Inspired by the Australian Queen of all things sustainable and eco-friendly (otherwise known as the hilarious and wonderful LC of Birdgehls), over the last year and a bit I’ve slowly begun to transition into a much more “planet-friendly” way of living, both at home and while I travel.
As a serial trip-taker (one holiday a year for me would be like a prison sentence, I need at least 3 to keep me going or I shrivel up and become a prune), I’m all too aware of the effects that planes and their carbon emissions have on the environment and, whereas I’m not yet at the point where I’d be willing to give up my beloved long-haul seat 27A, I do try and offset my contribution to the planet’s destruction elsewhere. But that’s a tale for another time.
Much like becoming vegan or vegetarian, sustainable living is a process, not an overnight fix. Try as you might, it’s actually kind of impossible to just eliminate all single-use plastic and other baddies from one day to the next (believe me, I tried. And failed).This is especially true when you live in a country like the UK where we think it’s a good idea to individually wrap an apple, put four of those apples on a tray, wrap all four individually-wrapped apples together, then put it in a plastic bag. And you know what? For good measure, let’s put that plastic bag inside another plastic bag. Plastic bag-ception.
The general consensus towards sustainable or eco-friendly living here in the UK is that it’s expensive. It’s impractical. It takes up too much time, requires too much forethought, and anyway, what difference would one person make anyway?
A drop in the ocean can have a ripple effect stretching out for miles.
We can all make a difference. Yes, you are only one person and the individual impact would be small at first, but think of it this way… if you prick your finger once on a stingy nettle while pricking blackberries, it’ll hurt. You’ll bleed for a bit and then get over it. If you prick all ten of your fingers on stingy nettles, it’ll hurt for a lot longer and you might need a blood transfusion. If you jump head first into a stingy nettle bush, you will die.
So, you probably won’t die, but the impact will be a lot more severe.
Now think of those stingy nettles pricking your poor little sausage fingers as people. People saying no to plastic straws, for example. If one person says no to a plastic straw, that’s one less straw on the planet – whoop-di-do. If ten people say no? That’s ten plastic straws that never have to pollute the ocean and choke the fish. If a whole stingy nettle full of thousands of people say no?! Well, we’ve basically saved all of mankind forever. If sensitive teeth got you shivering at the thought of an ice cold drink without a straw just keep reading, I’ve got your back.
Although admittedly it is a lot easier to live sustainably while at home as opposed to while travelling (unless you live in Cardiff, where the nearest bulk buy store is IN THE NEXT COUNTRY!), there are a few little tips and tricks that I’ve taken with me on the albeit very few trips I’ve taken over the past year.
And the best part of them all?
They don’t break the bank. In fact, quite a few will actually end up saving you money in the long run. So here are 10 quick and easy ways you can become a more responsible, and sustainable, traveller…
Say NO to the plastic straw
Never did I think I would become so passionate about drinking straws, but here we are!
Plastic pollution in the ocean has always been an issue, but the momentum in dealing with it has picked up massively since those heartbreaking scenes were aired on BBC’s Blue Planet II. I’m not going to link it here because none of us need to relive that pain.
Approximately 100,000 marine animals per year are killed as a result of plastic waste in the oceans, and plastic straws are thought to contribute heavily towards that startling figure. It’s especially heartbreaking because do we even need plastic straws? Are 100,000 marine animals worth us keeping our teeth from getting cold?
As somebody with sensitive teeth who happens to love an ice cold Coca-cola every now and again (more now than again), I’ve never seen drinking straws as a choice for me, but a necessity. Years ago I was given this weird retractable steel straw at an event with school, and I loved it. I used it for all of my drinks and took it everywhere with me. Then I lost it and forgot all about it.
A few months ago I invested in some eco-friendly stainless steel straws from Amazon, and haven’t looked back since! It gives me some weird sense of satisfaction to see the waiters’ faces when I go out for food, decline the plastic straw on offer to me and whip out my own shiny little contraption. I’ve ordered some for my sister, my brother, my friends…I am basically Santa Straws.
Stainless steel straws take up barely any room in your bag and if you make wise choices, yours may even come with a nifty little velour bag to keep them in!
Not only is saying no to straws good for the environment in the long run, but also for your bank account. IKEA sell 200 single-use plastic straws for 0.95p. Say you use a straw every day from the age of 10 to the age of 70. That’s more than £100 you’ll spend on plastic straws in your lifetime. Or you could shell out a fiver once, maybe twice, and be set for good…which would you prefer?
Coffee cups and water bottles
There was a lot of talk a few months ago here in the UK about introducing a 25p “latte levy” on takeaway coffees, so as to influence people to bring their own reusable coffee cups and reduce the amount of waste used by the takeaway coffee industry (is that a thing?) per year. Although this tax didn’t materialise, a lot of chains have imposed their own version of this tax to individually influence their consumers to be more sustainable in their coffee-drinking lives.
Pret, Costa and Starbucks are just some of the big coffee wigs who offer a 25p discount on all hot drinks (and sometimes cold!) when you bring your own reusable, refillable cup.
And you know what? I’m not a coffee drinker but there are some bloody marvellous quality reusable travel coffee cups out there these days! Much snazzier than your boring (but very good quality) thermos flasks.
On the cold side of the drinks spectrum, let’s talk about water.
We’re supposed to drink at least 2 litres of water a day to stay healthy and alive and other science things. Whether or not we do end up drinking that much is a whole other topic of discussion! I used to basically drink around 2 litres of water a year, preferring to consume liquid diabetes and other much more expensive things that will eventually kill you over the free liquid life that runs from taps and falls from the sky.
Then I went to India, where it is very very hot, and now I drink at least 2 litres a day, sometimes 3 or more when I’m travelling. If I were to buy a new bottle of water every day, that’s 365 bottles. And do you know how long your standard plastic water bottle takes to decompose? At least 450 years. That’s a very long time.
Investing your money in a good quality eco-friendly filter water bottle can save you dollars on your water while simultaneously massively reducing the amount of plastic waste you use.
Invest in a good, eco-friendly cotton tote bag
Cotton tote bags have been around for years. They’re often given away for free at networking events and can be purchased in the UK from as little as £1 in most stores so as to reduce the number of plastic bags used.
I’ve got into the habit of always keeping one with me, either in my coat pocket (although this does bulk it up a little) or in my handbag or backpack. I don’t know how many times it’s saved me from saying yes to a 10p “bag for life” or a 5p bag that will inevitably break on the way home, but it’s definitely too many to count!
Tote bags don’t have to be boring and plain, either. My friend Jess James customised me the most beautiful tote bag in the world a few years ago – I’ll need to dig it out to take a photo, but it was based on JRR Tolkien, had clouds and hills and the quote “Not all those who wander are lost“. A mouse moved into my bedroom while I was travelling in 2016, and he loved it so much he ate the button off of it.
Anyway, if you don’t have the time, amazing friends or artistic abilities to customise your own, there are so many fun and colourful options you can get online! There’s really no excuse not to invest in at least one to reduce the amount of plastic used on your weekly shopping.
Shop more tote bags here
Their usefulness (is that a word?!) extends to travelling too. How many times have you started your trip with 5 items and come back with 25?! Popping a tote bag in your main bag on the way out means you’ll always have something to store excess belongings in and do any shopping you need while you’re away.
One for the ladies: Diva Cup
Or, you know, your menstrual cup of choice. You don’t have to stick with the Diva, that’s just the one I have personal experience with (although I am tempted by the Organicup to switch things up a little). There’s also the Lunette, the Dutchess, the Mooncup and a bunch of others that sound like half-assed lunar-related puns.
Once a month, whether we like it or not, us ladies have to unavoidably use a somewhat excessive amount of non-recyclable products to take care of what is otherwise known as ‘Shark Week‘. Tampons, sanitary pads, and the likes are, for fairly obvious reasons not recyclable. I tried to find a reputable article to explain what happens to them in the UK, but apparently, such thing doesn’t exist, so here’s one from India to give you a basic idea of the long-lasting effect our monthly friend has on the world.
One way to reduce the waste used during your period is to invest in a menstrual cup.
The concept sounds quite terrifying, I’ll admit. I mean, who really wants to stick a plastic egg cup up their vajayjay anyway? The answer is nobody. But actually, it’s no less simple than your standard tampon! You just sort of squeeze, push and release. Voila. I’ll let the instructions in the pack give you a more detailed explanation…
The aforementioned hero behind Birdgehls has a great few posts on how to have an eco-friendly period, and general info about the Lunette cup, which you should 100% check out if you’re interested in making your few days of hell each month a little less hard on the earth.
PUT IT IN YOUR POCKET!!!!
One thing that riles me up more than anything else on this planet (slight exaggeration but let’s just go with it) is littering. I just don’t understand how anyone could think just throwing waste on the floor – biodegradable or otherwise – is a good idea! Especially as, in most countries, there are plenty of bins and/or recycling receptacles if you just open your eyes and look.
Of course, there are also plenty of countries in the world – India, for example – where littering on the street is part and parcel of everyday life. Bins are available but few and far between, and although there are many fantastic “Keep it green, keep it clean” signs dotted about the place, they’re often ignored and in any case littering isn’t very heavily policed.
Over here in the UK, if you drop litter on the floor in a public place you can get an on-the-spot fine of up to £150. I remember when they first started bearing down heavily on the rule, and community support officers would be out in force scaring schoolkids into picking up after themselves. True, making children cry is a bit of an extreme measure, but it worked. Our streets are pretty clean now, with the exception of the unsightly blobs of chewing gum engrained into the pavement like fossils.
If you’re chowing down on a packet of crisps, a pre-packed sandwich from Tesco and there aren’t any bins around, it’s really not hard to just pop it in your pocket or your bag until you either get back to your accommodation or find a bin or recycling bag somewhere along the way.
Just clean up after yourself – it’s really not hard.
Reuse free resources
One of my favourite parts of checking in to a new hotel, hostel or Airbnb is checking out all the little maps and pamphlets they have available to find out what there is to do nearby. I’m really bad for grabbing one of everything, shoving them away and then forgetting all about them until 3 months later when I’m looking for something and come across a pile of soggy “What to do in Krakow” leaflets at the bottom of my long-forgotten about bag.
It’s only recently I’ve come to think about the long-term impact this habit has on the planet.
While most leaflets and brochures are recyclable, there are certain types which, due to the type of material they’re made from, or the way they are laminated, cannot be disposed of in an eco-friendly way. Meaning your (okay, MY) habit of playing Grab The Leaflet could stick around on this planet long after you’re gone.
Combat this in one of 3 ways:
- Just don’t grab them in the first place (not always a good idea, sometimes they’re kind of essential ya know?)
- Reuse them for your own purposes (scrapbooking, memory board, other post-travel fun)
- Pass them on to someone else who may need them.
When you’re done with them, put them back where they came from. If you got them from your hostel reception, put them back just before check-out. If you’ve made friends with someone who just arrived as you were leaving, pass them on to them. Another thing you could do is have a word with the hostel owner about possibly using resources made from recyclable materials? Every little helps!
Having already mentioned the effects of carbon emissions from planes a little earlier on, I won’t go into again because a) I don’t really know what I’m talking about and b) I don’t want to feel guilty about the number of planes I’ve flown in over the years.
Still, where possible it’s always a good idea to reduce the amount of time you spend on a plane. One easy way to do this (and often a lot cheaper than the alternative!) is, if you are on a slightly longer-term trip and not just visiting one country, consider overland travel as opposed to taking short flights between cities.
Over the years I’ve travelled overland from Nepal to India, Venezuela to Colombia, Ecuador to Peru and back again, Brazil to Argentina, Chile to Bolivia and back again, Chile to Peru, and done a loop from Mexico through Guatemala and Belize. And that’s before even mentioning European overland travel!
And those experiences of crossing borders, traversing from one distinct culture right into the next, have been some of my most exciting memories. Definitely worth it! To top it off, in most of the above cases, I’ve actually saved upwards of £100 in choosing to travel overland as opposed to by air. Okay, so I’ve also lost many hours of my life, but the views out of the bus windows were spectacular enough to forget all about that!
Live in your own filth
Probably could have worded that a little better really, but sometimes just stewing in your own grossness is one of the easiest ways to save the planet! You know, take shorter showers, stop with the aerosol deodorants and don’t bother washing your clothes for days on end. Become at one with the stench.Sometimes just stewing in your own grossness is one of the easiest ways to save the world!Click To Tweet
Okay, so that sounds a bit extreme but seriously, more often than not it’s completely unnecessary to wash your clothes (and even your towel) after just one use – even while travelling. It’s a waste of water. Obviously, if you’ve just been on a sixty-seven mile-long trek and are feeling and smelling less than fresh, do us all a favour and have a good scrub, but if you’ve just been out for dinner and have only been wearing your clothes for a brief few hours, why bother?
Likewise, when you’re staying in a hotel there’s absolutely no need to have your room cleaned every single day! When housekeeping clean your room, they don’t just make the bed and provide you with fresh towels – they also clean the floor, clean the tub and more often than not replenish your toilet paper stock even if the first roll isn’t finished yet.
If your room isn’t looking like World War III has just hit it (soon guys, soon) and is entirely liveable, then just pop that useful little Do Not Disturb sign on the door handle before going out for the day. Or if there are certain things you do need in your room (I love having my bed made!) have a word with reception, or housekeeping on the way out, and let them know you don’t need your room cleaned but would like X, Y or Z instead.
Pack reusable mesh bags for fruit and veg
Rewinding back to plastic bag-ception all the way back at the beginning, there’s nothing the UK loves more than putting its fruit and veg in plastic packaging (except queueing – we love queueing more than anything). It’s stupid, it’s pointless and causes masses of unnecessary waste.
BUT did you know, when you go to the local supermarket you don’t actually have to use those little plastic bags to put your fruit and veg in? If you’re buying just the one pepper, do you really need a bag? Carry it loose. Same for if you just want a couple of apples. Believe it or not, it’s entirely possible for the cashier to weigh your food without it being stuffed in a pointless bag.
There are a few situations, however, where nobody expects you to carry the contents of your garden in your handbag. Mushrooms, for example. Trust me – if you’re buying more than two, don’t carry them loose in your bag as it’ll end up looking like you’ve dug up a body from an allotment. Eco-friendly reusable produce bags are a fantastic remedy to this. I’ve seen them sold in-store in the likes of Tesco, Tiger, and IKEA, but the ones available on Amazon are my favourite as one packet comes with different sizes and are colour-coded.
Think packing cubes, but smaller and more useful.
If you’re planning a trip and you know you’ll be staying in an AirBnb, hostel or somewhere with cooking facilities and plan on preparing a lot of your own meals, chuck a few of these in your backpack before you take off. Honestly, they take up no room whatsoever and are so versatile they can be used for things beyond transporting produce from the shop to home. I have tiny feet so have used one of the larger bags to keep my stinky trainers post-hike, and have also used them to store my not-so-clean underwear in between washes.
You could also use them to help with another useful tip on this list – cleaning up after yourself! Keep one in your car or pocket when you’re out and about as an on-the-go bin.
Rent a bicycle or walk
This isn’t a viable option for many parts of the world, I know. The roads aren’t safe enough to cycle in certain countries, the drivers are crazy and, to be honest, some very pretty places are incredibly inconveniently located if you don’t drive. But where you can, you should always consider renting a bicycle before taking taxis, buses, renting a car or moped.
Because…and excuse me for pointing out the obvious here… bicycles don’t release any nasties into the world. You put your feet on the pedal and move for your legs. No petrol, no diesel, no gas. Just you and your two wheels, which is easily one of the most eco-friendly ways to travel.
In renting (or buying!) a bike, not only are you doing your part for the environment and the Ozone layer and other scientific things I don’t fully understand (I’m a linguist, not a scientist), you’ll also be:
- improving your own health
- saving a hell of a lot of money on public transport
- exploring parts of the world you otherwise wouldn’t
- having fun. I feel like a 3-year-old when I hop on the saddle!
At home in Cardiff, I live about 3.5 miles away from my workplace. It’s not an excessive distance to walk but I like my sleep and we get a lot of rain, which is not fun to walk in. So, I used to get the bus every single day, there and back. It cost £13 for an unlimited weekly ticket, so we’re talking at least £50 a month there. Then I bought a
second third-hand bike for £50, lock and broken lights included and beat myself up for not having done it sooner!
Most major cities in Europe and other parts of the world offer the local equivalent of “Boris bikes“, which are a fantastic alternative to a hop-on-hop-off bus. I’m already frantically researching bike rentals in Auckland for my upcoming trip to New Zealand.