Many of my most loved travel memories are set in the world’s beautiful landscapes. Sunny days in the deep mountain valleys of Switzerland, hiking around New Zealand’s azure lakes, snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef: in all of these places, natural wonders took my breath away. And in turn, the impact that us humans are having on our beautiful planet has started to hit home. Once-clear, beautiful oceans are becoming choked with plastic, forests are being culled at an alarming rate and our population is expanding with no sign of slowing down.
It’s easy to go about your day to day life without thinking about the impact of our actions but more and more, it feels completely unacceptable to sit back and do nothing. So, accompanied by some photos from a recent weekend in London (they’re pretty and to be honest, I have no other excuse to use them), here are some ways that I’m trying to live a more sustainable life.
As soon as I started writing this, I realised that it could be a whole article of its own! While you’re travelling, it’s easy to opt for convenience – I’m much more prone to hopping in a taxi if I’m out of my comfort zone – but I believe there’s a lot to be gained from the experience of living like a local when you travel. From taking public transport to shopping for souvenirs, here are just a few ways that you can minimise your impact while travelling:
- Consider your mode of transport. If you’re flying long haul, choose an airline with a carbon offset programme or fly direct to reduce your emissions. While you’re away itself, walking or taking public transport can be better than private taxis or transfers – plus you get to spend more time exploring the destination too!
- Choose eco-friendly accommodation. Whether you’re on a tight budget or want to splash the cash, there are more and more sustainable accommodation choices opening across the globe. Things to look out for include the hotel recycling policy, a locally sourced or vegetarian menu in the restaurant, whether they employ locals and a linen reuse policy where your towels are only changed on request. Mini fridges in rooms also guzzle huge amounts of energy so switch these off wherever possible. We stayed at Almodovar Hotel in Berlin and it was a real lesson in how to do sustainable yet affordable comfort well.
- Buy locally produced goods when shopping. These days, a huge amount of merchandise in the markets is mass produced and shipped in for sale so try to choose local traders or small businesses who will benefit most from your money. The same goes for shopping in local stores over chain supermarkets, something that feels almost impossible in the UK today.
- Don’t support animal cruelty. Whether it’s refusing to buy goods made from animal products or saying no to attractions where animals are mistreated, this is incredibly important to help bring about change. In Thailand and Cambodia, it was heartbreaking to see the number of tourists who are still willing to ride elephants and visit heavily sedated tigers, all for the sake of a photo. There are more ethical sanctuaries out there but it’s wise to do your research carefully because things aren’t always as they appear.
Eating a meat-free diet
Wait, don’t scroll away! I always promised myself that I’d never be one of those preachy vegetarians but on the flip side, I do think it’s important to educate yourself about where your food comes from. Shock tactics and emotional pleas never worked on me – in fact, they just irritated me – but cold hard facts do. Learning that animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change, water consumption and deforestation is a pretty good motivator for cutting out meat, before you even get to all the health benefits and, you know, not murdering innocent creatures.
Did you know that going vegan could cut your carbon footprint in half?
Being meat-free has had other benefits in my life too. My food was cheaper while I was travelling and still would be if I didn’t buy a ton of meat replacements because I’m the world’s worst cook. I was an incredibly picky eater who relied on meat (my diet was basically chips, chicken breast and ham sandwiches) but going veggie has made me experiment, discover new things and generally get so much more joy out of my diet. And most importantly, it’s the first real tangible change I’ve made to my lifestyle for the benefit of others and honestly, that feels pretty bloody great. So, if this former meat lover can overhaul her diet, you can definitely do it – even if it’s adding more veggie or vegan days to your diet gradually. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is, especially with an abundance of amazing vegan food making its way into supermarkets and restaurants everywhere. Check for Fairtrade labels too: this ensures that the community who produced the food or fabrics are being supported with a fair wage and working conditions.
My diet at the moment is about 70% vegan as I’ve been trying to gradually replace milk, cheese and butter over the last few months but cheese is a real stumbling block. And cake. And chocolate. Yes, I’ve still got some work to do. But as one of the biggest things we can do as individuals to have an impact on our planet, I’d urge anybody to really do some research into the meat and dairy industry before continuing to scoff nugget share boxes at an alarming rate. Yes, that was also me but luckily, the Quorn ones taste just as delicious.
Saying no to fast fashion
I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to kick the habit of wandering around Topshop but recently, I’ve been thinking that it’s time to make a switch up in my wardrobe. Since I got my first student loan, my habits have been something like this: buy a couple of new items, wear them to death over the following months then move onto something new. I’ve never been someone that does a lot of shopping and my wardrobe is pretty small but over the next year, I’d like to turn my attention to really finding a style that works for me and buying pieces that are built to last. And a big part of this will revolve around more ethical brands.
I’m on a serious budget when it comes to clothes and this has prevented me from shopping in pricier brands for a long time. But, rather than cycling through clothes on a relatively regular basis because they wear out or go shapeless after a few washes, I’ve figured that surely my money will be better spent on higher quality pieces that haven’t been made by exploited people earning way below a living wage. Voting with your money is so important in the world today: brands analyse sales figures over anything else and so the best thing we can possibly do is to show our principles through our purchases. If anybody reading could recommend any ethical but affordable fashion brands, please leave them in the comments for me!
Less plastic = happier planet
Throwing things away is a habit that’s almost become unconscious. Think about it: we open a packet of something and without really thinking, chuck the wrapper in the bin. Sure, we may separate it into recycling and general waste but once it’s in that container, it’s completely out of our minds. It sounds crazy to say it like it’s a huge revelation but how often have you really considered where all that stuff goes? While travelling, I had to buy bottled water every day and despite buying large bottles where possible, that’s still a hell of a lot of waste over a four month stint around Asia.
Thankfully, ditching plastic has become a huge global topic of discussion in 2018 and it couldn’t have come soon enough. In Western society, manufacturers make it really hard to cut down on your waste so the little things can be really important in helping to make a difference. I love my Bobble water bottle but I’m currently looking for one that can be used to purify tap water abroad so any recommendations would be great! Taking a canvas bag to the shops and saying no to packaged fruit and veg all reduce the amount of unnecessary waste we produce. Sure, it’s a minor inconvenience to have individual potatoes and onions rolling around in your shopping trolley but do we really need that plastic bag if we’re going to throw it away the second we get home? No, no we don’t.
Small changes at home
Living a more sustainable life doesn’t have to mean forgoeing all of Western society to live braless in a woodland cabin – no shade to anybody who does dream of doing that, of course. But from turning off lights when we leave a room to turning off the taps while brushing our teeth, we can help the planet in small ways that add up over time. Sure, that bubble-filled bath may look great on your Instagram feed, but save it for an occasional treat: a five minute shower invigorates the body and could use less than half the amount of water. Plus I get kind of stressed lying around in sweaty water – is that an unpopular opinion?
Working with the seasons also helps: keep your curtains open during light spring evenings and hang your washing outside rather than popping it in the tumble dryer. Layer up during the cold winter months or just try not to leave your heating on while you open the windows. When I get a place of my own, part of me wants to start growing herbs or even vegetables: who knows, hopefully I’ll be better at gardening than I am at cooking! Then again, that could be one of those weird nesting fantasies that looks way better inside my own head…
If you’d like to read more about sustainable living, here are a couple of piecces I’ve enjoyed reading over the last few months:
Along Dusty Roads: Five steps to becoming a more ethical traveller
In The Frow: Five small ways to help protect the planet
Book Recommendation: Eating by Peter Singer
If you try to live a more sustainable life, what are your top tips? Leave any advice in the comments!
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