After 32 years on this planet, I am happy to report that I have finally developed into an eco-conscious person, especially concerned by eco travels and responsible tourism practices.
Living in South East Asia for 6 years I have seen first hand the massive consumption of single-use plastic and the pollution it causes to countries where garbage disposal & recycling is not well operated and / or part of the mentality yet. Now living in Dubai, I am fully aware of my terrible impact on the environment, from driving an SUV, using the AC year-round and working for a rather polluting industry.
I guess that is what pushed me to take steps toward a more eco-friendly lifestyle and to thing about my travels in a more eco conscious way.
WHAT IS ECO TRAVELS
Eco-travel essentially means following sustainable, eco conscious practices while traveling. The traveling industry can be very destructive, with destinations overrun by tourists, impacting the local environment, the well being of the local population and the preservations of important sites. Think about eco travels as a way to preserve the environment, and the well being of the locals during your travels. In the list below I focus mostly on easy tips that help preserve the environment, but there are many more things that can be done to also have a positive impact on animals and people.
In the end, I just want to make sure this beautiful planet is being preserved so my children and grand children can enjoy it the same way I did!
Allright, enough chatting, here are my top 10 eco travels tips.
CHOOSE ECO FRIENDLY TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
Pretty obvious I know, but if you are new to the whole eco-travels idea, maybe the easiest first step in simply to choose a destination that is already actively promoting responsible tourism.
Some governments are stepping up their efforts to protect their countries and develop sustainable tourism practices, and I feel like it should be encouraged. A few countries that come to my mind for being particularly geared towards eco-travels are Iceland, Costa Rica and New Zealand. I haven’t visited any of these countries but I would love to. If you have, I would love to hear your experience in the comment section below.
REFUSE PLASTIC STRAWS AND CUPS
In my day to day life, I made the small yet important move of switching from buying my daily iced coffee in a plastic cup to bringing my own mug and aluminum straw.
While having this kind of routine at home is fairly easy, I find it more difficult to implement when traveling. But we should still make the effort! If you think travelling with your own cup/mug is too much, at least bring your own aluminum straw, it really doesn’t take any space.
Also, what about taking the time to just drink your coffee, your juice or have your lunch at the restaurant itself instead of taking it away! Us Frenchies believe in the importance of spending quality time at the lunch & dinner table, and that way you will have a good chance to drink and eat out of non-plastic recipients. The tricky thing though is to remember to ask for no straw / no plastic cup at the time of order … I am still trying to get into that habit.
SHOP COOL TRAVEL CUPS & REUSABLE STRAWS
SWITCH FROM COTTON PADS TO REUSABLE WIPES
Did you know that most wet wipes are made from polyester, polypropylene, cotton, wood pulp, or rayon fibers, most of it non-biodegradable? And did you know that it requires on average 10,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton? When I think about the millions of people without regular access to clean water, and the countries going through massive droughts, that makes me seriously question my need to use thousands of cotton pads a year. So why not switching to reusable wipes?
This is new to me, but I find it pretty amazing. I recently purchased bamboo-based face wipes and I love it. No more cotton pads thrown down the toilets every day. I use these wipes to remove my make-up, wash my face and apply toner. Every weekend it goes to the washing machine, and it is ready to be used again. While traveling, it takes minimal space in my toiletries bag and dries up pretty quickly during the day. Switching from cotton pads to reusable wipes is really one of the easiest eco friendly practice to implements during your travels!
SHOP YOUR FAVORITE REUSABLE WIPES
CARRY A TOTE BAG
Carrying a tote bag is the perfect alternative to plastic shopping bags. It takes virtually zero space in the suitcase and I use it for everything: going to the beach, carrying my sports clothes, grocery shopping, giving my laundry to wash etc … However, it came to my attention recently that the explosion of tote bags production is also leading to a huge water overconsumption (cf my comments earlier about the cotton production), so make sure you have 1 and use it well, rather than having 20 lying around in your house. Better even, switch over to a bamboo fibers one.
CARRY YOUR OWN REFILLABLE WATER BOTTLE
Instead of buying plastic bottles of water, consider carrying a BPA-free refillable water bottle. In most developed countries you can simply refill from the tap, or even from public fountains (Paris for example still has some drinking water fountains). In developing countries where the tap water might not be safe to drink, it is a little bit more tricky but you can try asking your hotel to refill your bottle. You can also purchase a filtering water bottle that will make almost of water source safe.
There are also water fountains in most of the airports and planes. So no excuse now, ditch the plastic bottle!
GET YOUR OWN REFILLABLE WATER BOTTLE
USE PACKAGING FREE COSMETIC PRODUCTS
For the longest time, I enjoyed deeply the tiny hotel amenities. Whenever I would find my I had my favorite brands like L’Occitane, Bulgari, Nuxe and Acqua Di Parma, I would not hesitate to hide all of them in my suitcase the first day to make sure it is replenished, and would sometime even take a few straight out of the cleaning lady cart !! #noshamethen #butabitofshamenow
Today, thinking about the amount of plastic I used all these years makes me cringe. So since 2019, I switched over to solid shampoo and soap and it turns out to be perfect for my day to day life, but also particularly convenient to travel with. I buy solid shampoos and soap from Lush (because that is my easiest option here in Dubai), and I really like how small-sized, light weighted and extra long-lasting these products are. Lush has plenty more “naked product” options such as conditioners, perfumes, body lotion, toner, etc. Obviously, to be consistent with your eco effort, it is better to purchase these products locally, but just in case you can’t, below is a list of websites you could purchase from :
- www.lush.com – I love love love this brand, despite some greenwashing claims.
- https://global.ethiquebeauty.com – Australian brand selling plastic are plant-based, sustainable beauty products.
- https://www.pachamamai.com – A French brand selling 100% natural & plastic-free products
- https://www.lamazuna.com/fr/ – Another French brand of solid cosmetics
By the way … don’t get me wrong, I am no saint and I totally get it: Hotel amenities are awesome perks and I am still enjoying it once in a while! One thing I still always do: Steal all of the solid soaps! #sorrynotsorry. But at least I am doing my part in responsible tourism!
TIME TO DITCH THE PACKAGING!
ACT IN HOTELS LIKE YOU WOULD AT HOME
Do you wash your towels or change your bed sheets every single day at home? I am pretty sure you don’t, so why do it when you are staying in a hotel? I get it, it is a great feeling to go back to your hotel room and everything is clean and tidy! But seriously, it is a bit over the top.
Nowadays most hotels have a little sign that you can leave on the bed if you don’t want your bedsheets changed, and will suggest you leave your towels on the rack if you don’t want fresh ones. If you want to go even further leave the “Do not Disturb” sign on your door to avoid the daily use of chemicals.
Worry not, most hotels change the linen after 3 nights anyway. But at least you have done your part.
USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
If you have time during your eco travels, consider traveling by train, bus or boat rather than planes to lessen your environmental impact.
On top of being a more eco-conscious way to travel, public transport is a great way to discover a country and interact with locals. Traveling through Sri Lanka by bus & trains many years ago is part of my favorite memories ever, taking night trains through India saved me lots of money, and the 10h bus ride I took across Myanmar left me with some really funny stories to tell!
Using public transport in a developing country is also usually a very economical solution.
USE ECO FRIENDLY SUN LOTIONS DURING YOUR TRAVELS
To be honest I only recently discovered that most of the sun lotions were devastating for the environment, the ocean, and the corals.
Apparently scientists have expressed concerns for many years about two chemicals used in sun protection products: oxybenzone and octinoxate. Oxybenxzone in particular causes corals to bleach and reduces their resilience to climate change. It also prevent the growth of baby corals, therefore reducing the natural reproduction of the coral reefs. And it is only a matter of time before the adult coral disappear.
Some islands like Palau in the Pacific Ocean, Bonaire in the Caribbean and Hawaii have already started banning sunscreens containing these ingredients.
To know more you can read the full BBC article here.
To choose your sun lotion, the first step would be to scrutinize the ingredient list, and discard anything with oxybenzone and octinoxate and look for non-nano zinc oxide instead. You can also take a look at this list of 11 brands that are safe for the marine life. https://www.travelandleisure.com/style/beauty/reef-safe-sunscreen.
For my fellow Frenchies here is another one: https://www.cosmopolitan.fr/les-cremes-solaires-non-nocives-pour-l-environnement,1999331.asp.
If you have other brands to recommend, I would love to hear so in the comments below.
SAVE THE OCEANS NOW!
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE WITH WILDLIFE
Wild animals are supposed to be just that … wild! So anytime you come in close contact with them, through any kind of tourism organization, they must have been broken somehow to be domesticated. This is really something you want to avoid if you are serious about your eco-travels.
Riding an elephant or cuddling a tiger in Thailand might seem like the ultimate travel experience, but think about it … It is just not normal for these animals, and they would probably be much better roaming around freely and going about their lives.
Also, if you encounter animals in the wild, don’t feed them. You might think of it as a nice gesture, but there is a very high chance that the food is not suitable for their digestive system.
Other animals interactions I have observed during my travels and I think are not responsible tourism practices :
- Riding a donkey up hundred of stairs in Petra, Jordan
- Playing with monkey & snakes in Marrakech, Morocco
- Dolphin watching with dozens of boats in Zanzibar, Tanzania (Read about my experience here)
- Playing with turtles while diving
- Riding an elephant in Bali (Read this article to know more)
I could go on and on with many more recommendations, but I think these 10 tips are already a good way to start being more eco-conscious when you travel.
If you would like to share your experience and the steps you take toward responsible tourism, please leave a comment below, I would be very happy to exchange with you on the topic. Until then, think about the planet, be good!