My tried-and-tested advice for travelling more consciously through Asia
Getting ready to jet off? Have you packed your reusable cutlery, mesh bags for produce and bamboo toothbrush? More of us than ever are travelling more consciously, ditching single-used plastics for metal straws, soap berries and filtered water bottles.
Half of Gen Z Australians will prioritize the environment when planning their next trip, with 48% opting for eco-accommodation and 63% switching to more environmentally-friendly transportation like electric rental cars or bicycles, according to a recent survey by booking.com.
But, if I’m being honest here, all of these things are easier said than done. Sometimes, some of these options aren’t in budget and sometimes we just forget or are forced to give in and use something that isn’t necessarily ‘good’ for the environment. I get it, as someone who actively strives to minimise my use of plastics and help the environment, I’m not perfect. No one is, and that’s okay!
Both you and I can only do as much as we can. So, when travelling through Asia I decided to set myself a mission: to travel as sustainably as I could, making small but impactful decisions along the way. This is what I learnt and hopefully my tips will help with travelling more consciously next time…
Try carbon offsetting
We all know it – flying isn’t the best way to travel. With a little research, I learnt that there are plenty of ways you can offset your carbon emissions. At a small cost, you can help on a larger scale.
Carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for carbon emissions produced by activities such as flying, check out this UN explanation. It’s usually the last step when booking your ticket. You know the bit when we all most likely press ‘skip’ before we read the finer details? By opting to offset your carbon footprint, your money is going directly to accredited projects that help to reduce or remove emissions from the atmosphere, not the airline.
So when you decide on your next holiday, accumulate your spare change in a jar and offset your flight for a few extra dollars. There are plenty of third party websites that help you offset your emissions. Just make sure they’re accredited so you know where your money is going!
Make smarter choices on the plane
Pack your own cutlery so you don’t have to use single-use plastic while on the plane. Throw in a metal straw and/or chopsticks to cover all bases. These will come in handy during your trip, too. I also prepped and packed my own food for the flight (I’m vegan and have coeliac disease, so it’s for the best!). Or if you’re one of those people who really enjoy plane food, opt for the vegetarian/vegan option to not only cut down on your meat and dairy consumption, but to reduce your ecological and carbon footprint.
And don’t forget your refillable water bottle! Fill it up once you’re past customs and then during your flight, just ask a flight attendant and they’ll fill it up for you. Same goes for drinks off the drink service cart.
Eating and drinking…
Think ahead when eating out
Not only is eating local going to provide a financial benefit to families of small businesses, but in most cases, you’re going to have some of the freshest and tastiest food, EVER.
When you’re getting ready for your day ahead, remember to pack what you think you’ll need. Especially though Asia, there’s a lot of street food, traditionally served in plastic containers, wrapped in plastic bags and with a side of plastic cutlery… But never fear, you’re prepared – remember?
Pack your containers in your tote and just ask to have your meal served in your own. Politely decline the carry bag and cutlery. A very simple act, that I witnessed more and more among other travellers too. Some locals were confused, some locals laugh, some encourage it. The more we set the precedent, the more likely others will follow along!
Image source:Laura Knight
A mesh produce bag = your daily savior
To help with travelling more consciously, I stocked up on zero waste snacks such as fruit, nuts and seeds. This is where mesh produce bags will come in handy. They hold a lot of food, are lightweight and can scrunch into the tiniest of nooks, so you won’t even realise they’re there. They’re also your go-to for the local markets
Go refillable (and stay hydrated)
Water is a necessity that sadly isn’t always safe or accessible worldwide, including in Asia. “How am I meant to stay hydrated?” you ask. Well i have the answer… well Contiki does. A refillable water bottle, made from 100% recycled materials with a built-in filtration system that filters out the nasties hidden in tap water.
Gone are the days of constantly buying plastic water bottles each day that you inevitably just throw away to end up in landfill. I found Contiki’s filtered water bottle super compact and yet it holds 1l of water. I used my water bottle throughout Thailand and didn’t get sick once!
In most hotels there is a water refill station as well, so if you haven’t invested in Contiki’s new life-saver, bring along a regular bottle and fill it up wherever you can.
Image source:Laura Knight
Opt for bio-friendly products and packaging
These days it’s easier and easier to find toiletries that are natural with bio-friendly packaging. In fact, if you’re struggling for inspiration, check out our zero-waste guide to toiletries and packing.
And if you slip up – say you forgot to pack something and have to buy something that isn’t so eco-friendly – it’s okay! Just bring them home with you and send it off to TerraCycle – this really cool company that recycles the ‘non-recyclable’ for you.
Choose reef-safe sunscreen
If you’re planning on taking a dip in the ocean, make sure your sunscreen is reef-safe! As total summer baby (plus I’m spoilt by never-ending beaches in Australia), this is a big priority of mine at home and away. You’d be surprised by all the random chemicals hiding in your sun protection that aren’t necessarily safe for you or the ocean.
Supporting local people…
Make more conscious buying decisions
Supporting small local businesses is a lot more important that it seems. Unlike chain hotels and establishments, the money you spend buying local will go straight back into the community. Buying from street vendors, eating local and supporting local charities are three easy ways to do this. On my Contiki trip, not only were we encouraged to do so, but even better, we were taken straight to the door of local restaurants, shown where the best street food was and educated on the tourist traps that involves animals being either drugged or abused for profit.
Image source:Laura Knight
Choose only ethical and responsible wildlife experience
Before you think about booking tickets to ride an elephant or take selfies with a tiger, please think twice. Educating yourself on these complicated topics and cruel practises are sure to change your mind. Instead, opt to visit a rehabilitation centre and volunteer for the day or visit a sanctuary where you can witness animals walking freely.
In Thailand, we visited an elephant nature park, where abused and injured elephants were relocated, rehabilitated and left to enjoy the rest of their lives. It was one of the most heartbreaking yet eye-opening experiences ever. Every cent made goes straight back into the health of the animals, no pain or suffering necessary.
Making that conscious decision to travel more sustainably is a small but important step towards a greener future. If all of us were to implement just one of these *really cool and useful* tips, then we’d have a huge impact on helping to preserve the planet.
We all know how amazing travelling is. It forces you to step out of your comfort zone and opens your mind up to the bigger picture. It helps you to appreciate your own backyard and life and helps you to appreciate the small things that often go unnoticed.
So next time you’re booking an adventure, opt to offset your emissions, pack consciously and remember that every little action counts. Happy travels!