It’s not hard to see how travel can have a major impact on the environment—from the carbon emissions of planes (tourism, some studies have shown, account for 10% of the world’s output). But frequent travelers may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of actually making a difference when it comes to traveling more sustainably—after all, planes aren’t going anywhere. But Lauren Singer, founder of the Package Free Shop, has her own approach.
“I try to focus on what I can make an impact on individually and not focus on broader cultural schemes that I have no control over,” she says. Singer is famous for her sustainable lifestyle. Since going zero-waste in 2012, she can fit all of seven years of her trash into a mason jar.
While some airlines do give you the option to pay for offsetting your carbon emissions, says Singer, it’s typically not an easy experience to navigate on their websites. And though there are a few things other you can do to reduce your carbon footprint (packing less means less weight on the plane, which means less fuel is needed, which means fewer carbon emissions) it doesn’t necessarily make the most impact.
“Methane is much more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide overall,” says Singer. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane is far more devastating to the climate because of how effectively it absorbs heat, estimating that methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This harmful methane is created by an overabundance of waste—trash that cannot be recycled or reused that ends up in landfills, where its decomposition process produces the toxic gases.
Singer says there are a few ways to reduce your waste when you travel, and thus do your individual part to combat climate change. Below, some tips to help you call yourself a sustainable jet setter.
1. Cancel your airplane food
The packaging on airplane food isn’t the most environmentally friendly. It uses loads of plastic and usually isn’t recyclable. “I always request ahead of time not to have a meal on the airplane. That way they won’t even bring it on the plane,” says Singer. But letting the airline know ahead of time is key. If you don’t abstain from your meal when you book your flight, the airline will just throw out any uneaten food (and its containers), which will still create waste.
2. Don’t buy food at the airport
“It always has plastic wrapping and it’s usually disgusting anyway,” says Singer. Tastebuds aside, if you’re not eating airport or airplane food, you’re going to get hungry if you don’t plan ahead. Which leads us to our next point:
3. Meal plan
When you’re traveling, you don’t want to wind up in a situation where you’ll have to buy a last-minute gas station snack, which would make it hard to avoid plastics. “I always try to make sure I have snacks,” explains Singer. Buying your snacks in bulk from your local grocery or farmer’s market and having the right containers is important in making this effort successful—either stainless steal or silicone work just fine. Singer also recommends planning your set meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) ahead of time so you know where you’re eating, and don’t go hungry in the first place.
4. Bring your own utensils
Travel friendly forks, spoons, and knives can be found at Package Free Shop, which include storage for utensils on the go. You can even get the kids’ size, which is more compact. Singer also recommends bringing your own reusable napkin, which you can wash in your hotel, or wherever you may be staying at night.
5. Carry your own hydration
Everyone knows hydration is key: “I have my one liter water bottle that I chug in the Uber at the airport, so I’m already hydrated when I arrive,” says Singer. This collapsible water bottle from Que is very travel friendly. To caffeinate, you can get a collapsable coffee compress. Mid-flight, you can use the hot water on the airplane to make a cozy cup of joe. Same goes for tea if you bring along your insulated mug.