The ice caps are melting. The Amazon Rainforest is on fire. The Great Barrier Reef is dying. All of the things we dreamed of seeing as kids are getting decimated right in front of our eyes. The negative impact of humanity on the world is becoming clearer than ever, and unfortunately, those with the most power to change things are staring the climate crisis right in the face and doing nothing about it.
Traveling has taught me a lot of things, and one of the more unfortunate lessons is just how real the climate crisis is. In almost every country I’ve been to, climate change has negatively impacted them in some way or another. It is something that affects all of us and the very least we can do is try to change some of our ingrained habits to do better. These are small changes but those small changes add up when enough of us follow them.
Avoid Single-Use Plastic Bottles
This is one of the harder things to do while traveling. In many parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, it is hard to guarantee the cleanliness and safety of drinking water. Usually, hopping into a 7-Eleven and buying a liter of water is the safest bet to make sure your stomach survives your journey. I’ve found that over the years, more and more hotels and even hostels are offering purified water and filtered water free of charge. Always bring your reusable bottle and try to refill whenever you can.
I’ve been in Ecuador for almost a month now and have only had to buy single-use plastic bottles when I’m in dire straits at a nightclub at 5 AM. Having a water bottle with a filter is also extremely useful. Avoiding single-use plastic bottles adds up in money saved and environmental impact reduced. Seriously, I used to go through 3 or 4 bottles a day while traveling.
Ditch The Hotel or Hostel For An Eco-Lodge
One thing that I’ve started looking more and more into is staying at eco-lodges, accommodation options that are focused on being sustainable and environmentally-conscious. As a budget traveler, it definitely is a bit more expensive than my typical hostel stay but I also would gladly pay more money to know that I am supporting somewhere with a good mission. I recently stayed at the Black Sheep Inn Eco-Lodge in Ecuador, one of the top eco-friendly accommodations in the world.
It was eye-opening to see just how much more I could do in order to minimize my impact while traveling. All of their bathrooms were compost, minimizing the need for water and instead relying on their natural resources available. The meals were all vegetarian, emphasizing the need to cut down on meat. I spent three days at the Black Sheep Inn and everyone knows about the three day hump. After three days of going vegetarian, it was much easier to continue that habit throughout the rest of my travels.
Seeing how the eco-lodge incorporated garbage into the decor of their facilities and rooms was also really cool. Apparently, glass is a hassle to recycle in Ecuador so instead of just throwing them away, they used it to line the walls of their showers and gym, resulting in a stained-glass kind of vibe. It was a refreshing change from the places that I usually stay in. The best part about eco-lodges are that everyone does things differently according to their environment.
Participate in Beach Cleanups
If you find yourself along the coast, beach cleanups can be extremely helpful. I remember a little proverb I heard once about a bunch of starfish that had washed up on shore. There were hundreds of them and an old man saw a young boy helping them get back into the ocean, one by one. The old man told the boy that he wouldn’t make a difference because there were hundreds of them. The boy put another starfish back into the ocean and responded with “it makes a difference to that one.”
Okay, first of all, I was also told that making skin to skin contact with starfish can actually be harmful to the starfish and not to do it. But that’s not the point. The point is even if you manage to clean up a small amount of plastic and other garbage, it can make a difference. In the grand scheme of things, what are five or six plastic bottles? In the smaller scheme of things, five or six plastic bottles can save a marine animal.
Take Public Transportation If Available
Public transportation is not only cheap and easily accessible, it is also one of the most eco-friendly ways to get around. Instead of one or two people driving their own individual cars, you’ve got 30 or 40 people sharing one big form of transportation that reduces the need for all those cars to be used. I take public transportation mostly because it is cheap but the fact that it is a greener way to travel helps as well. This goes for pretty much everywhere. Taking trains in Europe, buses in South America, ferries in Asia, the list goes on. You never really experience a country until you’ve witnessed their public transportation system firsthand.
Avoid Flying If Possible
Although it is the most convenient and quickest way to get anywhere, flying is also one of the most harmful for the environment. Obviously, you’re not going to take a bus from New York to Cape Town so you’ve got to fly sometimes. I fly internationally but once I get into a continent, I try to restrict myself solely to bus travel or other public transportation. It does take longer but it is also cheaper and I do believe that it gives you a more complete experience in a country. You get to stop in cities that you might have otherwise ignored and experienced the hustle and bustle of local transportation hubs. It’s all part of the adventure.
Going Hiking? Bring A Bag And Pick Up Trash Along The Way
This is something that I picked up from one of my college roommates. We lived about a mile from campus and every day before he’d go to class, he’d grab a bag and just pick up trash along the way to class. Every day. It takes minimal effort and barely adds any time to your commute, walk, hike or whatever. I’ve started doing this when I go hiking. Hiking trails are meant to be some of the most beautiful ways to experience a region. That gets a bit dampened by seeing trash all over the trails.
Bringing a bag to pick up trash takes minimal effort and can make a noticeable difference right away on a trail. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a 2 liter that someone dumped on the trail and I’ll just grab that and shove trash into it. They call them eco-bricks and they’ve become popular to use as anything from a paperweight to an entire building. A lot of plastic doesn’t get recycled so the next best thing is to find a way to make use of it. There was a place in Durban that gathered trash and found innovative ways to incorporate it into their urban greenhouse. Shoes, backpacks, water bottles, you name it. Whatever you can imagine, imagine a plant growing out of it.
You’ll both be disgusted and amazed at how much trash you’ll find on a trail. My friend and I hiked Lion’s Head in Cape Town, a relatively clean city, and managed to fill an entire plastic bottle with cigarette butts just on the 45 minute walk down from the summit. Beyond helping the environment, it’s also just pretty fun to do. I was home for a few weeks and took my little brother on a few short hikes around town and he genuinely enjoyed picking up trash as if it was a game of who could pick up more. It’s great.
Bring Reusable Bags If You Go Grocery Shopping
I do a lot of grocery shopping while traveling to save money. In most places, plastic bags are the norm. I bring like two or three reusable hemp bags with me while I travel and just throw them at the bottom of my backpack. I’ll use them for groceries or picking up trash (obviously giving them a good wash in between). It’s a small thing that adds up in the long run. I haven’t used plastic bags from a grocery store in years and I know that while one individual might not matter, it eventually adds up if all of us do it. Here are a few more alternatives to single-use travel products.
Minimize The Amount of Meat You Eat
I go through phases where I’ll be vegetarian for long stretches of time and then get tempted to eat meat once and then just accidentally incorporate it back into my diet regularly. I was vegetarian for three years until I got to Argentina and just had to try one of their famous steaks. Of course, that turned into a nightly thing because well, when in Argentina. I’ve tried to find a balance where I won’t buy meat or order it from a restaurant but if it is a local delicacy or already provided for me, then I’ll give it a try.
Minimizing meat is one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. However, I understand that food is one of the best parts of traveling. Find a nice balance. Oftentimes, while traveling, the countries that you go to don’t have the mass production and unethical practices that make meat such a controversial industry in places like the U.S. Just be more conscious about your choices.
Avoid Using Plastic Straws (Buy A Bamboo One!)
So this is a relatively new movement, although it should have been one a long time ago. I mean come on, do we really need to sip our drinks through straws? I’m guilty of this until recently, as well but once the movement to ban plastic straws came around, it was kind of a no-brainer. Even before the U.S. picked up on the movement, I was seeing calls to ban plastic straws all over the world, from Bali to Mexico. I encountered one place in Mexico whose Wi-Fi password was sinpopoteesmejor, without a straw is better. It’s a movement that’s been taking place for years and basically, if you’re not in on it, you should be.
Ask for drinks without straws because you are an adult. If you need a straw to drink, buy yourself a bamboo or a metal straw that you can take around with you. I do understand that some people have disabilities that make it harder for them to drink without a straw but looking into alternatives is a must. I’ll admit paper straws suck, especially the ones that get soggy after like three minutes. Bamboo is the way to go, y’all.
Set A Good Example For Others
One of the most discouraging things was when I went to visit my family in the Philippines and saw that the small village that I had grown up in was being smothered by trash. Many people in the village would just throw their garbage anywhere that was convenient. While it was still a beautiful little village, the beaches, rivers, jungles, and waterfalls were all somewhat spoiled by the trash everywhere. It sucked even more to see the people close to you having these habits because it is hard to confront those close to you about changing their ways.
It starts with setting an example and hoping they follow. In Bali, when my friend and I would walk around beaches with large, empty rice sacks, so many people would stop to help us even for just a few seconds. It takes a little push for some people, but in general, I know the majority of the world’s population wants to do good.
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