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The ultimate guide for a more responsible travel

Responsible travel

How to travel more responsible/ low waste

Is it actually possible to travel and care about the environment?

If you look around on most social media accounts, a lot of people will tell you you can’t. The same counts for eating any kind of animal products, wear fast fashion, buying non-local food, etc.

So should we just stop to travel or should we just change our travel behavior?

Is the so-called “flyskam” (swedish term to make people feel bad for flying) or other shaming really bringing awareness to people and make them fly less and travel more conscious, or is it like with other extremists that they just push open minded people away? 

To be honest, the last one counts for me. A lot of extreme people push me away from a lot of things. And some extreme people are the reason for me not to label myself. Because I can’t be 100%. And I guess that’s something a lot of people can’t because our world is not a 100% sustainable place at all. 

And I believe in change. I believe in supporting sustainable companies and travel guides who really and honestly want to make a difference. And during my travels I met a few of them already…

Preparation is everything. (Scroll down if you just want to see my 22 tips for a responsible travel)

I always loved to travel….

I started with backpacking in Australia on my own after school. Continuous travel after that, mostly on my own. Travel helped me get over a bad depressive phase too.

I am living in a very nomadic life for over 3 years now. And I am honest with you, I  won’t stop traveling. I will also fly eventually. But I fly less already because I don’t like to fly (because I don’t feel too good on a plane…not because of “flyskam”), so whenever I have the time (and money) and possibility I am using different transportation.

I travelled by train a couple times through parts of Thailand and Malaysia. From NYC to LA. Couple times in Canada and yes, of course a lot in Europe too.

I also travel by bus, but I actually feel safer on a train than in a bus on curvy, roads with a lot of holes and just one driver. So whenever there is a train option available, I go for that 😀

But let’s face it, a lot of people can’t afford other transportation:

  • Flying is cheaper than the train most of the times. Crazy enough…. I mean flying shouldn’t be so crazy cheap right? 
  • Flying is also quicker than taking the train or bus. 

So if you don’t have the money or the time to take slower transportation but you still like to explore other parts of the world, like to know other cultures and widen your horizon, tear down walls in heads, well then it will be the plane for most of us.

Yes a responsible travel is very important in a world where so many walls are still in many peoples minds….

hiking packing list
Hiking to our next accomodation in the heat of Malaysia

Is travelling overconsumption and unnecessary?

Some environmentalist say: flying and travel is luxury, over consumerism and unnecessary.

My personal opinion is while it might be luxury because most people can’t afford it,  I feel like travel can be very important to open your mind, and open walls in your mind… learning about other cultures, not getting stuck in your own is very important… 

If we travel consciously and open minded we can learn so much! We might need to do some research, learn phrases in other languages to make clear that we don’t want the plastic straw;) we might learn how good our recycling system is and how bad it is in other countries. But we also see that there are eco-conscious people everywhere in this world. And it is awesome to connect not only via social media but in person.

So let’s do it. Let’s travel. With respect for those countries we visit, for the people who live there and the environment we explore…

From flying less, to pay offset or donate to environmental project, to reduce plastic, look for more local accommodation and food options…

This should not sound like an excuse to travel, it is just my personal idea of why I travel and how a lot of people hopefully will travel in the future.

So I will talk about what we can do if we chose to travel anyway. There is a lot of damage we can prevent locally while traveling or being on holidays.

  • From booking the right place,
  • where to shop,
  • how to get around
  • what kind of active stuff you do,
  • how much trash we make
  • what kind of sunscreen, soap and shampoo we use
  • etc etc etc
I know straws are not the biggest problem.... but if you ever found over 50 straws on a 30 minute beach walk you might think different....

Your biggest struggles:

I asked my friends and follower on Instagram and Facebook to tell me about their biggest struggle when it comes to more eco-friendly travel and these were the most common answers:

  • guilt of flying (flyskam)
  • plastic bottles when there’s no safe tap water
  • single-use plastic when eating out
  • finding sunscreen without plastic (please please make sure to use reef safe sunscreen in beach areas always!!!!!!)
  • finding unpackaged food on terminals
  • and shopping for groceries

I hope you can find an answer to your struggle in my article. If not feel free to write me an Email or comment in the comment section and I’ll try to help.

The travel footprint

We always need to know about the problem to change something. So let’s start with what our travel footprint actually is:

  • It is the travel to and from the holiday destination (If you don’t hike or bike it’s the biggest part)
  • Then it’s the stay itself: huge resort, hotel, small apartment, energy, water, fair working conditions, etc.
  • the trash we make and the sunscreen we use
  • it’s also food
  • and then they get around and activities during your stay

Pay carbon offset yes or no?

For all of those feeling guilty for flying. I don’t have the right answer for you. I can’t take the guilt fo your heart…. If it is too much to handle (the guilt, mentally) then you should really think about to stop flying!! There is no other answer. If you still desire to see the world, then do it… without feeling guilty, or live with the guilt.

Damage is done whenever we fly. So we can’t say: I’m just paying carbon offset and all is good. But if we fly we can at least pay carbon offset or donate to projects, and do something to help reduce a lot of carbon in other sectors. 

That’s what carbon offsets do. I know a lot of carbon offset companies also still like to plant trees, but it is actually known that this is not as effective as if we help to reduce carbon emissions in other sectors. Or just to protect the old forests we have.
A lot of projects help people find better solutions for their companies, like a filter, eco-friendly fire materials (in a lot of places they actually burn plastic trash to heat the fabric. Like in Indonesia Plastic Free Mermaid visited a tofu production place and the used plastic to boil and cook the tofu).

If we have the money we should definitely think about paying carbon offset. But I guess most eco-conscious people do this anyway already.

It is not the solution but it is a better choice we can make.

Great platforms, projects and companies I know so far and a lot of people are using are 

You could also go to WWF’s goldstandard.org and invest in specific climate resilience community projects. Or find other gold standard certified projects.

A friend from Instagram(@marisusalaitinen)  told me about a project in her home-country Finland that helps to preserve peatlands in Finland. Peatlands act as enormous carbon sinks and are very important. (www.hiliporsi.fi)

So you see there is a lot you can do. They even have different calculations so you might be able to “donate” or offset in your own budget.

Check on the efficiency of an aircraft on Atmosfair. 

Other things you can do besides carbon offset:

  • You can also try and find a more eco friendly airline, or one that does have some standards you like.
  • Try and get non stop tickets, the most emission is made during take off and landing.
  • Fly economy. It has a smaller footprint than business (also business and first class looks sooo much nicer and more comfortable!!)
  • Bring your own snacks or fruits to avoid plastic wrapped meals at the terminal and refill your bottle at terminal coffee shops or refill stations when available. No problem with a filter bottle because you can drink from any fresh water source. And yes it is possible to bring food on the plane, you are just not allowed to bring some kind of food into another country so just finish everything during the flight!
  • Donate to an environmental project you believe in.
In Thailand and other SEA countries a lot of street kitchens and also food courts in malls serve on reusables. So we were always looking for those
Getting comfy in the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Just pack enough fruits and drinks and you are good to go single use plastic free all the way.

Responsible travel planning

How to get there

  • Can you take other transportation like a train or bus? 
  • Can you book a ticket with no meal included (this reduces your trash footprint a lot)? If there is a meal included then don’t refuse it. It will get thrown out if you don’t eat it. They are not allowed to preheat it a second time on another flight. If you can book a ticket with no meal included, bring your own (healthier;) food.

Research about the destination:

  • You can find very helpful information everywhere in the world wide web, or ask in different „expat“ groups on social media. 
  • You can find information about the trash and recycling situation, about the sewage treatment situation (in many places not available or not good enough. If you walked along a beach in Thailand you’ve might have seen the stinky dirty water streams going into the ocean.)
  • You will find informations about drinking water. (always ask the locals) If you need to bring a water filter bottle… if there are refill stations. etc. Ask your host or hotel about that too.
  • And then you know how important it will be to reduce trash, to use biodegradable soap and shampoo, etc.

The choice of your accommodation:

Mostly big companies from other countries own resorts, so most of the money you spend in a resort will not stay in the country. The locals might mostly be underpaid while the foreign staff gets better paid, etc…

Chances are high that local people lost their homes so they can build a new resort for tourists.

The new Golf course might have destroyed nature and mangroves.

Tourists can use water while locals might suffer a lack of water in the hottest summer times…

Overtourism

Many places are overflown, overrun by tourists over the last years while their infrastructure is not made for it yet. No sewage treatment (water goes straight into the ocean/river), no landfills, no recycling etc…. They get overrun and their landfill overflows, all of our trash will end up in the ocean too, even though if we think we dispose of it properly in the bins provided… 

Oh yes, how badly do we need regulations in the tourism sector? We need the protection of the local environment and people. And the big corporations need to be forced to work together with the locals.. We need carbon offsets included in ticket prices. Corporation (of aircraft and cruise ships) need to take responsibility..

There are theoretically made plans for all this in the future, but its a slow process like always when it comes to money, and the environment, and fair working conditions.

Since politicians are slow in making those changes, a lot of cities are planning their own changes:

Some cities already plan big changes. Venice will make tourists pay entry. Dubrovnik is planning to reduce cruise ships from 7 to 2 a day… They ofttimes get overrun by 10.000 of tourist during a day… Amsterdam is planning to stop the building of new hotels and only allow to rent out apartments for 30 days annually…

Click here to read more about over-tourism

So maybe try and find destinations that are not that touristy yet, and try to avoid the mass tourist attractions and tours.

Cruise ships

Cruise ships not only pollute the ocean with oil and pollute the air because they don’t need to use filters, they also invade places with thousands of tourist.

Mostly no money stays on the island because they have all inclusive on the ship and don’t need to buy local food and most cruise ships get most of their groceries to send by plane.

So if you are on a cruise ship in the carribbean where bananas grow on trees your banana for your daily smoothie on the cruise ship could have travelled from Mexico to Europe and then to the Caribbean… why? because of perfect standard mindsets that you all might know from supermarkets… you might have heard about ugly fresh produce that they won’t sell in supermarkets anymore, and a lot of people wouldn’t buy them anymore if they see them because they think they can’t be good…. its a vicious circle…

So if you really like to go on a cruise, please check how eco friendly the ship is. Treehugger has a good post about that topic, so please check it out if this is interesting for you: Click here to read more

Responsible travel guide: 23 tips for a more responsible travel

(Some Links on this site are affiliate links. This means if you buy from one of those links I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you)

So until we have the needed laws and changes, we can do what we can do. We can choose where we stay, how we get around while being on holidays, where and what we eat, etc.

1)Think about the length of your stay.

Do you really want to fly 8 hours for a short trip, or could you take a long vacation and take a closer destination accessible by train for a short trip?

2) Check how you can reach your destination:

could you travel by bike, train or bus or maybe sailboat? 😉 remember, the way to the destination could make a great adventure and extra holiday too.

3) Check airlines and find non-stop flights

If you still like or need to fly, you could check which airline is available and which one might be a little more eco-friendly, and try to find non-stop flights.

4) Carbon offset

is not included in the plane ticket price yet, maybe this will come in the future though. You can still pay it voluntarily.

5) For your journey:

bring your own food! This way you can save money and trash. If you have booked any ticket and food is included (happens in bus and train sometimes too) then just eat it. If it is heated etc, they most likely will throw it away because they are not allowed to reheat, etc. But if there is no food included, just bring your own. And yes it is allowed to bring water bottles through security as long they are empty!

6) Accommodation:

Book local bed and breakfasts, use couch surfing, or Airbnb. If you don’t have an account for Airbnb yet, I have a referral link for you with a discount for your first booking for you. (You can contact me for more information)

Guests that do stay in apartments rather than in hotels, resorts have actually a lower footprint because they shop on local markets (not so much food waste like in hotel/resort buffets. Food waste is causing huge amounts of methane when ending up on landfill), use less energy, use less water, take public transportation, etc. You can even look out for eco hotels, eco-lodges, etc. like e.g. Babel guesthouse in Cambodia.

Big resorts always have the worst footprint! And should always be the last choice.

7) Recycling

If you like, research recycling and trash conditions in the city of your destination. If you see there is no real recycling, reduce your trash even more and maybe even take your trash back home with you (pack it in pack it out). 
In most places they also don’t have compost yet. So if you can, burry it in the garden 😀 yes I did that once…. Or use the compost of neighbors if possible or public gardens (some have compost available, some doesn’t.). Compost is my biggest struggle because I know how to avoid most of the other packaging when no recycling available, but there will always be compost (peels) when I am cooking at home.

Collect cans for collectors. Aluminium is a very valuable material, so in many countries you will find people who collect it to earn a little money.

8) Pack light and conscious:

(e.g. Biodegradable soap and shampoo. Reef safe sunscreen. ) Find some travel essential recommendations here-> Shop-Travel Essentials.

9) Bring your reusables

10) Get a filter bottle!!

One thing a lot of you struggled with is safe tap water. And this is easy to solve! Filter bottles that filter 99.999% of all contaminants you can drink water everywhere!!: This purchase was my best decision ever. Please don’t sweat about the fact that those filters are made of plastic! Think about all the plastic bottles you can avoid by using only one filter!!!! (my bottle and experience here) in most places you can easily refill your bottle everywhere like in coffee shops or refill stations (read more->refuse plastic bottles while traveling) and in a lot of places water is fine if you cook it for 4-5 minutes.(again, ask the locals about this). 

No single use bottles needed
I can drink from any fresh water source..

Tips for your stay:

11) Respect the local rules

If we want to travel more responsible this is something we shouldn’t forget. I have seen so many tourist in temples with no shirt on, in muslim countries walking with a bikini through the streets… We should respect local rules and don’t act like were at home… Most touristic places already have loosen their rules for tourist, but it has to do something with respect for the locals. We all like people respect our rules in our home too right?

12) Drinking water

If you stay in private apartments ask your host where to get the refillable water gallons. In most countries, without safe tap water, you will have this opportunity. More information in my blog post how to avoid plastic bottles, click here!

Refill stations for water are often available. (check the app Tap for more) Or the service to order water in 5-gallon reusable container (you might just pay a deposit on your first purchase and then you’ll get the deposit back when you give the last container back). Big coffee chains like starbucks always refilled my bottle without questions even at the airport.

13) Don’t pay for animal attractions

Don’t ever pay for animal attractions!! Animals combined with tourism and money is mostly not animal-friendly. Only a few sanctuaries are actually good ones, like the elephant park in Chiang Mai. I honestly didn’t go there because I wasn’t sure if it was a really good one, I have heard too many stories that even some so called sanctuaries kidnap baby elephants because tourists pay more if they can see a baby elephant… 

But the elephant park in Chiang Mai seem to be a really honest and good place to visit.

Always question yourself: Tigers to pet? Does it sound natural to you? Or to go swimming with a leopard? Riding on an elephant? Or booking a hotel where they have dolphins in a pool??

14) Grocery shopping

Buy on local markets, try to avoid foreign supermarkets. Eat less meat and dairy and you can avoid a lot of plastic packing from supermarkets too. Bring your reusable mesh or cotton bags for fresh produce. Yes in most countries it is mostly impossible to buy meat and cheese and milk without packaging in supermarkets. In some countries they do have organic milk and yoghurt in glass jars. And in organic stores or on farmers markets you can bring your own (clean) container for it. But if you buy mainly in supermarkets there is no way around packaging. So if you like to reduce plastic but still need to buy in supermarkets, buy less meat and dairy. 

It is possible to get plant based meals in many countries. Mostly the local food won’t be normally though. But in a little bigger cities they almost always have a vegan, vegetarian place. Check with the app happycow.net or ask around in expat/facebook groups.

I can remember when we drove by scooter through parts of local Bali and they looked at me and laughed when I was asking for vegetarian/no meat, while if you ask others they’ll tell you Bali is vegan paradise (well it is, but mostly in the more touristic places). Or in Thailand where I ordered vegetarian pad thai and they said: “Don’t have!” But we could convince her: yes you have, just make pad thai without chicken, meat, shrimps and voila, vegetarian pad thai… So not always super easy, but possible 🙂

And if you fancy nuts or soft drinks opt for the can. Aluminiums recycling quote is way higher than plastic (only 9% of the worldwide produced plastic got actually recycled…) so the chance that you’r can get’s recycled instead of going to landfill is higher. Try to find collection points or put it somewhere where you know a aluminium collector will pass by.

15) Street food

If you eat street food take your reusables with you. It might be way out of your comfort zone at first. But just think about this: if you would carry all the trash you produce during your holiday with you, how much would that be if you eat out every day? Maybe that gives you a small push you out of your comfort zone 😉 And normally you just need to give them your container while you order and in most countries: no questions asked….

If you observe the street food vendors, you can see on first sight if they serve in styrofoam or paper. Or if they offer reusables (e.g. in Thailand so many street kitchens serve on reusable plates!).

If they serve only single use cups and no waffle? I bring my own cup and spoon for ice cream!
Bulk can be found everywhere. Mostly they fill it into plastic bags though. so I always have a small bag in my big bag 😀

16) Language barrier

If you can’t talk the local language use your phone and a translator app. Or make yourself some notes for the stuff you’d like to say: No straw please, I like to avoid plastic, no bag, can I get the juice in my own cup please… etc.

Ask locals that can talk english how to say it properly you can connect on social media with so many awesome people, you just need to do it, they will most likely be very very happy to help or even meet up:) 

If they just don’t understand and you don’t understand, don’t get frustrated. You tried it. If you get a straw anyway you can’t control that…. But at least try:)

17) Reef safe sunscreen!! 

If you are going on a beach holiday, use only reef safe sunscreen! Conventional sunscreen can be very dangerous for corals and turtles, etc. Read more here: reef safe sunscreen.

Bring your own sunscreen in a tin. Most eco conscious brands already try to offer plastic free sunscreen. If you can’t find it, don’t stress about the plastic bottle, (just take it back home) reef safe sunscreen is way more important this time!

Rawelements were so kind to give me a 10% discount code for my readers and friends. Just insert the code HAPPY10 when you check out and enjoy your reef safe sunscreen on your next beach holiday.

18) If you stay in an apartment:

I always travel with biodegradable laundry soap, a natural dish scrub (I don’t use the plastic ones) and a reusable bag for my laundry . In case there is no washing machine and you need to get your laundry washed in a salon, ask them to use your own soap (make a liquid soap and bring it in a glass jar). I sometimes say I am allergic to the conventional soap and then no questions get asked;) and yes I can smell if they do use their own soap or mine) I also ask them to use my reusable bag and no plastic bag and it worked fine 

19) Toiletries

Refuse the small single use bottles from hotels. Bring your own stuff like soap and shampoo bars. Don’t use travel toothbrushes, bring a bamboo toothbrush. You can also use reusable cotton pads to remove make up to avoid the single use trash. And bring your menstrual cup. Perfect for adventures like hiking, swimming, diving…

If you forget something at home, in many cities, you’ll find eco shops that sell bamboo toothbrushes, natural deodorant.

20)  Snacks

Prepare snacks to bring with you when you are going on a tour. Snacks are most likely available packaged only. And I find it is not impolite to say no to free drinks and snacks because you like to refuse the plastic. Nobody can force me to drink or eat anything I don’t like. Explain politely why you like to refuse… 

In a few countries when I said no bag please, they told me: but it is free! Did I take it? No. Did I feel bad because I refused it? No. 

To refuse something and explain why can raise awareness and get people to think or join the conversation. And that is the most important way to drive change…

Beach clean up at Turtle-Beach, Riviera Maya
Deodorant plastic tube ...

21) If you like to go on tours

If you don’t like to travel individually but feel safer on guided tours, try and find eco friendly tours. Where they do look for responsible trash disposal, where they care about the environment and wild life protection. Where they do small groups and don’t overcrowd a place. 

22) Give something back!

Join local beach cleanups or try and make at least a 5-minute beach clean when you are enjoying the beach. You could also look for volunteer jobs or go visit a dog shelter and help out while you are around…

23) Souvenirs

Look out for real handcrafted local souvenirs. Don’t buy the cheap plastic souvenirs. And be careful not to buy anything that might have come from the ocean like starfish, clams, shells, etc… Also be careful not to collect stuff at the beach yourself. In many countries it is illegal to take those kind of souvenirs so in case you’ll get caught you can get in trouble. Always do your research….

This sounds like a lot, but it is like with everything else a priority thing. If you really want to, you can do it, at least some of it! Just being prepared is a very important thing! It makes it much easier.

And no I don’t travel with a lot of bags 😀 I have everything in one bigger backpack and one smaller backpack.

Also any other questions I have not answered yet? Free free to write me…

 

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