Over the last couple of years, Tom and I have become a lot more conscious about the environmental footprint that we leave behind. Although we still have a long way to go, we realized that part of the problem is knowing where to start.
Often times, as soon as someone hears the word responsible travel or eco-friendly travel, they freak out a bit thinking its too big of an issue to handle. While to a certain extent, this is true, I realized that if everyone did their part, we would all be able to create a more sustainable world to live in.
As someone who has been traveling fulltime for almost 4 years now, I too have felt the overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to start. Do I avoid flying? Do I need to only stay in green hotels? Should I only book tours with local guides?
While the list of things that we can do better is endless, in this article, I am about to list down a few tips and suggestions on how to travel responsibly and how you can start making changes to your personal habits…today! By incorporating these tips into your life, although seemingly small, they WILL make a difference.
Support Environmentally Friendly Brands
As a traveler, one of the best things that you can do is to commit towards supporting eco-friendly brands that are producing high-quality sustainable products. When I first started traveling, I was hesitant to spend money on high-quality items and opted to buy cheap products as I was trying to save money.
Little did I know that those cheap goods wouldn’t even last a year, costing me more money as I had to purchase new products on the go. Today, whenever I am choosing apparel that is good for traveling, I always make sure to look into the company making them, making sure that these companies are practicing fair and ethical manufacturing practices.
An example of a company which we recently ordered travel gear from is the sustainable clothing brand Tentree. The entire mission of this Canadian brand is to become the most environmentally progressive brand on the planet and they do this by offsetting their retail footprint by planting ten trees for every item purchased.
By purchasing any item on their website, you are given a tree code which you can register. They have planting projects in over six different countries and have information on the impact of your trees once you’ve registered them. These trees are planted in reforestation sites to provide for the needs of local communities in the area. To date, Tentree has planted over ten million trees all over the world.
I personally love supporting brands like this as retail is an industry which is known to have so many questionable ethical practices. Everything from their eco-friendly materials (think hemp clothing, coconut buttons, cork trimmings, to plant-based dyes) down to their manufacturing practices are done in a sustainable manner.
We’re actually super excited to receive our products from them as they are pretty dope looking! A little research can go a long way when it comes to choosing companies to support when it comes to travel apparel.
How to do this: With the help of the internet, you can easily look into a company to see if they are eco-friendly and sustainable. A few quick things to look out for:
- Check if they are a Certified B Corporation
- Check where they are manufacturing their clothes and if they are doing it in WRAP approved factories
- Examine the materials that they use (locally sourced, plant-based materials are the best
Eliminate Your Use of Single-Use Plastic
One of my biggest frustrations when it comes to living and traveling around Asia is the amount of single-use plastic that is used. For example, here in Thailand, if you go to a street market and order a green curry, they will most likely put your meal in a styrofoam box then inside another plastic bag for you to carry.
As soon as you open your meal, you will find your green curry inside a small plastic bag sealed with a rubber band. Same goes for your rice. Then you also have your plastic spoon and fork shoved in there. These plastics are also super cheap-which means they are more likely to emit toxins once you place hot food inside
There are so many ways to eliminate your use of single-use plastic and while it does take a lot of effort, it is worth it! As travelers, we claim to love being outdoors and amidst nature yet we aren’t willing to help the environment by refusing common items that have a horrible impact on our environment.
How to do this: As mentioned, it does take a little bit of planning to help you eliminate your use of single-use plastics. Here are the most common suggestions:
- Carry around a water bottle with a built-in filtration system. Brands like Water2Go or Lifestraw are amazing and will also save you tons of money while traveling. You can also carry BPA-free water bottles with you to refill in cafes, airports, etc.
- Refuse plastic bags. Always carry around a canvas bag where you can put items that you buy within the day.
- Refuse plastic straws. We always carry around our bamboo/silicone straws which we use in cafes and coffee shops.
- Bring a collapsible coffee container when visiting coffee shops
- Carry re-usable containers and utensils which you can use when eating in street markets or getting takeaway food.
- Use bar shampoos, conditioner, soap, and even deodorant
- Buy bamboo toothbrushes.
Support Local Industries
As much as possible, when traveling, before I book a tour, I make sure that I support reputable locally owned tour operators as not only does this provide jobs for the locals but also boosts the local economy. The problem with large companies is although they still provide jobs to the locals, most of the profits end up lining the pockets of the top-dogs rather than the locals themselves.
Supporting locally owned businesses is a great practice and there are heaps of ways to make sure that they are still 100% safe. You can also look into the local contributions that these companies make by asking how they contribute to the local community.
Are they hiring local guides? Do they lease the land from locals? Are they taking part in any giving back or recycling programs? By going out of your way to ask these things, you will most likely discover amazing companies whom it would be a pleasure to support.
This goes for tour companies and hotels as well. If possible, we try to avoid staying in large hotel chains and are more likely to stay in boutique hotels or Airbnbs.
Do Not Support Animal Tourism
I remember it so clearly, I was sat on a bus on the way to an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai watching a documentary that they produced about elephant cruelty. I sat there openly crying at how horrible the whole animal industry is, feeling ashamed that I had chosen to turn a blind eye all these years.
You see, I was one of those naive people who thought that as long as the place had the words sanctuary they would ethically treat the animals. Nowadays, I make sure to avoid any type of tour which involves animals and do my research into the organization/company.
This includes swimming with dolphins (or even going to places like Ocean World), riding elephants, visiting tiger temples, or so on. Anything that involves keeping animals in captivity is something you should question and avoid if possible.
While I could go on and on about what it takes to promote responsible travel, the bottom line is we need to take action. As soon as you start incorporating these small changes to your lifestyle, this movement will hopefully start spreading amongst travelers.