For many people, the word travel is synonymous with vacation. Which, in turn, translates to taking some time off work, eating at restaurants for most meals, relaxing the rules that we typically follow at home, and, ideally, coming back refreshed and rejuvenated. But travel has some downsides, too, especially when it comes to the planet: Research has shown that an increase in tourism equals an increase in trash, pollution, and damage to the environment. But there are plenty of ways you can reduce waste (and your overall footprint) when you travel, from choosing a responsible tour operator to toting your own reusable silverware. Some take a little more planning than others, but overall, these strategies are pretty simple to put into practice—and the environment will be better for it. Here, 15 ways to reduce waste when you travel.
1. Bring a Reusable Straw
Even though some restaurants and travel brands have banned plastic straws, Americans alone use an estimated hundreds of millions of straws every day—and the vast majority end up in the landfill or polluting waterways. Reusable straws made from materials like bamboo, glass, stainless steel, or silicone are an easy and convenient solution—and take up virtually no space in a suitcase or backpack.
2. Use a Handkerchief Instead of a Paper Napkin
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Paper napkins are another product found in many restaurants that are simply tossed in the trash after being used. Bringing your own cloth napkin will reduce the number of paper ones you use; you can also opt for a bandanna, a staple for many adventure travelers.
3. Bring Reusable Containers and Bags
Sticking with the reusable theme, pack your own tote bag and food wraps. They won’t take up much space in your luggage but will save a few plastic bags or styrofoam containers. They come in super handy when you’re out buying souvenirs, at the market, or taking home leftovers from a restaurant.
4. Find Restaurants That Use Silverware (or Bring Your Own)
Whenever possible, choose restaurants that use real plates and silverware instead of paper plates and plastic forks. You can also bring along your own stainless steel or bamboo utensils, and you won’t have to worry about it.
5. Carry a Reusable Water Bottle
Even if you are diligent about reusing water bottles at home, it can be much easier to grab a bottle of water or soda when you’re on the road and out of your routine. Be sure to add a reusable bottle (or two) to your packing list so it’s easier to remember in the hectic pre-trip scramble (but if you do forget, you can still buy one plastic bottle and then reuse it). Klean Kanteen is an excellent choice for insulated stainless steel bottles; the company also supports Patagonia’s 1% for the Planet initiative.
If you’re traveling to a country where you’re concerned about the quality of the water, bring a UV water purifying pen, a physical filter that fits on top of your water bottle, or iodine water purification tablets; you can also boil water before drinking.
6. Brush with Bamboo
This is something you can do at home, too: replacing your plastic toothbrush with a biodegradable bamboo one. It will last for several months, and it will often come in eco-friendly packaging.
7. Pack Travel Bottles
Those single-use bottles of hotel toiletries may be convenient, but they can also wreak havoc on the planet. Instead, bring your own favorite shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in small, travel-sized containers. Don’t forget about sunscreen, either, but make sure it’s the reef-friendly kind. (Remember that containers must be 3.4 ounces/100 milliliters or less, and you are limited to one quart-sized bag if you’re flying with a carry-on.)
8. Try Alternate Transportation
Sure, it’s a cinch to pull up a ride-share service on your phone and get picked up and dropped off a few steps from your destination. But when you’re exploring a new-to-you city or country, traveling by foot, bike, or public transportation offers a much more authentic sense of place—while keeping your environmental footprint light.
9. Reduce Your Energy Usage
Whether you stay at a hotel or an Airbnb, don’t run the air conditioner or heat if you aren’t in the room. Turn off the lights when you leave for the day. Take short showers instead of long ones or baths and reuse towels and sheets instead of tossing them on the floor.
10. Visit the Farmers Market
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Swiss chard, seakale beet, Roman kale, and spinach beet are just a few of the names this gorgeous leafy green goes by. We found this colorful chard from Zavels Family Farm at the Market Square Farmers Market in Knoxville, Tennessee. The word chard comes from the Latin word "carduus," meaning artichoke thistle. Chard is a part of the beet family, but instead of being grown mostly for the root like beets, chard is cultivated for its leaves 🌿. Chard can grow to be very large, even up to 28 inches tall! Do you like chard? If so, how do you like to cook it? #chard #leafygreens #farmersmarketfinds
There’s no better way to get a taste of local culture than at the farmers market. Not only can you stock up on produce and sample locally prepared dishes, you’ll be supporting the local economy and helping cut down on transit-related waste. And if you’re looking to really dig deep into the foodie scene, consider a culinary-focused trip, such as Conscious Adventurist’s Gourmet Adventure in Thailand and Vietnam.
11. Bring a Scarf
A large, warm scarf can double as a pillow or a wrap if you get cold while en route, which means you won’t need to open the plastic bag to get into a blanket or pillow on the airplane.
12. Order Only What You Plan to Eat
Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer from malnourishment, and fragile ecosystems are becoming more and more threatened by expanding agricultural practices. Do your part by sharing a meal with your travel companion, ordering smaller portions, or taking home leftovers to eat later.
13. Use a Mobile Boarding Pass
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The days of printing out your boarding pass are numbered. Even if you have to check a bag, you can check-in at home and pull up a mobile boarding pass on your phone. In addition to saving some trees, you’ll also save yourself the hassle of hurriedly searching all your pockets when you misplace that slip of paper right before boarding.
14. Leave the Books and Magazines at Home
Tablets and e-readers are getting lighter and more convenient all the time. Downloading a couple of books and magazines before you leave will save space and weight in your luggage—and save a few trees, too.
15. Offset your Carbon Emissions
Traveling by plane or car inevitably causes pollution, but there are several ways you can help mitigate the damage. First off, you can book a trip with a company that is committed to sustainability, such as Conscious Adventurist, which donates a portion of all trip purchases to environmental initiatives such as Protect Our Winters and 1% for the Planet. In addition, you can purchase carbon offsets or renewable energy credits to make up for the greenhouse gas emissions that your trip will generate. Several websites allow you to calculate the impact of your trip and then purchase the number of credits needed.
Written by Abbie Mood for Matcha in partnership with Conscious Adventurist.
Featured image provided by david lalang