Sustainable travel doesn’t have to be left to governments and activists. Air travel tends to be an individual’s biggest carbon dump, and with more than 8 million people catching flights every day, travellers have a lot of environmental karma to offset. Even simple acts like constantly changing hotel towels add to the water and detergent we consume. Plastic items are estimated to take over 500 years to decompose; landfills are the last monument to civilisation that we want to contribute to. Here are some practical tips to get you started.
#1. Instead of buying an endless supply of travel-sized bath and beauty products, have your own set of 100ml bottles and pots that you can refill before each trip. Buying large cases of your toiletries is cost-effective of course, and it cuts your consumption of plastic.
#2. Carry an eco-conscious travel towel, or the ubiquitous “Kerala towel”. The thin material packs lighter, dries quickly, is kind to your skin and takes less water to clean.
#3. Brands like Mereville Trust, Maroma, Burst of Happyness, FabIndia, and Rustic Art have eco-conscious lifestyle products that are easy on your skin and the environment, whether it is mosquito repellent, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, sunscreen, detergent and, in the case of Waterline Cosmetics, even makeup, shaving oil for men and dog shampoo.
Organic shops in nearly every metro city in India stock conscious lifestyle products; drop by Green Sattva and the Farmers’ Market in Mumbai, Lumiere and Fresh Earth Organics in Bengaluru, Khadi Natural in Delhi, Rainbow Organics in Kolkata. Auroville in Puducherry is of course a hotspot for natural products, available at outlets such as Fleurs en Flacon and Auroboutique in the French Quarter. A selection is available online here.
Bonus tip: Here are some quick fixes that you can make at home. A mix of besan, raw cane sugar (try Conscious Foods), and a tiny squirt of lemon juice makes for a great skin cleanser. Wash your hair and your laundry with reetha or soapnuts (from Navdanya in Mumbai and Delhi). A variety of cold-pressed oils can be used to moisturise (Phalada Pure & Sure has a range), such as coconut oil for the skin, and castor oil for the scalp.
#4. Refill liquids on the go with a metal water bottle or a high-grade plastic water bottle (free of BPA and other chemicals that can leach off cans as well as plastic containers and packaging into food and drink, and may pose a health risk for consumers).
#5. Use rechargeable, solar charge or wind-up batteries when possible, particularly for lamps, flashlights and shavers. Turn switches off when leaving a room, and unplug appliances that will not be used for some time.
#6. Pack spare, reusable bags for all those souvenirs. Shop for clothes and footwear that are made of natural fibres like organic cotton, hemp and bamboo or recycled materials. Clothing brands include No Nasties, Forty Red Bangles and Do U Speak Green; also see footwear by Senso Vegetarian. For bags, check out Auroville’s online selection here, and also The Jute Shop, Living Free in Kolkata and Gramya in Bengaluru. Use travel stationery made from recycled materials, such as Elephant Poo Paper, and Bombay Paperie whose products are made from cotton waste. You can also browse the Sanctuary for Health and Reconnection to Animals and Nature’s (SHARAN) list of vegan/organic products across the board here.
#7. For minimal impact, don’t shift the scenery. Resist the urge to return with bits of the natural environment as souvenirs, or to walk off marked trails, as these changes can damage a fragile ecosystem. When taking photographs, avoid moving the wildlife, even if it’s as tiny as a snail or an insect for a close shot.
#8. Take public transport, carpool, walk or bicycle when possible. Travel in a small group, of say 10 at maximum, for minimal environmental impact.
#9. Eat local, drink local. Ideally, your food and beverage will not just be made close to where it is consumed, but will also be fresh, healthy and sustainably grown or raised.
#10. Conserve water by not leaving taps running, having a bucket bath instead of always using the shower or hot tub, and running a machine wash with a full load.
#11. Airlines and the Indian Railways now accept e-tickets. Avoid taking a print-out.
#12. Support eco-conscious businesses such as green hotels, which focus on maintaining an energy efficient, safe and non-toxic environment. See our list of eco-sensitive resorts in India here.