Moving to a new country or city offers up the opportunity to grow your career, meet new people or simply try out a different walk in life. On the flip side, it’s hard to get settled in a new place (particularly when you’re only there temporarily) – especially when you’re trying to live a greener existence.
Everything below was learned through trial and error in Doha and London, or when trying to travel plastic free. I’m now taking what I learned and applying it to my life in Melbourne.
So, want to live a greener existence, expat or not? Try the following out and see how you go.
1. Swap out your disposable items for reusable substitutes
This is my number one tip for going green immediately, particularly when travelling. Disposable plastic items exist for our convenience – if you’re prepared enough to bring your own reusable items wherever you go, you’ll rule out any need to use them.
It’s not as though you need to pack the whole kitchen sink, either. My four go to items are a reusable shopping bag, water bottle, coffee cup substitute (which I use for tea and for drinks on planes) and a spork, in case I get hungry whilst I’m out or stumble upon a food festival (it’s happened before!).
2. Plan your meals in advance, so that you can food shop accordingly
This is admittedly the thing I have the most trouble with. I’m not a particularly organised person as it is and have to constantly struggle against my natural inclination to “go with the flow”.
That being said, I did meal prep in my early twenties, with marvellous results. It meant that I went to the shops knowing exactly what it was that I needed, which resulted in less food waste, as stuff wasn’t left rotting in the fridge. I was prepared and organised with my meals each day for work, so that I didn’t end up spending more money than I needed to on lunch or dinner (plus my cooking skills went through the roof!). I snacked less and lost heaps of weight as a result, which was nice, too.
Don’t be afraid to freeze stuff, either. I put meats and bread immediately in my freezer, if I know I’m not going to use them straight away. Veggies and fruits can be frozen as well. In fact, I really dig frozen berries as a refreshing summer snack!
It’s obviously impossible whilst you’re travelling, but the beauty of being an expat is that you have a home base. You don’t need a stack of kitchen appliances either – hell, make a big salad and throw it in a few containers, or cook a big pot of soup every week (my go-to meal in London).
All you need is a little preparation and you’re set.
3. Bring your own bags and ulitise your jars
When you are all set do your shop, bring along reusable bags not only for your groceries at the till, but those along the way. I put mushrooms and bread into cloth bags, along with some vegetables (like tiny chillies), rather than using the paper or plastic bags available at the store.
When I shopped at a market in London, I also used to ask the fishmonger to put our fish into a large, Tupperware container. They clearly thought I was mad at first, but got used to it week after week (I mean, I was doing it in the hope that their industry would keep going! Plastic is not doing the oceans any favours whatsoever).
If you’re addicted to tea like I am, you can use old tins to fill them up at the shop (I may be developing a collection of tins from around the world). You’ll hit the jackpot in general if you find a dry goods store, where you can bring your own jars and pots to fill up with flours, oats, rice, spices, etc. My local one even has oils, dishwashing liquid and shampoo, which is very exciting. It’s the little things that make life worth living.
4. Start composting at home
Your food waste isn’t going to magically disappear overnight, but you can at least put it to good use, via composting. Once your food and scraps have broken down, you can use it to give your garden some extra loving, or keep your pet worms plump and happy.
I had some interesting adventures whilst figuring out how to compost in London and came to a few conclusions. If you live in an apartment and don’t even have a balcony herb garden, there’s probably not much point in composting. However, there is bound to be a community garden somewhere nearby, who will have their own compost going and will happily accept your food scraps.
Do some research online, find one nearby and ask what their protocol is – ie when you can go and what they accept. For example, I found one in London, which was open to the public on Sundays from 1pm-4pm. Keep your food scraps in a Tupperware container or bag in the freezer and take them down at your convenience.
If you do have your own garden – invest in a composter (which was the option that I ended up taking)! The beauty of having your own means that you are not only able to enjoy the fruits of your efforts – you can add items to it that you wouldn’t necessarily think were compostable, such as toilet paper rolls, hair and fingernails (see a full list here).
Only scrap items when you have no other choice. You can use chicken and beef bones, fish or veggie scraps to make stock or relishes, where the veggies are concerned. Discarded fruit bits (like apple cores, orange or lemon peels) can be added to jugs of water in the fridge, which will make your next cup of H2O quite flavoursome.
5. Grow your own herbs
No matter what your living situation, you probably will be in a position where you can grow your own herbs. Both mint and rosemary need little encouragement to grow and with a little TLC, you can have other herbs like oregano, basil and thyme at your disposal.
In fact, I sometimes think that balcony or even indoor herbs have a better chance of surviving, because they have less of a chance of getting munched on by unwanted garden intruders like slugs (a fate that our thyme unfortunately met in 2016)!
And if you’re really ambitious, you can graduate to growing some fruits and veggies as well, although it will depend on your climate. I found out the hard way that strawberries tend to flourish in Australia, rather than England and tomatoes will sizzle in the sun, if you’re not careful.
6. Be discerning about the clothes you buy
Sustainable fashion is a whole other confusing kettle of fish that I’ve admittedly only dipped my toe into. I buy a lot of my clothes second-hand and have done so for years. You’re more inclined to get a bargain, these clothes tend to be long lasting and it means that my wardrobe always stands out (for the right reasons, I hope!).
However, there is also the question of fast fashion – the high street stores that exploit their workers and deliver clothes that are only intended to last a season of wear.
Not to mention the ethics of the fabrics themselves – silk feels lovely against the skin and can be considered a natural product, but the manner in which the silkworms are treated is appalling (they are boiled alive inside their cocoons to produce the fabric).
Many clothes are made from synthetic fibres these days (polyester, nylon and acrylic) and the microfibres from each wash cycle can end up in the ocean.
Sustainably made clothes can often be expensive and difficult to source (for example, I’m yet to find a place that sells either bras or swimwear in my size, which is also eco-friendly). It takes a bit of education and do prepare to make a few mistakes along the way, but you’ll end up with a wardrobe that you can be proud of.
As an expat, it wasn’t really my prerogative to buy a lot of clothes, as I was spending much of my money on travel. So I was careful to select items that were sustainably made and would stand the test of time, like my beautiful Zady coat.
7. Only wash your clothes when you have a full load (be sure to wash on cold) and make your own laundry powder!
It can be pretty tempting to wash your clothes in batches, but I generally wait until I have a full load to chuck them all in. This is made much easier now that we don’t have a washing machine – we’d be wasting time and money only washing them here and there.
I have experimented with making my own laundry powder in the past as well and hope to return to doing so in the future.
If you do have your own washing machine, don’t bother with a dryer – just invest in a sturdy dry rack and dry your clothes in or outdoors. Outdoors is particularly good – the first time we did it when we acquired our flat with a garden in London, I couldn’t stop sniffing my sheets at night – it was making me feel weirdly nostalgic. I eventually realised they smelt like sunshine and were reminding me of home.
8. Wear less make up and look after your skin from the inside out
I’m amazed by the amount of make up some people pile on their face. It really can’t be good for the skin. I understand the pull of the beauty industry – I too am often tempted by the pretty packaging. Yet, I honestly think the best thing you can do for your skin is to give it air to breathe.
Plus, a little extra help doesn’t go astray. Skin is an organ after all, and what you put into your body will reflect on the outside. I’ve always drunk a lot of water (2-3 litres a day) but I’ve started drinking cold water with apple cider vinegar or hot water with lemon every morning as a gentle cleanse and am starting to notice a difference. Cutting out the booze does wonders as well.
Either way, as a rule – if I don’t recognise the ingredients on a product, it isn’t going on my face. And less make up means less crud to carry around when travelling or moving from place to place.
I’ll have a full update on my beauty routine publishing on the blog later on this month.
9. Clean with green products, particularly white vinegar and bicarb soda
Not only is there worry for the chemicals we put on our bodies – what about those we pour down the sink?
I’ve experimented a lot with cleaning products, going from conventional items, to “greener” products and then just settling on white vinegar as a surface spray and bicarb (baking) soda to shift stains and mould.
10. Give the rejects a home
I guess I’m a bit of a scavenger at heart, as my home is full of rejected items. I figure I may invest in things when I’m older and have a house of my own. In the interim, I’m happy to accept hand me downs, or buy items second hand.
When moving house, I ask around for any boxes that people may have lying around and are thinking of throwing out… I’ve been using the same boxes in Australia for years (some have been through four or five moves!). My towel and bed sheet collection comes from my parents, who gave me what they didn’t need when they too moved house. My television belongs to a brother. Many of my kitchen items were gifted by friends who were moving overseas, or things I got from my Nanna’s estate. I still use a lot of the same furniture I’ve had since childhood and told the previous tenants of our home to leave what they didn’t want behind, which enabled us to score a fabulous old desk, a bookshelf and a coffee table that is a little worse for wear, but does the job.
I also regularly scout op/charity shops for items I might need… or admittedly may just want. One (wo)man’s trash is another’s treasure, after all!
11. Invest in quality
This is a point that is more for those who are settled rather than skipping around from place to place – obviously!
When I buy new things now, I try to stick to those that I know will stand the test of time and last me as long as possible. I want furniture that will stay in my house forever and appliances that will kick on for an age.
That being said, many electrical items are now deliberately designed to fail after a few years. The first TV we had as a family lasted for 30 years, yet we’re lucky to get maybe five years out of one now. Despite all that, I try to take the best possible care of the items I do buy and it does often pay off.
I’ve had both my phone and laptop for over four years and they still work mostly perfectly fine! When they do finally cark it, rather than simply throwing them away, I’ll look for a way to recycle them, responsibly.
Those are just a few of the ways you can greening up your existence in your new home. Are there anymore you can think of?
This post contains affiliate links, to the products I use myself and therefore recommend to all other green travellers! Thank you for supporting my war on plastic.
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