Common Sense Eco-travel: Simple, No cost, DIY

Eco-travel is a growing industry and more hotels are promoting themselves as “green” for doing things like making key cards from recycled plastic or having cards with information on how to request that sheets and towels not be changed.

While these are positive trends, it’s quite possible to untertake planet friendly travel in the absence of special practices, using common sense and doing things we’re already doing at home in our daily lives. Travel is just life in motion with a different backdrop.

I’ve been thinking about this since I’m in the middle of a 3-week trip in a place where there’s really no recycling or green hotel movement. Regardless, I’ve been able to conserve resources and avoid waste through simple things I do in my travels (and life, unless not relevant). These have many benefits besides environmental ones, such as convenience, health and cost savings, and support better communities at your destination by not creating trash and pollution.

1. If you don’t want your sheets and towels laundered, put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. I’ve done this for years and it has the same effect as those special “don’t change my sheets” cards, which staff don’t always follow anyway. It also keeps your belonging more secure since no one will enter your room and gives overtaxed hotel cleaning staff a break. Leave a good tip just as if they cleaned your room, daily though.

2. Pack a few reusable bags based on the kind of shopping you’ll be doing. They’re great for toting special purchases. Produce bagsare great for storing food, if your travels call for that. On this this trip, I’m volunteeringand need to pack lunches. I’ve reused my produce bags for shopping at the market and saved a lot of plastic.

3. Bring your own water bottle. Your destination may not have recycling

facilities and few airlines recycle. This also offers the convenience and assurance of being able to access free drinking water if you fill your bottle before an outing, etc. Airline attendants will refill your bottle if you ask. I travel with a thermal bottle, which attendants are happy to fill with hot water for my cocoa. A travel cup is good, too.

4. Bring your own utensils and cloth napkin. Hotel breakfasts, street food and some restaurants will have single use items, so this saves waste. You can get special utensil holders and travel utensil sets, but a bandana and silverware you own (or that you ca get at a thrift store) are cheaper and greener. On a recent 3-week trip I used my own utensils and napkins for the hotel breakfast, and saved 20 full size paper napkins and placemats (they had reusable eat ware). I’ve also found this handy for eating street food when I’m not sure my hands are germ free or clean, and have no place to wash up.

5. If you’ll need purified water, bring supplies. A water heating coil packs light and works well if you have electricity – boil vigorously for a minute (you’ll need a metal or other non-meltable cup/container for this). This is also great for heating water for beverages in an airport or hotel, and avoiding the old coffee taste in hotel coffee pots. Steri Pen offers hand held battery operated UV purifiers which have received good reviews. Unfortunately mine had a lamp failure upon first use so I can’t recommend it. It also says it takes NiMH batteries, which reduce waste versus single-use lithium or alkaline,  but the batteries must be 2500 amh, which are hard to find.  (Update 2/15/12 – SteriPen Classic worked without problems on my recent trip to the the Dominican Republic, though I had to recharge my batteries quite a bit. The Classic requires lower power batteries than other models so my 2300 amh rechargeable batteries were sufficient.)

5. Bring your own toiletries in reusable containers. Save the packaging waste from single-size hotel toiletries, save the cost and waste of travel size items at the store, and enjoy using products you like. Toothpowder is a great alternative to toothpaste if you have only a carry on, or put enough toothpaste for your trip in a < 3 oz container, which I used to do.  (The plastic lid is my soap dish, which eliminates the need for the hotel soap dish to be washed.)

6. Consider packing a few containers. They’re great for storing food so you can take home delicious leftovers with zero waste. Pack things in them or remove lids and pack in your clothes for space efficiency, or use them to pack meals for the plane.

7. Consider making your own meal for plane rides. (Don’t state a special meal preference if you do this, or you’ll get a meal.) Airline food is rarely satisfying, let alone recognizable in many cases, and it generally involves a lot of non-recyclable packaging.

8. Avoid things you can’t recycle and pack out any recycling you can’t recycle locally, if you really don’t want to create trash. (My sister has also laughed at me for bringing compost from my home-made plane meal to her house but the soil enjoys it better than the methane-burping landfill.) Recycling is limited or non-existent in some places, including many airlines. If I’m inclined to get a beverage on the plane, I ask for a can with no cup, and recycle it at the next airport (or other possible destination) if the airline doesn’t recycle. I buy very little packaged stuff and pack out my recycling. For food out, I eat at the restaurant instead of getting to-go, since you experience more of the culture with the former method.

9. If you’re somewhere hot, close the windows and shades during the day. This is recommended for homes in the summer in general and keeps hotel rooms cooler, too.

10. Buy locally made goods from local merchants: You’ll get goods shipped with less environmental impact, and often less packaged or unpackaged. more importantly, you’ll support the local economy while engaging with hardworking, everyday people.

11. Use public transit and shared tour busses, and explore on foot: You’ll meet more people, experience real life in your destination and take in local nature while saving gas and costs. Of course, take safety into account and take a cab if safety dictates.

12. Leave only footprints, take only pictures: Self explanatory…enjoy!

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