5 Tools for Traveling More Sustainably

Airports - and travel in general - are notorious for mindless indulgence. You're easily preoccupied with making sure you get where you need to go, tempted by the endless offerings of duty free items and "disposable" grab and go products and very possibly sleep deprived if you're taking a flight from Charlotte to New York to London to Kuwait to Delhi to Jaipur, for example. 

Not to mention, there is more than enough rubbish littering the landscape in the otherwise beautiful countries through which I like to travel. I'm only recommending investment in these products because I use them myself and it will drastically reduce your consumption of 'disposable' products later.  

  1. Bamboo utensils - This nifty set contains a fork, spoon, knife and chopsticks carved from oh-so-sustainable bamboo. I spare countless plastic utensils in airports and on planes a one way ticket to the trashcan. 
  2. Collapsible silicone cup - You should see some of the looks I get from flight attendants when I whip this little baby out. They range from surprise to amazement but they are usually always impressed and willing to fill it up with my choice of bubbly beverage (usually ginger ale). On particularly long flights like Sydney to LA, I've seen people breeze through up to 8 plastic cups without a care. 
  3. Compact, reusable Enviro bags - I try not to shop too much but I will inevitably have to buy something so each time I reuse this bag, it's one more battle won against my arch nemesis: the ubiquitous plastic bag. Any reusable bag made from canvas, cloth or recycled materials will do! 
  4. Water bottle - As long as you have a reliable source, any reusable water bottle will save you so much money on pre-bottled water and reduces waste. I'm particularly conscious of plastic bottles because it's what I see littering the streets, land and ocean most often. If your water source is questionable, I highly recommend a Lifestraw water bottle with built in filter. I've used it to drink tap water in Bali, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
  5. Glass straw - I don't always use straws but when I do, I prefer one that doesn't get thrown away after one use. Note: To make the most impact with this one, let whoever is preparing your cocktail or chopping the top off of your fresh coconut that you have a straw or better yet, show them. Straws are just handed out like candy at a confectioners convention. 

Here's what I bought from Amazon:

The reusable, foldable shopping bag I bought in Singapore, but you can buy them online.  Any reusable bag will work. 

Of course you don't have to be on your way to an exotic location to use these tools - they're great for everyday use! 

Eco Update: Sri Lanka

The most common, and most fun, method of transportation around here is the auto rickshaw, also called a tuk tuk or a three wheeler. It’s kind of a hybrid between a golf cart and a motorcycle and transports a driver and up to three passengers. I’ve had several tuk tuk rides since arriving in Sri Lanka so I was curious to find out how efficient and eco-friendly they are (or aren’t.) 

Since they are so much smaller than standard vehicles, they get much better gas mileage; typically 35 km/liter (or 82 mpg) of petrol and their CO2 emissions are about a third less. Older models have two stroke engines, which cause a lot of particulate (soot) pollution. Newer models with four stroke engines more thoroughly burn the fuel and are more efficient. The Sri Lankan government actually banned two-stroke engines in 2007 to reduce air pollution so most of the tuk tuks here should be four stroke, but I’m sure the old ones still slip through the cracks. (Source)

So overall, I can confirm are much more efficient and also cost much less than traditional taxis. And did I mention, they’re just so much fun to zip around in? They effortlessly swerve right around busses, bikes, pedestrians, cows and whatever else happens to be on the road. 

Living in the beach house sans air con, hot water and basic appliances also saves a lot of energy. They also cook in bulk for the house and the food seems to be pretty local. Lots of rice and noodles and pineapple. Sri Lanka has the best pineapple I’ve ever tasted by the way; the perfect mix of tangy and sweet. I also avoid buying a bunch of plastic bottles and just keep refilling the same one with the filtered water that is provided for us. 

However, there is no recycling anywhere in the country. I seriously cringe and possibly even twitch every time I have to scrape food scraps onto plastic bottles in the bin because I am such a serial recycler at home. 

Skeptical turtle is skeptical 

Skeptical turtle is skeptical 

The turtle compounds are 100% natural and sustainable as far as I can tell because all we use is sea water, sand and coconut husks to clean the turtles and the same plus a few tools to clean the tanks. I confirmed with our coordinator, Isuru, that the fish we feed the turtles is caught by local Sri Lankan fisherman. (I even get to feed some leftover fish to a smart, little kitty that I named Latte since she has milk and coffee colored fur.) The only environmental concern I can discern is the paint we use to add to the hodgepodge murals on the walls. 

Latte is ready for some leftovers!

Latte is ready for some leftovers!

The garbage that accumulates on the surrounding beaches does the most immediate damage, so I bought some garbage bags in town and initiated a clean up effort. In around an hour, we filled five bags, mostly with plastic bottles, orphaned flip flops and pieces of styrofoam. Most people are just apathetic or ignorant or both here and there is trash everywhere. Each time I try to think about a solution for one problem here, it invariably leads to thinking about more problems and more possible solutions and can become an overwhelming and vicious cycle. 

The only thing I was caught off guard by was a boat tour on the Madu River that we did last week. The boats are old with really crappy engines that smell and spew fumes into the air and water. And I know they’re just perpetually running all day taking groups of tourists through the mangroves and to have their feet nibbled by fish. They also exploited a baby monkey and a baby crocodile for pictures (in hopes of tips), which I didn’t like. 

Bad boats. You are not eco-friendly! 

Bad boats. You are not eco-friendly! 

There is definitely lots of progress still to be made in Sri Lanka but I think I am staying pretty true to my sustainable traveling philosophy here.