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10 ways to be a better environmentalist at home & abroad

A few weeks ago, during the global climate strike on September 20, I just happened to be in Berlin for several meetings. While I was making my way through the city, I crossed paths with hundreds of climate strikers. The city seemed alive with activists. People carrying signs both funny and serious. People marching through the streets.

It was all so visible, in-your-face, but it was also digital. The crowds and all the conversation around it immediately made me aware of the urgency of the situation.

As a travel writer, and one that frequently takes long-distance trips, I am acutely aware of my own personal impact on the world and our climate. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot to love about travel, but we have to be more aware of how it’s affecting our global world today and in the future.

Reports from the September 20th Global Climate Strike claim nearly 4 million people participated, arguably the largest in our history. We need to spend more time focused on discussing our impact on the world, and below I’ve shared some of the ways I’ve tried to live a more sustainable life—and things you can do as well to stay eco-friendly and eco-conscious when traveling.

Eco-friendly travel tips
10 Things You Can Do Now

Vote for progressive candidates

Listen, we can talk about plastic straws and eating meat all we want (don’t worry, we’re going to get there later in this list), but Elizabeth Warren made a strong case on why we really need to make much bigger changes—at the government level.

That’s why voting for progressive candidates—those that support a Green New Deal and other policies designed to disrupt the status quo—are going to make the biggest impact on our environment. There are lots of individual purchase habits we can do as individuals, but it’s up to our governments to institute changes to change up the way the world works.

Use public transport

Public transportation is incredibly useful and unfortunately—underrated. Whether you’re traveling or not, using public transport options like the bus or subway are going to have an impact. Moving people between places is never easy, and taxis just take up too much space and waste too many resources.

Take fewer flights

As a travel advocate, you’re not going to see me saying we should stop traveling. But we do need to be more responsible with how and where we travel. There are plenty of times where flights are not necessary for getting from point A to point B. Those are the instances where we should opt to take trains over planes.

Again: our individual actions and purchase decisions on whether we travel by plane or train are important. But something that’s perhaps more important is electing politicians who actively support high speed rail infrastructure so that we can collectively change our environmental impact at a societal level.

Use reusable water bottles

For as long as I can remember, I’ve really hated bottled water. Sure, in some parts of the world (and parts of the USA, too), it’s necessary because public water supplies aren’t safe, but too many people have become too reliant on bottled water.

That’s why I travel with a reusable water bottle. I use it every day at home, and as often as I can when traveling. EVERY day at home! There are portable water filters you can buy which are useful when hiking or traveling in far-off places, but honestly: I just try to be responsible with my plastic use—and that means using less plastic.


Recommended eco-friendly brands to buy

I seem to collect reusable water bottles and have ones from stojo, Takeya, and que. Insulated stainless steel bottles (like this one from Happier Place) are also great options and keep your cold liquids cold!


eat vegetables

Eat less meat

Back in 2009 when I first started this travel blog, in anticipation for my own big trip around the world which I knew would require lots of international flights, I actually went vegetarian for the six months before leaving on my travels.

A lot has been written about the environmental impact of meat production, and from what I know and have experienced, I am determined to both eat less meat, and also eat more sustainably. That means locally grown foods. The vast network of transporting food has a serious impact, so if I can minimize my own personal impact, I’m happy.

This is also important when considering what seafood to eat. The Seafood Watch app (and website) can help you make ocean-friendly choices when eating seafood.


Recycle what you can

From my many years living in Europe, if there was just one habit that I can say had an affect on me, it was the habit of recycling. Germans recycle everything and it’s just the way it’s done, so it’s easy to do. Admittedly, it’s a bit more challenging in the USA, but it’s still very important.

Separating plastics and paper might seem tedious, but it’s only going to become more essential in the future.

Recycling can be taken a step further, too. Simply don’t throw away things that are broken; have them fixed (or fix them yourself)! We waste so much.

Right to repair laws are essential and should be supported in your local and regional governments. The more we can recycle, the better off we’ll all be: both environmentally and financially!

berlin hipster - tote bag design

Skip plastic bags

There was a lot of culture shock upon moving back to the United States, but the biggest was the use of plastic bags used in America. At the grocery store, meat and veggies are regularly put in their own individual plastic bag, and then that’s put in another plastic bag which is double bagged to support the weight. It’s ridiculous.

These days, I’ve always got an extra tote bag with me—plus my usual day bag. It’s a useful thing to travel with as well, because you just never know what little knick-knacks you might find as souvenirs. Bring your own bag and skip the plastic.

Use reusable straws

When and if you can, you can also skip plastic straws by bringing your own. I see it all the time in so many hipster coffee shops & cafés today, thanks to some very public messages of support to stop single-use plastic use.


Recommended eco-friendly brands to buy

I have both metal and bamboo straws that I’ve collected from various cafés and as gifts at events, including a bamboo straw from Visit Costa Rica, a foldable (rainbow!) metal straw from FinalStraw, and another metal straw from TULZ.


Shop less

I already mentioned this above, but if and when it’s possible to repair something you own, it’s so much better for the environment to simply repair what’s broken. We throw out a lot of things we don’t want or need anymore, when they can really just be up-cycled.

If we simply bought less of what we don’t need, and focused on creating solid and sustainable products for personal use, we’d be better off in the long run.


Be aware & learn what you can

There are so many other things we can do be better environmentalists, so many eco-friendly products we can and should use whether we’re at home or traveling. Being eco-conscious isn’t difficult. There’s a lot of information out there, but as soon as you decide to commit to a more environmentally-friendly life, that awareness itself will start to have an effect.

When you commit to a cause (whichever cause), you’re not expected to do everything at every time. That’s nearly impossible. Advocacy requires knowledge and awareness, and a responsibility to make those changes when possible.

  1. Emily G says:

    Yes!!! Fantastic article. I’m surprised that Americans still use plastic bags and straws so much!? Slow to change, I guess. Americans need to change their mentalities about a lot of things these days. Any reminders about how to be a good person are helpful though, because it can be hard sometimes, so thanks for sharing!

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Emily – yeah, I feel like there are so many cultural differences between Europe and the USA, so little reminders are necessary! The plastic thing drives me crazy

  2. Simon says:

    Loved reading it throughout. Some thing we should consider.

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