I’m writing this from an airplane. We’re currently over Montana and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to practice environmental conservation while traveling. Disclaimer #1: I am far from perfect at this. Most of the tips below originate with me learning from my own mistakes, some of which I’ve committed today while going from airport to airport. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve tried any of the suggestions below or if you have your own you’d like to add!
The biggest tip I can give is to prepare. For instance, I did not do a great job of preparing for this trip and so it’s one of my worst, conservation-wise. But you live and you learn and hopefully do better next time. Preparation will help you avoid the temptation to purchase those single-use plastics or to buy that unsustainable palm oil product because you are just so hungry!
If your airline and phone allow, get your boarding pass on your phone. Not only do you not have to worry about losing a slip of paper, but you’ll also be saving ink and paper!
Pack some snacks ahead of time in reusable containers, like reusable ziploc bags (see the link above) or tupperware. Once you get to the airport, you’ll find that most of the food you get on the go is package in plastic. For example, I bought some Swedish fish today and it wasn’t until I was walking away with my purchase that I thought about the plastic I’d have to throw away. Unless you have the time to eat a restaurant, food at the airport usually involves non-reusable plastics, no matter how conscientious you are about what you’re consuming.
Make sure you request straw-free drinks! Whether you’re in the plane or at the terminal, plastic straws are ubiquitous. It never hurts to ask for no straw, regardless of the drink you’ve ordered. If you really need a straw, consider packing reusable or compostable straws instead (you can find reusable metal straws by clicking on the photo below).
Get wine or beer instead of the plastic bottles of alcohol (if you’re over 21, of course). Liquor and spirits (what’s the difference?) are typically served on a plane in small plastic bottles while the wine and beer come in aluminum or glass containers. Ideally, you could bring your own alcohol in a reusable container but I don’t think that’s allowed. UPDATE: It’s definitely not allowed.
Bring enough snacks for the airplane, too! You can then securely say “no, thank you” to the in-flight snacks that are package in plastic. And if the person next to you asks where you got your cool, awesome reusable container, so be it.
Bring clean reusable cups and ask if the flight attendants can fill that instead of using the plastic cups. Disclaimer #2: I haven’t tried this. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work but I’ll attempt it on my next flight.
Does traveling while being environmentally conscious take more work and preparation? Absolutely. Would it be easier to skip these steps? Yup. But I know that you, dear reader, are a thoughtful, empathetic person who wants to improve the health of the environment through these simple, doable actions. And when you put that travel pillow on and turn on an in-flight episode of Chopped, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve done your part to save the planet, one flight at a time.