Your Guide to Being an Environmentally Aware Traveller
Global warming is the biggest issue we are facing as a world today.
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg highlights the fact that ‘Our house is on fire’ and it’s our job to put the fire out. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at the highest point for 800,000 years, whilst we also chuck millions of tons of plastic and chemical waste into our oceans. The evidence is irrefutable; humans are damaging our environment in a number of ways. We should all be doing our bit to help reduce the symptoms before the damage is irreversible.
We can be doing this at home, as small changes to our daily lives can have a huge impact if the entire population took up such measures. Yet, this doesn’t have to just stop at the confines of your own home, you can also do your bit whilst travelling. Although transport is also a contributor towards emissions, it’s important in this volatile age for people to be global citizens, where we interact, learn and grow with other cultures. Cultural exchange and sustainable travel are essential for this, so it’s then important to be environmentally aware of your own footprint.
It is definitely more difficult to do while on the go, but we’ve looked at the things you could do at home, which also translate over to when you’re travelling. So whether you’re at a summer camp in America, or au-pairing in Europe, you can still implement the below to make sure you travel sustainably.
1. Take a walk, ride a bike, avoid the polluting taxis
Exploring different cities can be challenging, as you have to find your way around which can be a daunting prospect.
At times like this, it’s easy to resort to getting taxis everywhere. Don’t do it! Take the time and opportunity to walk around, take in the sights, smells and absorb the day-to-day life of the locals. It also has an impact on your footprint, as if we all reduce the number of vehicle trips we make, the fewer emissions we are putting out collectively.
If you don’t fancy walking, there’s always cycling for you to fall back on. It’s becoming a more popular way of getting around, particularly in European countries where most will have rentable bike schemes in place (if you’ve ever been to Amsterdam like some of the team have, you’ll know they’re everywhere!) It’s a great way to keep fit on holiday as well as seeing the main tourist sights, so if you don’t have a lot of time, get yourself a city bike. There are lots of countries that offer the city bikes, which you can pay for as you go. Prices will vary but we can guarantee it will be cheaper, more fulfilling and more eco-friendly than getting a taxi.
Even if sustainable travel isn’t currently part of your day-to-day life at home, it could be something you start incorporating into your routine. You don’t have to change from Uber to marathon runner, but start with small steps. So if you drive to work, see if there’s anyone you can start a carpool with. It leads to fewer cars on the road, less pollution and who knows, it could be fun. It’s a chance to catch up on the previous night's TV (or weekend antics?). It’s a chance to bond with your colleagues and motivate each other for the day ahead, just make sure you share driving duties or chip in for petrol!
2. Stay away from plastic bottles, take a refill instead
Thankfully, there is now a desire by Countries and governments to do their bit in moving towards a more sustainable way of living and we need to follow their lead.
The UK has cracked down on plastic usage, starting with the 5p tax on plastic bags in 2015, which has led to a 90% reduction in plastic bag usage. If you’ve finished summer camp and you travel to Washington D.C., you’ll see that they have implemented a ban on straws. Peru restricted single use plastic in certain protected areas, like Machu Picchu.
It’s not just countries doing their bit but companies too, like American Airlines, who have cut plastic from their lounges. Many are including environmental issues as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility approach, which is a positive step. Everyone can do more and we also need to do our bit at home for it to add up.
When you’re travelling, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and privilege of a new adventure, so it’s easy to be "accidentally" less environmentally aware. Do your best on each purchase, or journey, to be consciously aware of your choices. Think of the number of plastic water bottles you buy while you’re away and the damage this is doing. The likelihood is, you won’t be recycling the plastic either, so it’s a double hit. Multiply this by everyone else in that city and it adds up. We’re not going to be perfect, but reducing our plastic use where possible will make a difference.
Never fear though, refill water bottles have our back. Of course, the water in a lot of countries isn’t safe for us to drink, which is where the life straw comes in handy. You can use these for standard refill water bottles, or you can get a filter water bottle which has an integrated filter already in it. If you are unsure, you can get a guide off your government website to check.
Avoiding plastic bags is easy too. Simply pack a reusable bag and keep it with you just in case you ever need it (we’ve all got a big collection stored under the sink, haven’t we?). If you don’t use it for shopping, use it as a laundry bag, or a bag to keep presents/souvenirs in. Everything can be multiple use; get creative and think outside the box!
3. Recycle the old instead of buying the new
Who else writes a holiday shopping list, which is no doubt filled with things you already have and could use again?
Instead, we waste money on buying even more and that demand leads to shops increasing their manufacturing supply. I can raise my hand and say I have done it, recently as well. We’ve all done it and without thinking about the impact it has on the environment. The trouble is, most of what you buy and then use once will end up in a landfill and not disposed of correctly. Again, this isn’t about becoming the most perfect eco-warrior, but citizens who are aware of their impact and who consciously try to reduce it. You are what you wear, so sustainable travel begins at home.
Don’t fret, there are a couple of simple ways you can stop this happening.
Borrow from your friends and family - Let’s say you’re going on a camping trip and you need loads of camping gear. You know you’re probably not going to use it regularly. So a big piece of advice; borrow as much as you can from friends or family. Save some money and save equipment from going to waste. Reducing the demand will reduce the supply.
Rewear your old clothes. Be an outfit repeater - We’ve all had that moment when we think we have nothing to wear, but let’s be honest, you probably do and it’s okay to re-wear things. Maybe you just need to give them a new lease of life, pair the top you normally wear with jeans, or with a skirt. Making clothes uses water, electricity and is packed in plastic wrapping and cardboard boxes. The mass production and use of all these things can be reduced, if we just rewear that pair of jeans to which we initially took a dislike. If you’re insistent on getting rid of clothes, donate them to a charity shop or a good home, where they’ll go to people who want or need them.
4. Shop local, shop fresh and use what you buy
Food waste is at an all-time high. You might not know this but according to Olio:
‘Over ⅓ food produced globally goes to waste’
‘An area larger than China is used to grow food that never gets eaten’
‘If food waste were a country it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and USA’
These, unfortunately, are the hard facts. It’s something we all need to be more aware of and conscious of when buying and cooking our food.
These few tips apply wherever you are whether that’s at home, on holiday or at work.
Try shopping at local markets for your fruit and vegetables. You can buy the fruit and veg loose and only need to buy what you need or know you’re going to use. This is not only benefiting and supporting local/independent businesses, but it’s also reducing food waste and plastic usage.
If you are eating out, and order too much, don’t be afraid to ask for a doggy bag. Take it home and eat it the next day for lunch. It stops food from going to waste and saves you money on lunch the next day. There are a number of apps which now allow you to buy remaining and leftover food from shops, to help avoid food waste. Check out Too Good To Go as an example of how waste food doesn't have to become waste.
Don’t be afraid of leftovers. You don’t need to throw them away, they won’t go off overnight. Pop them in a food container and either have it for lunch the next day, or put it in the freezer and eat it at a later date (maybe when you won’t have as much time to cook). It saves you time, money and of course, stops wasting food!
It might not seem like it’s doing much, one person making small changes to their lifestyle. But when 7 billion combine, it’s a powerful movement of change. By being environmentally aware, these few things can go a huge way in helping to save our environment.
Greta Thunberg is right, ‘we already have the facts and solutions, we just need to wake up and change’.