Travelling is great. Exploring new lands whether faraway or closer to home is such a pleasure for so many people, including myself. For me, travelling is a way to relax, unwind, and answer to nobody except myself and the natural rhythms of time. I love to explore new places and I embrace the feeling of anonymity that being in an alien environment brings. You can choose to think a lot or not much at all. I think travel is necessary for myself as I am so curious about the world and I have a yearning to see and experience new things. There are so many incredibly positive benefits that come along with travel and exploration. There is however, just one thing I don’t like so much about travelling.
Personally, I feel that the amount of waste that I produce whilst away from home is always so much more than I produce at home (I’m no angel at home but I do try – I am certainly not claiming to be zero waste). I steer clear of most ‘convenience’ waste in my day to day life as it is simply unnecessary for me. I’m fortunate enough to live in the wonderful town of Hay-on-Wye, where local independent shops are a plenty, plastic bags are a huge faux pas and you can take your muddy veggies home naked if you like (the vegetables, not you..).
When travelling however, I find that it is nigh impossible to avoid a colossal mountain of unnecessary plastic waste. Convenience packaging suddenly seems to become an unavoidable part of life. My adventures in the UK are usually centred around hiking and camping. I tend to find that the only options for refilling your food supply come in the form of corner shops and convenience stores in small towns and villages. The fruit, veggies and everything else are usually on display, decomposing in their own personal polystyrene coffins and shrouded in a polythene blanket. There is generally no choice greater than red apples wrapped in plastic or green apples wrapped in plastic and if I’m hungry from a day of hiking, I will certainly take whatever I can get.
When travelling further afield this plastic problem is exacerbated even more, beginning with the worst offending place: the airport. Before leaving home you must print boarding passes and put toiletries in clear plastic bags ready for security. Once through security and a little peckish, the food options are limited and always come wrapped and packed with so much excessive plastic, paper and cardboard packaging. Many airport vendors only offers drinks in disposable cups and if you’re thirsty you’ll have to buy a plastic bottle of water which you’ll be charged handsomely for.
Over the years I have learnt how to reduce a lot my waste whilst exploring. I know I’m far from perfect but I have gathered a few tips that help me to reduce the amount of waste I produce and they may be useful to you too…
- Take your own cutlery – I’m not sure whether you are allowed metal cutlery on the plane but I always take a set of bamboo cutlery and I’ve never had any issues. Pop it in your daybag and you’ll never have to use plastic utensils ever again, hooray!
- Carry a facecloth with you – facewipes are evil little devils. These ‘disposable’ flannels are filled with so many chemical nasties and they are not biodegradable, as I’m sure you’ve all heard by not. If you feel the need to refresh after a plane journey you can wash your face with warm water. I carry a flannel hiking and I always feel so much cleaner after washing with water as opposed to a baby wipe.
- Take a packed lunch in a Tupperware box – guaranteed to be more satisfying than anything you could find in an airport, it will also drastically reduce your plastic consumption. You can use the box for packed lunches whilst on holiday. I often take a Tupperware box hiking – it’s great for making overnight oats or if you’re organised you can cook a double portion of dinner and keep half for lunch. Also saves on cooking fuel, time and washing up – double win!
- Take reusable shopping bags – I always take a variety of shopping bags or dry bags when travelling. They are great for shopping, keeping luggage organised, separating dirty washing and carrying any extra trinkets that you happen to collect on your travels.
- Take an empty water bottle – once through customs there will hopefully be a filtered water fountain for you to use or if not many coffee shops will be happy to fill your bottle if you ask nicely.
- Take handkerchiefs – I always carry hankies with me all the time. They are great for so many things – if you need to clean your glasses, for runny noses, spills etc. They are easy to hand wash and quick to dry, plus so much softer on your nose than tissues.
- Take a travel mug – amazing for long car journeys when you need a pick me up. It saves buying an overpriced coffee in a disposable cup half way through the trip. I bought a Contigo travel mug a few years ago and it is literally the best thing I have ever purchased. It keeps my coffee piping hot for so long that I am often caught out and burn my mouth when I take an overzealous swig of coffee from it.
- Carry a small camping stove – this may seem a bit excessive to most people but in my car boot I carry a camping stove, cafetiere and some very easy to prepare meals (eg packets of cous cous and lentil curry). In case I’m ever in the middle of nowhere and I get hangry / need a caffeine fix I can just whip out my stove and I’m all good. It still creates some waste but much less than buying a pre-packaged meal at a service station.
- If you’re a person that has periods – try using reusable sanitary products. Most traditional sanitary towels and tampons are not biodegradable. I swear by a mooncup for the most part and washable bamboo sanitary towels for the lighter days at the beginning and end of my period. I had a period whilst camping and hiking in the Scottish highlands in the snow and there were no issues to report (just don’t empty your mooncup on fresh snow as it might look like there has been a murder…).
- Reuse plastic bags – when planning for a multi day hike, I am so guilty of buying small plastic bags to dispense each day’s meals into in order to have some kind of portion control (so I don’t eat all of the food on day one basically.) I am sure I will be going to hell and swimming in a sea of plastic for all eternity for this… However my only saving grace is that I do try to reuse these bags as much as possible. They are usually only carrying dry foods so I do keep them and reuse them when I resupply. I’ll bring them home and use them time again until they get designated as hiking trash / toilet paper bags and finally end their life. If anybody knows of a properly earth friendly solution please let me know! I need help with these things too.
As with all things in life, the main aim of travelling is to have a great time, whilst being conscientious about not trashing the planet. So much waste is sadly unavoidable so my advice is really to not feel too guilty about it. Make the best choices that are available to you wherever you are and campaign for better options when you can. Pressure the big supermarkets to stop using unnecessary plastic packaging. Campaign for organic veggies to not be wrapped in toxic plastic film. Tell the companies you love that you would love them even more if they went plastic free.
Questions for you:
- How do you avoid waste whilst travelling?
- Do you prefer to take vacations in your own country or abroad?
- Do you know a great solution to ziplock plastic baggies?
May this year bring you many amazing adventures,