‘reducing environmental impact’ sounds complicated
Good news: It’s not.
Travelling sustainably can be easy.
Whether you’re an avid day tripper, big fan of weekend getaways or planning your next big holiday, there’s no reason not to travel sustainably on your next trip and each one after that.
SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL TIPS:
9 Easy Ways to Travel Sustainably
Be considerate of the amount of flights you take
Being mindful of flights you take doesn’t outright mean traveling less- it means flying mindfully.
Can you drive or take a train or bus, instead? Are there local places you’ve always wanted to visit that may be better suited for a 36 hour trip instead of a quick flight somewhere?
I was guilty of not being mindful of flights while I lived in Europe where it was too easy to fly to a new country any given weekend. Now, I really think about whether I need to fly, and if I am flying, whether I can extend my trip or do something else to make it worth the impact it has.
I still actively fly, but I’m more mindful about the impact it has now, and have tried to eliminate quick trips where I fly in/out of a place in less than 2-3 days from my schedule unless there’s a good enough reason to consider making the trip an exception.
And, some airlines, such as Scoot, now offer an option for you to offset your carbon emissions caused by the flight through a small donation added onto your flight fare.
Invest in reusable packing cubes to organise your things, and a dry bag to keep electronics safe (no more Ziplocs!).
Other ways to pack more eco:
–Eco-friendly mosquito spray / sunscreen: Not only are the chemicals in non-eco brands not good for you, they’re terrible for the environment. Many reefs and cenotes have actually banned mainstream sun screens in recent years because of how harsh the chemicals in them are. I’ve been travelling SE Asia for two months with eco-friendly mosquito spray, and picked up reef safe sunscreen while in Oz. Favorite brand for suncream: Sun Bum.
–Solid shampoo and conditioner bars: I’m partial to LUSH (love their cork travel tins), but I’ve also heard good things about Ethique. Usually, I end up buying hair oil as well since the conditioner formula just isn’t the same as what you’d have in liquid form- but, it gets the job done. And, when I use hair oil too, there’s no difference in softness or shininess of my hair.
–Toothpaste tablets: I can’t wait to visit the US to pick up some from BITE to give them a try. Currently using LUSH’s tablets, and while I like them, they’re also fluoride free, which is a no go for long-term dental care in my book.
Bring reusable bags, coffee cups, and water bottles with you: I picked up an insulated water bottle in Bali that I’ve been toting around daily for the past few months.
In developing countries, I also carry a LifeStraw to ensure I don’t ever need to buy plastic bottles.
In Oz, I purchased a Keep cup, which I now use for any takeaway coffee or tea.
And, having a reusable bag is an easy way to ensure you never need a plastic bag to tout purchases when you’re travelling.
Bring your own snacks for short term trips
It’s rare I eat at airports or train stations when I travel, in part because of my food allergies, but also because I love bringing fruit, nuts, and cut up veggies with me instead of being limited to whatever they’re offering. Bringing your own food = less food and packaging waste.
This is a small way to have a big (personal) impact.
Think about how many straws you’re offered in any given day, let alone an entire trip. I travel with a wide metal straw and narrow bamboo one. They’re affordable, easy to tote around, and have enabled me to turn down plastic (or other single use) alternatives.
Choose tour providers that promote green travel
Another relatively easy thing to do. The cheapest tour may not always be the best option if you really look at what it provides, positive and negative.
Ask your tour provider what they’re doing to support the community, and be mindful of how they advertise- tons of disposable posters everywhere? They may not have environmental impact front of mind.
Buy local when you can
Whenever you can, while shopping or eating out, spend your money at local cafes and restaurants.
Think of your dollars as a vote.
Every time you spend them, you’re voting for what kind of experience you want, and on a macro level, what kind of world you want to live in.
Yes, I do occasionally order cold brew from Starbucks, but only if there are no options for me to support a local business.
Skip daily hotel housekeeping
If I’m staying longer than several nights, I may ask for new towels, and new sheets after a week, but this is an easy way to lessen your water impact.
And really, new towels/sheets every day aren’t necessary- you wouldn’t do the same at home.
Consider shared shuttle services or public transportation
If you can take an airport shuttle with other travellers or Uber pool, that’s a better option than everyone taking their own car or transit means. It’s always something I consider and opt for if it doesn’t add considerable time (read: hours) to a journey.
Ride shares are also usually more affordable, with public transit always being the cheapest option.
More eco efforts?
Kiersten is admirable for pledging to offset carbon emissions caused when she flies, and Alex is chock full of ways to reduce your environmental impact. Both have been a major source of inspiration for me, as I think about sustainable travel on this trip and future ones.
If you need motivation to be more considerate of your footprint, think of future generations.
You’ve been lucky enough to experience these gorgeous places, travellers years from now deserve the same.
Final note: As mindful as I try to be of things like excessive plastic consumption, and using disposable straws, it’s been difficult in SE Asia.
In many parts, there simply isn’t education about the damage they cause to the environment. In fact, many times, when I’ve asked for no straw and shown my own straw, I still get served a plastic straw.
But, conditions are changing.
Governments in Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia are cracking down on eliminating single use plastics from tourism chains.
When I am given a straw or plastic cup, despite my insistence on not using them, it’s infuriating, but something I alone can’t change. The more people refuse them or make it a point to not ask for them, the louder the message becomes.
Do you consider yourself to be an eco-friendly traveller? What sustainable travel tips would you share with fellow travel fiends?
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