Thank God for an omnipresent topic. A topic that is important. A topic that must also be heard in Vanlife: sustainability.
We all enjoy the beauty of nature. We go to the beach, camp in the forest or swim in the lake. We love nature. The freedom. The sunrays. The chirping birds. That is exactly why we do not stay in a regular hotel, but are traveling with our vans. Are outside. Run through the dewy grass in the early morning and sit around the campfire in the evening and let the last rays of sun warm us. At night we look up at the stars, which sparkle again very nicely, because the nearest city is far away. We do all of this for these moments, don’t we?
Our earth is beautiful and precious. And so worth protecting. Everyone is asked to leave the smallest possible footprint on it.
For us personally, sustainability is very important. We’re far from perfect (I mean, we’re going through world history on a 30-year-old diesel) – but we’re trying our best and trying to improve on every trip.
Here we would like to introduce you to 10 points for more sustainability in vanlife.
1. “No” to plastic!
Avoid plastic products and packaging as much as possible – at home and in the van:
- use jute bags and baskets for grocery shopping
- use fabric bags to buy fruit and vegetables and not plastic bags (or even better: buy fruit and vegetables where you can put them loose on the cash register)
- try to avoid plastic straws (there are now so great alternatives made of stainless steel, bamboo and paper that no one really needs plastic straws anymore)
- use your favorite cup instead of coffee-to-go cups
- try to avoid disposable plastic bottles. We know that this is often not easy, especially in a foreign country. But we should try to find more environmentally friendly methods than plastic bottles for our vanlife.
Use e.g. instead of 5 individual water plastic bottles, a 5l water bottle.
Get a glass or stainless steel water bottle that you can always refill. Or even better: buy a water bottle with an integrated carbon filter – you can use it to fill up, filter tap water worldwide and have clean drinking water everywhere and at all times. Our favorite is the carbon filter water bottle from Waterwell (with the code “travely” you get 15% off your next purchace on Waterwell).
Use water filter systems for your van. You can install these in front of your tank – this way the water is always filtered. So only clean drinking water comes from your tap.
Or you choose a “mobile” solution (like we do). Then you fill your tank with tap water and only filter it afterwards or only the amount you need for cooking and drinking. The rest of the water in the tank can then also be used unfiltered (e.g. for washing dishes or showering).
We personally swear by the carbon filter from Katadyn. It is easy to use and “filters quickly”. When we are traveling, we filter about 6 liters through the carbon filter every morning and fill the water in glass bottles. That is enough for drinking and cooking all day.
2. grocery shopping with more sustainability
Our consumer behavior is the greatest contribution to sustainability that each and every one of us can make – whether at home or on the road.
- Shop locally (e.g. at weekly markets. This not only protects the environment, but also supports local farmers)
- seasonal shopping (we sometimes “sin” too – by buying mangoes and strawberries in winter. But we try to do this as rarely as possible)
- Consume fewer animal products
Please do not get us wrong – this does not mean that everyone should now live vegetarian or vegan! But much more that we should give our consumption of animal products a different priority. A tasty steak should be something special – something valuable. It should come from the farmer around the corner. And from a cow that was allowed to walk on a green pasture all its life …
Quality instead of quantity – this is the greatest contribution that each of us can make to our planet.
If you are looking for new, super delicious, vegetarian or vegan vanlife recipes, you may find something here:
3. “leave no trace” principle
Always leave a (camping) place cleaner than you found it when you arrived. This is a simple principle that we like to stick to personally.
That’s not to say that every vanlifer armed with huge garbage bags should run and collect tons of garbage. Rather, it’s about the little things, the things that we can easily integrate into our everyday vanlife routine and enjoy doing.
If you are out in nature, pick up small pieces of garbage, take them with you and dispose of them properly. If every van lifer/walker takes even 3 small pieces with them, our beaches, forests, fields and lakeshore will soon be much cleaner.
And yes, even if it is NOT YOUR rubbish lying on the beach there, it is YOUR earth that suffers! Protect them!
4. slow down for more sustainablity!
If you drive slowly, you will reach your destination – and not only safer, but also more relaxed and much more environmentally conscious!
Anyone who travels slowly and stays in one place longer protects the environment even more. We also made a firm commitment to stay in one place longer. Enjoying the beach and getting to know the lake, the locals and supporting the local shops and restaurants.
5. Also pay attention to sustainability when building your own van
When converting a van yourself, you can pay attention to sustainability and natural materials. This is not possible everywhere, but if you think about it in advance and find out about alternatives, you can create a beautiful, natural home on wheels.
Second-hand and “DIY – Do it yourself” is also a great opportunity for more sustainability. How about, for example, an old enamel bowl as a sink? Or old Ikea bread boxes as space-saving corner cupboards?
On platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, there are an infinite number of examples of great DIY’s that not only look nice, but are also good for our planet.
6. Pay CO2 compensation
Okay, not the best way to do something good for our planet (because that would be not to cause the CO2 emissions in the first place), but definitely better than nothing!
We personally opted for a CO2 compensation payment. After each of our trips, we will calculate the amount of CO2 emitted, pay the respective amount and thus support aid and environmental protection projects around the world.
The list of our CO2 compensation payments you can find here.
7. Separate garbage
Garbage cannot be avoided in a van in the long run. It is important to properly separate it and – even more importantly – to dispose it in the required place.
We have to admit that we still have some catching up to do when it comes to waste sorting. Everything works fine at home, but on the road, in a cramped van, in countries without functioning waste disposal, the topic becomes more difficult.
Paper and cardboard (e.g. packaging) can be folded relatively easily and collected in a space-saving manner. The next campfire will burn it. (Of course, always pay attention to the local regulations for open fireplaces beforehand and remove dukt tape).
Cans and glass should be disposed of in the trash required bins. If they do not exist, cans and glass containers can be washed and stored in the van until the next suitable disposal location (press the cans together). Large vehicles have a clear advantage here.
Squeeze plastic bottles together with other plastic packaging and conventional residual waste in trash cans – and only there! – to dispose. Even if you see a lot of garbage bags lying loose on the roadside and scattered on fields in a foreign country – please don’t do that! Be a role model and take your residual waste to where it belongs: in the garbage can.
We dispose of the few cooking waste we have (e.g. vegetable and fruit sections) in nature.
8. Use solar energy
Sustainability also means using renewable energies where possible. The best renewable energy that can be used in vanlife is: the sun.
Solar panels can be easily and practically mounted on all vehicle roofs and provide clean electricity for smartphones, laptops, refrigerators, etc.
With a 200 watt solar panel you can generate enough electricity to be supplied with energy for several days.
For those who do not want to mount solar panels on the vehicle roof or have no space there is the option of a mobile solar panel that can be placed wherever the sunlight falls. They are available in all sizes and variants – foldable or firm, with buckles so that they can also be attached to backpacks (super practical when hiking!).
We personally use: 1 small portable solar charger from Big Blue and 1 portable solar charger from Decathlon (both for charging USB devices. Both are foldable and thus take up little space. They can also be attached to the backpack). Furthermore, we have 2x 100 watt DOKIO solar panels on the vehicle roof.
9. Use sustainable hygiene products
Our bathroom should also be equipped with products that are as sustainable as possible – not only at home, but also on the road. This does not mean that everyone should suddenly wash their hair with rye flour. Rather, little steps should be taken towards sustainability.
- Replace plastic cotton swabs with bamboo cotton swabs (now there are also cotton swabs made of paper or wood available)
- Use firm “shampoo bars” for shampoo and shower gel (this not only avoids a lot of plastic bottles, but also saves space and protects the environment, because the shampoo bars mostly consist of natural oils)
- for the ladies: use washable and reusable make-up removal pads. Exchange tampons and bandages for a menstrual cup.
There are truly a variety of methods for making your (rolling) bathroom plastic-free and sustainable. There are now many informative books on the subject:
10. respect nature
There are areas in the world that deserve special protection. They are home to rare animals and plants and sensitive ecosystems. They are often protected by nature and national parks. But even if they are not protected by fences or signs, we should respect them and their residents.
Say: keep away from wild animals and do not just leave the streets and slopes and cross country through the pampas. Every corner of nature is home to thousands of living things. Especially off-roaders – to which we also belong – should always keep this in mind.
We would like to emphasize again: we ourselves are far from perfect! We also make mistakes. And do not want to judge anyone in their way of life.
But we try to improve – every day and with every trip.
Do you have any other tips and tricks for more sustainability in vanlife? Feel free to write to us! 🙂
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