There are so many ways we can travel, and live, more responsibly. It’s no secret that the planet is in a dire situation right now, with headlines such as “Only 12 Years To Save The World” seriously frustrating many of us who wonder why our Governments aren’t doing more. It might feel like there’s no point in you making any changes to your lifestyle – because how could that make a difference right? But you, just one person, can make a helluva difference….
Here are some disturbing statistics from the UK:
- 275,000 tonnes of plastic are used in the UK: about 15 million bottles per day.
- Plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose.
- 900 million items of clothing are sent to landfill each year.
- One person in England and Wales produces nearly 500kg of household waste.
- One person in the UK throws away seven times their body weight in rubbish.
Source (with lots more depressing statistics)
By making a few changes not only will you be helping to reduce the enormous trash problem the world has but you might also influence those around you as well.
It might seem like it’s far more difficult to reduce waste when travelling because reusable coffee cups and water bottles take up valuable space in your luggage. But sometimes you have to just bite the bullet and realise that being ever so slightly inconvenienced is much better for everyone, and you’ll probably find it saves you money too, which as a backpacker should be top of the list!
How to be a better traveller, tourist and person
With some “what not to do when travelling” included
Say no to single use items!
Help save the planet (and often your budget too).
1. Pack a reusable coffee cup
- If you drink takeaway coffees then purchase a reusable cup/mug. Most cafes offer a discount if you provide your own cup, so over time you’ll see a saving
- Top Tip: Instead of buying takeaway coffees why not sit at a cafe and watch the world go by? You’re travelling, you shouldn’t be in so much of a rush. Take in your surroundings and drink out of a proper mug!
2. Carry a reusable water bottle
- Water from the tap is often perfectly ok to drink, so why are we so obsessed with buying a bottle of water so often? In many parts of the world though, we’re told the tap water isn’t safe to drink, and in these places it can be a bit trickier to avoid buying bottled water. However, you can buy reusable water bottles that can contain a filter, or if you’re able to, just boil the water before you add it to your bottle (let it cool first).
3. Always say no to straws
- Plastic straws have been in the news a lot. Always refuse a straw, you have a perfectly good mouth you can use instead. You can buy reusable straws if you really can’t live without them.
4. Pack a reusable food container
- If you find yourself buying takeaway lunches a lot then ask them to fill your own container with food rather than using single use plastic. They might even give you a discount if you do (there’s no harm in asking). Alternatively just sit down and use their china and take your time.
- Top Tip: Your food container doubles as a packed lunch box for when you’re a bit more organised before a day trip!
5. Always carry a cloth shopping bag
- They take up so little space and will reduce the enormous number of plastic bags being thrown away every day
6. Never chase after wildlife to get that close-up photo
- Wild animals are unpredictable, you put yourself, others and them at risk by chasing after them
7. Never take a selfie with an animal
- There are so many instances of wild animals dying because of the selfishness of a tourist wanting a selfie. Don’t be that guy
8. Never feed wild animals
- Feeding wild animals can cause their untimely death in many ways. For one you’re encouraging them to approach humans for food. This can get them killed if they become aggressive
9. Never ride an elephant
- I’m not perfect and I did this many years ago. Would I do it again? Absolutely not, because there is enough information out there now about riding elephants and why it’s wrong that I would be a terrible person if I did. Go to an elephant sanctuary instead
10. Never swim with captive dolphins
- Captive dolphins are forced to interact with you, go and see them in the wild instead. Watch them in their natural habitat and only use responsible dolphin tour operators who know to keep their distance and will only allow you to swim with the wild dolphins if it’s appropriate to do so. By supporting wild dolphin tours (responsible operators only) you help to encourage their conservation rather than their capture.
11. Never touch the coral
- When snorkelling or diving don’t touch or step on the coral. It’s a delicate ecosystem which is already under threat by climate change.
12. Never take photos of people or their homes without their permission
- Local villagers are not an attraction, it’s a privilege to be able to visit their homeland, not a right.
13. Always support local businesses
- For example visit a locally owned coffee shop rather than Starbucks or Costa!
14. Respect the local customs
- Always be respectful of the country you’re in. Certain hand gestures you use at home might be highly offensive somewhere else. You also don’t want to get in trouble with the law.
Pack essential clothing only
15. Don’t bring your whole wardrobe with you
- I can’t begin to tell you the amount of clothing items left behind at hostels because someone realised they never wore half their wardrobe so they just dumped half the contents of their backpack one day. (No-one needs 3 different pairs of jeans or 2 pairs of stiletto heels when travelling, so use your common sense.)
- Top Tip: You will most likely get bored of your clothes at some point, so swap some items with other travellers. They’ll be getting bored of their clothes too!
- Top Tip 2: If other travellers are not keen on your clothes donate them to a clothing bank instead!
- Top Tip 3: Buy a sarong and you save yourself some space in your backpack. A sarong can be used as clothing and a beach towel in hotter climates.
16. Do you really need to travel with hair straighteners and a hairdryer?
- You’re travelling, go natural and save energy at the same time. ‘Nuff said
17. Unplug items when they’re charged
- Stop wasting energy (and being annoying to your roommates by using all the available sockets)
18. Switch it off
- Leaving a room? Switch the light off. This goes for TV’s etc as well, unless someone else is in the room watching it of course.
19. Use reef safe sunscreen
- If you’re travelling in Australia you probably want to visit the spectacular Great Barrier Reef. Make sure you use a reef safe sunscreen which is not harmful to the coral
20. Buy a Bamboo Toothbrush
- It’s estimated that 3.6 billion plastic toothbrushes are used worldwide every year, with the average person using 300 in their lifetime. Unfortunately, roughly 80 percent of these end up in the sea, where they pose a risk to marine life and habitats. (source)
21. Use a natural deodorant in biodegradable packaging
- Kinder to your skin, the environment and animals, using a natural deodorant in biodegradable rather than plastic packaging is the way to go!
22. Shave responsibly
- So, you could go down the route of waxing to reduce your need for your razors, or you could choose an eco-friendly way to shave instead. Alternatively you could grow all your hair all over your body! 🙂
Everything listed above is easy to do and there should be no reason why you can’t do all of them. Now we come to the more ‘controversial’ ways to be more environmentally responsible in the bathroom. I say controversial because so many people feel that the 2 things listed below are just too time consuming or too inconvenient. And in fairness, there are a few things which are much more difficult when travelling (sorry ladies, I’m talking to you)
However in truth, being a bit more difficult shouldn’t stop you from wanting to preserve our planet for a few more years. And you should definitely try to do the below when you’ve settled somewhere for a while.
23. Use shampoo bars
- You can buy shampoo in the form of a bar these days, you know, like soap! Now I realise this seems a lot more difficult when living out of a backpack but you can also purchase a tin to carry your shampoo bar around in. This prevents so many shampoo bottles being thrown away! It’ll probably take up less room in your bag too.
24. Use reusable sanitary products
- Sounds awful right? But is it really that much worse than standard sanitary products? You can buy ‘moon cups’, and there are a variety on the market, or buy washable pads. I’m not going to lie, both of these are far trickier to use when travelling, but a very important option to consider.
25. Travel by train rather than plane
- Ok so avoiding planes entirely isn’t practical, however if you’re travelling domestically you should consider going by train. You can admire the landscape while you’re at it.
26. Hire a smaller car
- If you hire a car, choose the smallest one that is suitable for your requirements. Say no to a free upgrade as it’ll cost you more in fuel, possibly more in insurance and be costlier to the planet too.
27. Use public transport
- Choose a bus, tram or train rather than a taxi. They’re much cheaper most of the time anyway. Better still, walk or cycle!
28. Never litter
- Take your rubbish with you and dispose of it responsibly – recycling whenever possible. Do I really have to say more?
29. Use water sparingly
- The water doesn’t need to be flowing when you’re actually brushing your teeth, only switch it on when you need to rinse your brush.
- Do you really need a 20 minute shower?
30. Offset your carbon footprint
- Being a traveller means your carbon footprint is probably fairly high, what with all that plane travel! So spend some time volunteering and plant some trees, or donate to a tree planting scheme.
31. Do some volunteer work
- Talking of volunteering why not see if there are any local beach clean ups going on? Or if the US Government has shutdown again go and do some litter picking at a National Park. (Unfortunately there are thousands of awful people out there who don’t care about the beautiful places they’ve chosen to visit.)
32. Eat less meat and dairy
- I’m not asking you to go vegan, but it’s become apparent that if everyone reduced their meat and dairy intake it would make an enormous difference to the planet. It might also help your waistline (as part of a balanced diet, blah blah blah).
33. Buy fruit and veg from local markets
- Not only are you supporting the local farmers, but you’re less likely to be forced to buy additional packaging that’s not needed (supermarkets love adding unnecessary packaging to fresh fruit and veg, essentially to make you buy more).
And never forget
Take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints
So there’s a few ideas to help you to be a better traveller, and person. Do you have any other suggestions that I can add to the list?