Eco-friendly travel tips for the mindful wanderer
These travel tips will help you care for the planet while you fill your soul with adventure.
By Roslyn Kent
Travel is a luxury, an adventure and a learning experience all in one. It’s an incredible way to broaden your perspective and an even better way to escape your comfort zone. Travel, in a sense, is a form of education outside of four classroom walls and I have found that I have learned more about myself through travel than through any other kind of educational experience.
Over the last three years, I’ve had the immense privilege of travelling throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, and most recently, Central America. Travel has opened my eyes not only to the way that others live but how I “live” as a traveller—put more simply, how my habits as a tourist in another country have an impact on the local economy and landscape. Rarely do we stop to think about how our actions affect our immediate surroundings, but this is something that every tourist should consider, especially considering the way that tourism and our role as consumers, is growing.
I’ve seen a lot of eye-opening things while travelling in these regions—beautiful beaches littered with garbage, stray dogs on every corner, open-air landfills in the middle of the countryside, massive piles of burning household garbage, and children using their bare hands to scavenge for recyclables at their nearest dump. It’s these events and more that have made me stop and think twice about what my responsibility is as a tourist how I can not only leave an invisible footprint while I travel but also how I can inspire positive change among other tourists I meet along the way.
Over these three incredible years of travel I’ve compiled a list of my favourite, most realistic eco-travel tips that I encourage everyone to follow (to the best of their ability) when they travel:
Pack reusable utensils and containers
If you want to avoid plastic to-go cutlery, cups and containers while travelling, my best advice is to pack reusable wooden or bamboo utensils, a reusable lightweight bowl, a silicon or stainless steel straw, a Tupperware or metal takeout container, and a flexible cup. These items will save you from using tons of wasteful, non-degradable plastic every day. I purchased my cutlery from Patagonia, but there are other amazing companies out there who sell them too. You can buy collapsible cups and camping bowls from MEC and other outdoor adventure stores. Also, don’t forget your Swiss Army Knife if you’re checking your bag! It’ll come in handy more often than you might think, especially if you enjoy fresh fruit from the market.
These items are important because many (if not all) of the developing countries you visit will not have proper recycling systems set up, and all of the plastic you use will end up either A) in the landfill or B) in the ocean.
where to Refill your water bottle
When you travel to regions like Southeast Asia, Central or South America, you’ll often see tourists everywhere carrying around large plastic water bottles. While bottled water guarantees you won’t get sick from contaminated tap water, it’s definitely not your only option, and certainly not the most eco-friendly option either. The U.S. Container Recycling Institute estimates about 30 million plastic water bottles are thrown away, and not put into recycling containers, every day. Thirty million! It’s hard to visualize this number let alone wrap your mind around the sheer magnitude.
For this reason, I recommend bringing your favourite water bottle from home with you on your travels and refilling it at every cafe, restaurant or hostel/hotel you visit. Most cafes and restaurants have filtered water in their kitchen that they use for cooking and drinking and will gladly offer to refill your bottle for free, or a small fee. Even if you have to pay for the filtered water, at least you can leave your trip knowing you didn’t throw out a single plastic bottle. Just ask for “drinking water” in the local language. If your backpack or bag has room, try to bring a larger 1L+ bottle to avoid having to fill it up 5+ times a day.
Ditch the straw
Straws are so last year! All jokes aside, plastic straws are just plain unnecessary and contribute to mass amounts of plastic pollution in landfills every year. Just ask for “no straw”, or, if you can’t part ways with one, then bring your own reusable straw. You can purchase a stainless steel or silicone reusable straws at most kitchenware stores.
Pack a reusable shopping bag
This might seem like an obvious one, but you’ll use a reusable bag for many different purposes and when you’re prepared, you can say no to plastic! Pack a cloth bag that can fold up into a small ball to avoid taking up valuable space in your bag.
Forget the travel-sized toiletries
You already have large bottles of shampoo and conditioner at home, why not fill up small Tupperware with enough for your trip? Even better, head to Lush to purchase one of their shampoo or conditioner bars. They’ll save you money, plastic waste and space in your bag.
Take your own breakfast and superfoods with you
I always pack my own breakfast when I travel. You might be wondering, but how?! And that’s a fair question. I take a large portion of oatmeal with me, but not just any kind of oatmeal. I take pre-mixed, protein-rich and nutrient dense oatmeal loaded with all the fixings.
- For each morning I pack 1/2 cup of organic quick oats (quick oats because usually, all I can find is hot water to mix in)
- Next, I add in my favourite superfoods: chia seeds, hemp hearts, and pumpkin seeds
- Then I add in flavourings: Peanut butter powder, cinnamon, and powdered coconut milk
- And last, I add in a touch of sweetener: maple syrup or organic coconut sugar
In the morning when it’s time to dive into breakfast, I pull out my pre-mixed oatmeal bag, scoop out a heaping 1/2 cup of the mix into my ceramic camping bowl and stir in 1 cup of hot water. In Asia and most of Europe, it’s easy to find a hot water boiler in your hotel or hostel. Not all hostels and hotels will have hot water, however, so do keep this in mind.
I also love to bring along a box of Pranin Organic Smoothie Boosters! If I’m lucky enough to be staying in a hostel or Airbnb with a blender, I’ll make myself a smoothie. Or, I enjoy one mixed with plain almond or soy milk that I buy at a grocery store. I bring Smoothie Boosters along for their high concentration of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants because my diet is far less well rounded when I’m on the go.
Being an eco-conscious traveller isn’t hard, it just takes a little preparation and preparedness and some flexibility along the way. Pack for success (think reusable and think nutrient dense when it comes to food) and you will be well on your way to becoming a zero-waste traveller.
Roslyn Kent is the Founder of But First, Plants. She’s on a journey to become a Holistic Nutritionist and you can keep up with her latest recipes, adventures and wellness pursuits by following her on Instagram – after your social media refresh, that is!