ECO VANLIFE

Location: Central Coast, New South Wales

Eco travel seems counterintuitive when you consider the carbon footprint that traveling entails. From the use of fossil fuels to get your car running, to the packaged food used to hold or keep your meals, traveling can be an extremely wasteful and burdensome activity on the environment. However, it doesn’t have to be that way, and the fact that you’ve chosen to drive yourself between destinations already means your carbon footprint is smaller than if you were to fly. That doesn’t mean you should stop there, because there are still more ways to reduce your environmental impact, save you money and keep your waste to a minimum while you’re traveling. 

1. Buy Recycled

Used or secondhand goods are by not means second rate! Buying a used car or van, along with all the gear you need on the road can be as easy as a weekend spent browsing the local secondhand stores, flea markets or even an online trading site. This will save you money as well as prevent these items entering landfills.

2. Recycle On The Go

Sometimes you can’t avoid buying packaged goods, however you can still make a point of recycling those items. Siu On and I hold onto our recyclable packaged goods until we find a recycling bin, and public recycling bins are becoming more and more commonplace in many cities and towns. If we can’t reuse the packaging then we’ll hold on to it until we can dispose of it properly.

Local Recycling Bins for Public Use

3. Choose Sustainably and Locally

It’s amazing how even the smallest everyday choices can have a huge and far reaching impact on a place, and on people, that live on the other side of the world. Siu On and I always try to buy locally where possibly (such as at farmer’s markets), as well as fair trade, organic and vegan. Siu On is a big coffee drinker so we  buy fair trade beans, and since I’m aiming to transition into a vegan diet this year, we do our best to look for natural and vegan friendly ingredients. By doing this you are not only supporting the local community in which you’re staying in, but also promoting sustainable farming practices and ethical working conditions and pay elsewhere.

4. Detoxify Your Van

You’re going to spend a lot of time in your van so don’t clog it up with artificial cleaners and chemical sprays which can cause skin allergies and breathing difficulty. Siu On and I have found that using an essential oil to give the car a nice clean scent, and regularly air the car out is enough to keep bad odors at bay. And as for cleaning the car we use microfibre cloths with a bit of water to wipe everything clean, and use a small brush and dust pan to clean the floors.

5. Bring Your Own Bags

More and more shops and markets are jumping on this bandwagon, so don’t get caught without and bring your own reusable bags when you shop. Some supermarkets charge extra for plastic bags or just not offer them at all, so always carry one with you in your bag because you just never know when you’ll make an impromptu stop!

Re-useable Shopping Bags

6. Bring Your Own Mugs

Did you know that a lot of cafes are more than happy to make your brew in your own cup if you ask? And better yet, some will even give you a discount for doing so! A stainless steel travel mug is the best option (again, avoid plastic), but I’ve seen a lot of people using those ceramic mugs that imitate the takeaway coffee cups and lids, and they work just fine. Siu On and I use stainless steel travel mugs to drink coffee and tea, but also any other beverages that we want to keep cool or warm (including the odd G & T!).

7. Forget Plastic

Did you know that plastic is not only bad for landfill and oceans, it can actually be really bad for you too. Chemicals in many plastics can leech into your food and drink and build up in your body, and I’m not just talking about the common ones like BPA! Glass or aluminum is a much safer options, and can be less expensive than buying things made out of plastic.

8. Reduce Water Use

Living on the road means your access to potable water can be limited, so you’ll be forced to reduce your water consumption anyway; however, it is a good practice to get in to because water wastage is a big issue. Generally we aim to save as much water as we possibly can for cooking food or drinking, so instead of filling up a big tub of water to do dishes in, we only fill up a cup and use that. The same goes for washing your face or brushing your teeth, just a small cup of water is more than enough for the both of us.

9. Reduce Fuel Consumption

This is the hardest thing we’ve found to implement at times, however, if you can master some clever driving techniques you can actually reduce your fuel consumption. We’ve found that driving between 5km and 10km below the speed limit on the open highway helps us use less fuel (remembering to allow other vehicles traveling faster to pass you), and walking to places instead of driving also saves on fuel (and it’s even easier if you have a bicycle or skateboard to get around on), and lastly using the momentum of the car to take you down or up hills (i.e. take your lead foot off the accelerator!). Every little bit counts.

10. Harness The Sun

Solar power and even luna powered products are becoming more and more mainstream and affordable. We invested in a small solar charger for our phones and headlamps which we just put out on the car dashboard as we’re driving around, and I’ve even attached it to my backpack when we’ve been on sunny day hikes. Eventually we’ll be looking to upgrade to a solar panel that will charge our laptops and camera batteries, and maybe even power a blender, one day.

Goal Zero Solar Hiking

Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you can’t reduce you waste. Even if you start small and concentrate on one or two of these suggestions, you’ll still make a impact on the world around you!

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Last photograph by Auyeung Photography, all others by Jelena Stipanicev.