If I could spend all my time abroad then I would jump at the chance but alas that is just not possible. Plus the past week and a half spent in England has been overwhelmingly good: it is all about balance. Speaking of balance, when I was away, my friends and I were aware of the impact that our actions abroad were having on the environment. This was particularly potent with regards to the vast amount of plastic bottles we saw in bins that were most definitely not for recycling. This post has emerged from a noting of actions that we did to try to be a more sustainable traveller.
Travelling by plane is without a doubt the least environmentally way to travel, despite the convenience and ultimate speed. Although in theory we could have driven to my best friend’s house in France, it would not have been feasible for the trip and so, like most of the trips abroad I’m going on this summer, a plane is my main method of getting to my destination. There are, however, ways in which airline companies are attempting to reduce their carbon footprint, such as carbon offset schemes. Often, there will be a page on the company’s website that will detail what they are attempting to do in order to reduce their environmental impact, Easyjet for example being one of these airlines. Some aviation companies such as KLM, United and Quantas also use sustainable aviation biofuel. Realistically, the journeys that I take in order to get to a country will be by airplane and so using public transport to its full when we were actually in a place meant that we were trying to be more sustainable whilst we were there. In Madrid we bought a 10 journey travel card which allowed us to take both the Metro and the Bus to various places around the city. Ultimately, despite the late night taxi ride after clubbing in Valencia and the Uber we had to cancel and then call for again after sleeping in too late, the majority of our trip was catered for by public transport. Google Maps was a brilliant tool that helped work out the best way via public transport to get to a place. We also walked a lot. Madrid especially was a city that lent itself to walking because of the location of the hostel and walking around a city truly is one of the best and sustainable options because you get to know the city to greater depths. Walking back from a club at 6:30 in the morning was interesting to say the least…
Accommodation is an interesting one purely because it depends what you want from the trip. We were happy to stay in hostels where there were a lot of people and thus reducing the environmental impact per room due to the fact that more people were sharing the electricity, air conditioning etc. but staying in a hostel wouldn’t be feasible when I go on holiday with my mum. It is worth looking into how the hotel you’re choosing to stay in has an impact on the local economy and its attempts at reducing its environmental impact. Does it have a policy on recycling? What does it do with the food that is left over? Is it an independent hotel or part of a chain? Things like putting a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door would mean that your room isn’t cleaned but does it need to be? Especially when you consider the water needed to wash the sheets, towels and other aspects of the room. When I was looking online at how to find more eco-friendly places to stay, I was aware of the fact that when you are checking out, you can always suggest ways in which the place you’re staying in can improve its environmental efforts in a suggestions box if there is one.
food and drink:
On our trip, staying at a hostel was kind of perfect in order to be the most sustainable with what we bought. There were days where we bought pre-packaged salad that, unfortunately, probably had more plastic than salad. But on the whole we bought our food in a pretty sustainable manner. Cooking at the hostel was great because it meant we could put the leftover food in the fridge and then have it for lunch the next day, meaning there was no wastage. The vegetables were bought in their pre-packaged state and we definitely made the most of our produce. There is even half a packet of pasta now sat on the kitchen shelf at home. Any sauce or tinned vegetables we know we couldn’t take home was then put in a ‘free stuff’ box for other people to use. As it was the first time staying in a hostel on our own, it was refreshing to see how sustainable it can actually be. If you weren’t staying in a hostel, try finding the local, independently run restaurants in the area you’re staying in, or places that use locally sourced ingredients. One of my best friends is vegan so we used Happy Cow and found this small, but very pretty Vegan restaurant for dinner in Madrid, although we found that making our own food was infinitely more cost effective. In Portugal there is an organic cafe opposite our hotel, using ingredients local to the area. Happy Cow is definitely a great app/website to use if you wanted to find independent places to eat that cater for most dietary requirements.
With regards to water, this was probably the biggest change I’ve made to being most sustainable whilst travelling since my last (hot) trip abroad. We asked in cafés to refill our bottles, as well as fountains and using tap water as we’d checked that it was drinkable. Filtered water is also an option and it is always worth enquiring at a café whether they will fill up your bottle, despite the somewhat annoyed looks we received when we did. I was reading an article on Vogue and it mentioned: ‘The Adventure Travel Trade Association partnered with Travelers Against Plastic on a study that concluded each adventure travel operator uses almost 30,000 single-use plastic water bottles per year.’ Any way in which you can reduce your plastic usage abroad is better than nothing. The hostel for Madrid (Cats Chill Out Hostel) also used re-usable cups for their drinks which is a little action but makes a difference.
activities and souvenirs:
Activities and souvenirs that benefit the local economy are probably the most sustainable option. Most of my money was spent on food and drink, as well as visiting museums but on the last night in Valencia there were a few stalls of local crafts, so I bought a ring, a necklace and a bracelet for my mum. Such personal gifts add something to the sentimentality of what you’ve bought, as well as the fact I could talk to who made it. Often handmade souvenirs after more expensive but they will ultimately bear a more positive impact and it’s something I will keep for a lot longer.
Every action has an environmental consequence but from our trip we were able to at least make more conscious decisions about what we were doing and what we were buying. It is no doubt a learning curve and I think that it is about doing what we can to limit the environmental impact, rather than feeling overwhelmed at what we cannot do. If you do have any sustainable travel tips/posts then please share, I would love to find out more.