HOW TO TRAVEL SUSTAINABLY
Take your own reusable water bottle
My water bottle is an extension of my body, I take it everywhere with me when I’m home and on the road. Hydrating is crucial when you’re traveling because you’re most likely out in the sun, walking around all day, and to keep your momentum going you need to make sure you’re nourishing your body throughout the day. In cities where the water is drinkable, I love to fill my water bottle before I leave the place I’m staying and throughout the day I usually stop at water fountains to keep it topped off.
European countries like Italy and Spain have plenty of free water fountains all over the city which makes it easy to keep your bottle full. If I can’t find fountains outside I’ll ask a restaurant to fill it up for me, most of the time they graciously do this, but I’ll offer some change in return for the favor, which is still cheaper than buying a disposable bottle.
In the case that the water is not potable, there are a few ways to reduce your plastic consumption. One option would be to buy water in bulk. You can keep it in your hotel or hostel and refill your water bottle from it. Your wallet and the planet will thank you for this. A second option is water purifiers — you can purchase these as droplets or tablets before your trip. I opted for this when I volunteered on a farm in Paraguay for a couple of months and used groundwater well as my source of water. According to the instructions, I put two drops of chlorine in every liter and it worked like a charm. Finally, if you must purchase bottled water, be sure to reuse and recycle! Reuse your bottle as many times as possible, by refilling it or repurposing it, and finally when it comes time to dispose of it, make sure you recycle it properly.
Offset Carbon Footprint
Leaving a carbon footprint is unavoidable when traveling, but there are ways we can minimize or offset the adverse effects we impose on the Earth. Transportation has become the leader in carbon emissions, passing power emissions a few years ago. To lessen carbon emissions we can fly direct and take trains or busses between cities. I frequently used a service called blablacar, I refer to it as long-distance uber or modern-day hitchhiking.
If a person is driving from one city to another they can post their trip on blablacar, the time and place of departure and arrival, and how many available seats they had. I would then book and pay for the trip through the website and ride with them to the destination. I am also an avid user of buses and trains when traveling because it is more sustainable than rental cars.
As for the inevitable emissions that you can’t get around, there are carbon offsetting programs that work to balance out the footprint by contributing to sustainable energy research, clean energy technology, planting more trees, and more. Here are a couple of ways you can offset your footprint.
- Pay the airline a fee:
- You can pay a carbon offset fee directly to the airline you book your flight with. This is option is effortless because you can add it while buying your flight so it is completed before you even board. Check it out here!
- Carbon offsetting apps:
- I recently found an app called Offcents that easily allows you to offset your daily carbon footprint. Offcents takes a holistic approach by allowing you to earn credits when participating in green activities like walking or biking to balance out when you take motor transport. Their goal is to help people get where they are going responsibly. Today, they are part of global projects from methane capturing in India to protective forest projects in Malaysia and are expanding. Offcents users can shop for sustainable brands directly on the app to earn credits and find more ways to live sustainably.
Travel Long Term
Traveling long-term allows you to see more and travel less in turn decreasing your carbon footprint. I am a huge advocate for this option for countless reasons. Instead of traveling frantically for a two-week vacation, I moved to Spain for a year after graduating from university. I paid a very reasonable 250 euros per month to rent an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean sea, worked at a primary school teaching English which gave back to the community while also providing me with an income, and I was able to travel on weekends and holidays to other parts of Spain and Europe. Traveling long term gives you exposure and life experiences that cannot be had in a two-week long trip, and gives back to the community you make a home with your skillset or business.
I am aware this may be difficult for many because of obligations that tie you to your home. But I challenge you to think outside the box. If you are between jobs or switching careers I suggest you extend that period and venture out to another country for a few months. There are countless opportunities for volunteering or working abroad, some of the ones I’m fond of include;
- World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (Wwoofing): Wwoofing allows you to work on sustainable farms all over the world, it’s an exchange of nonmonetary values where you can learn how to grow organic crops, from the vineyards of France to coffee plantations in Hawaii.
- Workaway: This option allows you to exchange your specialties for room and board, it is great for those who have a skill set that they want to leverage in another country while gaining a local perspective.
- Programs to teach English abroad: I partook in the program; Auxiliares de Conversacion which is administered by the Spanish government, though there are other programs such as CIEE which can be found in several countries. I have documented my experience in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LPJAZQUfng&t=10s
- Working in a hostel: This is a great option for short-term travel since you can choose the amount of time you stay at a hostel and aren’t confined to the length of a program. Usually, this will provide you with a free stay in exchange for your work. These openings can be found by reaching out to hostels before arriving, or inquiring upon arrival. This opens up the flexibility to visit multiple work-stay destinations on your long journey.
- Au pair: An Au pair is a young foreigner who helps with childcare or housework. This option gives you immense cultural immersion since you will live with a family in another country. It is an amazing way to practice or learn a new language. The obligations and lengths of time vary but can be arranged between the family, Aupair and the program. There are a few companies that connect au pairs to families such as Au Pair World and EurAuPair.
Couch surfing is just that — staying on strangers’ couches. This may require you to get out of your comfort zone, but it can be an incredible experience and might lead you to meet lifelong friends all over the world. By couch surfing, you’re participating in a cross-cultural exchange and staying with a host who is part of a worldwide community.
It is more sustainable than staying in a hotel since you’re sharing space and using fewer amenities than if you were staying in a private accommodation. I’ve had incredible experiences couch surfing throughout Europe which I’ve documented in vlogs and informative videos on my Youtube channel. In Italy, I learned to cook authentic Roman pasta with my host Vitto, in Santorini I stayed in an authentic cave home with my host Smash and on a sailboat with my hosts Mikhalis and Thenasis in Mykonos. Every couch surfing experience is beautifully unique, giving you a local taste of the city you couldn’t get by staying in a hotel.
Since couch surfing is a community, the traveler can then become a host when they’re home! I have not had the opportunity to host guests at my home, but I have spent time with travelers whom I’ve met through couch surfing, showing them around my city and all the great parts only a local would know. I wanted to add, couch surfing is based on a non-monetary exchange, so be ready to spend some time with your host or guest for a priceless adventure of cultural immersion and good times.
Ditch the Car!
There is no better way to explore a city than by foot. When you walk around you can find hidden gems between landmarks, burn off some of the food you’re indulging in, save money that would be spent on Uber or public transportation and of course it’s better for the environment. One of my favorite excursions while traveling is free walking tours.
They exist in almost all big cities and can be easily found with a simple google search. You’ll meet the group at a designated spot and receive a tour from a local with other travelers like yourself. At the end of the tour, everyone gives the guide a donation and you’ve gained an abundance of knowledge about the city and have an idea of what you might want to explore more in-depth. I typically take a walking tour on the day I arrive in a new city to get a general overview of the history and monuments that interest me. Then I return to areas, museums, or sites that fit my interest on my own.
If your destination is too far to walk, opt for public transportation when you can. Most big cities have buses and metro systems that make it easy to get from point A to B, while also giving a local experience in itself.
We are in a revolutionary time where the world as we know it is transforming. When gates are open again to travel freely, let’s make sure we move forward with our habits to create a greener planet. A lot of progress has been made just in the past few months with less movement, and I think if we all do our part to be conscious travelers we can find the balance between exploring and healing the world.