Here are our ten tips for plastic-free tourism

While more of us are making a concerted effort to reduce our plastic consumption at home, it's not so easy when travelling. TOM LAWSON offers up his top tips to help reduce our plastic footprint while on the road

Travelling and unfamiliar surroundings present many new hurdles for the plastic-conscious to overcome - travellers often opt for the conveniences of bottled water, shopping in supermarkets and sending waste to landfill. 

The crisis of plastic waste has been gaining increasing attention in the UK in recent months. From the awareness-raising Blue Planet II series, to a national ban on microbeads in cosmetics, to Penzance becoming the country's first 'plastic-free community'. 

So while it seems to be becoming easier to shun plastic in day-to-day life in Britain, what about when heading further afield?

Travelling and its unfamiliar surroundings presents many new hurdles for the plastic-conscious to overcome and in trying to save luggage space and time, travellers often opt for the conveniences of bottled water, shopping in supermarkets and sending waste to landfill. 

Top tips

Heading abroad comes with a myriad of potential environmental pitfalls to consider, but if your plastic waste footprint is something you want to reduce on you next trip, here are ten simple things you can do about it.

1. Resist disposables

Even before you set foot out of the country, look in the travel aisle of any supermarket and you'll be bombarded with an array of disposable items and tiny plastic bottles. From razors, to wet-wipes, to shampoo, the general idea is convenience above all else. 

Most of these plastic-heavy items can be easily avoided however with some foresight and careful packing. A metal razor will last your entire trip and more, shampoo bars are just as transportable as bottles and a flannel can be reused many more times than a pack of wet wipes. 

2. Use some local lingo 

Learning at least a little of the local language is always a good idea before heading to a new country. As well as making it easier to get around and usually being much appreciated by the locals, having a few well-chosen phrases noted down as you explore can help to avoid picking up unnecessary plastics. Once you've mastered the essentials (“una cerveza por favor”), try boosting your vocabulary with phrases like: “I don't need a bag thanks”, “no straw please” and “where’s the nearest recycling point?”

3. Be a policy nerd

There may be more exciting things to research prior to heading to a new country, but brushing up on local policies around plastic waste and recycling can really help in your plastic-free endeavours when you arrive. 

In Kenya producing, selling or even using plastic bags could land you with a prison sentence or hefty fine and in Singapore litterers are punished by being made to clean the streets in shirts that read: “I am a litter lout.” Each country – even each city – is different.  Local government websites and travel forums are good places to look. 

4. Kick the bottled water habit

With a million plastic bottles bought around the world every minute, one of the simplest ways to cut your plastic waste footprint as a traveller is to not buy bottled water. 

Travelling and unfamiliar surroundings present many new hurdles for the plastic-conscious to overcome - travellers often opt for the conveniences of bottled water, shopping in supermarkets and sending waste to landfill. 

Even if your destination's water is 100 percent safe to drink, it's always good to have a reusable bottle to carry on day trips and long journeys. Some countries even have refill schemes, such as Thailand where curb side machines provide safe, cheap drinking water.

If the water could be harmful, it's worth investing in a filter bottle. There are now numerous options on the market including LifeStraw, which makes contaminated water safe to drink, and SteriPEN, which purifies using UV light.

5. In it for the long haul

Being a passenger on any long journey whether by bus, boat, train or plane will inevitably land you with a heap of unwanted plastic. From disposable cups to blankets wrapped in polythene. 

Although companies are starting to take note (in January Ryanair announced plans to eliminate the use of non-recyclable plastics by 2023), your best bet is to think of any on-board comforts you might want and bring your own.

Take home-made meals and snacks and inform the transport company in advance that you won't be needing theirs. Pack cutlery, headphones, a water bottle, blankets, and a pillow and politely decline the ones you're offered on board. 

6. Plastic-free travel in the bag

It sounds obvious, but investing in a cloth bag or two before you set off on any trip is a must. You never know when you'll come across an exciting market or, if you're feeling particularly keen, a piece of plastic litter to pick up and recycle or repurpose. 

Not only will you save on plastic, but in countries where singe-use bags are banned, charged for or simply not readily available you'll be thankful to have something to carry any purchases in.  

7. Shun supermarkets 

Supermarkets can be tempting when you're desperate to see the sights rather than spend time shopping for supplies, but seeking out alternatives can help to avoid these plastic havens.

Trying local crafts markets, street food stalls and independent shops has the added bonus of bringing you closer to a country's culture and boosting the local economy. 

8. Make snacks from scratch

Exploring new places can be hungry work, but picking up snacks not wrapped in plastic on the road can be tricky. If you're staying somewhere with access to a kitchen, plan ahead and make bulk batches of snacks from raw ingredients. 

If you opt to use a recipe from back home this also gives you a chance to bond with your fellow travellers and locals alike by sharing a part of your culture. You might even pick up some new recipes along the way. 

9. Take only photographs, leave only footprints

Even with all the above steps in mind, landing yourself with some plastic along your journey is almost inevitable. If you can't find a recycling point, consider taking plastic items back to your home country to recycle them there. And with your luggage full of trash, you'll be less tempted to cram in plastic tat from any last minute souvenir shopping. 

10. Create upcycled gifts 

Another option for those unavoidable plastics is to repurpose them into something useful, fun or beautiful. Put your creative skills to the test and while away the hours waiting for that delayed bus by transforming used cartons into animals for local kids, making plastic bottle plant holders to give to people you meet or, for the more ambitious, weaving strips of plastic packaging into a bag, basket or mat. 

This Author

Tom Lawson is a freelance journalist.