I recently got back from a trip where yet another Airbnb we stayed in provided a Keurig and single use k-cups for coffee making instead of a more traditional coffee maker. While I made my coffee in the French press I brought along with us, it got me thinking about how to travel more sustainably while staying in an Airbnb or other vacation rental.
While some of these trips can also be used if you are staying in a hotel, this list is more particularly crafted for trips where you stay in an Airbnb or similar (VRBO, HomeAway, etc), specifically in places with a kitchen and an individual owner that you can interact with.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas, but it is meant to be a basic starting point for you to travel more sustainably by just paying a little bit more attention to how you go about your trip. Like most things, once you set yourself up to travel this way, it really will become second nature and you’ll simply leave a lighter footprint wherever you go.
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How To Travel More Sustainably with Airbnb
For starters, a lot of how you can travel more sustainably, whether you’re staying in an Airbnb or just out for the day, is planning ahead. Many of the suggestions here do require a bit of forethought and planning, though not an overly large amount.
As always, if you have any questions, or would like me to go into depth on any of this, please do let me know! You know I can never get enough in regards to talking about sustainability or about travel, so this is a perfect intersect.
If you haven’t stayed in an AirBnB before, I would highly recommend it. We love the flexibility it gives us while traveling as a family – full kitchen, laundry, and extra bathrooms, and it’s usually considerably cheaper than a hotel, especially when you travel as a group. If you’re new to AirBnB, here’s a link for$40 off your first stay.
1. Think About Your Coffee
Since the origin of this post starts with a story about coffee, let’s talk about that in detail. Like I said, we bring a French press with us when we travel since that’s what we use at home. We have this one and have gifted it in a smaller size because it’s really durable and easy to travel with.
A pour over brewer would work as well, though I would prefer a filterless kind because I’ve only once stayed in an Airbnb with a compost, so the filters would have to be thrown in the garbage. Regardless, still better than your standard Keurig if that’s what they have in the house (you can also message the host or look through photos to confirm they have a regular coffee maker first, and then you can choose to leave your own at home).
If you generally buy whole beans and grind them right when you make your coffee, be sure to grind them ahead of time because very few places have a grinder at the house. We also tend to purchase our coffee on the trip in order to support local roasters and to try something new. Thanks to that practice, my favorite “local” coffee beans both come from the Olympic Peninsula.
Along this same vein, make sure you bring a reusable coffee mug if you’re like me and tend to treat yourself out to coffee while traveling (this one is my favorite because it is vacuum sealed and stays hot for a LONG time, plus it doesn’t spill when dropped, which I do plenty). And of course, this suggestion applies to water bottles as well – it saves money too because then you never have to buy water.
2. Choose Your Location Carefully
This tip really varies based on where you are traveling and what you hope to get out of the trip, but it’s something we pay attention to when considering where to stay as we plan a trip. When we’re on vacation, we love to explore the area and get a sense of what it’s really like, and we find the best way to do that is by locating ourselves somewhere we can do a lot of walking or have access to transit.
And since we’re on vacation, we have the time to move a bit slower, so we’ve found ways to use local bus systems well even if they don’t run all that often or that late. However, it’s a great way to get to know local people, and bus drivers can often give you tips for what to see and where to go in their area. Of course, this is also a frugal trip as public transit is generally quite affordable.
While not everyone is able to walk as much as we do, we often will go for two or three mile walks each direction on vacation, as we enjoy getting outside and seeing a new area on foot. Walking forces you to more slowly and see more, and it reduces the amount of gas and money you use while traveling.
Of course, while we don’t mind walking farther, we do pay attention to the map feature in Airbnb when booking a location – our last trip to Port Angeles landed us just a couple blocks south of the downtown and it made it so easy to park the car for the duration of the visit. With enough time and pre-planning, we could even travel via bus there, saving on ferry fees, gas, and wear and tear on the car.
There are usually a number of similar options within an area, but oftentimes one or two is significantly better in terms of walkability. While you can’t see the specific address for an Airbnb before you book it, there are often good clues in the description and reviews that give you a sense of where they’re located in proximity to the surrounding area. You can also zoom in on the map and pick a nearby cross street and plug that into Walkscore.com to get an even better sense of the location of the home.
3. Recycling Matters
We are in a bit of a bubble in the Pacific Northwest when it comes to sustainability, but we’ve found that even more locally, many Airbnbs don’t provide recycling services.
If you’ve driven to your location from home, this is a pretty easy one. Much like when we go camping, we start a recycling bag at the start of the trip and collect it throughout the vacation. When we head home, we just stick the bag in the truck and recycle it at home.
On our last trip to Hawaii, the Airbnb we stayed at didn’t have recycling, so we dropped the bag off at the transfer station on our way out on the last day. At least within the United States, even areas that don’t have curbside recycling pickup have free options at transfer stations in almost all towns, regardless of size.
If you want to go a step further, you could bring some compostable bags to store your food waste and then dispose of them when you get back home. Full disclosure: I haven’t done this yet, but as I think about it in writing out this post, I should start doing this myself in the future.
4. Plan Your Meals and Shop Locally
This starts with planning ahead when it comes to packing for a trip. Since Airbnbs tend to have full kitchens, you have more or less the same options for cooking as you do at home. I do say “tend to” have full kitchens though, because I’ve found that in Hawaii in particular, as well as some of the more budget options in bigger cities, don’t always have all the normal appliances, so be sure to confirm before you book.
Depending on your plans for the trip, this may be just fine, but you don’t want to go in expecting to make pancakes for breakfast and then find out all you have access to is a microwave.
Once you’ve figured out what the kitchen looks like, plan to bring some basic staples with you, namely some sort of cooking oil or butter, spices, etc. We will sometimes also bring perishables like milk and coffee creamer as well as bacon or sausage for breakfasts. The biggest reason to bring these things instead of choosing to buy them at your destination is that you can buy in normal sizes, which is both cheaper and generally less wasteful than small packages that you would buy just for a trip (ie not the smallest bottle of olive oil on the shelf).
However, we do also shop locally once we get to our vacation shop, one because we really enjoy exploring local grocery stores and farmers markets to get a better sense of the area, and two because our dollars are more likely to stay in that local economy and the local purchases we make tend to have a smaller environmental footprint.
Local choices may have less packaging, but they will definitely have traveled much shorter distances, so that part of their environmental cost is minimized. Along with this, make sure to bring a cloth bag or two for when you do make those grocery shopping trips! They can double as your recycling bag to take home as well.
We also like to leave at least something we’ve purchased behind at the end of the trip, specifically shelf stable items like spices or oils if we forgot to bring one from home. That way, the next visitors don’t have to buy their own small bottle for their days at the house.
5. Don’t Forget About Leftovers
This is one that has taken quite a bit of time to stick as part of our routine because it’s not an item you ever see on a packing list. The one kitchen item that very few vacation rentals have on hand is a way to store leftovers. Now that it’s become routine, I make sure to bring at least a couple Pyrex storage containers to store any food that doesn’t get eaten right away. Since we make quite a few of our meals at “home” when we’re traveling, we almost always end up with leftovers at some point.
I fill the containers before we leave with snacks (think goldfish, pre cooked breakfast sausages, etc). This way we don’t end up with so much waste that almost always accompanies grab and go meals, and it saves us money as well because they are never cheap. Once we arrive, I clean out the containers and they’re ready to go for the rest of the trip.
Along these same lines, we bring a cooler bag with us for the way home if we are driving to our destination. It seems that no matter how well we plan out our food on a trip, there are always a few perishable items left over at the end of the vacation. With the cooler bag, we can take them home with us and they don’t go to waste. Trader Joe’s makes the best of one these, hands down, for anything more affordable than Yeti style bags.
6. Use The Towels Provided By The Airbnb
Specifically, find the extra hand towels / dish rags at the start of your trip. I’ve rarely stayed in an Airbnb that doesn’t have an extra drawer of them somewhere, and then they can be used just like the unpaper towels we have at home. Unless it’s a very short trip, we generally do at least one load of laundry because it cuts down on how much we have to pack, so it’s easy enough to throw those towels in to the washer as well.
Even if you do run out, you’ll have significantly cut down on the amount of paper towels you go through on the trip. If you want to make sure to have enough, it’s easy to throw a couple in your suitcase and bring them with you as well.
7. Ask About Single Use Items – Help The Airbnb Host Be More Sustainable
Both times we’ve been to Hawaii, the Airbnbs have come stocked with some amount of beach gear, and not just towels. If you’re considering buying a boogie board or goggles or some other item that you don’t expect to use other than on the trip, reach out to the Airbnb host and ask what they have in the house. You’d be surprised what they keep on hand, which means you don’t have to spend the money and you can reduce the amount of stuff you purchase (and then have to get rid of later).
Many vacation rentals also come stocked with games, kids toys, and other things relevant to the area you’re visiting, which cuts down on the things you either need to bring or buy. With our kiddo, we bring a bunch of toys with us for the traveling and for hanging out in the house, but new to him toys at an Airbnb are extra fun, and then we aren’t tempted to buy him a bunch of little plastic junk toys to keep him occupied in a new place.
8. Leave Details In Your Review To Help Future Airbnb Guests Be More Sustainable
Did the Airbnb have a Keurig instead of a coffee maker? Is it an easy walk to downtown? What items were already there for your use? I try and write a detailed review of every place we stay so that the next guests have a better sense of what they’re renting for the trip. If it’s something I would have liked to know, I share. Like I’ve described in detail above, that kind of information can help you plan what to bring and where to stay to travel more sustainably (and often more cheaply).
Of course, this just scratches the surface of what you can do to travel more sustainably, and those choices look different if you’re camping or staying in a hotel, have mobility issues or a more limited budget, whether you’re flying or driving, but I hope this gives you a roadmap for how to start looking at the way you travel to find ways to tread a bit more lightly on the planet while you do it.
Not traveling at all is likely the most environmentally friendly choice, but if you’re like me, that doesn’t sound like a very fun choice if you do have the means to travel, even if it’s just a day trip or single overnight one town over. All of our decisions have trade offs though, and we do the best that we can within the parameters of the choices we’ve made. And I believe that travel and experiencing new places and new cultures is a great way to find empathy for both people and our natural world.
It’s simply harder to care about things you’ve only read in a book or seen on television, so travel is a way to more fully immerse ourselves in places that are very different from our own lives. It’s my hope that that travel makes us all more aware of how our actions impact the people and places all around us every day. And my hope is that travel makes us more willing to protect this one Earth we have, because it’s a seriously special place.
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