When you’re dreaming about your travel plans, you’re probably thinking of the delicious food you’re going to eat, the sights you’re going to see, and the relaxing getaway you’re about to take to a beautiful place in the world. Chances are you’re not thinking of what you will be leaving behind. Is plastic free travel possible?
The essentials you pack in your suitcase include toiletries, snacks, clothing/shoes, and if you’re like me, your dive gear. You always seem to just make it zipping your bags closed, but you remind yourself that you’ll be using up most of your toiletries anyway, allowing more room for your travels home. There are three main things you can do while traveling that can make you a ‘better’ tourist. Use environment friendly products, stay at an environment friendly location, and always carry an extra bag to pick up/dispose of garbage you may see throughout your travels.
Chances are your toiletries are small, plastic bottles, which is why you should opt for reusable containers (and the rest of your reusable products) instead. This way you are still lightening your load on your way home by bringing the empty containers, you won’t be leaving behind extra trash once you depart, and you can reuse them for your next trip. When going on a trip though, you should take into consideration what kind of toiletries you are bringing with you. If you are going on a dive trip, are you packing reef-safe sunscreens? If you are staying in an area where your water source may empty out into the environment, are you packing all natural, biodegradable bath products? These are questions you should research before jetting off on an adventure.
Last summer I lived in the jungle in Mexico for a month and we would take a shuttle over to the most touristy location I have ever seen on vacation to do our marine conservation research. It was quite foreign to me to go on a vacation and end up seeing a beach completely packed with people. My mother mostly influences my family on where to stay on vacation, which I am truly thankful for now. We stay as far away from people as possible on vacations, especially not in resorts. The amount of waste that is produced and the activities that are available in (all-inclusive) resort trips are extremely harmful and detrimental to the ecosystem. Whether it is swimming with dolphins in an enclosed area or sipping on unlimited drinks in plastic cups with plastic straws in the ocean, tourists are leaving a negative imprint behind in that destination.
This past March I hiked around New Mexico with my mother and on every hike we went on I made sure to bring a backpack with room to stash trash we picked up. We hiked through national parks, but we still found garbage such as cans, snack wrappers, and plastic along the way. There was one lookout where we sadly couldn’t even reach all of the trash that people left behind. By making an effort to pick up litter while walking through nature, you’re leaving your mark behind in a different way than the person who was there previously did: you’re helping keep the environment clean.
The experience of traveling is always something to look forward too, but many people get too wrapped up in being tourists that they forget to be mindful of how their stay impacts the country they are visiting. Stick to being a smart traveler and I am sure you will find your vacation even more enjoyable knowing you’re practicing good tourist etiquette on your trip!
For tips, tricks, and to read about Noelle’s experience on living a sustainable and plastic-free life, check out her blog, My Green Genes at Work .