Why and how to travel in an environmental friendly way
„Nuk du qese” – I said the all too familiar sentence, this time in Albanian, as I gave the bananas for measuring. The store clerk was surprised, but put away the plastic bag she took by reflex. After writing the price on a small piece of paper, she reached for the bag again, like I didn’t ask about it 2 seconds ago. As I already know this reaction, I was vigilant and said again that I don’t want a bag. She looked at me as if I killed her mother at least, as I took the bananas away from her. It’s not always this hard, but shows how you have to fight sometimes to not get a completely unnecessary piece of packaging. Which, I might add, they would want to put into yet another bag at the cashier, with only two small ice-creams added.
Some of you may wonder what all this is for. Before I ventured into the world, I lived my life as an enthusiastic environmentalist in Budapest. Apart from cycling everywhere, this majorly consisted of striving to be zero waste. It meant trying to not buy anything in plastic and using natural stuff and a low amount of packaging in general.
As to why this is so important, I let one of my favourite bloggers, Lindsey to explain: Plastic-free living – what’s it all about? And why is it so worthwhile? Of course I try to spread the world about this way of life through example and educating my friends, since I alone would hardly make a dent in the system. But if enough of us start to change, governments may implement new legislations to tame the plastic beast.
Nothing more could show me why this has to start from above and with education, than the few days we spent in a national park in Macedonia, and just looking at the side of the road in the Balkans. There is trash everywhere, and people don’t care at all. Camping at a beach, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I picked 5 full bags of mostly plastic in an hour. The two most common things were of course PET bottles, and wet wipes. Please, if you ever use the latter, never throw it away. Doesn’t matter what the producer tells you, it’s made of plastic and stays in nature. And until there is way less plastic in the stores, maybe each of us could do an hour of cleaning on holiday – as a benefit, you would feel better and the view would be nicer.
Pros and cons of traveling
So, back to where I started, in Budapest. There are a myriad of options to buy in bulk; – even a zero waste shop opened recently, called Ligeti bolt – it was really child’s play to come close to zero waste. You need to research a bit and pay attention to it in everyday life, but nothing major. Sadly, in a long term bike traveling trip this can’t be achieved fully, but on the other side of the scale there are several things which tips the balance back to its place.
In a flat you can’t do composting easily, which puts important materials back to the natural cycle, instead of creating methane at a landfill. There is vermicomposting and the bokashi bin, but in many cases, there is not enough space/time or patience to use these. Another thing is water usage, which we overdo a lot, even if we only shower every day. After all, we use drinking water to get rid of yet another useful material for composting. As for recreation or on holiday, it’s more than likely that someone will use a plane or a car, which I don’t think I have to say more about. I didn’t use a car, but I suspect many do inside the city too, looking at the traffic in Budapest.
On the other hand, traveling by bikes we get much closer to nature – depending on the amount of wild camping. These days, it’s not a question that every organic material gets back into the ground, and our water usage decreases to a minimal level; on a not too hot day, we use up about 10-15 litres between the two of us. This includes even dishwashing sometimes, and of course cooking, handwashing, and a quick cleaning of the important parts. Because yes, we don’t shower every day, there are times when even a week passes by. This was mainly the case in the Italian Alps, when the weather was chilly and rainy, and even though we came across some lakes and rivers, we were quite reluctant to jump in.
One more thing helps a lot, which is merino wool, enabling us to wear the same shirt for 3-4 days without any major smell problems. Plus point for having less plastic clothing. Since you probably know that the current fast fashion clothes (H&M and the like) are mainly made of plastic, and get tossed after a few uses generally. Not that plastic is the only problem in this industry; I suggest you check out a film called “The true cost”, to get a little more insight about it. And maybe it’s stating the obvious, but our way of travel is way more environmental friendly, not to mention cheap as well. Although we need to cross the oceans, we will try to avoid flying as much as possible.
The bad part is that we can’t really avoid plastic packaging with having a budget in mind. It’s not that we can’t get fresh produce or bread without it, because this was possible everywhere so far. I can proudly say that apart from one mishap in Montenegro we didn’t accept any plastic bags while shopping so far. Although our food bags were two big plastic bags inside our bike bags, we only needed to replace them once in 4 months, which is not too bad. Sadly they went missing in Prishtina in the hostel (along with our small spice boxes), so I sew big bags too from my usual curtain material (which I also use for produce or nuts) to replace them. J
But we need way more calories when we cycle around 60km a day, and pasta, rice, or chocolate is rarely available in paper. Most of the times, I’m happy if we can buy oats in paper bags. And because it’s an excellent cheap calorie source, the simplest salty chips is a frequenter too (which doesn’t contain any nasty additives). The thing is, we could do without it, but we also like it and we don’t try to be 100% zero waste, just do what we can while enjoying life.
In addition to this, we can’t avoid cans, or rarely able to buy cheese over the counter in our own container (unless we find someone selling it in the countryside). Imagine a small village/resort town shop, giving you the only option to buy food for the day. You just have to make do with what you get. Not even mentioning that being on a budget, we are searching for the best value for money, which often translates to buying the plastic option.
Thoughts to take with you
Finally there are things unchanged, and they lower our costs, either on the road or at home. Our cleaning starts and ends with simple soap, which is accompanied by a bit of egg yolk, which I use for hair washing (Alan uses water only). As for those days, I use a menstrual cup, which is the best invention ever, but you can choose washable pads too (they have their own pouch to store and so much better for your skin and health). Dishwashing is done with a natural bristle brush and a metal scrubber. The former can be bought in Müller for pennies, can last at least for half a year, and doesn’t really require a detergent (vegetarian meals are not so greasy anyway).
A salt crystal and tea tree oil is used as deodorant. We have only a few but good quality clothes, which we don’t plan to replace for years, instead we fix any occurring holes. And we mainly eat vegetarian, supplemented with a bit of fish, and sometimes accepting freshly made meat from kind strangers. It’s not just cheaper, but on a tour like this, it decreases the chance of food poisoning and also better for digestion. I may add that most people we met and travels long term is doing something like this.
Last but not least, I want to emphasize that in the 4 and a half months we were on the road so far, we haven’t bought a single piece of PET bottle (and only accepted a few while cycling). Contrary to popular belief, tap water is drinkable everywhere in Europe and most cases even tastes better than mineral. Yes, even in the Balkans. Although we were warned that it’s not the case for Albania, our last Balkan country we have ahead of us, that’s not gonna be a problem either. As you may have seen on our equipment page, we have a water filter with us called the Sawyer mini. It can filter out dirt and bacteria too, and can clean 400 thousand liters of water in its lifetime. So if we take care of it, that 20 pound investment will be most of the money we will have to spend on water, wherever we go.
To sum it up, just paying a tiny bit of attention can lower your carbon footprint immensely, not to mention cutting costs with using zero waste options. If you only take away refusing bags (of any kind), thinking through your shopping and commuting/traveling habits – and encourage others to do the same – you already did a lot for a more liveable future.
In my next environmentally themed post I will show some more concrete examples of zero waste shopping and the options we had along the countries we visited. In case you are planning a visit there, you will know what to expect with a plastic free holiday in mind.