10 Tips That Will Make Your Next Jet Set More Earth Friendly

Amy Arani

Although flying is the safest way to travel, it’s not the greenest. Sustainable travel may seem grandiose, and we know you’re not about to stop exploring this beautiful world of ours. Neither are we! But if we want to make sure future generations still have a world to explore, we need to make some changes—and fast. So what makes your next trip more eco-friendly?

Read on for 10 tips that will make it easy for you to enjoy sustainable traveling without sacrificing your globetrotting desires.

1. Bring Food with You

Traveling with food packaged in sustainable containers will help reduce the amount of waste you produce while on the go. And as a bonus, you'll also be able to tailor your meals and snacks according to your nutritional goals. Good for you; good for the earth.

Here in the US, you can bring pretty much anything on board as long as it fits in your carry-on and can’t be considered a liquid or gel. Keep in mind that the ice packs you bring to keep your food cold will be regarded as liquids or gels once they’ve started to melt. So, to avoid that, freeze some of the food you plan to eat. Voila! Edible ice pack.

If you’re traveling overseas, remember that countries have different safety regulations. Check the rules of flight wherever you’ll be stopped over, since you might need to go through customs and security there.

At this point, you might be asking yourself how you could possibly pack enough food to sustain you on longer journeys. This is a far more challenging endeavor, and requires more forethought than packing a salad and a couple of snacks. In this case, we recommend you check with your airline and find out whether they will allow you to store your food in their refrigerator. If not, know that by packing what you can, you will have already begun to reduce your carbon footprint. It’s not about perfection; it’s about progress!  

If you primarily use your oven as storage space, fret not! Stopping at farmer's markets along your journey is one of the best ways to explore new towns, support local communities and stock up on the freshest produce there is.

2. Travel with Eco-Friendly Silverware

If you haven’t already, get some sustainable travel silverware. Add it into your carry-on, which is on its way to becoming an eco-friendly powerhouse. Plastic utensils are nearly impossible to recycle, and since plastic is literally killing all life on earth, including us, reducing our dependence on it is imperative. So, even when you’re not flying, keep it on hand. One tiny caveat for your upcoming flight, however—knives are not allowed. Pre-cut any food you’ll be bringing on board, and get one of these ingenious sporks.

And don’t forget your reusable straw. Like plastic utensils, straws are not recyclable and are ending up in the ocean at an alarming rate. It’s easy to say no to plastic while you’re sipping through a stylish, green version.

3. Pack Like a Minimalist

It might seem like what you pack to take on your trip is the least of your eco-travel worries. The truth is, the heavier a plane is, the more fuel it burns while getting to its destination and the more carbon it creates. If you pack like a minimalist, you’ll help your flight become more fuel-efficient.

If you’re going on a longer trek, rather than packing a different outfit for each day, take less and plan to do laundry part of the way through your trip. Most hotels will offer laundry service, or you can simply wash some of your items in your sink.

The trick is to take versatile items in neutral colors that you can wear multiple times. Cupcakes and Cashmere recommends bringing a pair of white sneakers, which we think is a great answer to the main question a fashionista has while minimalist packing: How can I only bring two pairs of shoes? Pro-tip: wear your sneakers on the plane and pack a pair of booties or flats in your carry-on luggage.

4. Don’t Buy Anything Travel Sized

Take a tip from the zero-waste community and opt for solid shampoo and soap packed in reusable tins. To keep your pearly whites looking bright all over the world, consider bringing powder toothpaste or tooth tabs instead of a travel sized tube. Toothpaste tubes are hard to recycle, so why not eliminate them from your carry-on?

These items will not only help you reduce plastic, but will help you get around that annoying rule about liquids and gels. Pack those in reusable containers. This way, you can just say no to the pint-sized toiletries in your hotel room or Airbnb while you have your favorite products close at hand. And don’t forget to pack natural sunscreen in one of your silicone containers—chemical sunscreens contribute to coral bleaching.

With your shampoo, soap, and toothpaste in solid form, you might even have room to squeeze some almond butter into your quart bag.

5. Bring a Reusable Coffee Cup

Did you know that to-go coffee cups aren’t recyclable because they’re lined with plastic film? This makes them one of the most wasteful products that many of us use regularly. Opt for a chic, reusable coffee cup instead, and stay caffeinated without the guilt.

6. Travel with Your Reusable Water Bottle

From stainless steel to glass, reusable water bottles help you stay hydrated during your flight without depending upon single-use plastics. It used to be hard to find filling stations, but now they’re in most airports. If for some reason, your airport lacks one, fill your water bottle at the drinking fountain, or have someone fill it for you at a restaurant or bar.

If the thought of drinking tap water makes you cringe, don’t worry. We have you covered. Read on for an easy solution that will help you stay eco-friendly and remove chemicals and other nasties from your drinking water.

7. Invest in a Water Filter

This one is big, especially since some bottled water hasn’t been purified at all. Water filters help you completely avoid single-use plastic water bottles. Whether you’re traveling to a country with a sketchy water supply or don’t like drinking chemicals, bringing a water filter with you will help you stay eco-friendly and healthy. Depending on where you’re traveling, you could be facing some deadly organisms and viruses, so do your homework. REI has some great information about how to choose the right method of water filtration for your trip. And, to make sure you stay safe, please read this article by the CDC.

A few options we like are the gorgeous LARQ bottle, (a combination insulated stainless steel water bottle and UV filter), and SteriPEN Ultra (a UV sterilization wand that you can charge via USB).  Keep in mind that UV won’t work to eliminate fluoride or chemicals in your water, and it won’t work in cloudy water. If removing particulate matter matters to you, consider a GRAYL bottle instead.

8. Pack a Reusable Bag

Whether you’ll be going to farmer’s markets, heading to the beach, or are bound to end up with more souvenirs (ahem—clothing) than you can fit into your suitcase, having an extra tote with you is a game changer. Say no to single-use bags and yes to a cute, reusable tote.

9. Just Say No to Airplane Food

The main reason to bring food with you is so you can say no to packaged airplane snacks and meals. Did you know that the airline industry created 5.2 million tons of waste in 2016?  By 2030, CNN estimates that figure will rise to 10 million tons.

You can reduce airline waste further by asking flight attendants to fill your reusable coffee cup (and saying no to the stir-stick), asking for the whole can rather than accepting the plastic, single serve cup, and filling your water bottle (or bottles) before you get on the plane.  

10. Choose a Flight with a Smaller Carbon Footprint

Tread a little more lightly when flying by choosing nonstop flights on larger, newer planes. When you travel on older, smaller aircraft, you create more carbon, and since they consume the most fuel during takeoff and landing, each time you change planes, you add to your carbon load.

Once you’ve found a few nonstop flights that look good, head to Flightview to pre-check what kind of plane you’ll be flying on. Click “scheduled,” and you’ll find the make and model of the aircraft under the flight details section. Then compare crafts using SeatGuru, which will tell you how many seats your prospective flights have. It might seem like a lot of work, but it’s actually quite easy and fast.

Another thing you can do is to offset the carbon you’ll be adding to the atmosphere through your wanderlust. Support airlines that have carbon offset programs (by 2021, international airlines will be legally bound to do so) or visit Carbon Fund and do it yourself.   

Well, now you know how to be a little more friendly to the skies you’re flying in, eco-travelista! What are your favorite sustainable travel tips? Leave a comment below—we’d love to hear from you.