I know we all want to see the world – but in order for there to be a world to see, we have to keep thinking about our impact on the planet.
While there are some things we simply can’t avoid, like carbon emissions from air and bus travel (though you can buy carbon offsets), there are other sustainable travel choices we can make that dramatically reduce our impact on the globe.
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Yeah, I know that EasyJet or RyanAir flight is cheap, but for the love of God’s green (for so long) earth, don’t zigzag your way through Europe by plane.
Planes are great if you have a short amount of time and need to get from point A to point B. But once you’ve flown somewhere, try to rely on ground transport as much as possible.
Check out BlaBlaCar if in Western Europe, trains and buses in Eastern Europe, and buses and minibuses in Southeast Asia, Central and South America. You’ll be helping make sustainable travel a reality and you’ll also be seeing the world the way the locals do.
Beyond taking fewer fights, slow travel is sustainable travel. It will help save you a bundle and save the earth some massive carbon output.
You’ll also get the benefit of knowing a place more intimately beyond just the tourist hot spots.
Slow travel can mean just taking in fewer destinations, but it can also mean taking longer to travel between destinations, such as cycle touring — when the journey becomes part of the destination.
Take a SteriPen or filtered water bottle with you
This can save tons and tons of plastic from landfill. I was carrying a Steripen, which I loved, until I left it behind in a hostel… whoops. I’ll replace it when I get back to the U.S. For now, I buy a larger water bottle (about 1 liter) and refill it at various hostels or restaurants.
I replace it about once a week to prevent bacterial growth. It’s not perfect, but it wastes way less than buying brand new bottles for the 2 to 3 liters of water I drink daily. This is one of the easiest changes you can make to make sustainable travel happen on a daily basis.
However, you can also use a water bottle with a filter like GRAYL or Lifestraw, or something with UV light like the Steripen which filters undrinkable tap water.
Take shorter, cooler showers
I’ve always been a bit of a cold water shower wuss but here in Nicaragua hot water is pretty rare and reserved for the upper echelon of travelers, namely: not me.
Since I squeal like bacon in a frying pan when the water hits me, I take short, quick showers when I only have access to cold water, and I’ve taken that lesson with me to try to take shorter showers at home, too.
While I miss luxuriating in a warm shower, remember that about 90% of energy use in all water-based appliances like showers, dishwashers, and washing machines comes from heating the water. Plus you already know that saving water is dope!
Bring a small, packable tote bag or two
Keep one in each of the bags that you’re likely to use and use it whenever you’re at a grocery store or market. You may get a couple of weird looks as this isn’t exactly common worldwide yet, but it’s worth it.
Plastic grocery bags are some of the worst offenders when it comes to polluting our streets and oceans, and their impact on marine wildlife is horrible.
It’s really quite a simple sustainable travel alternative to bring a small reusable tote bag. They also make a great day bag when you want to carry around a little more stuff with you
Use your grocery bags for good
If you’ve forgotten your packable tote bag (it’s okay! It happens to me) or a stern Albanian cashier wouldn’t let you leave without a bag (it’s okay! It happens to me), you’ll end up with plastic grocery bags.
Don’t just throw them out, where they’ll likely blow into the wind and into an ocean. Use them to:
- protect dirty shoes from the rest of your luggage
- stash dirty clothes in until laundry day
- keep in your bag and pick up some extra litter the next time you’re seeing somewhere you wish was a little more pristine, like a beach or a hike
Make the plunge (I promise this isn’t a gross pun — no wait it is) into a menstrual cup
I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading now…. but in case I haven’t lost you, let me rhapsodize about how amazing the menstrual cup is for female travelers.
You basically never have to worry about leaking. If you’re the lucky owner of a uterus, I’m sure you’ve felt that moment of panic at some point or another when you wonder if your tampon isn’t about to betray you and make you have a Carrie moment.
As an added bonus, it keeps tampons and pads out of landfill. The average woman uses almost 250 tampons per year – that’s a whole hell of a lot of landfill. The impact is worse if you consider the plastic applicators that popular brands like Tampax Pearl often use.
Pack with care
Don’t pack more than you need, as trust me, you’ll likely get frustrated and throw it out when trying to Tetris-cram your backpack the morning before a bus ride. Bring less than you think you’ll need.
If you really miss something, there’s a really good chance you’ll be able to find it somewhere out there in the world. Yay globalization?
Read more on how I traveled for half a year, from summertime in the Sahara to winter in Denmark, carry-on only!
Embrace toiletries with less packaging
One of my favorite toiletries brands is LUSH because of their commitment to reducing waste and swearing off testing on animals. Their solid shampoo is a great purchase as it’s completely plastic free!
Just buy one reusable metal tin and the shampoo bar of your choice (I’m obsessed with Seanik for my fine, limp hair). Their conditioner, moisturizer, soap, and body wash all also come in packaging-free options for the sustainable traveler.
There are several reasons to go for solid toiletries – reducing plastic use, freeing up room in your liquid allotment if traveling carry-on only, and also just reducing the chances of leaks and spills along the way.
Bring a foldable Tupperware
This is great at reducing food waste, whether you eat out at restaurants or prefer to cook in the hostel.
Many restaurants use non-eco-friendly means of packaging up leftover food, such as aluminum foil, Styrofoam, or plastic containers — none of which you’ll likely ever use again.
A foldable silicone Tupperware won’t take up much space when not in use, and it’s great for saving extra food.
Bring a sustainable travel cutlery set set
Skip the plastic forks and sporks and bring your own travel cutlery set with you. I got this tip from Legal Nomads‘ advice on how to eat street food more safely, but it also has the added benefit of reducing plastic waste.
Buy secondhand or higher quality firsthand clothing
Thrift stores aren’t always easy to find overseas, but when they are and you need to replenish your wardrobe, consider perusing these stores rather than buying cheap clothing.
Everything you buy from a cheap street vendor means they’ll order a replacement, increasing the demand for crappily made mass-produced clothing that’s often made by people living in horrific conditions.
If I buy something firsthand, I usually pay a little extra for something well-made that I think will last longer.
Buy fewer souvenirs
I truly believe photos are the best souvenirs of a trip. But if you absolutely must buy souvenirs or risk the eternal disappointment of your grandmother, try to find ones made of naturally renewable, local resources.
Local ceramics and jewelry are far better choices than Made in China products. Also consider buying edible souvenirs, like chocolates or coffee!
Allison Green is a former educator turned travel blogger. She holds a Masters in Teaching and a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Her blog posts merge her educational background and her experience traveling to 60+ countries to encourage thoughtful travel experiences that both educate and entertain. She has been a speaker at the World Travel Writers Conference and her writing, photography, and podcasting work has appeared in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, CBC Canada, and Forbes, amongst others. Now based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she grew up, she has also lived in Prague, Sofia, and New York City.
36 thoughts on “13 Sustainable Travel Hacks For a Greener World”
I’m not sure how sustainable it was, but instead of flying from NY to LA we took the Amtrak via Chicago for our trip. It took us 6 days .. the train barely got above 40mph so it was definitely slow travel! Great way to meet people.
That sounds like an awesome adventure, and I think it’s definitely more sustainable than flying! Glad you had fun 🙂
Great post. As an environmental scientist these are great ways to make travel more sustainable. The menstrual cup did kind of gross me out. Lol. But its so important to show people the little things they can do to make travel more sustainable. Great job!
haha sorry to gross you out with my gnarly pun — but I promise you, if you can get over your squeamishness, they really are more comfortable, more reliable, and less wasteful than the alternative 🙂 I’m glad I have an environmental scientist on my side… thanks for the comment and encouragement!
Great post! I am a huge advocate of the menstrual cup, particularly for travelers. Oh, and I just got back from Nicaragua! That was my winter getaway and absolutely loved it!
Yay a fellow menstrual cup lover! I love mine so much, I can’t even think about going back to tampons and pads. And whoo Nicaragua!! I love Nicaragua so much! I’ve been here for one month today (slow travel, yay!) and it’s just such a lovely country.
Hi Allison, this topic is constantly on my mind… I’ve been traveling by bicycle for 14 months now, and I feel there constantly so many small things we can do to save our environment a bit more. The menstrual cup thing always seems like such hippie bla-bla, but it’s honestly perhaps just the best invention ever. That and SteriPen 😀
Oh wow that is amazing! Props to you! I commuted by bike for 4 years in NYC, but traveling by bike with all my stuff would be a whole different ball game. And honestly I felt the same way about the Diva Cup, but my sister bought me one for Christmas and I haven’t turned back. Not only is it great for the the Earth, but I save so much money and I am so much more stress-free during my periods. I wish I had used one back when I was a teacher and had really long times between when I could use the bathroom.
Great tips, Allison. I’m not sure about the “buy fewer souvenirs” one, though. I try to look for craft items made by local and buy a few of those, as a way of supporting “responsible travel” that directly helps local communities.
Yeah, that’s a great rule of thumb if you do buy souvenirs 🙂 I tend to support local tour agencies and restaurants rather than artisans but that’s just me personally.
I’ve heard so much about the menstrual cup that I am surprised why I keep forgetting to buy one. Oh wait I know… I was working in the emergency department and a lady came with one stuck in her. I’m forever scared that it will not come out.
But seriously I need to get my act together and buy one. It’s a great list and something that travelers need to look at. Small contributions to reducing global warming are big contributions in the long run
ah that *almost* happened to me once! I actually wrote about it in my recent post, “Bloggers’ Most Embarrassing Moments” – I got mine kind of wedged up in me way too high and I couldn’t get it out for hours. There is away to get it right though, you have to twist it in place (watch some YouTube videos who can explain it better than I can) and make sure it’s not set too high. Mine wasn’t stuck in me, but it was up too high where I couldn’t get to it until I relaxed and it settled lower down. Sorry probably way TMI but I’m really passionate about the Diva Cup regardless, despite my near emergency room visit!
Some really good points! If only all women used menstrual cups it would make all the difference <3
I totally agree! 250 tampons per person times let’s say 2.5 billion menstruating women…. that’s quite a difference
Great, great tips, Allison. Love it! Regarding your shower tip…when I was studying abroad in Costa Rica, I lived with a middle class family and their house was modest but nice. But they were very energy conscious, and when showering I had to turn the water off anytime I was not rinsing. So as I lathered up, the water would be off. I’m sure they saved a lot of water and energy that way!
And for souvenirs, the last time I was in Guatemala, I looked for the vendors that were actually making their products in the market stalls as they waited for customers. I bought some paintings from a man who was an incredible artist, and I bought a beautiful woven tapestry from a woman who was busy weaving intricate patterns. It gave me the chance to talk with them about their work, and I also asked if I could photograph them. Made the photos and the “souvenirs” much more memorable. 🙂
That’s very similar to how it is here in Nicaragua! Only use the water when you lather up and rinse off, otherwise, keep it off! It’s definitely something I want to try to take with me when I’m home, especially in California where we’re just recovering from a drought. And yeah, that’s a really great idea! I love that tip. I personally am not a souvenir person but if I saw someone making something I’d be way more inclined to buy.
I LOVE the pictures and these are awesome tips! I’m definitely working on more of them!
Thanks girl! I’m glad you enjoyed the photos and the tips 🙂
Love these tips. Sustainability is definitely something that I think about more and more. I really want to do more so looks like I’ll be trying the diva cup haha! My sister actually bought what one for when I went travelling a few years ago but I wimped out. Time to get over it I think haha!
Hey my sister got me mine too!! You should 🙂 There are some great YouTube videos explaining how to do it. Kind of weird to take period advice from like, a 15-year-old, but hey, she had lots of helpful tips 😀
I love these suggestions! All of them are great, but I hadn’t considered the steri-pen before. I think that is just perfect, and it will save you from ever getting in a jam where you don’t have access to clean water.
Awesome, glad I could turn you on to a new product 🙂 It’s a great one!
Wow so many great ideas. Some i already do like using reusable bags and some that I definitely want to start doing taking shorter showers. I am still kind of afraid of the menstral cup though……
I don’t blame you – it’s quite an experience to get used to but once you switch over it’s far more comfortable!
I used the Lifestraw bottle on my recent trip to Nepal and never got ill. I am very happy with it. You can refill it everywhere and at the same time make sure you don’t catch anything. I also saw the steri pen and I am considering buying it as an extra security measure not to get ill.
Awesome to hear a positive evaluation of the Lifestraw! Maybe I will go for that instead because the Steripen is quite small and easy for someone like me to lose!
Really great post! Sometimes it can be tricky to be waste-free in airports and on the road, but if you come prepared you can do it! 🙂 Thanks for the tips !!
Oh man airports are the hardest! But yes, definitely possible 🙂 Glad you enjoyed!
I’ve really liked this post. What you say, in general, are not that difficult to make it into a habit and that is the best of it. We try doing a few things here and there and we do follow already some of your “travel hacks” but we could always improve thanks for sharing
I’m so glad you enjoyed! There’s always ways in which we can all improve 🙂
This is great, travelling with a conscious is so important and most don’t notice that. Also your blog layout is so nice to look at, WOW!
It’s super important – glad you agree! And aww, thank you!!
Love this list! It showed me, that I could definitely do more on my travel than I already do! Thanks for these great tips!
There’s always so much more to do! I want to start being better about reducing plastic usage next.
I used the lifestraw on my one month trek in NEpal and didn’t get sick so it really worked. It not only saves you money on expensive water bottles (yes, if you get high up they get quite expensive), but also really reduces plastic waste.
I’m definitely getting the LifeStraw once I’m back in the US! Can’t wait to use it on my travels (and saving a ton of money on water is just a bonus!)