After 32 years on this planet, I am happy to report that I have finally developed into an eco-conscious person, especially concerned by responsible tourism.
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. My 2019 New Year resolution is to reduce my plastic consumption, and I promised myself I will not buy a single bottle of shampoo, shower gel, and laundry detergent! It is June now and I am holding on, so that is pretty good news.
When it comes to travel, I find that I tend to be less careful and to indulge a little more, but I really want that to change and make a move toward a more responsible form of tourism. As a reminder to myself, and hopefully a guidance for you, I have rounded here 10 tips to be a more eco-conscious when you travel.
CHOOSE ECO-FRIENDLY DESTINATIONS
Pretty obvious I know, but if you are new to the whole eco-conscious travel 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 eco-conscious 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 nonbiodegradable… 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 on Etsy (I know, I know, terrible carbon footprint, but I am really trying my best with the limited options I have in Dubai), 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.
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 country 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 as replenish, 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 make some cringe. So since the beginning of the year, I have 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, 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.
BUY ECO-FRIENDLY SUN LOTIONS
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.
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!