How To Stay Eco-friendly When Abroad
I recently chose to be apart of a work-stay program in Prague, which means I’m locked down from my constant travelling for a few months (did I say locked down? Hardly, I’ve been travelling everywhere on the weekends). But the resident experience is so very different from the traveller one. Where is the closest post office? Did I get charged too much rent because they know I’m a foreigner? Do I go to Tesco or do I grab food at the Vietnamese potraviny? So many questions, and so many new things to learn.
But one of the things I always like to bring to every place I travel, or live, is a sense of respect for the environment I’m living in, and that includes so much more than just being aware of what I’m doing with my reusable grocery bags; it goes all the way to eating like a local and living in the environment like a local (goodbye personal car! Hello unairconditioned apartment and tram system!)
So if you’re moving to a new local and transitioning into the expat life, take an eco-friendly stab at it and help your new community be the best it can possible be.
Take the public transport.
This is a no-brainer, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said, so in every possible instance (if it’s available) take the public transport. For me, the bus, tram, and metro systems in Prague are so good, I’m almost always better off hopping on line C to get to work than I am waiting for a taxi to come get me, sift through the traffic, and arrive on time. This isn’t a jab at the taxi drivers, it’s kudos to the transport system of the Czech Republic.
In fact, most countries around Europe are really great at the public transportation, as are big cities all over the world like Tokyo, New York City, Hong Kong, and more, just really rock at getting their people from place to place. And in the event that the public transport can’t get you where you’re going, grab a bike! As long as it’s not raining (or in some cases snowing), it’s a great way to get a feel for your new city and also get you there on time, not mention your exercise for the day!
It’s more than just about enriching your communities; it’s about creating a network of sustainable goods and commerce.
When you order something from a neighboring country (or one even further away) you’re buying more than just outsourced goods and undercutting the local goods, you’re purchasing the carbon dioxide that took the truck to deliver your goods, and all the taxes and trade agreements that come with it.
The only amendment I have to make is this one: stay away from foreign goods as long as it is comfortable and possible to do so. If you’ve got a favorite toothpaste and you’re at home anyway, I don’t see how much it can hurt. But for the everyday, find products that can be new favorites—you might be surprised what you find once you start looking!
Figure out how to recycle.
The great thing about Prague is that there are recycling containers in the street everywhere. Everyone is always on board with the 3 R’s. But for some places, it’s not so easy to figure out how their recycling works (if it does at all) and if that’s the case, don’t worry, you can make it work.
For bottles, don’t buy plastic if you can help it, opt for glass, then it’s reusable. If plastic is what you’ve got, you can store great things in them, or get one of these cool gadgets that turns them into plastic ropes for many different uses. For cardboard boxes, get a cat! Your little feline friend will love playing in them, or they make excellent DIY projects for a rainy day.
Obviously if you’re eating a home, you’re saving lots of money and all the washing of all those napkins at a restaurant, but I mean this more literally than that because eating out is one of my favorite things and it’s not bad to taste test local cuisine. Instead, just don’t get anything to-go.
All those styrofoam containers, plastic bags, and generally trash-worthy carrying capsules aren’t doing anyone any favors as soon as you’re done eating so instead of getting take away, just pop a squat and eat at the restaurant. Ditto for having things delivered; there’s a lot of carbon emissions going out into the world to bring you your Chinese noodles, and wouldn’t it just be better to get out there and enjoy a nice restaurant setting like the one at Bakeshop? Who would want to pass that up?
Embrace the climate.
Prague is a cold place in the winter, and pretty warm in the summer. Perth is hot in the summer, as is the Southern East Coast of the US where I spent part of my childhood. Here, in all three of these places (despite being miles and miles apart), air conditioning is a thing of power and is always in continual use in the hot months.
Don’t get me wrong, I love air con. But living in an apartment without it has taught me a couple of things: if you have a shady place, you’re lucky, if you have windows that open, you’re really lucky, and if you can just get a tiny oscillating fan—well, you’ve just hit the jackpot.
It’s easy in places where you aren’t comfortable with the weather to try and make up for the difference between climes with help from heaters and air conditioning and more, but it’s not really great for the environment to try to change it (because ultimately, we’ve figured out it really does change it) and people are pretty adaptable. It’s what makes us great.
So if it’s hot, open the window and tempt in a breeze, or take yourself out for a bike ride to feel the wind on your face. If it’s cold, grab a nice hooded parka. Neither the cold nor the heat will (in most cases) kill you.
Buy some plants.
How can one write a post about being eco-friendly without including some mention of plants? For myself, I find plants to be very friendly creatures, easier to take care of than an animal (unless it’s an orchid, I never ever am successful with orchids), and a quick way to brighten up a room. Even better, they help restore good oxygen back to the world, just one tiny plant at a time.
Don’t think it makes a difference? House plants like English Ivy can actually help remove toxins and chemicals from the air in your home, and plants that fit into a pot 6-8 inches can take care of better breathing air for 100 square feet. If you’re in a big city, isn’t it worth a shot? Plus, in a stone city like Prague, the streets aren’t bursting with as many trees as I’m used to, so it’s not just helpful, it’s beautiful and green as well.
Are you eco-friendly in your abroad lifestyle as well and have tips to share? I’d love to hear them; I’m always looking for better ways to cut down on my impact and positively affect all the beautiful places I love to visit around the world.
Until next time…bon voyage!