Living “greener” on the road


One of the things we worry about a lot as we travel is our carbon footprint; our environmental impact.

Living in the west where most people are mindful of the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) and most communities have “green initiatives” it’s easy to be lulled into complacency and think that we’re “doing it.”

Then, you enter the third world. Much of Asia, Africa and Central America are strewn, as far as the eye can see, with plastic bags, foam food containers, mylar packaging from juice containers and a sea of broken glass. Trash is a huge problem, worldwide.

As travelers, there’s another level though. How we move around the planet matters. There are “better” and “worse” ways to make a move. Airplanes are the absolute worst when it comes to carbon footprints. Every time I step onto a plane I hear the earth wheeze and I hate it. Sometimes we do it, but I hate it. It’s a hard balance to strike, between time, money and ecology, and I’m the first to admit that we could do better. We’re always striving to do better. Here are a few things to think about as you travel, either locally, or abroad:

The hierarchy of “bad travel”

Any vehicle burning a fossil fuel is “bad” on some level for the environment. Boats with little outboard motors, to big 737s all have an impact, but their impact is not equal.

  • Airplanes are the worst, I already mentioned that.
  • Big ocean ferries or cruise ships are also not great; the sheer volume of fuel burned and belched into the air or sea is hideous.
  • Cars with only one passenger are also a big waste (fill every seatbelt and the per person impact diminishes exponentially!)
  • Mopeds are better.
  • Small boats are better.

The hierarchy of “good travel”

Obviously this includes anything not burning a fossil fuel:

  • Boats without motors
  • Bicycles
  • Walking
  • Animal drawn carts

You get the idea. The thing to consider in this category is just what went into making what you’re using to get around. A brand new carbon fiber bike has a bigger footprint than upgrading an old used one that can be repurposed. Living car free and intentionally living within walking distance of everything that matters is better than riding a moped every day.

Baby steps.

Dealing With Trash As We Travel

Trash is the bane of my existence. I absolutely HATE to throw stuff out. It drives me crazy not to have a recycling program. Not having a compost bin seems just ridiculous on every level. It would be so simple. And yet, some places, these things just don’t exist.

What’s a traveler to do?

  • Buy less
  • Buy in bulk (reducing packaging) when you can, I realize this is hard living out of backpacks
  • Buy from bulk vendors in smaller quantities
  • REFUSE BAGS. Everything in Asia is slammed into two or three plastic bags per item, don’t take them, use your own cloth bag.
  • Stop buying small water bottles. They litter up the planet something fierce. Buy the big, returnable 5 gallon ones when you can and refill your reusable ones!

Ask Locals

Often there are options available that aren’t “advertised” when you arrive.

Example: There is no “recycling” program where we lived in Thailand, however, if you clean and separate your glass and metal and put it out next to your trashcan, there are folks who come around, pick it up and sell it for money. This helps the environment and the local economy, everyone wins!

Buy Local

The fastest way to reduce your carbon footprint, regardless of where you live is to buy local. For travelers, this should be a no brainer. The whole point of travel is to experience new places, new flavours, new ways of living.

Resist the urge to visit that big chain store and buy your Western comfort food. Eat local instead.

Don’t insist on brand name clothing that’s been shipped around the world twice, buy a locally made shirt or shoes.

The benefit is two-fold, the earth thanks you, and so does your neighbour who you purchase from!


What are your best tips for living green at home or on the road?

Posted by | Comments (1)  | September 30, 2014
Category: Ethics, Vagabonding Life

One Response to “Living “greener” on the road”

  1. The Scuttlefish Says:

    Thank you so much for this article. As I prepare for my second trip to unethical tourism-infested Thailand (a country otherwise so endlessly beautiful) I will keep all your wise words in mind. 🙂