Sustainability and travel – can they go together harmoniously? I think so, but not without some effort.  As travelers, we are privileged to be immersed in this big, beautiful world of ours. But as tourism continues to increase at record rates while our planet is crying for help, it’s more important than ever to travel with sustainability in mind.

Although I mainly share stories of adventure travel here, one of my core blog values is to travel sustainably. So today I wanted to share with some of the changes I’ve made in my life to live more eco-consciously, the struggles I’ve experienced, and my plans for the future to live and travel more sustainably.

Eco-conscious living tips at home and abroad

Ride a bike

When I’m home in Toronto, I primarily get around the city by riding my bike. It’s not only the fastest way to get around the city (yes, it’s faster than driving in downtown traffic), it’s also incredibly eco-friendly. Good for you, good for the environment, good for the wallet – win-win!

Riding a bike in rural India

When traveling, I love to rent bikes to explore new places as well. It’s a great way to stay in shape while on the road, and get around places quickly. If you aren’t comfortable riding a bike, a great alternative is to take public transport.

Bring your water bottle, everywhere!

Did you know that in Canada, we consume two billion water bottles per year – that’s 5.3 million a day! There’s absolutely no need for this, especially when we have access to some of the freshest clean water in the world. The reality is that most of these plastic bottles don’t end up being properly recycled. They end up in landfills and then in the stomachs of our beloved whales.

Avoiding plastic bottles is one of the easiest ways to be more eco-conscious. Get a reusable water bottle and fill up before you leave the house. I love HydroFlask bottles because their insulated bottle keeps your water cool for up to 24 hours – perfect for those hot beach days. If you need to refill, simply find a water filling station (usually in parks), or ask a local cafe to get you some from the tap.

Water bottles are one of my most-loved items that I travel with. Almost every airport I’ve visited has had a water refill station, which means that I’ve probably saved thousands of dollars by not buying water airports. I don’t think I’m exaggerating – have you seen the price of water at airports?!

In Canada, we are incredibly lucky to have access to drinkable water from the tap, but this isn’t the case in many parts of the world. Don’t let this stop you from using a reusable water bottle while traveling! Many hostels or hotels will have filtered water available for guests, which you can use to fill up your bottle.

If you can’t find clean water to drink, there’s still a way to avoid plastic bottles. I introduce you to the magic of LifeStraw! This amazing device gets rid of all the bad things, leaving you with clean water to drink. And yes, it really works. I know, I was skeptical as well, but I’ve used it before with some questionable water sources, and did not get sick!

If you’re a coffee lover like me, you’ll also want to add a reusable coffee mug to your travel pack which will help you avoid using disposable coffee cups. I like this collapsible coffee mug which is perfect for minimalist traveling.

Pack a Reusable Straw

One of the next biggest plastic culprits are straws. And let me tell you, they LOVE to use straws abroad. No sir – I don’t need fifty colored straws with my mojito! To avoid this, bring your own reusable straw with you. Simply put it in your bag and take it out when you get a drink (they are perfect for coconuts)!. I like these straws because they fold up nicely into a compact case and are easy to wash with an included stainless steel cleaning brush.

Shop with Reusable Bags

There’s absolutely no need to be using plastic bags these days. Whenever I head to the grocery store, I always bring my reusable shopping bag with me. It’s easy to forget, so something you can do to help remember is hang it on the back of your doorknob. I also recently installed a basket on the back of my bike which helps me transport goods without bags.

Reusable bags are perfect for travel too because they come in these cute pocket sizes that can be easily thrown into your backpack. I like these bags because they fold into fun fruit shapes.  This way, if you’re out shopping at the local markets and make a purchase, you can simply unfold the bag to take your purchases instead of taking a plastic bag. And trust me, they love plastic bags in Asia. They put plastic bags inside plastic. Inside plastic. No joke.

Use Reef-Safe Sunscreen

If you love the ocean and sun as much as me then one thing you’ll want to put in your travel pack is a bottle of reef safe sunscreen. Regular sunscreen contains an ingredient called oxybenzone which breaks down the corals, causing them to loose their nutrients and eventually die. It can also harm fish when it comes in contact with them! This has become such a problem in our oceans, that Hawaii banned sunscreen that harms coral reefs.

This problem can be easily avoided, by using reef-safe sunscreen.

Eat & Shop Local

Eating and shopping local is one of the best ways to be a sustainable traveler. If you only shop or eat out at big-name restaurants, your tourism dollars probably aren’t doing much for the places you’re visiting. If you shop at local markets, this makes a big difference. In many countries the poorest families of farmers will be at the markets, so by buying from them you are directly helping.

It also helps to eat at small, locally-owned restaurants. By spending your money at these places you’ll help support the local economy. Plus, you’ll probably have some really cool experiences. All of my best food travel experiences have been at locally-owned restaurants!

Same goes for buying souvenirs. Try to find smaller shops with locally made goods rather than mass-produced crap from China. These items usually make for much better souvenirs anyway! 

One of my favorite items I've bought abroad was a carpet from a rural village in India. The profits went directly back to the community, and it was a beautiful souvenir.

You can implement these tip at home too – support your local restaurants and shops!

Support sustainable tour operators

Something I always try to do when I’m traveling and booking tours is to support ethical and sustainable tour operators. Sadly, when it comes to wildlife tourism, many animals are horrifically abused for the tourism industry. The best thing you can do when you see an unethical practise, for example elephant riding, is to not support it. They only offer this because tourists are willing to pay for it. 

But does that mean you have to avoid animal tourism altogether? Absolutely not! Wildlife encounters are one of my favorite things to do while traveling, and there are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife ethically. From volunteering at wildlife sanctuaries, visiting national parks, or participating in conservation projects.

I just spent the last month on a conservation project in Malawi studying the biodiversity and nature of Vwaza Game Marsh Reserve. Every day we would see herds of elephants roam by the camp, all completely wild. I’ll be sharing much more about that experience soon, so stay tuned!

Observing elephants on a conservation project in Malawi

My Biggest Struggles Traveling Sustainably

One of my biggest struggles traveling more sustainably is remembering to take all these items with me. Not just in my suitcase, but on my daily adventures.  It’s easy to forget something before you leave the house/hotel, or forget to say no straw before the server has already made your drink. But I try my best, and am improving every trip!

Another struggle I’ve faced is finding the right tour operators to travel with. Anyone can make a fancy looking website and say one thing online, but it’s another when you actually get there. I find it easier to get information when I’m actually in a place and can talk with the locals. I love to find and promote sustainable tour operators, so I will always share them when with you here.

Something else that I struggle with is feeling overwhelmed with it all. Faced with the weight of the world’s problems, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and feel like you’re not doing enough. What’s important to remember is that no one is perfect, and as long as you’re making an active effort to improve to be more eco-concious, you’re doing the right thing. Don’t beat yourself up if you forget your bottle one day. You don’t need to do it all at once, but adopting just one of these changes into your next trip will make a big difference.

My Future Sustainable Travel Goals

Carbon Offsetting

As a frequent traveler, my biggest individual carbon emissions are without a doubt plane travel. I try to only travel by planes on long-haul flights from one continent to another, and instead travel by boat or bus within a region. Nevertheless, I still fly more than I’d like. And offseting my carbon emissions is something I’d like to become a lot better about. Right now, I am using the option that comes up when you book your flights to pay extra to offset them. The problem is that this service isn’t available on all airlines, and I’m also not entirely sure where the money is going.

In my research, I’ve discovered Carbon Counter, where you can figure out your carbon footprint for the year and then it gives you some options to offset them. But I’d like to explore more options in terms of directly offsetting my flight emissions. What are the best ways? If you guys know of any, let me know in the comments below!

Reduce my plastic consumption further

I mentioned using a reusable straw earlier, but a step further is to eliminate plastic utensils by traveling with a reusable set. The Other Straw offers ethically-sourced reusable bamboo cutlery sets. Durable, sustainable and lightweight, this set is the perfect addition to a sustainable travel kit.

I’d also like to asses my other major single-use plastic that I consume, and look at alternatives.

Avoid Palm Oil Products

Last year, I visited the Borneo rainforest which was an amazing experience. I saw Orangutangs up close, and learned about the devastating impact palm oil producing is having on their environment. I want to try and stop using products with palm oil, which is going to be a challenging because they are in so many household products. 

orangutans in borneo
Orangutangs in Borneo

Participate in more beach clean-ups

This year I participated in my first Toronto beach clean up and I loved it! But it was shocking to see the number of micro-plastics in my own backyard. I know the situation is worse abroad, as I’ve encountered beaches full of trash in the Philippines and other beautiful places. I want to get more involved with beach cleanups not only in my own community but when I am traveling.

As I write this post in my hostel in Zambia, I am surrounded by travelers sharing their stories about why they are here. Many are working on interesting projects while traveling that promote sustainability. One man owns a company that makes soil which consumes carbon from the air and is here to promote it. Another girl is here helping farmers develop sustainable farming practises. I just spent the last month in Malawi studying the biodiversity of the area, which will help with conserving the wildlife there in the future. As you can see from these examples, traveling and sustainability aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they can compliment each other quite nicely.

Have you made changes in your lifestyle to live more eco-consciously? Is there anything you’d like to improve? Let me know in the comments below!

In it to pin it!

sustainable travel tips pinterest pin
sustainable travel tips pinterest pin

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  1. YES!
    I have a similar collapsible coffee cup. Great, isn’t it? So much easier to have on me when I spontaneously want to get a coffee than carrying around a Contigo all the time.
    I also have a collapsible tupperware which is SO handy for all take-out, restaurant leftovers, and street food. I keep my reusable cutlery inside the tupperware.
    To your challenge of not having these things with you all the time: for myself, I’ve made it a habit. I always have my zero waste kit in my purse. When I use my reusable bag (which is like ALL the time), as soon as I’ve finished with it I fold it up and put it back in my purse, like, immediately. That way I’ve always got it!
    I travel (and live at home) with a Zero Waste Kit (I recently wrote about it). I love that sustainable and responsible travel are in the mindset of more and more travelers. 🙂

    1. It’s the best! I loved your post about the zero-waste travel kit – full of great advice! Collapsible tubberware is smart, I’m going to look into getting those and a few other items to finish off my zero waste kit. And yes I agree! It’s so important and seems to be a growing trend 🙂

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