Five ways to be a low impact traveller

Living a ‘Zero Waste lifestyle’ can mean many things; for some, like us, it means simply doing our best to reduce (or eliminate) the amount of waste sent to landfill. Not only while we’re at home, but while we’re travelling abroad as well. Since there’s really nothing Zero Waste about air travel, what with its high levels of carbon emissions and fuel usage, we wanted to share with you a few tips on how to travel consciously with the lowest impact on the Earth.

#1 Pack with purpose

Whether you’re travelling by train, plane or hot air balloon, it’s important to pack with purpose – because waste happens when we least expect it, so we’ve got to be prepared. We’ve talked before about how to build the traveller’s ultimate Zero Waste kit, but when it comes to low-impact travelling it’s all about packing light, packing smart and, again, packing with purpose. The trick here is to think ahead and preempt any worst-case scenario: If the destination is famous for its street markets, pack a reusable food container. If you like in-flight snacks, pack your favourite munchies ahead of time in a refillable bag. If you have carry-on liquids, invest in a see-through pouch. If you know you’ll be shopping, take a few totes to avoid using plastic bags.

Read also: Starbucks is banning plastic straws

#2 Eat in and eat locally

When in Japan, oden is a must. Image: chosang/Pixabay

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, drop the urge to dine at fast-food joints and opt for eating at more local restaurants instead. This does two things: it helps save on plastic takeaway containers and cutlery, and allows for a more authentic experience. While visiting street markets, try to take a reusable set of food/drink containers, metal straw, utensils and a cloth napkin (we like to use a multifunctional bandana) for a low-impact alternative to on-the-go packaging, which leads us to our next tip.

#3 Say “No” in a new language

When it comes to what you’re carrying with you as Zero Waste dining alternatives, that’s completely up to you. Just remember the first rule of going plastic-free: Don’t be afraid to say no. We tend to have an arsenal of the familiar phrases – Hello, thank you, etc. – in various languages, but what about adding a few new ones to your vocabulary? For example, when in Malaysia, “tak nak straw/plastik” will be extremely helpful while on your low-impact journey.

#4: Skip the souvenirs

Handmade vases at a souq in Oman. Image: sharonang/Pixabay

Here’s one that might be difficult for some: try not buying souvenirs. Those fluorescent cookie-cutter souvenir magnets offer nothing to the experience one has while travelling, and they’re often made with harmful, unrecyclable materials. Instead, consider shopping for locally made (preferably handmade) products, rather than those made on an assembly line at some mass-market factory and packed in plastic. Better yet: Buy directly from the artist, or an indigenous artisan, for a thoughtful, one-of-a-kind memento.

Read also: How I travel: Kimi Juan

#5 Reduce, reuse and be resourceful

When travelling abroad, finding package-free alternatives or saying “no” to single-use items doesn’t always turn out the way we would like. But remember there is usually always a low-impact alternative out there somewhere; it might not be 100% Zero Waste, but at least we’re doing our best to limit negative impacts on the Earth.

Whether that’s downloading e-ticket onto your phone, finding a hotel located near public transit, or scoping out a nearby grocery store for package-free (or bulk) opportunities; reduce what you can, reuse what you have and be resourceful for what you need.

Always remember: Pursuing a Zero Waste lifestyle isn’t about being picture perfect or living completely without waste like some can; it’s simply doing the best you can within your own personal means to reduce what you are responsible for sending to the landfill. Don’t let the guilt over accidentally receiving a straw in your drink spoil your vacation – just keep doing your best.

Brent Taalur

Our very own Wasteless Wanderer with a passion for all things reusable. When he’s not flipping through one of the 300 books currently on his reading list, he can be found exploring vintage bookstores and his favourite street markets. Once a fashion journalist in New York City and Paris, he now devotes most of his time to writing and advocating for Zero Waste in Kuala Lumpur and across Asia.

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