Last year I re-dubbed Earth Day to it’s more statistically appropriate moniker of Ocean Day — after all, 70% of the planet’s surface is water! — and made a few simple pledges. This year I’m back trying to use this day to pause and reflect on how I can be more ecologically conscious in my travels. It is something that is in my thoughts year-round but that I often stumble in my attempts to do right by. Today I’ll start by sharing a few products I feel should be in every traveler’s bag!
1. A Reusable Shopping Bag
Last year I pledged to stop using single-use plastics, and plastic shopping bags make up a huge portion of offenders. I admit that with time my resolve has weakened from its previous vigilance (I once realized while checking out at the grocery store that I forgot my canvas tote and proceeded to have the bemused cashier pile my items into an eyeball-level pile in my arms rather than take plastic), though I’m hoping that writing this post will snap me back on track.
When packing for my current jaunt around Southeast Asia, I made sure to pack both a rip-stop nylon oversized shoulder bag and a black canvas tote to alternate between. Both are large enough to stuff little purchases throughout the day in, so that I’m always able to request no plastic. Wanderland Totes are compact, cheap and stylish — be sure to throw one into your backpack before leaving on a journey!
The SteriPEN Handheld UV Water Purifier was my great experiment for this trip — and it’s had mixed results. On previous trips to Southeast Asia I’ve been crushed by guilt over the amount of plastic water bottles I’ve used, so for Christmas I requested this handheld UV water sterilizer. It works like this: I fill up my reusable bottle with tap water which would typically be un-drinkable, and then turn on the Steripen and stir the water with it for 90 seconds. And via some sort of voodoo science-y magic, the water becomes safe to drink!
The benefits are obvious — less plastic use, can be used to replenish water supplies on long hikes, and over time, a financial savings (I never drink bottled water stateside, so I find it quite painful to pay for when traveling!) However, after only a few days I admit that I found the process to be quite laborious and irritating, and I missed having ice-cold water on demand. For the first two days I used it I did have a queasy stomach, though I think in the long run I would actually put this in the benefits column because I think it boosted my immunity — I’ve sipped water straight from the tap occasionally since and been fine. In conclusion, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks and I’m really happy to have access now to clean drinking water from the tap!
Unfortunately, there are times when the Steripen is simply useless. Here on Gili Trawangan the water coming out of the majority of the taps (and certainly all that I have access to) is brackish water, and no amount of sterilization will make that drinkeable. So here I utilize water refill stations whenever possible as compensation.
Update: Read more about other portable water purification systems I’ve tried here.
3. Earth-friendly Products
Last year I watched Earthlings for the first time and it solidified my decision that I would never again buy a dog (and only adopt instead). This year I watched it for the second time, and decided that I’m going to eliminate products that are tested on animals from my life. I better be careful — watch it too many times and I might become a vegan!
I was surprised to find how easy of a transition this will be for me. For example, I didn’t even realize that my favorite brand of sunscreen is free of both animal cruelty and of CFCs — the harmful toxin in many aerosols. For this trip I packed two Sun Bum Continuous Spray Sunscreens, a Sun Bum Face Stick, and Sun Bum SPF Lip Balm. (Note that I’m not affiliated with Sun Bum whatsoever, I just love their product and want to share!) They are slightly more expensive than other similar products, but for me it’s a small price to pay for something that gives me a clear conscious and makes me smile every time I use it.
Unfortunately, when traveling abroad it can be difficult to find familiar earth-friends brands. While it might make for a sightlier heavier backpack at the beginning, I advocate stocking up on products that are important to you before leaving home. The free PETA shopping guide can help you decipher the products on your shelves!
4. Collapsible Tupperware / Reusable Snack Bags
This is actually an item that I do not have with me on this trip — and it’s killing me. My friend Wes was the first to give me the idea to bring tupperware along when traveling for the inevitable takeaway meals. All that styrofoam makes me want to cry! But what an awkward thing to pack, I thought. Then I found collapsible tupperware! Every time I get takeaway (which is pretty often) I think of the elusive collapsible tupperware and dream about the day that I have a set tucked away in my backpack at all times. I did pack a thick plastic spork on this trip, but it recently broke — well, there’s always room for improvement. I was also recently alerted to a new product called Lunch Skins which hopefully will someday make plastic snack and sandwich baggies obsolete. These would be great for travelers to bring along for trips to the market and picnic lunches.
5. A Loud Voice!
If you’re walking down the street and a restaurant tout tries to draw you into an establishment serving shark, tell them why you’re going to keep walking. If your tour operator uses re-usable containers rather than styrofoam when serving lunch, tell them how happy that makes you. If we can show those working in the travel and hospitality industries that caring about the environment is not only the right thing to do, it also affects their bottom line… that is where real change happens.
Now… I want to hear from you! What steps do you take to be an eco-consious traveler? I’m always looking for ways to be greener! Leave your tips in the comments below.
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