In honour of Earth Day/Week recently, I thought I would do my part and talk about something I tried to actively practice earlier in the year. For 2 and a half months I travelled around Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia and one of my missions upon embarking on this trip, was to try and live and travel as sustainably as I could on a backpacker budget.
Now, here comes a massive disclaimer – I am very aware that it would have been more sustainable full-stop if I just didn’t go on this trip. The carbon-footprint I accumulated alone, I am sure, makes this post seem incredibly hypocritical. However, in a world where nothing any of us does is 100% right, I will accept the fault in taking a 14-hour trip across the world. It was a trip I had been longing to do after finally graduating. Nobody is perfect, and I try to do small and big things in my day-to-day life to offset things like taking flights – hence this post. So, I guess that disclaimer is a bit of a ‘I accept the criticism, I am fully aware of the problematic nature of taking flights, but give me some credit, I am trying to do the right thing, please don’t hate on me too much’.
Disclaimer aside, here I have listed out some of the things I did and invested in out on my travels in order to either reduce my single-use plastic consumption or travel sustainably. Hopefully, if anyone is planning a trip or just trying to make some differences at home, it might provide a little inspiration.
- Take a reusable water bottle and reuse/fill up bottles
Out in Asia, tap water is a total no-go, so it is no surprise that single-use plastic bottles were the standard, and for me that was pretty heart-breaking. At home, I pride myself on having a stainless-steel water bottle which I try and take wherever I go, including on my travels. I kept this bottle with me at all times and at any opportunity I could find a fountain at an airport, in a restaurant or at a hostel I was first in line to fill it up to save me from buying a bottle. Not only this, but my stainless-steel bottle actually keeps the water cool, which is a massive bonus. Sadly, sometimes buying water bottles were inevitable, and when I did have to do this I made sure I bought as big a bottle as I could carry so I was only buying one, and I reused it wherever I could along-side my own bottle, ie. filling it up any day I could at hostels.
My stainless steel bottle is from Chillys – for sure worth the investment…
Top tip: Sometimes hostels specify if they have water stations so you can tailor your trip to staying at those, or equally if a hostel provides breakfast, cash in on filling up your bottle/ several bottles at breakfast so you are stocked up for the day.
2. Packing cubes not plastic bags
I wouldn’t just advise packing cubes because they’re more sustainable, but also just because they changed my packing game, FOREVER. Essentially just fabric zip-up cubes you can pack all your clothes in, it kept my backpack organised and stopped me putting everything in plastic bags etc. I made sure I even had one dedicated to dirty or wet clothes, they cost next to nothing and can be used trip after trip, or even at home to keep underwear or socks organised.
3. Safety razor
One of the biggest things I felt guilty about at home fell to the fact I had been using handful after handful of plastic disposable razors. It’s all very well having a reusable water bottle, but the bathroom and beauty cabinet is where a lot of plastic hides. Not only would travelling with 2.5 months’ worth of razors be a rubbish thing to lug around, but it’s also just horrendous for the environment. After doing a bit of research and watching a lot of YouTube review videos I took the plunge and switched to a metal safety razor. I can’t lie, it terrified me, and still to this day the look of it is a little intimidating as I felt like I was for sure going to end up a bloody mess. However, this was one of the best sustainable swaps I made. Not only does investing in this razor and the blades cost a fraction of the price of buying disposables in the long run, but it means no more throwing out plastic razors and the bonus, it gives a super close shave (no major blood disasters yet). It takes a little getting used to, but I am so here for it.
A safety razor kept my pins looking pretty smooth round the pool
4. Refuse straws/ take own metal straws
In places like Indonesia I was pleasantly surprised to find I was not once given a plastic straw. All were either paper, metal, bamboo, glass or biodegradable which was so wonderful. Even a couple of places in Thailand did offer biodegradable straws, however, on the whole places like Vietnam or Thailand are a little slower to jump on the hype. To counter this, the best thing you can do is simply to refuse the straw. You don’t really need one, and if you need to give your drink a stir, ask for a (metal) spoon or use the end of your own cutlery. Otherwise, think about investing in some metal straws, I always have one in my bag and at home, simple and easy.
5. Switching to monthly contact lenses
Admittedly I did this just before I left for Asia and so had a lot of daily ones to use up on my trip. However, I have now made the switch from daily to monthly contact lenses. Not only is it more cost effective and for me personally, has made my vision better, but it also stops you throwing away the plastic casing and the lenses every day, much better for the planet.
6. Refuse plastic bags
Pretty simple, but I’ll say it anyway, you can carry that keyring souvenir or that bottle of vodka without a bag just fine, don’t accept a plastic bag and if you need a bag, bring your own!
Drinks at hostels were metal straws and cans of mixer, not plastic!
7. Solid shave/shampoo/shower bars
Along with my safety razor I also took a solid shave cream bar out with me. This saved me taking a can or plastic bottle or tube, and actually worked incredibly well and lasted my entire trip. Bit of a mess and a faff to store, but if you invest in a metal case or just wrap it in something waterproof you are pretty good to go. One thing I wish I had also taken with me were some solid shampoo and shower bars, but sadly classic me didn’t get around to ordering in time before I left. However, I have used the Lush solid shampoo bar before and highly recommend you invest, you need barely any to get a lather and means you don’t have to buy the plastic bottles all the time.
8. Do a little beach clean wherever you go
Pick a couple of things off the beach as you leave, not too much effort and makes the beach nicer for you and for the next person, easy.
It’s a mad plastic world out there, but the tides are changing. We can all do a little bit that collectively will make a huge difference, so I hope this provides some inspiration!