Even in a foreign land, eco-friendliness doesn’t have to be a foreign concept.
Traveling outside the United States takes a bit of adjustment and a lot of patience. Customs are different. Food is different. Often times, the language is different.
The same goes for waste and waste-reduction. Toss 10 darts at a world map and you’ll have 10 different systems for handling trash and recyclables. Blindfolded in Germany, it’d be difficult not to stumble into sophisticated streetside recycling systems. In India, it can be hard to find a recycling receptacle anywhere, let alone a proper trash bin.
But as much as geography dictates how wasteful a trip may be, there are still steps you can take to reduce your own waste while traveling abroad. Here are three:
Book Smart Stays
A safe spot, a clean room and a comfortable bed are crucial aspects of good lodging. But what about recycling bins, composting options and eco-friendly housekeeping practices?
Eco-additions such as these may seem like luxuries in the grand scheme, but there are an increasing number of hotels and hostels worldwide that cater to the green-minded.
Intercontinental Hotel Group, the company behind Holliday Inn, Crowne Plaza and other brands, manages a string of its hotels using computer program it calls Green Engage. The online database tracks water and energy usage at each participating location and helps reduce energy by up to 25% per year, according to the company.
But there are certainly plenty of smaller, locally-owned rooming operations in the low-waste realm, too.
Online hostel database Hostel World highlights recommendations for eco-friendly hostels in its listings, including Gyreum, a wind-powered Scottish eco-lodge buried in the side of a hill; Liverpool International Inn, a UK hostel developed within a repurposed Victorian-era warehouse; and Grampians YHA, a hostel situated in a National Park in Australia that utilizes solar hot water and serves only seasonal and organically-grown food in its cafeteria, among others.
There are plenty of other options with varying degrees of eco-consciousness within the site’s listings.
Stow Your Recyclables
Even if your hostel, hotel or vacation rental doesn’t have on-site recycling receptacles, many major cities have on-street recycling options.
But actually getting recyclables to these bins can be a little trickier that the short stroll to the curbside at home.
For starters, collecting refuse from a day of sightseeing and hauling it around a foreign city isn’t always practical – or fun.
But if you are diligent enough to round up bottles, cans, spent train and bus tickets, tourism pamphlets and other recyclable materials, be sure to stow them away out of sight in your room until you’re reading to take a trip to the bin or risk having them cleared out by housekeeping or fellow hostel-mates with the regular trash.
Remember – even if you make waste-reduction a priority, most others are probably not of the same mindset.
Trust the Tap
The debate over whether or not to drink tap water while traveling will rage on as long as tourists get thirsty, but it’s hard to argue with the waste-reducing principles of municipal water.
Even in regions with modern water-treatment technology and sanitary delivery systems, bottled mineral and sparkling water is king. In many Western European cafes, for example, there are two menu choices for water; flat and gassed (sparkling). Both come in glass or plastic bottles and both cost money.
Don’t hesitate to ask for tap water, though – many establishments have a fresh carafe waiting just out of sight, free of charge.
If your vacation destination has a clean, drinkable tap water supply, consider taking it out on the town in a reusable bottle. Collapsible bottles are an excellent luggage-friendly, space-saving option.
If you’re in a region where drinking the tap water is unadvised – ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ more than a video game, friends – stock up on sealed water bottles at a nearby market and be sure to properly recycle them when you’re finished.