Easy eco-friendly swaps any traveler can make
We’ve compiled a handy list of impactful swaps that any traveler – yes, even you! – can make to reduce your environmental impact as you embark on your next big adventure.
Here’s the harsh truth: any amount of travel generates harmful carbon emissions that pollute the atmosphere. However, as staunch supporters of the human urge to explore and learn, we believe the net positives of travel can outweigh the negatives. Regardless, we vehemently urge any traveler to adopt the following eco-friendly swaps while expanding their horizons through travel:
Bring Your Own (reusable) Bottle. According to earthday.org, humans across the globe buy single-use plastic water bottles at the appalling rate of approximately one million bottles per minute. In the US, only about 23% of these are recycled – less than a quarter – and many other parts of the world don’t have the infrastructure or capacity to recycle plastic. This means at least 77% of these bad boys end up languishing for centuries in landfills, or worse yet, clogging up the ocean (if you haven’t heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, now’s a great time to read up on that abomination).
Bringing your own reusable water bottle when you travel, and consciously choosing not to use the complimentary plastic bottles left in your hotel rooms, is the equivalent of saving up to 156 bottles per person annually. That may not sound like much, but if each one of the 560+ travelers that are confirmed to travel with SA Expeditions this year commits to reusable water bottles for 2021, that’s over 87,000 single-use plastic bottles saved.
Pro tip for water drinkers: If you’re traveling where it’s recommended you don’t drink the tap water, which includes most of South America, hotel restaurant areas should have a water refill station for guest use; alternately, the hotel wait staff will usually be glad to fill up your bottle with purified water from the kitchen.
2. Make a bee-line for the bars
Bar shampoo, that is. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, it takes 450 years for plastic bottles to decompose, so when paired with the fact that most commercial shampoo bottles contain little more than water, switching to bar shampoo is both a logical and impactful swap. Once relegated to the realm of specialty shops and your weird hippie soap-making neighbor, bar shampoos are now mainstream enough they’re available in places like Target and Amazon (though my favorites come from Canadian brand Lush or New York-based Package Free Shop).
Pro tip: Shampoo bars are the ideal travel companion. Not only does a shampoo bar eliminate the worry of exploding (liquid) shampoo bottles ruining the contents of your suitcase, you can also bring them in carry-on luggage through TSA security checkpoints hassle-free.
3. Opt for direct flights
Did you know planes generate the most carbon during the landing and takeoff cycle? By purchasing direct flights instead of routes with connections, you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. We understand that, somewhat counterintuitively, flight reservations with multiple connections are often more economical than direct flights, however when you consider the potential impact of missed connections (including lost luggage, cancelled flights, and unsatisfying airport hotel stays while you miss the first day of your tour) and the additional carbon generated by these reactionary measures, the sometimes-elevated cost of direct flights begins to look a lot more appealing.
All our trips are carbon neutral, meaning we offset the carbon produced by the flights included in our clients’ travel packages. If you’re interested in offsetting the carbon generated by international flights, or perhaps giving someone the most unique and sustainable gift ever, check out the Offset Store managed by our partners at Carbon Credit Capital.
Pro tip: While we’re on the topic of flights, the heavier a plane is, the more carbon it emits, meaning the argument for packing light has never been stronger. Our challenge to you: can you bring only carry-on luggage next time you travel? By joining the “Carry-on Only Club” you’ll save on baggage fees, you’ll never have to worry about lost baggage, and with your handy dandy bar shampoos, you won’t need to stress about exceeding the limit for liquids.
4. Say “no, thanks” to housekeeping
You’ve probably seen the notices in hotel rooms pledging eco-friendly practices, such as changing sheets and towels only upon request, yet fluffy new towels magically seem to sprout on the racks when you return to your room. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), roughly 16% of any given hotel’s water usage goes to laundry operations, and a study on hotel water conservation commissioned by Seattle Public Utilities claims that luxury hotels consume anywhere between a staggering 100 and 400 gallons of water per day per room.
Our simple fix to drastically reduce your water consumption while traveling? Place the “do not disturb” sign on your doorknob as you leave your room for the day’s adventures, and forego the housekeeping linen service entirely. Simple as pie!
Pro Tip for hotel stays: Take any open complimentary toiletry bottles with you when you check out of your hotel, as these will be chucked into the landfill otherwise. Better yet, bring your own bar shampoo with you and avoid miniature plastic toiletry bottles altogether.
5. Be considerate of local communities
Travel expands horizons. It foments memorable intercultural exchanges and can be profoundly impactful for both travelers and hosts. However, it’s imperative to be aware of the inherent privilege associated with international travel and the potential harm we may cause in our wake – especially when visiting regions that have differently-developed infrastructures than what we’re used to.
What do we mean by this?
- When shopping for souvenirs, make sure you’re supporting the local community. Reject bulkmade goods or anything with a “made in China” sticker on it (unless, of course, you’re traveling in China). Instead, prioritize souvenirs like handmade goods by local artisans.
- Do not purchase any souvenirs that contain animal parts or endangered species, such as horns, furs, seashells, or coral trinkets. This tip directly aligns with two of the 7 Core Principles of the “Leave No Trace” methodology: Leave what you find, and respect wildlife.
- Bring a reusable tote bag when traveling (or purchase a fun souvenir one!), so you can confidently reject singleuse bags from street vendors, shops, and souvenir stalls.
- If you’re roadtripping or renting a vehicle in your destination, make sure to use Google Maps’ new fuel efficiency feature which prioritizes routes that create fewer carbon emissions. This way, you’ll reduce your impact on the quality of the air local residents will keep breathing long after you’ve gone.
- Bring your own solarpowered device chargers. Using portable solar panels to charge your phone will not only prevent using up precious local energy resources, bringing a solar charger on your travels may save you from worrying about power adapters and converters. Simply hook the chargers to your backpack while hiking, or find a sunny window at a café, and juice up your devices. Bonus tip: international data plans generate a surprising amount of carbon emissions, so keep your devices on “airplane mode” whenever possible.
- Prioritize ecofriendly accommodations. Many hotels, such as Inkaterra in Peru and Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador, have powerful environmental practices. Do a little research to make sure the hotels you’re supporting actively preserve their local environments.
- Prioritize B Corps. Certified B Corps are legally obligated to consider the wellbeing of the environment, local communities, and their workers, so you can rest assured these companies aren't doing any greenwashing. Alternate accolades to look for and trust include 1% For the Planet and the Rainforest Alliance Seal.
Click here to learn more about some of our sustainability initiatives, including supporting a reforestation project in the Andes Mountains and ensuring all our trips are carbon neutral. If you’re inspired to start planning your next sustainable travel adventure, contact a Destination Expert to start customizing your dream itinerary.
About the author: Corey Jay is the Brand Manager for SA Expeditions and a self-proclaimed bar shampoo evangelist. She holds a BA from Scripps College in California and is a candidate for a Master of Leadership in Service Innovation from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.