Why being an eco-friendly backpacker is important!
Only when travelling do we truly see our environmental impact on the world.
This idea really became real for me in the markets of Nicaragua. One day we all decided to go to the mercado oriental in Managua for the best deals in the country. Whilst rummaging through piles upon piles of clothes we kept on finding oddly specific slogans on t-shirts and hats like ‘Big Jim’s marathon run’. It became a bit of an in-joke when we saw local Nicaraguans wearing tshirts printed with an American guys face with slogans like ‘Dirty Bob’s 50th birthday’.
These tshirts had obviously been made for specific events like parties or sports events, worn once then given away. Though its great that these tshirts have a new home on Pablito’s back, clothes take a massive amount of resources and labour to make so it seems a real shame to make a t-shirt for single use only.
Maybe this seems like an odd example to use, but it serves to show that though we may throw something away to never think about it again, the impact lives on for much longer in other countries (sometimes in the form of t-shirts and other times through landfills and increased natural disasters.)
Most of us are trying to be more conscious and eco-friendly in our everyday life and this shouldn’t stop whilst travelling. So here are some of the best eco-friendly travel hacks I’ve picked up along the way…
Make your backpack green!
I always try to use reusable and/or multi-use beauty products. Not only is it better for the environment, it is also cheaper and makes packing so much lighter. Winner winner chicken dinner!
It’s old news that coconut oil is basically the holy grail of beauty products. It works to remove stubborn makeup, to shave your legs, as a hair oil or mask, as a very strong moisturizer, for dry feet, as aftersun, to help eyelashes grow, I could go on! With a multi-purpose product not only do you save on packing space but it also massively cuts down on the enviromental impact. Instead of creating and packaging 5 different products, you just need one.
The makeup eraser is another great product that I use everyday even when not travelling! No need for single use makeup wipes, just wet the towel and literally wipe off your makeup. When it is sufficiently dirty just wash with the rest of your clothes! It could not be more simple!
Lastly, you can even opt for toiletries that avoid packaging completely. I personally love the ‘NEW’ shampoo bar by Lush for £8 which is not only vegan but contains ingredients that actively encourage new hair growth so you can unleash your inner lionness! Put it in a little tin box and it will last around 3 months and take up so much less space than shampoo with none of the plastic packaging! Unfortunately I didn’t get on that well with the conditioner bars from lush because they were not that moisturising and my hair is a thirsty gal and needs all the help she can get! So instead I just use coconut oil instead which is still very enviromentally friendly.
This next hack might be a bit extreme for some but when you’re in the shower have you ever thought of multi-tasking to make the most of that water? When you just need to wash a couple of things why not wash your clothes in the shower with you! Not only does it save on water but it also saves paying lots of dolla for a tiny bit of washing. You can use the same soap or shampoo you are using normally and just dry your clothes in the sun or on a make-shift clothes line! This hack always makes me feel like an 19th century washer woman.
Clothes inevitably break when travelling (especially if like me you travel VERY light). So pack a mini sewing kit so you can make your items last for longer without having to buy new ones! I have one trusty playsuit that I’ve repaired atleast 5 times but it is still going strong, I just cannot bear giving it up!
And if you really have to get rid of some of your clothes try looking around where you are staying to see if there is any organisations where you can donate them for example women’s shelters or homeless shelters.
Many hostels have a book swap and this a great way to get a new book to read whilst also being able to recycle your old book. Sometimes the selection is a hit and miss but I have found some of the best books in hostel swaps! I never thought I would end up reading a book about a mid-life crisis during the menopause but I couldn’t put it down, who knew!?
I always carry a fabric tote bag with me. Not only is it handy if you want a bag you don’t mind getting ruined at the beach, but it also means you don’t need to use a plastic bag when you are food shopping.
Eating more veggie meals is a really easy way to reduce your carbon footprint! (Cowspiracy is a great documentary to watch if you are more interested!). Every little helps in reducing your meat consumption so why not try some super tasty local veggie foods when travelling like tofu bahn mi in Vietnam, falafel and hummus in Turkey or Gallo Pinto in Nicaragua.
Buying locally is not only a great way to experience authentic life and an opportunity to chat with the locals but it’s another great way to eat green. Market foods typically are locally grown and give money back to local producers and sellers (versus buying imported fruits and veggies from a massive corporation in a supermarket). Furthermore, most market stalls either don’t have packaging or massively reduce the amount they use due to cost, so this means less single use plastics for the environment!
Lastly, if you find yourself buying a lot of convenience foods why not invest in some reusable cutlery? Even using your own fork or straw (that you can wash when you get back to your hostel) instead of the plastic fork or straw that you are given could make so much difference!
We all want hydration for the nation, so buying a reusable water bottle is really good idea too! There are loads of collapsible bottles which wont take up a lot of room in your backpack but will still be a better enviromental choice than single use plastic. Also, reusable water bottles don’t contain all the nasty chemicals in the singe-use plastic bottles that you’d otherwise be ingesting! Most hostels have an area to fill up your water bottle with clean drinking water so there really is no excuse!
Clean up your carbon footprint!
It goes without saying that travelling large distances is not great for our carbon footprint, but there are ways we can reduce this. For example, why not opt for a bus or bike-taxi instead of an actual taxi. It is cheaper, better for the environment, and you get to see more of actual real life in the country instead of being holed away in a small taxi.
If you want to know more about public transport in Central America check out my blog post explaining everything–
Another option is to try to overland travel instead of flying. It uses much less fuel and is a much more sustainable option. Places like South East Asia, India and Europe all have incredible train systems. Though I am biased because I absolutely love trains (I opted for the 2-day train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City instead of the flight) they really are so romantic and you get to see beautiful views of the country that are just not possible with flying. I really recommend the website Seat 61 – https://www.seat61.com/ for all train related travel queries. I have used the website on countless occasions and it has never steered me wrong!
Being a responsible and sustainable traveler
Making sustainable choices
Lastly, vote with your feet. I think it is our responsibility as humans to be conscientious about the impact our actions have on the environment around us. When we chose to prioritise cost over everything else this causes damage to the beautiful places we are lucky enough to visit. Wildlife tourism is a very true indicator of this. When we chose to visit unethical ‘sanctuaries’ that kidnap animals from the local wildlife we are directly promoting these actions. Our demand is increasing the supply. When we give money to children selling things on the street instead of trying to fund their education, we encourage them to stay on the street. We need to understand that our actions have very real consequences and to act accordingly.
All it takes is a little research before we go somewhere to make sure that what we are doing is ethical. For example, in Nicaragua I was desperate to see the turtle arribada (the turtle egg hatching) but was really nervous that I wouldn’t be able to find a sustainable organisation to go with. I did my research and decided to visit the arribada with Casa Oro Eco Hostel in San Juan del Sur. Working together with researchers and conservationists at La Flor Nature reserve the hostel runs visits to the arribada responsibly to ensure that the turtles remain happy and in the most natural habitat as possible.
And lastly some countries are just more green that others. It is much easier to be eco-friendly in a country like Nicaragua where there is little to no hot water or AC and all transport is shared, comparatively to the USA (but this is a blog post for another day).
I suppose like anything in life it is about making the best choices we can. No one is perfect, and it is better for 100 people to do something imperfectly than just one person achieve perfection. It is really all about making a conscious effort.
After all there is nothing more embarrassing than seeing someone leave a coca cola bottle on a stunning beach. Don’t be that guy.