As anyone that has ever tried to follow one of my blogs knows, consistency is not my strong suit. After spending a hiatus focusing on adulthood–which included a job change–I’m back.
While I haven’t summed up all of the international news I have read over the last nine months, the efforts of young Greta Thunberg is a story from this year that has consistently caught my attention.
Greta’s infuriated pleas with the United Nations got me wondering how I could help the environment and the world because –let’s be real– if a 16-year-old can make waves, I can at least try to make splashes. Then I remembered I had the perfect source to find out easy ways to help the environment–Emily.
Emily is a dear friend of mine from undergrad who now has a Masters of Science in Environmental Conservation from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I gave her a call a few weeks back and we spent a couple hours talking about ways everyone can help keep this gorgeous, awe-inspiring planet of ours around.
I’ve given Emily’s suggestions a travel-spin, but these tips are things we can easily do day-to-day as well. So, without further ado, here are 10 easy–seriously, they’re simple–ways to be more sustainable.
1. Eat less meat and dairy
One of the best ways to become more sustainable in your life is by going vegan. My mind instantly went to my foodie-based travels when Emily said this: gelato, steak frites, Irish stew. Let’s face it, meat and cheese are at the heart of a food-loving traveler’s lifestyle.
Emily quickly mentioned that she, and almost every conservationist out there, knows this is the suggestion that gets the most backlash. Her tip is to try and eat vegetarian at least three days a week to help cut back.
Kushari, Egypt– This is the national dish of Egypt! It’s a combination of macaroni noodles, rice, and lentils topped with a spicy tomato sauce. Garbanzo beans and fried onions are usually used as toppings.
Caldo Verde, Portugal– A Portuguese stew served primarily in the north, it is a combination of cabbage, potatoes, onions, and olive oil (sometimes tomatoes). *BEWARE! Some variations may include meat for flavor*
Tortilla de Patatas, Spain– This Spanish classic is literally to die for. A friend that was studying in Ireland the same semester as me made this for an international potluck. I never knew something so simple could taste so good. The dish consists of perfectly seasoned potatoes, eggs, onions, and occasionally tomatoes or peppers. It’s fluffy and luscious, and now I want some.
Gado-Gado, Indonesia– When translated to English, this Indonesian classic means mix-mix. The main ingredients are potatoes, long beans, bean sprouts, spinach, corn, cabbage, tofu, temph, and hard boiled eggs. All the the ingredients are then mixed (hence the name) with peanut sauce.
Frijoles Negros, Mexico– This Mexican dish is a spicy black bean stew cooked with onions, garlic, and peppers. It is often topped with sliced avocado.
2. Use public transport and walk more
This is such a simple thing to do as a traveler. It’ll save you money (no car rental insurance needed), ends with better stories (I watched an Irish brawl breakout in the street while on a public bus my first day studying abroad– no joke), and is just better for your health.
Living in a larger city now, I use public transportation and walk EVERYWHERE…seriously, ask my friends and family, I’m like a modern-day Elizabeth Bennet when it comes to getting around Chicago.
Walking gives you the opportunity to truly take in everything around you and find places you probably wouldn’t if you were in a car.
A ton of cities, especially in Europe, have free walking tours that will guarantee you hit up all of the iconic monuments on your bucket list. So ditch the car keys, stretch your legs, and get a pass for the public train/bus system.
3. Be more mindful of your refrigerant management
What is refrigerant management you might ask? The heating and cooling of anything really. From your refrigerator to your air conditioning unit, being mindful of how you use refrigerant on the day-to-day could help save the planet.
The best and easiest way to do this is by being mindful of the heating and cooling of your home. It takes more energy to make your house warm during the winter and cool during the summer, so the closer you can keep the inside of your house to the temperature outside, the better.
For example, say you typically like to keep the house at 70 degrees Fahrenheit on a hot day. Consider going with 76 instead.
And when you travel, make the temperatures even closer to the outdoors– you’re not going to be home anyways, so it’ll help keep your bills lower and the environment happier.
4. Shop secondhand
This was such a wonderful idea suggested by Emily while we talked. Start shopping at secondhand shops for your clothing. You’ll save money and you might find classic and nostalgic pieces along the way.
Not only should you shop secondhand, but donate to secondhand shops as well– even while you travel. Pack as much as you want before you leave for your trip and don’t feel guilty about it. The day before you head home, go through the clothing you’ve packed and pull out things you know you really don’t use that often or need. This way, you can contribute to the secondhand shop cycle and will open up some room in your suitcase.
It’s a great and eco-friendly way to make more room for souvenirs, so win-win!
5. Use more reusable products
Here are four ways you can use more reusable products while you travel:
- Invest in refillable travel-sized containers for shampoo, conditioner, and lotions. This way you can take from your stash of products at home, fill up your reusable containers, and have everything you need for your adventure.
- Buy a reusable water bottle. I’d suggest investing in two– one for water and one for coffee– but if you don’t have a serious caffeine addiction like I do, just pack one. And if you’re looking for a water bottle that’s travel-friendly, check out que Bottle. They’re collapsible, leak-proof, dishwasher safe, and can hold hot and cold liquids. This article’s not sponsored, I just think they’re super cool.
- Buy a travel set of utensils. This way you’ll always have a knife, fork, and spoon at your fingertips and you won’t end up grabbing plastic utensils every time you grab some quick grub. People have to eat, no matter where they are, but they don’t have to use one-use plastic to do it.
- Ladies, this one is for you. Invest in reusable feminine products. They’re a must-have when traveling because you never know when or where Aunt Flow is going to show up. Having the peace of mind that you always have an easily accessible and reusable product like the Diva Cup (or her off-brand sisters) is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
6. Turn your search engine into an eco-friendly, world-saving machine!
This one is probably the easiest addition you can make to your day-to-day life, weather you’re traveling or sitting on your couch at home. Add Ecosia to your web browser to help plant trees around the world while you surf the web.
Here’s how it works: every time you use your search engine, search ads generate revenue. This revenue goes to Ecosia and the income that generate from your search ads go to planting trees across the globe.
Ecosia’s founder, Christian Kroll, saw how globalization and climate change were interconnected. He also realized that planting trees could neutralize CO2 emissions on a grand scale. So, he took to the internet– coincidentally a huge contributor to globalization–as his source of revenue to help fund global planting and restoration projects. The company has helped plant over 73 million trees in the last decade since its inception in 2009.
So, before you book your next flight, hotel room, or simply log on to Facebook, download Ecosia (they have a mobile app too). You’ll be saving the world without even realizing it.
7. Buy carbon offsets for your air travels
Call me naive or ill-informed, but this is something I didn’t even know existed until Emily told me about it during our talk. You can make monetary donations based on the carbon footprint created by your time in the air. Did you realize that tourism creates 8% of the globe’s carbon emissions? That’s a pretty decent chunk. If we can help combat that somehow, we probably should.
There are many carbon offset programs out there, but the three that seemed the most legit to me were CarbonChoice–United Airline’s collaboration with Conservation International, Cool Effect— a nonprofit dedicated to putting the best carbon projects from around the world all onto one platform, and Sustainable Travel International— a nonprofit using travel and tourism to create an international impact, both socially and environmentally.
8. Reduce your food waste
This is another easy way you can help the planet and win as a traveler. How do you reduce your food waste you might ask? By being conscious of how much food you consume and how much you throw away.
When buying food at home, track how much you actually consume and throw away for a week. Trust me, once you realize how much money you’re throwing away with your expired or old food you’ll be glad you’re being more proactive about cutting back your food waste. Consider how much of that money could be going towards your travel fund!
Actually eating the leftovers in your fridge. Buy two or three standalone pieces of fruit instead of an entire bag. Take expiration dates as guidelines and not set-in-stone rules. Again, easy.
While you’re traveling, you’ll probably be eating out a lot more than normal so you don’t have as much control over the food waste created by the restaurants you visit. The one way you can contribute is by eating EVERYTHING on your plate. I know, it sounds silly almost saying that– it’s clearly such a struggle to finish every last crumb of your international delicacies, but–as a close friend of mine once told me, “Don’t let the food win.”
If you’re the type that knows their eyes are always bigger than their stomach, order consciously. Some nights, get dessert for dinner if you know you really want that tarte tatin but won’t finish it if you have an entree beforehand. It’s okay to indulge and treat yourself while you travel–just be aware of what you might be leaving behind.
9. Go to more national parks and conservation sites
Our world is a beyond beautiful place–that’s why we travelers like exploring it. National parks and conservation sites around the world are great places to visit when you need to be reminded we live in a wonderful world that needs protecting. Here are six pictures of national parks proving just that:
Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Banff National Park, Canada
Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Connemara National Park, Ireland
Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Japan
10. Talk to locals while you travel
Just like Emily and I talked on the phone, talking to other people about ways they stay sustainable in their daily life can help give you ideas of what you might be able to implement into your routine.
Different cultures have different views on the world and how to protect it, so you never know what suggestions you might get while talking to the locals, or even fellow travelers. It might result in some great tips for you to share when you get home.
Emily, thank you again for educating me and showing me there are so many attainable ways to be sustainable.
I hope everyone finds this post helpful and use some of these tips in your upcoming travels or even just your everyday life. What are some ways you implement sustainability into your routine? Share them in the comments below! Until next time!