While Passion Passport seeks to bridge communities and expand experience through travel, we’re aware that adventuring to far-off places can leave quite the carbon footprint. Our Sustainable Travel Series celebrates eco-travelers, low-impact ways of living, and explorations that honor both people and places. We hope it inspires you to travel with the environment in mind.
When we travel, it can be easy to put environmental concerns out of our minds. Between stress over-packing, airport security, and the ever-possible delays, certain elements of the travel just seem to take over.
In these hectic moments, we naturally seek out convenience: travel-sized toothpastes and cosmetics, overpriced bottles of water at the airport, and Uber rides across cities. Wanting to alleviate some of the stress that comes with travel is understandable, but these conveniences don’t just put a strain on your wallet — they put one on our planet, too.
In light of this struggle, I’ve put together a list of ways to save money while traveling while also supporting the environment. What’s not to like?
Homemade toiletries and cosmetics
Particularly when flying, restrictions on health and beauty products often mean that we buy more than we need before leaving home, or purchase quantities that we might not need upon arrival. Still, these items are as essential on the road as they are at home, and that feeling of freshness is not something we need to surrender just because we’re on the move. It’s unfair that the planet should suffer for it, though, especially when a simple solution is available.
Whenever possible, try concocting your own products. Zero waste toothpaste is cheap to make, and it eliminates the plastic waste of toothpaste tubes and caps, along with the cardboard boxes they come in. Even products you might think of as highly specialized, such as makeup remover and lip balm, can be made with ingredients you probably already have around the house.
People tend to think living “greener” is a labor-intensive commitment with a dubious impact, but solutions like these are not only quick and easy, but also cheap and rewarding. Do your own research to discover your favorite ingredients, grab some reusable containers, and you’ll be all set for your next trip — which is already set to be a more eco-friendly adventure.
Reusable Water Bottles
This one might seem more obvious, but after I left university and moved to Europe, I was surprised by how few people carry around reusable bottles. In fact, I was even subject to a bit of mockery for mine!
But the truth is, some scientists assert that the waste from single-use plastic water bottles is as big a threat to our planet as climate change itself, and, unfortunately, the worldwide rate of plastic bottle consumption is only going up. Though efforts are growing to recycle this waste and clean up areas affected by plastic, they will not be enough unless the demand decreases.
That’s where you come in.
By purchasing a simple refillable bottle for your personal use, you can do your part to reverse the damage of plastic consumption. As an added bonus, this can be a lifesaver when you’re on the go, especially in airports where bottled water is overpriced. In my experience, even if you can’t find a water fountain, many cafés and stores will happily refill a personal bottle from their tap.
If you’re worried about water sanitation, fear not: bottles with built-in filters are readily available and just as cost-efficient. An insulated bottle with a filter that will last for up to half-a-year can cost as little as $10, and no more than $20.
Vegetarian and Vegan Food Options
This is another example of something that people think of as a massive lifestyle change, but it doesn’t have to be. Studies show that committing to these diets for just one week can significantly reduce an individual’s carbon footprint.
Personally, it was only after I made the dietary change that I noticed most options available to me were actually cheaper than meat dishes. This was true across the board, so I could still treat myself to slightly more upscale experiences without too much of a setback. These cuisines are becoming increasingly trendy, as well — particularly in Europe — meaning that the variety of tastes and flavors now goes far beyond your typical salad.
While you might fear that dietary restrictions will limit your immersion in a locale, I guarantee that taking the time to find fruit and vegetable markets will give a closer glimpse into the heartbeat of a place than any grocery store or restaurant. For backpackers or long-haul travelers of any kind foods like peanut butter, oatmeal, granola, and dried fruits are cheap, energizing, and keep well.
Of course, depending on your location and circumstances, it may be impractical or rude to refuse meat dishes. So, when in doubt, use your best judgment. This is just another aspect of being mindful of the planet and its diversity when we travel.
Depending on your journey, it may be impossible to avoid a long-haul flight, but you can (and should) choose sustainable methods of transit when you reach your destination. If public transit is available, be sure to research its green initiatives; in any case, taking the bus or train reduces an individual’s carbon footprint, compared to a single-passenger taxi.
Moreover, with electric buses steadily cropping up in cities across the world, some will most likely make an appearance in your next destination. China’s efforts in this area are noteworthy, boasting 385,000 electric public buses that comprise about 17 percent of the country’s total fleet. And if you’re in the Netherlands, be sure to hop on one of their electric trains, all of which are now powered by wind energy.
Bike-sharing is also an increasingly popular method of transit, with similar programs in places as different as Marrakech and my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Cycling through a new city can be one of most unique and convenient ways to discover its twist and turns, as well, which allows you to take in its beauty at your own pace. Several programs allow you to choose daily rates or short-term memberships, so this can be a great option if you’re staying in a city for more than a few days.
Last but not least, the greenest option of all is to use your own two feet! More so than any alternative, walking through a place is the most immediate way to immerse yourself in a new environment. If you’re concerned about safety, take a few minutes to plan your route and activities ahead of time, and ask some locals or fellow travelers for their suggestions. And, if your data’s off-limits, don’t forget the power of a paper map.
Traveling is a life-affirming experience that allows us to see more of ourselves in the world. It asks just as much of us as it answers, if not more, and while meeting these demands is almost always worth it, we put ourselves above the planet that we love to explore too often. Although traveling sustainably comes with a bit of a learning curve, it’s well worth the effort. And, who knows — if you put these suggestions into practice, you just might find more room in your budget to see the oceans and forests you’re protecting.
Header image by Rúben dos Santos