8 Tips for Being Sustainable While Abroad

When you choose to study abroad, you make the conscious decision to become a global citizen. As a global citizen, it’s important to leave a positive impact on the locations you travel to and respect the environment no matter where in the world you are.

In addition, traveling green has become a high priority for students studying abroad, and taking your green efforts abroad is easier than you might think.

If you’re heading overseas for study abroad or personal travel, here are eight tips for being sustainable while abroad.

Avoid Water Waste

Many foreign countries are not used to the wasteful water habits we tend to have in the United States.  One of the easiest ways to reduce your water waste is by shortening the length and frequencies of your shower.  Be consonant of your water usage, especially when cleaning and grooming.

Shop Local

This is easy to do when you are living in a cool new place.  While grocery shopping, consider buying local produce and local delicacies.  Not only is it a good way to try new things and expose yourself to another culture, but you can help reduce your carbon footprint.

Shop Local Markets
Shopping local markets in Pau, France

Donate Your Stuff

At the end of your term abroad, consider donating some of your extra belongings.  If you are staying with a host family, they probably already have a collection of past student’s belongings that you can add to.  Extra shampoo, soap, toothpaste, sunscreen, etc. can be saved for your family’s next student.  Donate your textbooks and extra notebooks if you have them and you will be a lifesaver to a future student.

Supply drive in Costa Rica started by a USAC student

Rent a Bike & Use Public Transportation

If you want to travel around a foreign country, consider using public transportation.  Car-pooling can help reduce your individual carbon footprint.  It is worth looking into renting a bike or asking your host family if they have one to reduce emissions traveling within your own program city.  When going out with friends, share a taxi or Uber.

Riding bikes in Verona, Italy

Reduce your Plastic Use

It is important to drink clean water, but you may find other sources of clean water other than disposable water bottles.  Your dorm or apartment may have a shared water filter you can use to refill your reusable bottle.  Just like in the US, consider bringing reusable bags while grocery shopping.  Many European countries even tax plastic bags.  Buy re-usable travel containers instead of getting individual travel size bottles.

Save paper

Rent your books or use e-books. Not only does it reduce the weight in your luggage but you’re reducing your paper use.  Many program sites might even have textbooks you can rent or borrow once abroad.

Students making recycled paper in India

Carbon offset

You can calculate your carbon offset from traveling with this link (sustainabletravel.org/utilities/carbon-calculator). While it is better to reduce your footprint in the first place, transportation is unavoidable so you are bound to contribute to CO2 emissions.  You can contribute to a carbon-offset program that will help by funding reforestation and renewable energy projects.  Consider going vegetarian while abroad.   The carbon footprint of meat diet is higher than that of a vegetarian diet and reducing your meat intake can help offset your carbon emissions.

Choose a green hotel

When traveling, look for hotels that market themselves as green.  Some hotels use renewable energy, recycle, use environmentally friendly cleaning products, and offer options for guests to make an impact (such as reducing the number of times sheets are changed).  This is an easy way to remain green while on vacation.

Every year Ethical Traveler puts out their list of the world’s 10 best ethical destinations. In 2018, three USAC countries made the list; Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay. By visiting countries on these lists, your tourism dollar supports their efforts to create sustainable tourism industries and encourages other destinations to follow suit.

In addition, USAC offers a variety of sustainability courses, internships, volunteer opportunities, and activities for students while abroad. Be sure to check with your program advisor and the on-site staff for opportunities in your host city.

Beach clean-up day in Florianópolis, Brazil

Happy green travels!

This article was written by Sarah Kapel, a program advisor for USAC.