4 Ways to Be a Climate Conscious Teen Traveler

Hayley Hucks22 Mar, 2024

Five teens pose with arms interlinked and backs turned in front of a Croatian coastal view

Travel is an incredible privilege that we are overjoyed to share with teens from around the United States and the world. In our climate-aware age, we also know that international and domestic travel come with impacts on the environment. Just as we make personal choices in our daily lives to reduce our environmental impact, we can make similar choices when we’re traveling. These are a few of our favorite climate-conscious tips.

1. Reef Safe Sunscreen

We LOVE sunscreen. It keeps us safe from nasty burns and blisters and helps us reduce the risk of skin cancer. From the slopes of the Alps to the beaches of Croatia, no trip is complete without many reapplications of sunscreen. We’re not alone in this. An estimated 4,000-6,000 tons of sunscreen enters the world’s oceans every single year. Sunscreen washes off our bodies and into the areas humans like to go the most–our beloved coral reefs. Chemicals found in many commercial sunscreens contribute directly to coral bleaching and damage coral DNA. The main culprits to look out for are oxybenzone and octinoxate. They show up in many favorite brands, like Sun Bum and Banana Boat.

Even when we’re not going swimming, wearing sunscreen with those chemicals can still affect the environment. Oxybenzone is absorbed by the skin and excreted in urine. These chemicals eventually are flushed out into the ocean.

So how do we know what is actually reef safe? Look out for mineral based sunscreens that have zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as their top ingredients. For a full list of unsafe ingredients, check here. A brand that claims to be “Reef Friendly” is not always what it promises. It’s always best to check the ingredients to make sure these harmful chemicals are not present.

teens surfing pacific ocean

2. Airfare Carbon Emissions

Flying produces carbon emissions no matter what ticket you choose, but thanks to Google Flights you can now compare the CO2 emissions of flights to your destination. Using the CO2 emissions filter, you can compare flights with similar duration and layovers to find one that uses less emissions. Emissions are based off of the aircraft itself as well as the seat you choose. Flying first class is a treat, but it also comes with a higher cost of carbon emissions. The seat takes up more space and weight on the aircraft. Having the ability to sort flights by CO2 emissions allows us to make a more environmentally responsible choice when purchasing a ticket.

3. Donating Used Gear and Clothing

When planning your adventure, you might need to buy clothes and gear that you don’t normally use in your daily life. You might purchase hiking boots or water shoes that you really only need for the trip you’re on. When packing up your duffel bag exploding with muddy clothes and souvenirs, you might want to shed some extra weight. Some students choose to throw away clothing and gear that they’re finished with at the end of a trip. A climate conscious choice is to donate these used items, either when you get home or in the area you’re traveling in.

This cuts down on generating more waste in local landfills and gives your used gear a new lease on life. One free and easy way to make sure your gear gets cleaned, repaired, and donated to a good cause is to check out Outside Magazine’s Gear Up, Give Back program. You can print off a free shipping label and mail in your used gear to a repair shop where it will be repurposed. If you’re curious about donating while abroad, talk to your Bold Earth instructor about coordinating this with a local partner.

teens hiking in the mountains

4. Choose Less Plastic

Plastic, like death and taxes, is an unavoidable part of life. However, we can choose to reduce the amount of single use plastics we add to landfills in a few easy steps. Single use plastics (such as straws, disposable forks, plastic bags, and takeout containers) are only usable for a short duration of time before being thrown away. They aren’t biodegradable, but they do break down into smaller pieces of plastic that release harmful toxins into the environment. Single use plastics can sometimes feel like too big a challenge to tackle since so many of our daily products and foods come in wrappers or packaging. Let’s talk about just a few things we can do while traveling to reduce our plastic usage.

BYO fork

Eating out is a huge part of travel. Whether you’re passing through the airport or visiting the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, you’re likely to be served your meal with a plastic fork and spoon. Bring your own reusable cutlery everywhere you go. It might seem funny at first to whip out your own spoon, but the impact adds up quickly. On Bold Earth trips, we ask students to bring their own mess kits so that everyone has a reusable option handy all the time.

Swap the bottle for the bar

Many toiletries can be found in non-plastic forms, such as bars with reusable storage containers. This includes deodorant, shampoo, soap, floss, toothbrushes, conditioner, and body wash. If you’re interested in putting together your own plastic-free travel set, check out this guide for more ideas.

Say something about it

Communicate with your favorite companies. If there’s a product you use every day and absolutely love, but it always comes wrapped in unnecessary plastic, let the company know. Now is the time for consumers to ask for what we want. A simple email or social media comment can be enough to make your opinion heard.

Three teens hug a redwood tree

When looking to become a climate-conscious traveler, perfection is the enemy of change. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the steps we’re not taking instead of celebrating the changes we can afford to make. Every choice counts when it comes to making our world a healthier place.


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