Travel light

Reducing the environmental footprint of my travels

I am excited about heading overseas for the first time since January 2020, and to start my research field work. I will be away for three weeks, presenting at a conference in Norrkoping, Sweden and visiting Disneyland Paris, France. I have spent quite a bit of time leading up to the trip thinking about what I will pack and how I can reduce my environmental impact.

The international flights alone have a significant environmental impact. But travel is incredibly enriching and worthwhile so I will do my best to limit the level of impact I have while travelling. As a researcher interested in single-use plastics and waste, limiting the amount of plastic that I use and dispose of while travelling is particularly important to me.

I do not go anywhere without my reusable thermal cup. I cannot survive a day without a few cups of tea. I take my cup with me so that I can make my own tea before heading out or buy one along the way without using a disposable cup. I also carry metal straws, not that I often need them, given I mostly drink tea or water from my refillable bottle. Metal straws and a set of cutlery are items that I need to remember to put in my checked luggage, as they will not be permitted in my carry-on bags. I also like to pack a few reusable containers, for leftover meals and lunches, and a couple of reusable shopping bags, which fold up nicely and are an incredibly light addition to my luggage.

I need to keep an eye on the weight of my bags. I need to stick to under the 23kg bag limit for the European transfers and leave space for any purchases. Wearable souvenirs are good if they continue to be used regularly when you return home, and they have the bonus of providing a great conversation starter. I am wary of buying cheaply made products as these tend to contribute more to the negative environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry.

I like to travel with a backpack but, as I have gotten older, I need to travel with my own pillow to get a decent night’s sleep. As such, I use a suitcase. I also take a small backpack for the plane and for day hikes. My backpack is large enough to carry my water, food, and a light jacket when I go out for the day. For the plane I will also take a book, laptop, and headphones.

While travelling I will mostly stay in Airbnb’s to access the benefits of a washing machine and kitchen. Even when staying in a hotel, I will make use of my own bar of soap and hair shampoo, and all the usual toiletries that I have from home to reduce plastic disposables. To address that time of the month, which always manages to occur when travelling, I will use period underwear. These can be rinsed and hung out to dry in my room, even when I don’t have a washing machine. Having a washing machine means I can travel with less clothes because I can wash and re-wear. I am not quite Sarah Wilson travel savvy, but I am happy re-wearing an outfit and keeping my luggage minimal. The weather will be cool on this trip as I am heading into Autumn, so I will go with lots of layering options.

Of course, given the persistence of COVID and various restrictions, I will also be taking my cloth facemask. I understand that these are not as effective as the disposable masks but mine has four layers and reduces the chances of infection without adding to the waste.

What other things should I be considering to reduce the impact of my travels? How do you travel lightly?

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