If you’re looking for easy ways to be more sustainable, particularly when you travel, you are in the right place! I asked a few fellow travel bloggers for their sustainable travel tips and together we came up with this fantastic list for budding eco travellers.
I think many of us aspire to being mindful of the environment when we travel and we aim to make choices that will reduce our footprint, but for many it can feel a little overwhelming and at times hopeless; I mean, how much difference can little old me really make? Perhaps you’re unsure where to start making changes or you feel sceptical about ‘greenwashing’ and wonder whether products and accommodation marketed as ‘eco friendly’ are worth the extra cost, but still want to do your bit? (You can find some great suggestions for eco destinations that are definitely worth it here!)
Being green doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming; many of these eco friendly travel tips are free or of minimal cost, and won’t take any time at all, leaving you to enjoy your travels with a clear conscience.
What a great idea! T is already a determined litter-picker. He knows that we never leave rubbish behind and that it needs to be sorted into the correct bin, so you can see that it bothers him when he finds rubbish on the street, at the beach or in the playground, and he’ll happily carry it with him until he can dispose of it properly. We teach him about the importance of looking after our planet and it’s great to see him developing good habits already.
Emma from Small Footprints, Big Adventures also collects rubbish from the beach with her family. She comments that it’s sad how much they find, but it’s a great lesson for her two children . If you have kids that enjoy a bit of fun family competition, why not turn it into a game to see who can collect the most?
Continuing the bag theme, Scott suggests ‘BYOB’:
A reusable shopping bag takes very little space in your suitcase or backpack, and can easily be carried with you daily. You’ll have a convenient bag for groceries and will cut down on single use plastic bags that are littering cities across the globe, sitting in landfill for centuries and destroying ocean wildlife.
Emma points out that having cloth bags handy is useful, not only for shopping, but also for storing and transporting laundry.
Like these guys, I keep a spare cloth tote in my handbag at all times so I’m never caught out.
I also recommend taking reusable fresh produce bags to both supermarkets and farmers’ markets (I like these from The Rubbish Whisperer) so you never have to use plastic bags. They’re small, lightweight and easy to stuff in a bag for the day just in case you stumble across a market on your travels.
Use reusable water bottles and coffee cups
If you’re travelling somewhere with no access to clean tap water, rather than buying single-use plastic bottles, take the time to either boil your water first, or treat it with water purification tablets.
If you absolutely must buy bottled water, consider getting one large bottle to share rather than an individual one for each member of the family.
Take away coffee cups can’t be recycled as they have a plastic layer on them, which can’t be separated during the recycling process. Klean Kanteen to the rescue again!
The insulated ones are just as good at keeping drinks hot as they are at keeping them cold. They don’t leak and they will keep your drink at the right temperature ALL day. Coffee shops tend to also give discounts if you supply your own cup, so this is a double win!
If you’re a coffee shop addict or are planning a trip somewhere cold and would like to have a warm drink to sip on while you’re out and about, consider using a TKWide with café cap lid. This is also great for smoothies and storing ice lollies for the kids…and the big kids!
Say “no” to straws
Unless you have a medical need for them, straws are totally unnecessary. But, for some reason, on occasion we like sipping our drinks through a tube, and I’ve never met a child who doesn’t enjoy using a straw. So, I always have a couple of reusable straws in my bag. We have three different brands, all of which we love.
The stainless steel U-Konserve straws are straight and long, with a 7mm diameter. The Klean Kanteen stainless steel straws come with colourful silicone tips, great for identifying which belongs to whom. These are a slightly wider 8mm diameter. TheOtherStraw make fully compostable bamboo straws, with three diameters to choose from: 7mm, 10mm, 12mm. They arrive in zero-waste packaging and come with a handy bag to keep them (and your bag) clean, as well as a coconut fibre cleaning brush.
I’m always ready to refuse a plastic straw but have learnt that you need to speak up quickly (particularly in countries where it is customary to give iced water to customers as soon as they walk in the door). Sometimes I’ve been left feeling frustrated when I’ve been given one anyway or water for the kids arrives in a disposable cup with a disposable lid and straw (why?!?).
According to National Geographic, Americans alone use 500 million straws daily. While these small, lightweight bits of plastic seem fairly innocuous, they are having a catastrophic effect of marine wildlife.
You just have to look at our beaches to know that straws don’t get recycled and many will end up in the ocean. Fish, shellfish, mammals and sea birds consume them (meaning they also end up in our food chain, which you can read more about here), and sea life gets entangled in them (you may remember this horrible video of scientists removing a straw from a sea turtle’s nose after it went viral in 2015 – please note that this footage is distressing).
So, say “no” to straws.
‘What do you store dirty ones in?’ you ask? Try a reusable wet bag pouch from Planet Wise.
Use reusable food bags and wraps
Ditch the plastic wrap and ziplock bags completely!
We use our Planet Wise sandwich bags every single day. The leak-proof design and waterproof lining makes them ideal for both wet and dry snacks (fruit, both fresh and dried, nuts, seeds and rice cakes are favourites here), and we cut down on packaging waste by buying in bulk and then only taking out what we need for the day. The zipper means the kids can easily help themselves whenever they’re hungry, and they can be machine or hand washed.
On the left of the photo are three from the tint range, which are slightly opaque (as they don’t have the fabric outer layer like the ones on the right) so you can see what’s inside, and are top rack dishwasher safe (although I haven’t been brave enough to try this!). Personally, I prefer the look and feel of the fabric range, as they come in a huge variety of fun designs. I find the tint range more industrial and stiff, but both serve the same purpose equally well so this is entirely down to individual preference.
Emma uses her reusable snack pouches to store bits of rubbish while the family are out and about without access to a bin. What a clever idea! You could also use them to store small toys or art supplies while travelling. The bright colours would make it easy to quickly locate the item that will keep your little one entertained before all hell breaks loose (if you need eco toy recommendations for stress-free journeys, check out this post)!
If you’re packing a picnic lunch to take out with you, check out this post on zero waste food storage. Spoiler alert: sandwich wraps are brilliant! No more soggy, cling film wrapped sandwiches! We have both Keep Leaf and Planet Wise wraps, both of which fold around your sandwich and secure with velcro. They open up into a convenient plate so there’s no need for a disposable one. The two brands are different shapes but a similar size, both fitting one sandwich comfortably and two stacked on top of each other at a squish.
I find that Keep Leaf is more susceptible to stains (the inside layer isn’t as robust as the Planet Wise ones) but they are more flexible (so better for folding around fresh bread rather than packaged, uniformly-sliced bread) and the stitching around the edge is more ‘finished’. Like the sandwich bags, Planet Wise do both a fabric and tint range.
Beeswax food wraps are ideal for use at home (I use mine to put over leftovers in the fridge and wrap around bread or cut fruit to keep it fresh) and for out and about (I always use them to wrap cooked corn on the cob and crudités). I have used both Abeego and Honeywrap while travelling and would recommend them both. They take up no space at all in your luggage and will significantly reduce your waste.
Take away in your own containers
Emma and her family try to avoid getting take away food in order to minimise their use of disposable containers and cutlery. “Eating in restaurants and cafes, and making our own breakfasts is working well for us.”
For maximum flexibility, I recommend staying somewhere with access to a kitchen; airbnbs are my go to choice for families, but many hostels also have good kitchen facilities. We tend to make our own breakfast and I’ll often do a packed lunch (although not always), and then dinner can be had in or out.
Use bamboo cutlery
Keeping a set of bamboo cutlery in my bag means I never have reason to use disposable cutlery. Like straws, these can cause significant harm to marine wildlife. Street food and food markets can be wonderful places to experience the local cuisine, but both can cause a lot of waste. By taking a reusable canister and bamboo cutlery, you can easily minimise your footprint. Bambu make sets for children, consisting of a fork and spoon, that can easily be taken on days out and on plane journeys. TheOtherStraw also have an Essentials range of cutlery and bowls. The beautifully rustic bamboo cutlery is fully composable, comes with a little storage pouch and the knife actually cuts! My only slight negative is that the set doesn’t also include chopsticks, but I am told they are working on this, so watch this space!
Recycle and compost
Be responsible for your rubbish and take the time to access recycling and composting facilities where possible. It doesn’t take long to sort your rubbish into the correct bins!
Walk, bike or use public transport
Most cities are very walkable, many have bike-sharing services, and public transport is a great way to explore a city beyond just the tourist spots, and an even better way to meet the locals. If you’re staying in a city, there is really no need to rent a car, call an uber or hail a taxi. You’ll save money, reduce pollution and keep fit! We walk everywhere when in cities and I really wouldn’t be without a sling or wrap!
Don’t use hotel miniatures
Yes, it may be space- and weight-saving for your luggage, but the complimentary little bottles of shampoo and other toiletries offered by hotels are incredibly wasteful. Sadly, most locations won’t reuse these by refilling them for the next customers and instead, any open bottles go straight in the bin.
Consider whether you can use your own toiletries and leave these little bottles unopened. The lure of something for free might be tempting, but the cost to the environment is not worth it. Airbnb hosts tend to have large bottles of shampoo available for guests, just as you would in your home. Hopefully the hotel industry will start to use refillable alternatives and be better advocates for sustainable travel.
Consider your toiletries and detergents
Choosing products that are going to be less harmful for the environment can seem a bit of a minefield. We’re hit with clever marketing that makes claims that we can’t follow up on easily. I’ve done some research on your behalf so let me recommend a few brands that I trust and use regularly.
Obviously, whatever products you choose, everything has some impact on the environment, so make sure you only use the recommended amount.
Green People make the lovely Organic Babies and Organic Children range of toiletries suitable for the most delicate and sensitive of skin. We use the Organic Children SPF30 Sun Lotion and Aftersun on the kids. They’re natural, non-greasy and offer high UVA and UVB protection, as well as being reef-friendly so we don’t contribute to damaging coral reefs. You can read about our favourite eco-friendly sun protection toiletries and clothing here. We also like Green People’s shampoos and bath and shower gels that come in a range of fruity fragrances.
Weleda have a great range of calendula products that are gentle on skin and have a subtle fragrance. The bath products and body lotion have helped soothe both boys’ eczema when at its worst.
Violets make a great range of toiletries, laundry products and household cleaning products. Of their toiletries, we have only tried their mosquito repellent, which has a much more pleasant fragrance than most bug sprays and has worked well, even when camping near water. As it’s made from all natural ingredients, I feel much better about putting this on young skin than other mainstream brands. The laundry products can all be bought in bulk to cut down on waste; just fill a small container to take travelling.
Kokoso coconut oil tubs get used a lot by all of us. I’ve used it on both boys since birth, firstly to treat cradle cap and flakey newborn skin, and then to treat eczema and dry skin conditions. I use it as my daily moisturiser and as make-up remover. One tiny tub to meet multiple needs makes it a must have for every travelling family!
Brush with bamboo
A toothbrush takes approximately 450 years to decompose in salt water, so make the switch to a bamboo alternative to help keep plastic out of our oceans and off our coastlines. We’re using Go Bamboo brushes in adult and child sizes. The handle is made of natural bamboo and an edible wax, making it suitable for compost. We also use their compost-suitable cotton buds.
As an alternative, if you’re not keen on bamboo, have you tried brushes made from corn starch? The kids like these because they come in fun colours.
Use reusable sanitary products
Both Emma and I have a menstrual cup (unsurprisingly, Scott didn’t weigh in on this one!) and we both also recommend cloth sanitary pads or period-proof underwear over the nasty, scratchy disposable alternatives. They’re breathable, discrete, and they hold up to even postpartum use!
Cups are easy to use (you just empty the contents in the toilet, rinse, reuse, and wash in warm, soapy water at the end of each cycle), comfortable, and can be worn during the night and while swimming.
If you use cloth pads, these Planet Wise wet and dry bags are the perfect size for storing both clean and dirty ones while out and about, and can be either hand or machine washed.
I like these larger Planet Wise bags, in small, medium and large, for use at home/wherever I’m staying so I can wait until I have a full machine load to wash. They’re also perfect for cloth nappies, wet clothing and swimming gear so these are a recommended purchase even if you’re not using cloth sanitary pads! You can read about using cloth nappies while travelling here if you’re planning a trip with young children.
Scott reminds us of some basic, water-saving measures:
He’s absolutely right, but I’d also add that we should all be considering the huge energy expenditure in treating water so that it’s suitable for human consumption. Since arriving in New Zealand, we’ve witnessed mass irrigation on a scale that we hadn’t previously imagined, not just in farming, but in everyone’s gardens (good old British weather means it’s never been an issue at home!).
Sprinklers are kept running everywhere to ensure that even the patch of grass between the road and pavement are kept permanently green. While, of course, it is a good thing (and earth-friendly) to water your plants, I’m of the opinion that using treated water on grass 24 hours a day during the summer months is unnecessarily wasteful. Read more about how eco-friendly New Zealand is (or isn’t) here.
Re-use your linens
If you’re staying in a hotel, make sure you hang your towels so you can reuse them, saving both water and energy. Likewise, let housekeeping staff know that they don’t need to change your sheets every day.
Turn off appliances
Switch off lights, the air-conditioning and electrical appliances when you leave your hotel or Airbnb for the day. Does the room really need to be ice cold when you get back? Probably not.
Get your groceries from a farmer’s market, where produce is only transported locally, you support small businesses and you can enquire in to the environmental policies of the farm and the conditions in which any animals are reared. We also really enjoy taking the kids to pick-your-own farms to stock up on fresh fruit.
Buy recycled or 'upcycled' goods
You can often find amazing and totally unique souvenirs made by local artists using recycled materials. Not only are you supporting the local community, but it’s also something a bit different to take home with you!
Ask about photography
Eco friendly travel tips aren’t just about environmental ethics.
While legally in many countries you are able to take photographs of anyone and anything in a public space (though, check local laws!), this doesn’t make it ethical. Ask before taking photographs of other people and let them know what you intend to do with it (who will see it if you intend to post it online, for example). Steer clear of taking photographs of children without a responsible adult’s consent (it really bugs me when strangers try to take photos of my kids without asking my permission!).
Be aware of the stereotypes, hidden messages and social implications of your photographs. What’s the story behind your image? What story might other people see (even if it wasn’t the one you were intending to tell)? What are the consequences of taking this image? Don’t tip children for allowing you to take their photograph, for example; if children are earning money on the street, it might dissuade school attendance. ‘Rich, white hero saves the day’ is a terrible story to tell – please don’t do this in your images.
Sarah from World Unlost also reminds us to preserve the history and culture of our destination.
Take only photographs, leave only footprints
As the saying goes, ‘take only photographs, leave only footprints’.
My heart aches when I see and hear of people who think it’s acceptable to collect rocks, corals, wildlife and other ‘memorabilia’ from their travels. Contributing to the destruction of both man-made historical sites and the natural world is never acceptable; we have a responsibility to preserve these wonders for the next generation.
While hiking in the redwood forests of California recently, I was also upset to see that people had carved graffiti into the trunks of these magnificent trees. I can absolutely appreciate the creative expression of street art (check out this post for a wonderful example of street art in Churchill, Canada), but ‘so-and-so hearts so-and-so’ and ‘Dave woz ere’ is very different and doesn’t belong on the back of a bus-stop, let alone an 800-year-old tree. And don’t get me started on the trend of people leaving padlocks at tourist spots!
Take your photograph, soak it all in and take the time to notice all the fine details so you can commit them to memory and recall them at will, instantly transporting you back to this spot, but leave everything as you found it.
So, there they are, 20 sustainable travel tips for all you eco travellers out there to consider. I hope you’ve found it food for thought. Wishing you lots of sustainable travel with your adventurous family!
Where can I buy the products mentioned in this post?
The in-text links will take you either direct to the product website (please note some of these are affiliate links; I receive a small commission if you purchase at no extra cost to you) or to the item listing on www.babipur.co.uk I do not work for BabiPur, nor do I receive any incentive for recommending them, financial or otherwise. I am simply a loyal customer and always recommend them as a great place to buy eco friendly child and household products. They are a trusted ethical retailer and you can rest assured that they’ve done their research into the best eco brands on the market; everything they stock is made from sustainable materials and the manufacturing processes are both socially and environmentally ethical. Their customer service is second to none and their online presence is friendly, personal and transparent. I have always received purchases in double quick time and everything arrives in recycled or reused packaging. Spend over £40 for free UK postage, and international postage is very reasonable starting at just £5.95. Top marks all round!