Hi all, my name is Kate and I'm a traveller, yoga lover and vlogger at Plant-Based Kate! I post my adventures on my YouTube Channel from my current home base in beautiful India. Prior to residing in India, I travelled across Southeast Asia and became increasingly aware of the environmental damage that single-use plastic has on the local community and the planet.
We are all able to see visibly the destruction our plastic waste has on a society, though it really becomes evident, once we travel outside of our own city. Although a lack of education around such issues is a contributing factor, as well as the larger companies who mass produce everything in plastic, tourism also plays a role in the amount of plastic that we carelessly leave behind when we travel.
Sustainable tourism is something I am so passionate about, so if you wish to learn more, please check out my easy-to-follow advice below.
One of the main things that really got to me on my travels across Southeast Asia was the amount of single-use plastic being used daily; tossed away by both locals and tourists! I really struggled with the immense amount of one-time waste that was scattered across the beach areas and coastal towns. Plastic was washing up on the sand, beside the footpath and could be seen floating on the ocean surface. In certain locations, it just felt like it was everywhere!
Together, we need to be the change and reduce the amount of single-use plastic we consume, both when we are at home, and when we are travelling. This post is more about the latter and what you can do as an individual to travel plastic-free! Just knowing that you are doing what you can to create less of a negative impact on the environment is very rewarding and will spread a positive movement across the industry. One person really can make a difference and lead by example.
It’s not about being perfect, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid plastic (which makes me super sad) so it’s about doing what you can when you can. It is easy to make small changes and sacrifices that will be sustainable in the long term. To be a more mindful traveller, here are a few things that I do and the items that I use when I am on the road to care for the earth.
Reusable Cutlery & Straw
Most places you go will offer you endless plastic cutlery or chopsticks that are wrapped in plastic so having some reusable cutlery in your bag is key! I got my set from To-go Ware (straw not included) and it’s one of the best things I have ever bought. Also, most cafes or restaurants will ALWAYS give you a plastic straw, so be sure to ask for no straw when you are ordering drinks. Fresh coconut water served in a plastic bag with a plastic straw? No thank you.
Mason Jar & Container
Reusable containers and glass mason jars are super handy for when you need to take snacks on the go, making overnight oats for breakfast or for when you are out exploring during the day. You need one of these when travelling. If you are getting takeout or eating street food (which often comes in plastic bags, not containers), you will always have a container to give them to fill up instead of having to use plastic ones.
Whilst it is becoming more popular for cafes or restaurants to use Eco-friendly takeaway products, much of the local street food and snacks will still come in plastic bags, so containers are a great solution. They also help to keep your food fresh and safe for the journey.
Bonus tip: Take your container out with you for dinner before a travel day and order something to take away for lunch. Then, you know that you are going to have a delicious lunch the next day and won’t have to spontaneously buy food wrapped in plastic. If you drink lots of coffee, then I would definitely recommend taking a Keep Cup or ask for your takeaway without a plastic lid as these can't often be recycled.
Reusable Water Bottle
If you only take one thing with you that is going to help you reduce your single-use plastic usage whilst exploring the world, it should be a Reusable Drink Bottle. It can be a bit disheartening having to buy so many individual plastic bottles. As travellers, we often use bottled water for brushing our teeth in Southeast Asia. If you want to reduce your single-use plastics you can buy a large gallon of water from the 7/11, local market or similar and bring it with you to your accommodation.
The large bottles are refillable and it’s 10 x cheaper to fill up a bottle then it is to buy a brand new one. Check if your hotel or hostel staff is able to help you out or ask if they have a refillable water station in the lobby area. Avoiding plastic cups and bottled water at our home base when we travel sends a positive message that tourism is advocating for such sustainable changes as refillable water.
Every single item you buy (no matter how big) you will get given a freaking plastic bag!! It’s actually hard to avoid in Southeast Asia and it is something that tourists can start advocating against! Fruit, veggies or meals that are packed in plastic will also be placed into another plastic bag for you to carry it - it is easy and convenient.
Having your own bag means you can just simply swap plastic for Eco-friendly. Either that or just say “no plastic” and they will understand you. Regardless of the language barrier in some countries, almost everyone knows the word plastic! In my opinion, that just shows how overused and bad the issue is. If they don’t, just kindly wave your hands until they realise. When it comes to Eco-friendly bags, there are so many amazing designs out there to suit everyone's travel style, plus they are affordable. I make it a daily habit to never leave home without one.
If you have time (which you will have plenty of when travelling) why not just sit down and enjoy your drink or meal instead of eating it on the go? You will reduce plastic waste so easily by enjoying at least some of your meals at the table. You can get your meals on real plates and cutlery (don’t forget to ask for no straw still) instead of having to get plastic take away ones. If you are sitting in at the cafe, avoid having your coffee in a takeaway cup!
This is a hard one because as much as you can start out with all zero-waste products or home, they are not as easy to find whilst you are on the road. Just do the best you can and keep an eye out for products when you are travelling so you can stock up as you go. Bulk stores are becoming a popular appearance in major cities across Southeast Asia and this is the best place to stock up on everything you need for the next part of your journey. Two things that I personally love and fine are super helpful in creating consistently less plastic waste are a menstrual cup such as the Diva Cup and a Bamboo Toothbrush. Both of these items offer a plastic free alternative to products that are a major source of pollution. A few other options are shampoo bars, soap bars, chemical free sun lotions that are reef safe, toothpaste and mouthwash tablets, natural dental floss and a natural deodorant. Each of these are affordable, often cheaper than plastic bottled products, and they are kinder to the planet and our skin.
It’s pretty tough staying plastic-free when you are in certain countries but even just being the change and setting an example for other travellers is so important. Getting those smiles from people who really appreciate you not wanting to use single-use plastics is so precious. Often for them, it’s not a choice that they have the privilege of making; they can only afford to buy plastic bags to serve things in or can literally only buy single servings of things at a time.
So, if you are a part of the small percentage of people who are lucky enough to experience travel, then please do it consciously and use as little single-use plastics as possible. You’ll be doing a world of good!! Education is key so feel free to share this article or comment any thoughts below! Kate. X
Travel For Change would like to thank Kate for inspiring the travel community to be aware of their footprint and to make Eco-friendly choices every day!
Travel For Change would like to thank Kate for contributing to this blog space and for sharing her knowledge on this topic. Be sure to check out her YouTube Channel for more information.