As a travel writer, I go on trips quite often. Every time, I see the unchecked plagues of single use plastics, overtourism, and urban sprawl. It’s beyond concerning to consider all the environmental downsides that can relate to traveling: from plastic utensils and toiletries in hotels, to carbon emissions from flying and damaged biodiverse habitats, and everything in between. The list goes on.
However, when done well and thoughtfully, those who focus on sustainability at home — or anyone looking to minimize their travel carbon footprint — can transition that mindset to the road. Some practices I’ve already adopted at home include growing my own herbs, shopping at the farmers’ market whenever possible, switching to LED lighting, meal-planning to avoid food waste, and slowly lessening my dependence on plastics. I think of it this way: why would I invest in beeswax wrap and stasher bags for my kitchen if I didn’t want to continue those earth positive changes when I travel? So, I’m committed to making sure these efforts don’t change when I hit the road.
Read on for some of my tried-and-true tips to focus on eco-friendliness while traveling.
Pack eco-friendly items
This is an easy way to start being thoughtful on the road, since so many travel items contain single use plastic. And if you don’t bring certain items (like toiletries) with you, it’s very likely that the option provided by your hotel will contain single-use plastics. One of my favorite items is a shampoo bar, like this one. Shampoo bars remove the need for plastic shampoo bottles, can be used for up to 80 washes, and are compact enough for your carry on. They come in a variety of cool colors and smells, so there’s sure to be something for everyone.
Another great travel necessity is an eco-friendly dental kit. With a sister-in-law who’s a dentist, I tend to pay extra attention to oral health. So, I always travel with my reusable floss and bamboo toothbrush. A personal favorite is Dental Lace Refillable Dental Floss, but there are other brands available like the plastic free Le Negri or Georganics Natural Silk Floss. And it actually makes a difference — every glass container of dental floss sold saves seven plastic ones from being needed. I also made the switch to natural deodorant cream, so my formerly plastic container has been replaced with a reusable glass one. I prefer the Lavender Deodorant Cream from Little Seed Farm, but there are tons of additional options to choose from online.
One other must-have for travel is a reusable water bottle. If you’re crunched for space, consider one that folds up. If you have an outside hook or carabiner on your bag, just hang one there for maximum ease and accessibility.
Go green (literally)
Try to support countries around the globe that focus on sustainability by making them your preferred travel destinations. Some great destinations I’ve visited and recommend are Costa Rica, Slovenia, and Barbados.
Costa Rica is fueled by 98 percent renewable energy and more than a quarter of the country’s lush, famously biodiverse landscape is protected in natural preserves. Slovenia was the first ever Green Certified Destination in the world and was named the World’s Most Sustainable Country by National Geographic last year. Barbados is a lovely Caribbean isle that also happens to have focused on sustainable tourism since the early 1990’s aka before it was trendy. Though each of these countries are unique, what they share is that they’re all doing their part to be good stewards of the earth.
Donate to offset your flight
Previous coverage by the New York Times has brought to light the alarming environmental costs of frequent flying. In fact, 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions come from aviation. Thoughtful travelers should consider offsetting their flights by donating to organizations that lower greenhouse gas emissions around the world. Simply use this travel offset calculator to determine your travel impact, then donate to vetted organizations. I like that it’s an approachable and affordable way to minimize the negative effects of my jet-setting.
Traveling by train is another option and emits far less carbon dioxide. For example, I’ve opted to travel by train to Chicago rather than flying twice this year. I’m there pretty often to visit my grandparents, so this is a nice way for me to save some money, feel better about personal travel, and have more legroom. Plus, I usually meet someone interesting en route.
With the right amount of planning ahead, it’s easier than you might think to make travel more sustainable. For even more advice, check out our article about how to avoid greenwashed hotels. You’re well on your way to becoming a full-fledged eco-tourist!