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Are you an environmentally friendly traveler?

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Mobile, AL watching a Hallmark Christmas movie on a big, comfy bed with my three dogs curled up around me. We drove from Grapevine, TX yesterday then stopped here for the night on our way to St. George Island, FL. I have spent a lot of time traveling, both for work and for fun. I love to get out and see new places, but I also love the luxury of room service, daily housekeeping, and cable – things I don’t have at home!

When at home, I am very conscious of the choices I make for the environment. I recycle everything that can be recycled, save food scraps for broth, and went through a phase where I made my own shampoo and laundry detergent. The laundry detergent works great! The shampoo…. send me your recipes if you have one that works! I am phasing out plastic in favor of containers that last forever and have gotten much better at bringing a reusable bag on shopping trips. But here in this hotel, in roughly 16 hours, I have gone through two bath towels, two hand towels, two washcloths, one plastic cup, one paper coffee cup, and three tiny plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion, still half full, that will be unceremoniously trashed when I check out. What happens to my conscience on the road?!

I’m not the only traveler who relies on single-use, disposable items. They’re convenient. But 19 billion pounds of garbage chokes our oceans, killing valuable reefs and marine life, and this number is expected to double by 2025 (Mosbergen, 2017). In her blog post from November 2018, Stephanie Brown writes:

Plastic waste not only kills marine life and destroys coral reefs, but also enters the food supply chain, causing harm to human health.

As frequent travelers, we too often rely on single-use plastic products: travel-sized bottles, utensils, water bottles. Travel inevitably causes pollution. But if we want to keep traveling in a habitable Earth, we need to do our part to protect the world we all so desperately want to explore.

Mass tourism is destroying the world’s most beloved travel destinations. Now more than ever, tourists (backpackers and digital nomads included) are flocking to exotic destinations all over the world. Marrakech, Bali, Cartagena -- any popular location you’ve come across on Instagram. While the surge in tourism can bring economic benefits to these destinations, it wrecks the local culture and environment.

Beaches in Thailand and the Philippines started closing for parts of the year to take a break from mass tourism. During this time, locals will try to clean the pollution and litter from the waters. But this is a daunting task. Plastic and consumption waste only keep piling up. Plastics, in particular, take hundreds of years to break down.

Keep reading her post here for her helpful advice on what we can do better as travelers. Lonely Planet also offers a range of tips, from things we can do on our own, like bringing your own bag or water bottle, to being a more conscious consumer by patronizing airlines and travel companies who focus on sustainability.

Many companies are also taking the travel-waste problem seriously. Natural Habitat Adventures is a carbon-neutral company that serves as a conservation partner of the World Wildlife Federation. They took a group on a seven-day trip to Yellowstone in July with a goal of fitting all 14 travelers’ trash in one small container (Randall, 2019). Conventional travel companies are also taking steps to improve environmental impact. The UN Environment Programme highlights some of these in a story from February 2019:

Increasingly aware of public dismay over the toxic tide of plastic, the industry is cracking down on single-use plastics. Delta Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Virgin Australia and United Airlines are among carriers pledging to phase out single-use plastics like straws and stirrers. Ryanair has pledged to eliminate all non-recyclable plastics by 2023, switching instead to wooden cutlery and biodegradable coffee cups, for example.

Hotel group Iberostar has made its staff uniforms out of recycled plastic and is eliminating single-use plastics from its rooms, while the Walt Disney Company is set to ban single-use plastic straws and stirrers from nearly all its theme parks and resorts from mid-2019. Polystyrene cups will be eliminated at its parks.

Hotel giant Hilton pledged to get rid of plastic straws in all its 650 locations and eliminate plastic bottles from its conferences. Marriott International is eliminating plastic straws and replacing small bottles of toiletries with dispensers in its North American hotels.

MSC Cruises aims to phase-out single-use plastics by March next year, while Norwegian cruise operator Hurtigruten says it has removed all unnecessary single-use plastic items. Lindblad Expeditions, an adventure cruise company, has said it is now free of single-use plastics with all such items banned from its 13 ships.

You can read the rest of the story here. Making the world a better place is the responsibility of all the Earth’s inhabitants. Many are making steps in the right direction, and I hope to continue learning and doing better, both on the road and at home. What tips can you share for sustainability? How do you maintain environmental awareness while traveling? Share your ideas with us!

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