Sustainability Abroad

The Impact of International Travel

Study abroad not only impacts students but also host cities, families, communities, and the environment. From carbon emissions due to air travel to single-use plastics to what we buy, the choices we make can have positive or negative short and long-term consequences for our home and host communities.  

What can you do to support your host country, host community, and planet while you are studying abroad? How can you begin or continue your commitment to sustainability while studying abroad? We hope these resources are a helpful starting point to help you explore these questions.

You can make a difference: 

  • Packing

    When packing for your program abroad, we encourage you to use a sustainable lens by looking for products that reduce packaging and waste. Some cities and countries have banned plastic bags, straws, and bottles. Recycling and waste facilities may not be as accessible as they are in the US. You likely have many of the items listed below already and should consider packing those before buying new items. You may find that not all the items listed are relevant to your destination. However, if you need or are planning to purchase new items, a variety of sustainable travel stores and ethical companies are available to purchase from.

    Your packing and purchasing choices will have an impact on your host community and environment. For example, sunscreens and other products that are not reef/eco-friendly can be damaging to coral reefs and ecosystems.

    Food Items:

    • Reusable water bottles
    • Reusable shopping bags/tote bags (plastic bags may not be provided by stores)
    • Reusable straws
    • Silicon “to-go” containers and sandwich bags
    • Bamboo utensils
    • Mesh fruit/veggie bag
    • Spork/bottle opener

     

    Health and Hygiene:

    • Bar shampoo/conditioner
    • Bar soap
    • Bamboo toothbrush
    • Toothpaste tabs
    • Menstrual cups
    • Deodorant bars
    • Reef-safe/eco-friendly sunscreen and other products

     

    Miscellaneous:

    • Laundry tabs/sheets
    • Solar charger
    • Essential oils & reusable spray bottle
  • Minimizing Waste and Resource Use

    We strongly encourage students to be aware of their waste and resource use here on campus, at home, and abroad. Here are some tips to live sustainably both at home and abroad:

    • Unplug devices when not in use and hit the lights every time you leave a room
    • Conserve water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth and limiting shower length
    • Take the stairs
    • Think twice before printing
    • Turn heat or air conditioning systems down or off when you're away
    • Use reusable food and beverage containers
    • Think twice before you throw something away - Can it be fixed, reused, or upcycled?
    • Shop local and support community farming
  • While Abroad

    In addition to the tips listed above, there are a variety of practices you can use to study and travel abroad sustainably.

    • Pack light (this helps airlines cut down on fuel usage and reduces your carbon footprint on flights)
      • Minimize onboard airplane waste         
      • Bring your own headphones         
      • Refill a personal water bottle         
      • Reuse plastic cups         
      • Use a personal neck pillow instead of the plastic-wrapped airline pillows
    • Use electronic boarding passes and e-tickets for flights/attractions if possible
    • Download and use map apps (many are accessible without data coverage)
    • Avoid plastic packaging at grocery stores/markets
    • Compost when possible
    • Be mindful of water use for showers
    • Do not leave items behind in your host country, unless an established recycling or donation system is in place
  • Transportation

    When looking into transportation options, in addition to safety and cost, consider the environmental impact of your mode of travel.  The following list ranks transportation options from lowest to highest environmental impact:

    • Walking
    • Biking
    • Subways/trams
    • Trains
    • Buses
    • Cars/taxis
    • Planes/ferries

     

    Sustainable Flying

     

    Transportation Onsite

    When considering independent travel, think about:

    • Selecting accommodation and transport providers that demonstrate efficient and sustainable management of energy, waste, and water.
    • Opting for a travel service provider who is a local (or long-term resident) of the country and/or one who puts profits back into the country.
    • Are you planning to travel every weekend? Re-think how often you are getting on a plane. Consider slow travel and take a train to get to your destination or explore your study abroad host city/town by foot.

    From https://en.reset.org/act/tips-sustainable-travel

  • Dietary Needs and Choices

    Just as it is at home, it is important to understand where our food comes from while abroad, as well as ensure we are eating safely and sustainably. It is important to remember that food is an integral part of culture and therefore, the local food culture could be the most sustainable. This may make dietary preferences or allergies more complicated to accommodate and less sustainable in your host country. Below are some tips for supporting your dietary needs, understanding dietary choices as a privilege, and supporting sustainable consumption in your host country.

    • Research host country food culture
    • Understand food/water safety issues in your host country
    • Be open-minded and try new local foods
    • If sustainable and culturally appropriate in your host location, try out meatless meals
    • Eat fresh and eat local foods; limit consumption of imported foods (This can be a money saver too.)
    • Recognize that food systems vary from country to country, so what you might consider sustainable at home might not be in this local context of your host country
    • Understand any food allergies/sensitivities or dietary restrictions (religious, cultural, etc.) you may have and what this might mean for you and food access in your host country
    • Understand the difference between allergies/dietary restrictions and the privilege of dietary choices. Some dietary choice questions to think about:
      • Are your dietary choices sustainable in your host location?
      • Are you able to eat foods you might not eat at home but are local to your host culture?
      • Are there sustainable options in your host country that still support your dietary choice?

     

    *It is your responsibility to communicate any food allergies/sensitivities or dietary restrictions to your program, as well as with your onsite staff and or host family (as applicable). Ask your program team about realities in your host country/desired host country related to food allergies or dietary restrictions.