It can be easy to shrug off “eco-friendly travel” as too expensive and time consuming when you’re a student travelling on a budget. It’s hard enough making sure you can afford your next train, let alone ‘save the planet’ at the same time.
However, being eco-friendly when you travel isn’t as hard as it looks, and more often than not it goes hand and hand with affordable travel.
Eco-friendly travel is more enjoyable as well, not only because you are helping the environment but because you immerse yourself more in the community you are visiting and have a positive impact instead of a negative one. Little things like using a refillable water bottle or opting for a room without air conditioning doesn’t seem like it makes an impact, but it really adds up.
Fly less, public transport more
It is always better to avoid flying, when possible. Flying has a terrible impact on the environment because of the high CO2 emissions, and it doesn’t do a lot of favours for your budget either. Most trips to Europe you can easily take by train or bus; Interrail has great, affordable youth packages and car-sharing platforms like Blablacar have become increasingly popular for long-distance journeys.
While visiting a city or new place, public transport is your best friend, it’s much cheaper than a taxi or renting a car and many cities have affordable tourist packages.
Walk or cycle whenever you can
Public transport is great for getting you quickly where you need to go when exploring a city, but always opt to cycle or walk when you can. They are better for your health and the environment, plus bike rentals are incredibly cheap and walking is free! Cycling and walking is also the best way to see a city, you completely immerse yourself in your surroundings and you get the chance to explore, change plans, and discover hidden gems which you would completely miss on a bus or train.
Explore accommodation alternatives
Hotels, nine times out of ten, aren’t affordable for students, and are usually not very good for the environment because of the high amount of energy and waste they produce.
Luckily, there are a lot of great alternatives out there that are affordable and eco-friendly. Unfortunately, some hostels aren’t much better in terms of environmental friendliness, but luckily there are a growing number of “green hostels”, such as the JetPack Ecolodge in Berlin or Grampians Eco YHA hostel in Australia, that get their power almost entirely from renewable resources.
Hostels aren’t the only way to go. Couchsurfing is a great low-impact way to travel, giving you the chance to be hosted for free, and house-sitting is a good option for travellers who want to be somewhere for a longer period.
In places like the US and Canada, where they have a really good infrastructure for it, camping is a very affordable, eco-friendly way to travel, as long as you follow the motto of “leave no trace”.
Watch the luxuries
When choosing a place to stay, consider avoiding those with air conditioning. I know that sounds daunting, especially in warm, tropical places, but those rooms usually cost more, and air conditioning uses up a lot of energy and creates bad emissions. Usually a fan still does the trick and you’ll start to lose that feeling of ‘needing’ AC.
When doing laundry when you travel make sure to have a full load before you wash to save water, energy, and your money. It’s also a good idea to bring a small portion of liquid soap so that you can hand wash small items. As often as you can, but particularly when you are camping, try to buy soap and shampoo that doesn’t have chemicals damaging to the environment. There are a number or brands that made products exactly for this purpose, or you can find out specific chemicals to avoid and look for those when buying shampoo and other toiletries.
Recycle maps and brochures
When you travel to a new place usually first thing you want to do is stock up on maps and brochures, but this often leads to a lot of paper waste once you don’t need them and throw the brochures away. Take as few of these maps and brochures as you can, and try to find online and downloadable alternatives for your phone. Most hotels/homestays have brochures and maps on offers, so borrow them and put them back when you are done. If you have a map in good condition pass it on to someone or leave it in the homestay instead of throwing it out. Sharing and passing on maps and brochures is also great because people often mark cool places to check out and share tips!
Whenever you can (safely), always eat local food. It is cheaper than eating in a fancy restaurant or shopping in a super market, and is a great way to experience local culture and support the economy of the community. It is also better for the environment because local food doesn’t have the high carbon emissions of produce that has travelled across the world to reach your plate. And of course, it is fresher, and much more delicious. You can also do little things like bring a refillable water bottle, reusable bags, and invest in a lunch box to reduce plastic waste when you are eating and exploring.