6 Ways to Leave a Smaller (Environmental) Footprint

I have had the privilege to travel to so many beautiful places around the world, but my favourite destinations are always those that are a little bit further to get to, a little bit out of the way, and a little bit more untouched. There is little that we can do to avoid any environmental impact when we travel, but by being mindful and aware, we can help to reduce the footprint that we leave so that others can continue to enjoy these pristine surroundings after us. Here are five ways to leave a smaller environmental footprint:

  1. Avoid travel-sized containers. Usually, those small, travel-sized containers of shampoos, conditioners, lotions, sunscreens, hair products, and everything else we use, are a traveler’s best friend. They take up little luggage space, and are easily discarded. I’m always collecting them for my next destination. However, when packing for destinations with few options for disposal, I often take larger, refillable bottles that decrease in weight as I use the product, but that I won’t be discarding along the way.
  1. Reduce your waste. Many hotels have several garbage bins (one in the bedroom, one in the bathroom, etc). You can help to conserve at least one plastic bag per day if you only use one garbage bin, and ask that it be changed only when full (or at the end of your stay). If I have non-biodegradable waste (paper, plastics, small containers…) and space in my luggage, I will usually just pack these up in a small Ziplock bag and bring them home where I know I can either dispose or recycle more easily. Cans can be easily crushed by stepping on them and won’t add much weight to your suitcase. I find that I am much more mindful of the trash that I’m producing when I know that I’ll be carrying it home with me later.
  1. Reduce and conserve your power usage. Many of these smaller, lesser-known destinations lack infrastructure to support the lifestyle that we are used to having at home. Turn off all unnecessary lights, and don’t keep things plugged in all day. In areas where generators are used, cycle your charging of electronics (iPad one day, laptop the next…). Chances are that you aren’t using them as frequently while traveling to such destinations anyway, as getting off the grid is part of the allure of these hideaway places.
  1. Reduce and reuse glass. Bottles are often the most difficult to dispose of in areas with no recycling. They take up a lot of space in landfills, and are usually too heavy to take home in your luggage. I’ve done enough diving to know where most of these end up (if you’re on a boat, make sure that you follow the 4 mile rule before placing glass bottles into the sea). Most glass is chemical free, and while seaglass that eventually washes up on the beach can be beautiful, the process it takes to break down is extremely long. Whenever possible, try to reduce your glass bottle usage (although beer drinkers may have few other options) and reuse your bottle (glass is a much better insulator than plastic, so it is a great option for keeping drinks cool or warm for longer).
  2. Choose biodegradable products. Many of the shampoos, conditioners, make-up, and soaps that we use contain harsh chemicals that are not only unhealthy for the environment, but also for ourselves. Be mindful what you wash down the drain. Try to choose products that are chemical free, especially when in fragile environments that may not have the water, treatments, and drainage systems to properly “wash away” what you are leaving behind.

It’s important to remember that wherever we travel, we are guests – guests of the environment, guests of the culture, and guests of the people. It is our responsibility to at the very least, leave each place in a state just as we find it, if not a little bit better than when we arrived.

Have a tip to share on environmentally conscious travel? Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you!

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