Ready to be a Sustainable Traveler? Here's the First Step

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When you first look into becoming a more sustainable traveler, or living a sustainable lifestyle, the information you find can feel overwhelming.  There’s a lot of philosophical ideas, and major lifestyle changes people say you must make if you want to save the planet.  Things like becoming a vegan, going zero-waste, only staying at eco-resorts, and avoiding flying all together.  These are all great ideas and striving towards these goals will decrease your carbon footprint dramatically.  However, these lifestyle changes take time.  They don’t happen overnight.  Ashley and I have been working for over four years at making these massive changes to our lifestyle and haven’t 100% accomplished them. Maybe we never will.  I see these big picture ideals and philosophies as the end-goal.  Things you’re constantly striving to and always improving at.  But as Lao Tzu famously wrote, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

We want to distill this transition down to something more tangible and provide an actionable first step on the path to becoming a sustainable traveler.  It’s something that everyone should do, frequent traveler or otherwise.  It takes minimal effort and doesn’t require you to completely change your lifestyle on day one.  This small change will the do the planet a whole world of good.

The first step in becoming a sustainable traveler? Buy a reusable straw and water bottle 

Now I know this doesn’t sound groundbreaking or revolutionary.  But you would be surprised how few travelers do this.  We recently spent a week at Lonely Beach in Thailand, and we didn’t see a single other person with their own water bottle or straw.  It seems so easy, and yet we see so few people doing it.  The simple act of traveling with a straw and water bottle will set you apart from 90% of people in terms of being a more sustainable traveler.

How these help you be a more sustainable traveler 

The easiest thing you can do to be a more sustainable traveler is to cut down on your plastic consumption.  Specifically, single use plastic.  Plastic is by its very nature, ill-suited for single use purposes.  It was designed to be durable and long lasting.  It doesn’t biodegrade, EVER! Furthermore, many countries lack the waste-management infrastructure to properly dispose of it.  This leads to straws, water bottles, and all other kinds of plastic waste ending up in canals and waterways, and eventually out to sea.  Even America, the wealthiest country in the world, has to ship tons and tons of plastic waste to other countries every year, because even they lack the infrastructure to process all of it.  To make matters worse, when plastic is exposed to sunlight and saltwater it photo-degrades: breaks into smaller and smaller pieces called micro-plastics.  These micro-plastics are hard to see and even harder to clean up.  They are consumed by aquatic life, working their way into our food system and, eventually, our bodies.

I won’t go into detail here on all the reasons why using the ocean as our personal plastic dumping ground is a bad idea.  That’s a story for another post.  But we if we don’t all take steps now to curb our consumption of plastic, we’re going to leave a colossal mess that will take future generations decades, if not longer, to rectify.

You might not have the budget to stay at an eco-resort, or the time to travel any other way besides flying, but EVERYONE can take steps to reduce their use of plastic.  The easiest way to do that? Start with a water bottle and reusable straw.

Why a water bottle? 

A reusable water bottle is every traveler’s best friend!

If you reach for a plastic water bottle every time you’re thirsty, those bottles are going to start to add up.  Add in a few family members, and the waste generated by one family on one vacation is staggering.  Multiply that by the 1.4 billion annual international travelers (source)  and……well you get the picture.  The beautiful thing is, you don’t need to create any of that waste!  With the simple act of bringing your own water bottle you can eliminate all that plastic from every stage of your travels.  From the airport, to the beach, and back again.

Furthermore, your water bottle can serve as your pledge, to yourself and the planet, not to drink water from ANYWHERE else than from your bottle.  Make that promise to yourself and stick to it.  Look that water bottle in the eye and say, “This is my water bottle, there are many like it but this one is mine.  I love this bottle, I will care for this bottle, and never quench my thirst from anywhere else but its lips.  Never again will I drink from a wasteful and unnecessary plastic bottle.”

This can lead to making more environmentally friendly decisions on other aspects of travel.  If you’re thinking about booking a stay at a hostel or resort, call ahead and ask if they can refill your bottle.  If they aren’t able to do that, then maybe you should think about staying somewhere else.  Places that are committed to more sustainable business practices will be able to refill your water bottle.

What kind should I get?

first step to being a sustainable traveler water bottle

A vacuum insulated bottle like the ones from Hydroflask will keep water cold for hours!

There are thousands of water bottle styles to choose from, the options are literally endless.  But for sustainable travelers, we strongly, strongly recommend that you go with a vacuum insulated stainless steel bottle.  There are tons of brands to choose from.  Companies like Hydroflask, Fifty/Fifty, Kleen Kanteen, and Yeti all make high quality products.  Ashley and I went with bottles from Fifty/Fifty, because they are a little lighter and less expensive than other brands.

The vacuum insulation will keep liquids cold or hot for hours and hours.  There’s nothing less satisfying than a drink of lukewarm water when you’re thirsty on a hot day.  Vacuum insulated bottles can be baking in the hot sun and the water inside will still be cold hours after you filled it up.  Stainless steel bottles are incredibly durable and will last for years.  I’ve had mine for over four years now.  It’s acquired some dings and dents along the way, but it still works as well as the first day I bought it.  They’re also really easy to clean and won’t retain the flavor of liquids if you ever feel like filling it up with something besides water.

A reusable water bottle is honestly a sustainable traveler’s best friend.  Ashley and I feel naked without ours.  It’s amazing how much good can come from one simple purchase!

Why a reusable straw?

first step to being a sustainable traveler bamboo straw

Keeping a bamboo or metal straw with you at all times is the easiest thing you can do to cut down on waste.

Plastic straws could very well be worse than plastic bottles.  For one, they can’t be recycled.  Like, at all.  Plastic straws have a useful life of about five minutes, and then are condemned to live the rest of their thousand-year existence sitting in a landfill or floating in the ocean.  More importantly, they’re totally unnecessary!  It’s a courtesy that businesses started providing decades ago and now we accept it almost unconsciously.  But the fact is, you don’t need it.  You don’t neeeed that flimsy plastic turtle killer to enjoy your tropical beverage.  Granted, trying to drink a thick, creamy coconut banana shake without a straw can get a little tricky.  But that’s where a reusable straw comes in!  With a reusable straw you get all the sippy, slurpy benefits of a plastic one, without the marine life killing, planet polluting costs!

Having a reusable straw can be a great conversation starter as well. Like I said before, not a lot of people travel with one and it will pique people’s interest when they see yours.  Our straws have been a conversation starter for countless interactions.  What starts with “Hey that’s a cool straw!” Ends with us being able to share our larger beliefs about environmental conservation and why we all need to be more sustainable travelers.

I think even beyond a water bottle, having a reusable straw projects a message to those around you.  It says “I’ve thought about my impact on the planet.  I’ve made a decision to be mindful of my consumption and make a change, because straws are wasteful, and unnecessary, and I DON’T NEED THEM.  If I can make that lifestyle change, so can you.”

In my opinion, using a plastic straw projects ignorance.  While the simple act of drinking from a reusable straw projects mindfulness and intention.  If you want to be a sustainable traveler, get a reusable straw and live that #nomoreplasticstraws life.

What kind should I get?

first step to being a sustainable traveler reusable straw

Wider straws are better for smoothies but skinny ones are perfect for coconuts!

The main styles of reusable straw are bamboo, stainless steel, and glass and they come in a variety of widths and lengths.  It’s hard to say for sure, but I would imagine that bamboo might be the slightly more sustainable.  When a bamboo straw is at the end of its life, you can stick it in the dirt, and it will decompose all on its own.  However, that useful life comes to an end much quicker than a metal straw.  We’ve had to chuck several bamboo straws in the compost bin after they’ve gotten moldy or cracked.  Now we both use metal straws because they last longer, their more durable, and their easier to clean.  We drink a lot of shakes, smoothies and milk teas so we both have very wide straws.  If you’re more of a cocktail person, then a skinnier straw might be the best for you.

Get a water bottle and straw and begin your journey as a sustainable traveler! 

If you’re making a checklist of the things you need to do to become a more sustainable traveler, acquiring a water bottle and reusable straw are the first boxes you need to check.  Absolutely and unequivocally.  You’ll be hard pressed to call yourself a sustainable traveler without them.  From there you can look for other ways to reduce your waste and shrink your carbon footprint.  But the simple act of carrying a water bottle and straw will do so much good for the planet.  And who knows, maybe you’ll be able to inspire other travelers to take that first step as well!

Want more sustainable travel advice? Listen to our interview with Bamboo and Backpacks

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1 thought on “Ready to Be a Sustainable Traveler? Here’s the First Step”

  1. Definitely a great first step – We also bring quite a few spare reusable straws with us on our travels so we can hand them out to friends/locals because in some places they don’t actually have them yet! We find the stainless steel ones last the longest as our bamboo ones sometimes go moldy in hot climates.

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