This past month I have taken a plastic free travel challenge with Better Places Travel to reduce the amount of single use plastic water bottles I use when travelling by using refillable water bottles as much as possible, with the ultimate aim of going completely single use plastic bottle free. But it wasn’t as easy as I first thought. Did I succeed?
For a long time now I have always tried to use a refillable water filter bottle when I travel, especially when going hiking in the mountains or trekking through the jungle, because having a system that allows you to refill water when you can’t just pop into a shop to buy a bottle of it makes a lot of sense.
But up until recently I always used bottled water alongside that without too much thought. I knew of course that reducing my plastic waste when refilling my water filter bottle was a good thing, I also knew that it was saving me money when I did so, but I never put as much thought into my actions as I have this month.
The Single Use Plastic Campaign.
I teamed up with Better Places Travel on their campaign to go single use plastic bottle free by the end of 2019. This campaign is designed to try and reduce the mountain of single use plastic waste that comes from water bottles around the world every single day by encouraging the use of refillable water bottles, providing more refill stations at each of their travel partner locations and encourage the overall reduction of plastic use around the world.
Better Places Travel are a responsible travel company that connects travellers with incredible travel experiences through local experts and providers, ensuring that tourism positively and directly benefits the local economy.
Better Places Travel has locations across south America, Africa, south east Asia, south Asia and more, and has partnered with worldwide campaigns such as Travellers Against Plastic, Refill Bali and Refill My Bottle to reduce single use plastic waste, and is dedicated to helping travellers reduce their own plastic waste by having water refill stations in all of its destinations and going completely plastic free by the end of 2019.
The plastic free travel campaign is a campaign that is aimed primarily at travellers with the ultimate goal of getting them to reduce or eliminate their use of single use plastic water bottles. Travellers consume on average 30 bottles of water on just a two week trip. For long term travels or gap years, that quickly adds up over time.
I mean just think about it, when you are travelling you have to drink a lot. The heat and the sun alone can dehydrate you quickly and make you even thirstier than normal. So you start out with a small bottle in the morning, buy another bottle or two while you are out exploring, maybe another bottle if you are doing something strenuous like a trek or an adventure activity. And then of course there is the extra bottle by your bed at night or the one that you use when brushing your teeth because you can’t use the tap water without spending the next week near the toilet.
That is a lot of water bottles.
Now don’t get me wrong staying hydrated is a very good thing, it is absolutely essential in fact and should always be encouraged, but the problem is that when each and every bottle you use is single use plastic, this leads to so much waste.
The importance of hydration when travelling:
Your body needs water to survive, it is that simple. Every cell, muscle, tissue, organ and bodily function requires water to operate and survive, yet most people don’t do nearly enough to stay properly hydrated, especially when travelling. Drinking 6 – 8 glasses of fluid a day is recommended for the average person, but when you are abroad a combination of sun exposure, heat, increased activity and other factors may lead to needing a lot more.
Not drinking enough water or fluid when travelling can very quickly lead to dehydration, which in the short term can lead to tiredness, lethargy, headaches and your body’s inability to function properly, and if left untreated can become a serious medical emergency.
The problem with single use plastic water bottles.
Single use plastic is one of the biggest pollution sources our oceans have ever faced and is now one of the biggest threats to our natural environment. There is roughly 165 million metric tons of single use plastic produced every single year, and most of that is never recycled. More than 8 million metric tons of this are water bottles that are simply dumped in our oceans. Put very bluntly single use plastic bottles are choking the life out of our oceans, the very lifeblood of the planet.
Our consumption of single use plastic water bottles when we travel, combined with our throwaway society mentality, is killing the planet, it affects us all, and it needs to change.
My challenge, in theory at least, was a very simple one. I would be travelling around the Czech Republic, taking in a variety of towns, cities, rural, forested and mountainous locations during my time, and with the use of a water purifier bottle, I was to try and eliminate my use of single use, disposable plastic water bottles completely.
I had used water filter bottles before, for quite a long time, and given that I wasn’t heading too far off the beaten track I felt fairly optimistic.
My choices of fluids and drinks.
Of course I wouldn’t stick to water for the entirety of the trip, I would have fruit juices and soft drinks as well, especially with meals, but when possible these would be taken in glasses, or from easily recyclable glass bottles, and not from single use plastic bottles.
My water consumption however, which is always quite high on a daily basis as I am very conscious of staying hydrated, is what will be weighed and measured for this campaign, and I would be trying to eliminate buying or using water in plastic bottles, instead relying on topping up my own refillable purifier bottle.
Using a refillable filter or purifier bottle.
Drinking local water isn’t always an option when travelling. If you are off the beaten path using natural water sources or using the tap water where local water sources are not treated or are a bit dicey, then you can be exposing yourself to a variety of bacteria such as E.Coli or Salmonella, viruses such as Norovirus and Hepatitis A or Protazoan Cysts such as Giardia. Not to mention other particulates, chemicals and pollutants too. All of which can have potentially serious consequences for your health.
Even if the local tap water has been treated and safe for the locals, if you are in a completely alien envioronment and your stomach is not used to the local bacteria found in water, then you may still get a little unwell.
There are wide variety of water purification options out there, from chemical purification tablets and steripens that use UV light, to water filter straws and bottles and water purification bottles.
On this trip I would be using a water purification bottle.
Heading through the airports and train stations on my way to my first destination, Prague, and then ultimately Ostrava in the Czech Republic, wasn’t an issue at all.
Of course the airports and stations are full of shops selling bottled water, but what they also have are water fountains and taps in bathrooms that you can easily refill a bottle from too.
My issue with this is that water fountains are often few and far between and hidden away in between endless lines of security and passport control. Of course you can find them if you make the effort or if you ask one of the members of staff, but I would love to see them more prominently displayed and advertised.
But that would need logic and forethought, not things airports are known for.
Getting through the local public transport situation wasn’t too bad either. The fact that I had my water purifier with me meant I could quickly duck into a bathroom and fill up with tap water, not something that would always be possible without one.
Being able to use my refillable water bottle in this way was pretty easy, and saved me some money too as I would have normally just bought bottled drinks as needed and would have certainly made sure I had a big drink for any long journeys.
I have been on a few trips where for one reason or another I didn’t have my refillable bottle with me, and on long distance bus journeys or short hop flights, going without a drink was never an option as whatever happened I would need to stay hydrated regardless. In these situations buying a water bottle has been the only option.
Having a refillable bottle makes all the difference, and having one with a filter or purifier too just gives you so many more options.
With my refillable water bottle in hand and challenge in mind I did make more of a conscious effort to use the bottle instead of taking what is still the easier option of just buying bottled water as I go, but overall did not find it overly onerous or difficult.
To me this is a prime example of how easy the shift to refillable water being the norm could be with just a small paradigm shift and a bit of forethought.
Out and about.
As always when travelling I love just walking through local towns and cities, getting myself a little lost and trying to just get a feel of the place, and usually that involves at least a couple of bottles of water or stops at local cafe’s or food courts to refuel and cool down.
Prague and Ostrava were no different.
This was especially true due to the fact that Europe was in the middle of a severe heatwave, and I was drinking at least twice as much as I normally do to try and stay cool and hydrated.
From filling the bottle at public ornamental fountains, which for some reason there were a lot of in the Czech Republic, to finding local cafe’s that would allow me – with limited local language and a lot of hand gestures – to fill my bottle up with tap water, I was never short of water supplies when exploring the city centre or local towns.
Of course it wasn’t just water I was drinking, I did stop at a few places at meal times and ordered various fruit juices, I did this purposely because soft drinks tended to come in plastic bottles and I wanted to avoid that. Luckily home made lemonade and fruit sodas in glasses – not plastic bottles – with a lot of shaved ice were readily available.
Unfortunately, even despite asking for them not to be included every time, the language barrier must have been in full force as plastic straws still come as standard. I guess it will take time for everyone to see that using them is just not acceptable.
But at the very least I didn’t buy a single water bottle when exploring my new locations or getting about on public transport, and although a full purification bottle wasn’t necessary all of the time in this specific country because the tap water was drinkable, the practice of using it was applicable to anywhere I may travel, including ones where the tap water would not have been as safe, and that is an important point.
Carrying my filter bottle around with me was just as easy as carrying a single use plastic bottle, and instead of buying new bottled water as needed I simply refilled it. The difference is with a bottle that is also a purifier I don’t have to worry if I am in a country where the drinking water isn’t safe. Refilling is simplicity itself and I actually saved myself a fair bit of money too.
But of course no visit to a new location would be complete without a few attractions too and visiting Ostrava Zoo was high on my list while I was in town.
Again despite it being a scorching hot day I did not plan to buy any bottled water at all, and once again ignored the free bottles of water placed in my hotel room. Instead I filled my bottle up with tap water before I left, purified it (even though the tap water was drinkable), and hopped on the tram to the zoo.
The zoo was a great example of how easy it is to find refillable water stations in many places.
Even though they were not part of any specific campaign such as the one by Better Places Travel, they welcomed the practice of refillable water stations at all of their restaurants and had numerous drinkable water fountains throughout the park itself.
Despite having to search them out a few times I never really had much of a problem finding one, and my water bottle could be topped up with clean, pure water whenever I liked and however often I liked.
And I could even treat myself to an ice cold soft drink at the restaurants because they had a refill soda machine with glasses, not plastic or styrofoam cups.
I think that major tourist attractions on the whole do have some provisions for getting refillable water, they just aren’t always well advertised or promoted in favour of trying to sell drinks to tourists instead.
It is up to the travellers themselves to make that change in their own behaviour and change their paradigms just a little bit to be more aware of these options when they travel instead of always just reaching for the single use disposable bottles.
It was when I started heading further and further out of the towns and cities and taking more hikes and treks into the countryside that I began to struggle a bit.
Heading out to visit the stately mansions, castles and countryside of the central Bohemian region outside of Prague usually meant they had an ornamental fountain in the grounds or a visit to one of the hill stations meant that there was usually a stream or lake or something nearby that I could use to refill my bottle.
But this meant that I had to plan more, I had to make sure my bottle was filled before I left for the day and I would not have just been able to use many of these sources of water if I didn’t have a good water purifier bottle.
When the sources of refillable water was a bit more scarce I had to rely on shops and cafe’s a lot more, and on the whole I could still get by with glasses of juice. But the big problem was that wasn’t an option everywhere, some places only had bottles of soft drink, and in the searing sun baked heatwave, I needed cold refreshment and the sugary energy replacement.
I did buy a bottle of soft drink or two, defeating my aim of not using any single use plastics during my trip.
And even worse, I actually bought a disposable single use bottle of water.
A trip to a national park in north Bohemia wasn’t as hard as some of the treks I had done over the years, it wasn’t trekking through the Sahara or hiking through the jungles of Borneo after all. It was a pleasant stroll through a forested hill to see a ruined castle and a hill station watch tower, but it was a trek, on a searingly hot day, where dehydration and heatstroke were definite possibilities.
I had my refillable water bottle with me of course, and I had filled it before I left, but the guide at the start of the national park couldn’t promise we would pass one of the rivers in the park depending on what route we took and how slow we took it.
To be honest I don’t think he fully understood what I meant, with a mixture of broken English and my limited Czech, okay, practically non existent Czech, I think he thought if I was asking if any rivers would be a problem, not realising I actually wanted to walk past them!
Given that hydration is essential when doing any activity, especially in the heat, and I couldn’t take the risk of running out of water during the hike, so I bought a bottle of water as an emergency back up.
I failed the single use plastic campaign.
As it turned out I didn’t need to buy the water after all. I did pass a river during the hike and I used it to refill the purifier bottle and drink my fill of fresh, clean water.
But buy it I did, and I failed the challenge.
Or did I?
Minimizing plastic waste by minimizing the use of single use water bottles.
Better Places Travel’s campaign has an ultimate aim to go completely single use bottle free on all of their trips by the end of 2019, but it is also aiming to change people’s mindsets, to reduce the consumption of single use plastics and increase the use of refillable water bottles and water filters or purifiers.
And that is exactly what I did.
I may have bought a bottle of water on my trip, I may have bought a few bottles of soft drinks, but what I also did was minimise how much I bought drastically. I used a water purifier bottle on most days and refilled it constantly. I went most days without buying a single bottle of water at all. I even made a conscious effort to choose glasses of drinks in cafe’s and restaurants over bottled soft drinks.
And with a minimum of two 2 Litre bottles of water a day, plus at the very least a few smaller bottles of water and bottled soft drinks, that adds up to a minimum of 35 bottles a week, a minimum of 140 bottles in a month that I didn’t use.
All because I used a refillable water purifier bottle.
And surely that is what it is all about? No one can expect change overnight, no one can be perfect, and society is not going to end its reliance on single use plastics with a click of a few fingers and the wave of a magic wand, but by reducing plastic use as much as possible, bit by bit, until refillable bottles and reducing plastic waste become the norm, that is the way to make real change.
I may not have gone completely single use plastic free, but I sure as hell made a drastic reduction in my consumption, and with an average of at least two large bottles a day, over time that is a hell of a lot.
And that in and of itself makes a hell of a difference.
Now it’s your turn.
I may not have completely passed the challenge,but I have certainly changed my mindset about my plastic consumption when I travel and will continue to use a refillable bottle wherever I can and reduce the use of single use plastics as much as I can too. It may not be much on my own, but it is something, and collectively that can make a huge difference.
And now it’s your turn.
I hope I have shown you that there may be a few difficulties in going completely plastic free, but it is certainly possible. Even if you don’t manage to go completely plastic free at first, you can seriously reduce your single use plastic waste. The more travellers do this, and the more initiatives such as refill stations provided by Better Places Travel become the norm, the easier it will get for all of us.
So I am urging each and every one of you to do the same.
There are a number of ways you can make a huge difference on your own travels.
- Use a refillable water bottle instead of buying single use plastic bottles.
- Use a water filter or purifier to extend your refill options.
- Always ask for no straws with your drinks, it doesn’t always work with the language barrier, but one drink without a straw is better than none.
- Support local businesses and accommodation options that have specific refill stations for travellers and let them know you appreciate it.
If each and every one of you take these small steps to ban the bottle and reduce single use plastic waste, then our collective efforts will make a huge difference.
What do you think? Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or please join in the discussion on my Facebook or Twitter pages on this important topic, and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons and spread the word.
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This article was written in partnership with Better Places Travel. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.