Practical tips for more sustainable travel

There is no denying that air travel and tourism has a significant contribution to our global ecological footprint. Nowadays there is mounting focus on how to be more conscious when travelling to offset the impact of our adventures. When travelling we have the same responsibility to act in a sustainable manner that we have in our own local communities and I would argue even more so as we are guests in someone else’s home. Here are some practical tips I have collected during my years of wandering which I follow to try and be a more sustainable traveller when packing and during my visits abroad.

6 tips for sustainable packing

Use refillable toiletries and/or bar soaps

Use refillable containers for all your toiletries to avoid buying and chucking toiletries with unsustainable packaging that aren’t finished when abroad. If you do buy toiletries, leave your unfinished toiletries in a hostel with a note that they are free for use. If you want to go the extra mile, invest in bar soaps and shampoos to avoid plastic packaging as well as liquid restrictions on hand luggage.

Pack a microfibre towel

If using towels provided by your accommodation, follow instructions to avoid them being washed more than necessary. Go one step further by bringing a microfibre towel (which are super light and take up minimal space) that you can use at your various locations.

Bring your refillable bottle and reusable carrier bag

Pack your refillable bottle and fill with boiled water if you are somewhere where tap water isn’t potable. If you have a light and collapsable cup and like your coffee, bring this along too! Particularly in markets many vendors will give you your goodies to take away in plastic bags, bring your reusable bag with you everywhere so you have it to hand whenever you can avoid plastic use.

Don’t shop just for your trip

Be conscious when you go shopping for clothing and buy things that you can layer so you have options for all possible climates when the time for a trip comes. Avoid buying things just for a trip that you are unlikely to use often even if what you buy is sustainably made. If you do find yourself with excess clothes donate and/or recycle them.

Invest in an ebook, use book swaps, or sign up to your local library

If you read a lot an ebook is your best bet in terms of weight and space in your luggage. If you love your paperbacks, use your local library as a source for you reads. Alternatively, most hostels have a book swap you can use to pass on your book when done and pick up a new gem (even if you are not staying, pop into a hostel that has one).

Take eco friendly or reusable period products

There a various companies making plastic and chemical free tampons and pads nowadays which are great options to avoid the environmental damage the alternatives cause. Want to save more space in you luggage and be less wasteful, then invest in a menstrual cup which is reusable and can last ten years.

6 tips for sustainability during your trip

If you can, choose to stay longer

Staying longer at accommodation offsets the frequency of a full room scrub down and bedding/towel wash before the next tenants come. More time in a country also means you can opt for public transport as opposed to domestic flights to get from point A to B.

Eat local and less meat if possible

Buy things that are sourced regionally and are in season if cooking for yourself. If you eat out, eat local to support the economy and take try the local dishes which are more likely to be made with quality local ingredients. Opt for sustainable eateries if you can. Much like back home, the less meat in your diet, the better for the environment.

Rideshare, trains over planes, and night buses

If you are hiring a car or looking to travel by car, try and fill it through ridesharing apps or Facebook groups if you aren’t travelling with enough people for a more eco-friendly trip, good stories, and the perk of splitting the costs. If you have the time always opt for trains and public transport over planes. Night buses are a great way to get from A to B whilst avoiding traffic and paying a night’s accommodation (some countries have really comfy ones like Peru).

Do NOT litter and pick up litter

I cannot stand people who litter in someone else’s home, don’t do it, even if it is a place where trash is a typical site. Go a step further and actually pick up some of the rubbish you see lying around and dispose of appropriately. If you see someone leave their trash lying around or a plastic bag on the beach, dispose of it appropriately following the recycling nuances wherever you are.

Bin toilet paper if asked and shorten your shower

In many countries the plumbing won’t be capable of dealing with toilet paper waste, respect this and remember to bin not flush! Be conscious and shorten you shower to preserve water, particularly in locations where water is scarce.

Opt for eco-friendly lodging and travel

Many airlines now have carbon offset programs for their flights, details of which are shown on sites like Skyscanner. Try and stay in eco-friendly accommodation, nowadays there are so many unique and quirky options in most locations and you will leave feeling good about your stay.

How to make friends when travelling solo

So, you’re finally doing it, going on the solo trip you’ve been wanting to for ages? Yes, go you! I firmly believe it is one of the most empowering things you can do in life. You may be nervous about being lonely or not finding people or having to dine alone, so here are my top four tips for making friends whilst your out there “alone” in the big wide world.

Stay in hostels

Hostels are the best way to go if you are travelling solo but want to meet people. They are wallet friendly, chilled out, and often have awesome social spaces (think rooftops and bars). Hostels are also full of solo travellers so you will be amongst people in the same situation as you! If you are put off by the idea of sharing rooms many hostels offer private rooms, otherwise you can choose a room for anywhere from 4 to 20 or so people. In terms of quality and cleanliness, it’s easy to circumvent nasty surprises by only staying at really highly rated hostels. When you share a room with someone you will naturally say hi and strike up a conversation and it’s the same idea in the lounge, kitchen, or social spaces, there are going to be people around and you’ll be bound to interact.

Just say “Hi, where are you from?”

Okay, if you are naturally a little more shy or socially anxious this may be the hardest bit, but often someone else will initiate the conversation so that you don’t have to. If striking up a conversation is not easy for you, you will never go wrong with this line. Everyone is travelling, everyone is new, everyone has a story you’ve never heard. Everyone is interesting! If you start a conversation with this one question that everyone can answer the rest will naturally flow. Maybe you’ve visited their home country, somewhere else they’ve travelled, or maybe you play the same sport/instrument or whatever. Make the verbal move and the rest will no longer be uncomfortable.

Be generous

Generosity goes such a long way amongst travellers. This spans from sharing advice about cool places to visit, to sharing a packet of snacks you’ve just bought with others at your hostel, to buying someone a beer. Being nice is nice, and you appreciate kindness even more when it comes from a stranger. Whoever you treat will automatically think you are rad, and if it’s a drink you’ve bought them, they will usually get the next round. Even if they don’t, just look at it as an investment in humanity. It is good for the soul to give. Share the love.

Ask people to join you on a day trip

Maybe you are doing a tour and have a vehicle hired for the day you can fill with people? Ask around at the hostel if anyone wants to join! You all save money by splitting the costs, you’ll all get some awesome company, and whoever joins saves having to organise it themselves. Even if you are not doing a tour but just going by yourself to see a site, ask around if anyone is checking out the same thing that day and buddy up! It always helps if you’ve already struck up a convo earlier in the day/week but this is super normal amongst travellers and if you are positive and friendly, you’ll have companions in no time. Some hostels also offer day trips you can sign up for directly which tend to attract other solo travellers just like you.

Why travel?

Travel is enriching, wether it is for work reasons, as a hobby or folliwng the spirit of adventure.

I personally got the travel bug as a result of my upbringing. I have an English father and a Spanish mother so I was exposed to multiple cultures as a birthright. You may think that two identities is enough, but my dad’s job meant that I grew up moving around. I lived in Madrid, Brussels, England, and New Jersey before the age of 10, and as such many cultures formed part of the person I am today. I would describe myself as international, someone whose identity and sense of self cannot be tied to one sole nation. I think everyone is shaped by the places they visit much like I have been. Travelling is my foremost passion and something I have been privileged enough to be able to do. Although I could probably write an excessive list, I’ve tried to keep it to what are in my opinion the top 3 reasons to travel (written whilst listening to “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, in case you want to get inside my mind space)…

1. Memories and experiences

You’ve heard this time and time again in the context of travel, all the “you’ll never be the same” and “find yourself” crap. Realistically though, what you do on any trip will add to your memory bank, whether these experiences influence you in any kind of dramatic way is entirely up to you. Either way they are there, you’ve made them, and they will form part of the summation of your life.

The beauty of the things you’ll experience whilst you travel is that they are both chosen and completely coincidental. You can plan a trip, choose things you want to see, and places you want to stay, but you also have no control over certain things that will happen. Yes, you make a conscious decision to see Machu Picchu, a wonder you’ve been dying to see, but what will the weather be like during the hike? Will you have a torturous time, bogged down by an upset stomach after too many mojitos the night before? Maybe. Will you get up only to find that you cannot see the citadel because the clouds haven’t cleared and be a little disappointed? Only to be mesmerised by how slowly but surely they clear to reveal a beautiful sun lighting up what are epic ruins in an even more epic backdrop of spectacular mountains? You better hope so!

Now, you’re probably thinking this is all fluff because you make choices everyday to do certain things and no matter where you are things just happen that are out of your control. True, very true. However, when you’re travelling you are always more present and appreciative of these moments. You are making a conscious choice to go and be somewhere outside of what is your norm, and this “escape” naturally heightens your experiences. You can make a trip as structured or unstructured as you like but either way you will always experience the unpredictable or unexpected and that’s where the memories which are etched into your mind will be made.

Lastly on this topic I’d be doing you all a disservice if I didn’t touch open the pure sensory experience of travelling. Photos are beautiful. They are able to capture a moment, but only the visual. No matter how stunningly shot, even if you can imagine the sounds and smells the photo convokes, it can never equate to actually being there witnessing something. New York City is a concrete jungle we all know well and we’ve all seen the shots of Manhattan and it’s skyline but you haven’t experienced it until you witness the shadows of the skyscrapers as you walk, the scream of taxi horns, the omnipresent buzz of multiple languages spouting from the mouths of all the tourists in Times Square, and the smell when you walk past a hot dog stand. All this altogether makes the place and its worth physically being there to understand it.

2. Learning

Personally I love learning, in particular learning from experiencing, doing, and being shown, a hands on education. When you travel you have the opportunity to learn away from the pages of books. I don’t just mean going to a museum and getting the sense of the history of a place (which I try to always do by the way as I am disaster and often don’t research before), but learning from the people you meet. When I was backpacking solo around South East Asia I learned from other travellers how to protect my bags from theft, I learned how to navigate tricky and uncomfortable situations (out of pure need), and I learned how to navigate myself in unfamiliar places where I didn’t know the language. There are some things you can’t learn from books in my opinion, or at least lessons that don’t stick until you experience them yourselves.

3. Understanding differences & diversity

I will never forget my first experience with culture shock. It probably doesn’t sound super dramatic but the first time I truly registered differences in people and culture was when I moved to the States. How could an English speaking nation be so damn different. Remember that all I’d known up until then was Europe. What were these massive roads? These huge Hummers? Why did everyone live in a mansion? How on earth were they letting people drive at sixteen!? The United States was a different world. Sure I could interact with these humans (albeit not without tea and scones comments after they heard my accent) but this was a lifestyle that I was completely unfamiliar with. I went from from a continent where the average house was smaller and I could walk to places easily to the suburbs of New Jersey where I discovered the “soccer mom”. Don’t get me wrong, I loved living in the States but aside from the language there is no way I would liken it to living in the UK.

Not only was the lifestyle different but the people I interacted with were different and diverse from those I knew from Britain. The minorities went from being Asian British to Black and Hispanic. The stories and backgrounds I heard were completely different, and yet I found common ground. I assimilated amongst the people in my community and made good friends just like I did everywhere else I had lived. No matter how different on the surface I made connections. I consider my ability to appreciate and value the differences of a new environment as well as assimilate into it a product of the places I’ve lived and visited.