How to be a greener traveller isn’t rocket science, it just involves making more conscious decisions about how you travel and learning how to say no to things like plastic. What better time to start than now, during Plastic Free July.
We just returned from a quick trip to Bangkok where it’s hard not to feel like you’re committing crimes against the environment every moment of the day. From the second you’re off the freeway and stuck in the city’s infamous traffic gridlock, you notice the exhaust fumes rising skyward.
Once you enter your first frigid shopping mall, it’s impossible not to think about the detrimental effects of the massive air conditioning systems that leak coolants into the atmosphere. Some of the most potent greenhouse gases, it’s thought they have an even more alarming impact than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming.
Then there’s the plastic bag with every purchase, the plastic bottles in hotel rooms, and the dreaded 7Eleven mini-marts and their staff who slip a dozen plastic straws – in paper packaging – in the plastic bags when you purchase a few drinks to cool you down. Even street food vendors who once used natural packaging such as the banana leaf baskets above now serve dishes on Styrofoam plates with plastic spoons in plastic bags.
How to be a greener traveller isn’t rocket science but travelling in a more eco-friendly manner does require that you do a bit more research before you travel about where you’re going to stay, the tour companies you’re going to use, where you’re going to eat, drink and shop, and what you’re going to buy.
It also requires you to do a little bit of extra pre-trip preparation (see our green travel packing list) so you can say “no” to plastic when you’re out and about. And what better time to begin to be a greener traveller and travel in a more environmentally friendly way than this Plastic Free July?
How To Be A Greener Traveller This Plastic Free July and Beyond
Here are our tips on how to be a greener traveller and leave a lighter footprint when you travel.
Pack With The Goal of Being a Greener Traveller
The most important thing you can pack is a canvas, linen or cotton tote bag that you can fold-up and carry with you every day for any shopping you do so you can decline plastic shopping bags. Another important thing to pack is a reusable water bottle that you can carry with you throughout the day and refill as needed. That means you should be able to avoid using plastic water bottles, which are doing some of the most damage to the environment, especially in Southeast Asia. Pack a small thermos flask you can fill with tea or coffee for day trips and long excursions. A Tupperware container, lunch box or Bento box is also super-handy, especially if you like to buy snacks from markets, as is a spork or chopsticks in a case. If you’re going to be focused on cities, then pack a large keep cup instead for takeaway juices, coffees and teas, and decline the paper and plastic cups. Pack ethically made, eco-friendly clothes, accessories, cosmetics, and toiletries whenever possible.
Reject Single-Use Plastic Every Chance You Get
From the moment you leave home, be vocal and reject and complain about the use of single-use plastic whenever you can, whether you’re at the airport, on the plane, out and about sightseeing, shopping the markets for picnic supplies, grazing on street food, or picking up take-away food. Living in Cambodia, I find it incredibly frustrating that street food vendors who have traditionally used eco-friendly packaging such as palm leaves and banana leaves, above, are increasingly replacing these with plastic bags. Whenever you get the opportunity, praise local street food cooks and market sellers who are still using natural materials and reject the single-use plastic bags and Polystyrene containers whenever you can. Travel with a couple of Tupperware containers or lunch boxes that you can take to markets or street food crawls. They’re fantastic for storing other things in when they’re not holding snacks and sweets. If you’re a picnic lover or serious street food or market grazer, this insulated lunch bag with airtight and liquid-tight containers is brilliant.
Stay in Environmentally Friendly Hotels
Most hotel rooms have a sign in the bathroom these days suggesting that you can let housekeeping know you’re happy to re-use your bath towels by hanging them up. We recommend you do that. But also check hotel websites for a green policy and do some research to find out what else your hotel choices are doing to conserve water and other resources, to minimise waste and pollution, and to give back to the community to protect the environment? For instance, here in Siem Reap, riverside Jaya House River Park boutique hotel has a tree-planting programme, does daily river clean-ups, has a kitchen garden for their restaurant, uses organic produce from Happy & Co Farm, donates used cooking oil to NAGA Earth, to be turned into bio-fuel offers guests bamboo straws and filtered water, and the general manager started Refill Not Landfill Asia, which produces and promotes reusable aluminium water bottles for tourists aimed at reducing the millions of plastic water bottles discarded in Cambodia each year.
Eat at Eco-Friendly Restaurants
Research the restaurants you’re keen to eat at to find out what they’re doing to be greener. Seek out farm to table restaurants, such as Lum Orng in Siem Reap and Haoma in Bangkok, and restaurants that use organic local produce and ingredients of which they know the provenance. Try to find out what other environmentally friendly initiatives the restaurant has undertaken. For example, in Bangkok, Haoma has a complex aquaponics system that harvests rain water and recycles used water, which is then fed back to the thousands of plants, vegetables and herbs that flourish in vertical gardens and plant boxes inside the restaurant and outside in the lush kitchen garden. What produce isn’t grown at the restaurant is bought from sustainable local farmers. Haoma is also on a zero waste quest, doing everything from using every part of every vegetable and fruit to composting organic kitchen waste for their garden, with the goal of eliminating all plastics and being plastic free by the end of 2019.
Drink at Eco Friendly Bars and Pubs
Check if the bars and pubs you’re planning to do some sipping at are making an effort to go green. The easiest thing a bar can do these days to be more eco-friendly is to eliminate single-use plastic, especially plastic cups and plastic straws. Here in Siem Reap, countless bars and restaurants have replaced the plastic straws with straws made of bamboo, stainless steal and biodegradable material. Another green initiative that’s taken off is the elimination of plastic water bottles. The most ethical, responsible and most hospitable establishments are offering complimentary, filtered drinking water while others are selling water in glass recyclable bottles instead of plastic bottles. Using fresh organic fruit, making their own in-house infusions and syrups, and composting organic waste are other ways that bars and pubs can be more environmentally friendly.
How to be a greener traveller isn’t so hard, is it? If you have any tips on how to be a greener traveller we’d love you to share your suggestions in the Comments below.