With the population of our planet hurtling towards 8 billion people, with no sign of slowing down, sustainable travel and responsible tourism are more important than ever. I’m not here to tell you to stop eating meat, stop flying on airplanes and buy a Prius. I believe all big changes start small. I want everyday travelers like me to see that small changes can make a big difference, and most of them are incredibly easy to implement. Of course, the earth needs our help as much as possible, so go ahead and join that wind & solar ashram you’ve been eyeing and let me know how it is! In the meantime, here are 8 easy ways you can become a more earth-friendly traveler.
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Responsible Tourism Tip #1: Plastic Bottle Ban
More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our ocean every year. – PlasticOceans.org
We’ve all seen images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is largely made up of plastic debris that eventually disintegrates and does horrible things to the animals that consume it. Worldwide, over 500 million plastic bottles are used every year. When traveling, it’s so easy to grab a bottled water where ever you are, and stay hydrated throughout the day. But you know what is just as easy? Carrying your own refillable water bottle! You’ll save money, too!
Most airports now have refilling stations, and you can usually fill up at the soda fountain, too! I love my S’well Insulated Stainless Steel water bottle, which keeps water cold for a crazy long time. Nalgene water bottles are also a good option, with a wide mouth that allows you to put ice in your water.
“But, Leigh, I’m going to Mexico/Thailand/India, I have to drink bottled water!”
Wrong! There are so many filtered water bottles on the market, and just as many sketchy stories about tampered water bottles in third world countries. I’ve used my LifeStraw bottle in Mexico and Thailand, and just last weekend a hiking partner took water right out of the Zion Narrows and drank it through her filtered water bottle. Clearly Filtered and Sawyer are other brands offering a filtered water bottle for sustainable travel.
Responsible Tourism Tip #2: Ditch the Drinking Straws
Have you seen that video of the turtle with a plastic drinking straw wedged up his nostril? It’s horrifying and pretty much made me never want to use a plastic drinking straw again. Besides, ladies, drinking through a straw will give you wrinkles! Of course, this one isn’t always easy, as your drinks often come with a straw already in them. You can always ask your server to leave the straw out, or look for places like the Sheraton Maui that uses paper drinking straws! You can also buy reusable drinking straws!
Responsible Tourism Tip #3: Cut Out Disposable Utensils
Along the same line as plastic bottles and drinking straws, cutting out plastic disposable utensils is a great way to promote sustainable travel. 6 million tons of non-durable plastics are discarded every year. Think about how many plastic spoons and forks you’ve used in the past week – I’m guilty, too – eating out, eating at the office, etc. It adds up so quickly! Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting we all start eating with our hands! I bet if you are a camper or a backpacker, you already have durable re-usable utensils in your camping kit! I started packing my Light My Fire spork when traveling. It’s so easy to tuck into my handbag, wipe it off with a napkin after use, and do a quick wash once I’m back in my hotel room. I’m not perfect, and sometimes forget, but even a handful fewer plastic forks in the landfill is a good start!
Responsible Tourism Tip #4: BYOB (bag)
Most of us are now bringing our own bags to the grocery store back home, either on our own volition, or through gentle prodding of new laws in places like Chicago. But how many of us do that while traveling? For a lot of us, myself included, shopping is often a part of travel, whether it’s souvenirs, snacks or groceries. And in countries where recycling isn’t common, where do all those bags go? I now bring a foldable shopping bag on all my travels and use it as often as possible when shopping. If you shop at Lululemon or Athleta, both stores have great re-usable bags that come with your purchase. They fold down to nothing, and come in handy when you’re out and about shopping. I love these bags that stuff into their own pouch when not in use, too!
Responsible Tourism Tip #5: Quality over Quantity
On the topic of shopping, let’s talk about quality. This is a big one for me, both at home and on the road. When you’re considering souvenirs for yourself or loved ones back home, think about how long this item is going to last. Do you think a $5 t-shirt is going to still be in your closet one year from now? How about that $2 straw beach mat? Same goes for those cheap luggage shops you see everywhere in hot tourist spots. (Seriously, who is buying them?! Did you come empty-handed, or buy so much crap you need a huge suitcase to haul it all home?) I won’t even get into the social impact of incredibly cheap goods, but it’s safe to assume whoever made your $3 shoes was not paid very well. When looking for ways to remember your trip, think about quality over quantity. Most often, my photos are the most memorable part of any trip, and they’re all digital!
Responsible Tourism Tip #6: Hotel Housekeeping – Just Say No!
Do you change your sheets every day at home? How about your bathroom towels? If not, then why have them changed every day while you’re traveling? I know, clean, crisp sheets feel awesome, especially on sunburned skin, but think about how much water is used to wash sheets and towels every day. I’m not suggesting you live in filth for weeks on end, but consider skipping the housekeeping service every other day or so. Usually, 3 nights is my threshold at which point, I’ll take down the “do not disturb” sign. Many hotels, including the W and Holiday Inn Express, will reward you with additional loyalty points for declining housekeeping services, and you know I’m all about the points! (This goes for pool towels, too – how many do you need? Do you really need to swap them out every time they get wet?)
Responsible Tourism Tip #7: Hotel Research
I’ve always been a good little recycler, but often when I’m on vacation, my good habits go out the window (this goes for diet, exercise and spending, too!) I never gave much thought to recycling on the road, or whether my hotels offered recycling. I spent 75 nights in hotels last year, and very late in the game, it dawned on me that the hotel chain I was most loyal to (International Hotels Group) did not offer recycling. The enormity of this realization nearly made me nauseous. 1000’s of guests, 365 nights per year, not to mention kitchen and recreation facilities, all going into a landfill. I made a vow to be better in 2018 about researching the hotel chains I frequent, and promptly switched my credit card to the Starwood Brand. In my experience, Starwood properties (Westin, Sheraton, W, etc) most often have recycling options right in the guest room, making it easy to participate in responsible tourism. These may be a little more expensive than our usual digs, but they also usually have the most lenient pet policies. I was thrilled when I arrived at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas to find recycling bins scattered throughout the property.
Tell me in the comments – what are more easy ways we can all promote responsible tourism?