It doesn’t matter if you are a backpacker, luxury traveler or just love going to Barcelona for the weekend. Chances are high you have seen some of the damage that plastic does to our planet. While beaches are usually quite clean in Europe, it’s not hard to see beaches swamped with plastic in South East Asia. I’ve been to Thai islands during rain seasons, and while the weather may not be thaaat bad… the beaches definitely are. Since few travelers make their way there during off season, many hotels do not bother cleaning up the beaches right in front of their own facilities.
While cleaning up all that plastic is a different story, one thing we can do when traveling is not contributing to making it worse. Even if you do throw away your waste correctly, there are many ways it may still end up in the wrong place. Many countries have a problem with wind picking up waste from bins or recycling plants and dropping it in the ocean. If you don’t know exactly why plastic is so bad for us, I’ve even compiled a list of the four main impacts it has on our planet. But don’t worry if you don’t know how to reduce your plastic footprint! I have collected my top five tips for traveling with less plastic below. They are easy and cheap to implement, so you can start traveling plastic-free tomorrow!
Number 1: Reusable water bottle
I’ve had a reusable water bottle at home for some time now and it took me a while to realize how handy it actually is when traveling! While you do have to carry it with you, you save a ton of money and plastic on the road. When taking the plane, you can actually take an empty bottle with you in your hand luggage. And guess what.. you can fill it up once you cleared the security check! Lots of airports have water fountains for drinking water. Alternatively, in some Western countries you can also just fill it up in the bathroom sink as that water is usually safe for drinking.
Once you reach your destination, you then simply keep filling it up with tap water at your accommodation. For every day on holiday, you can thus save up to 2€ and 1 piece of plastic rubbish potentially ending up in the ocean. That means that just for a 2 week holiday, you save ca. 28€ and 14 plastic bottles that take up to 500 years to decompose in the ocean*! Since most reusable bottles cost less than 28€, buying one saves you money on this trip and lets you drink water for free on all trips afterwards!
This is the one I use, for example. It is produced by a sustainable company and looks pretty cool!
Number 2: Take a tote bag
It almost sounds like an ‘old lady’ hack, but it can actually look super trendy! I have become a big fan of tote bags in the last couple years just because they are so convenient and trendy at the same time. It might serve you well always keeping a tote bag in a side pocket of your purse or in your suitcase when traveling. They come in handy when checking out local farmers markets, going clothes shopping, buying groceries or simply to carry your warm jacket in case it gets cold. Since they are so lightweight and small, they don’t take up a lot of room. They are also easily washed in case you spill something on it. I guess I am starting to sound like an ‘old lady’ now… Anyways, keeping a tote bag handy means you can say no to plastic bags!
I found this one, for example, which fulfils all of the trendy and convenient requirements: World map jute bag.
Extra tip: On weekend trips, I often just use a backpack for my luggage and regularly forget to take a purse that I can use when going on activities during the day. Keeping a tote bag in your backpack means you don’t have to run around with your big backpack when you forget to pack a purse!
Number 3: Use soap instead of shampoo
Using soap instead of shampoo for your body and hair actually has multiple benefits!
1. It does not count as liquid. This means you are not restricted with those annoying rules for your hand luggage on planes and don’t have to worry about buying a small one for your travels so that it’s below 100ml.
2. Soaps are usually hormone and silicone free. They keep all of the bad stuff out of your hair and may thus let your hair (and body) return to its natural beauty.
3. They reduce the amount of plastic used. While regular shampoo comes in plastic bottles, soap is often packed in more environmentally-friendly packaging.
Number 4: Take a reusable food container
Taking a food container on your trip does not only mean you can save on plastic during the trip. It’s also a good excuse to bring a snack for the way (you wouldn’t want to waste that empty space in the container, would you?). There are nowadays several options for non-plastic containers to buy. You can even get a foldable one if you’re tight on space in your backpack. Taking it on your trip means you can give it to street food vendors to buy local takeaway food, save leftovers for the next day or keep veggies fresh for your picnic on the lookout. You can even use it for anything that is not related to food. How about using it as a safe way to bring those fragile porcelain plates home that you bought for Aunty Helen? The possibilities are endless!
This company produces some plastic-free containers made out of metal, for example.
Number 5: Just say no!
The simplest yet hardest of them all! If you are following the first four tips above, chances are you are already reducing many of the items found on the list of the top 10 items found most often in the ocean. These include food wrappers/containers (no. 2), plastic bottles (no. 3), plastic bags (no. 4) and glass bottles (no. 8)**. However, there is one big group that we are not targeting yet. Plastic straws! While some people need them for medical reasons, most people do not actually need a straw to enjoy an ice cold coke. The best way to get around them is thus simply ordering your drinks without a straw.
This is often not as easy as it sounds though. Language barriers or forgetful waiters mean that you have to fight a continuous battle. The only thing you can do is to continuously keep trying though, the turtles will thank you for it!
By the way, the same goes for plastic cutlery and plates. If you have the opportunity, just eat the food in the restaurant to avoid some unnecessary plastic cutlery being thrown away after being used for only 10 minutes.