Read about a comparison of the best water purification devices to choose the one that works best for you and is suited according to your purposes. From water filtering bottles, UV purification devices to purification pills. Including easy comparing template!
So July is over and with it ends the challenge we set ourselves of living plastic-free for a month. This month has been challenging, entertaining and inspiring as we've tried in vain to refuse single-use plastic, found ingenious solutions and spoken with many other travellers about plastic-use, lifestyle and environmental issues.
So here are our triumphs, our downfalls, tips, questions and conclusions of our plastic-free month on the road!
We've been trying to reduce our plastic throughout our trip but this month offered us a special challenge of banning it once and for all and seeing how we could make that part of our travel lives. We agreed to donate $1 for every piece of plastic we used during the month of July (this didn't include plastic items we already owned). It turned out to be easier than we anticipated and we ended the month with a grand total of $15 going to Our Seas Our Future. This wasn't worth the effort it took to transfer so we decided to top this figure up a bit and have donated $200 to this charity who work to protect New Zealand's oceans.
If you're interested in donating too here's their page - Our Seas Our Future Charitable Trust
What plastic did we use?
Straws - We asked for no straws but were given them anyway! Actually, in one instance she remembered our request, removed the straw from the drink and threw it in the bin!
Plastic bags - In Armenia our bread came in a plastic bag... at a restaurant! Not cool but definitely unavoidable when we didn't know in advance.
Ingredients - In order to reduce our plastic waste in the long-term we decided to have a go at making our own deodorant which (ironically) required ingredients we could only find in plastic wrapping. We decided it was worth it as the deodorant should last longer and we left the unfinished packets with our hosts to use. (more info on our deodorant experiences later)
Sheets - We took two overnight trains this month and our sheets were not only disposable (although probably biodegradable) but wrapped in plastic. Hygiene came first and we used them but wished Georgia would learn from India here and wrap their sheets in paper bags and wash them after!
Beer bottle - After a long, hot day hiking in the Georgian mountains we decided to treat ourselves with a beer. Our guesthouse only had plastic bottles. A total luxury but we decided to do it anyway, we ordered a 2L to share with others and reused the bottle over the following days to carry more water while hiking.
Toothpaste - We needed some more and yea...
How did we avoid plastic?
We carried with us a few trusty items that we always have with us, got vigilant about refusing plastic and even learnt about some new alternatives.
1. Reusable Drink Bottle
I've had a drink bottle since I stopped drinking breast milk (probably even before) and carry one even when I'm not travelling. But it still shocks me how many people drink from disposable plastic bottles even in countries that have safe tap water!
We got a brand new aluminium bottle at the start of July (after I lost ours on the first day of our 7 day trek in the Himalayas and our crappy replacement leaked for the 2 months following). It saved us a huge amount of plastic bottle use as tap water is safe here in Georgia and we'll keep using throughout the rest of our journey.
Our bottle was affordable and comes in a range of simple colours. The neck is also wide enough to fit our water steriliser. Grab one here.
2. U.V Sterliser
We travelled to Abkhazia this month and were told that the tap water wasn't safe to drink. So we used our Steripen to sterilise it before drinking. We've used this all over the world (including India, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka) and are still alive and well! Here's some more info.
3. Reusable shopping bags
These are fairly common practice in many countries now (just waiting for Georgia to catch up!) but surprisingly uncommon among travellers. We travel with hand-luggage only and still manage to have a couple of these on hand so there's no excuse. We use them almost daily.
4. Netting fruit bags
These were a huge saviour here in the Caucasus as there is so much fresh produce available on every corner but it's hard to carry a bunch of apricots or all the veges for dinner! We just have one and reuse a couple of small plastic bags we picked up at some point (bread bags from Armenia?) but it's so useful. We also used it to pack out lunches in while we were hiking. Our one is like this one here.
5. Solid TOILETRIES
All of our shower products are solid blocks which means we don't use any plastic (if we can find soap wrapped in paper which is not as easy as you might think!) We have shampoo, soap and face wash in solid form which are a mismatch of things we've found on the road. I can't wait to get back to NZ and buy some Ethique products which are totally plastic packaging free, vegan, made sustainably and 20% of profits go to charity! I feel like I'm growing karma just writing about them!
6. Refusing Straws
We've made a habit of asking for all our drinks without a straw. It's often hard in non-English speaking countries but if we're persistent or stay at the counter while they make the drink and explain it works. We don't bother carrying bamboo or metal straws because they're a pain to clean and we don't actually need a straw to drink the beverage.
7. Choosing drinks in glass or metal
We've become very good at choosing drinks we know will come in glass or cans. Beer is always (unless you in a guesthouse in the Georgian mountains) a good choice. Coffee is also easy and luckily the places we've been in lately sell a lot of soft drinks in glass bottles. If they don't have glass we opt for cans and if they have neither? We go without and drink water. For us, the luxury isn't worth the plastic.
8. Go without
This ended up being a recurring theme during the month. We haven't had chips, chocolate bars or nuts as snacks and haven't been able to buy a lot of things for ourselves e.g dairy products as there are just no options without plastic. This is changing in many countries but while we travel this will always be a reality. I'll talk about this more in our conclusions on the month!
But we did find ice cream wrapped in paper! Win!
If you want to know more about the eco-friendly items we travel with read our post here.
Replacements we can make
A lot of plastic items can be replaced by other items. This is much easier when you live in one place and have a house to put everything in. You can buy in bulk, use zero-waste supermarkets, recycle things and research ethical brands in your area.
All of this is a lot harder on the road! But we've researched a few small swaps this month that we hope to continue using and improving over the rest of our trip and life wherever/whenever we settle down.
We've never found toothpaste that doesn't come in plastic but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Unfortunately getting it while travelling is difficult but a trip back to Germany this month means we'll be able to try some Denttabs. Small pills that you chew and then brush your teeth with. They come in a cardboard box. I'm a little sceptical but excited to try them. Watch this space!
We usually buy the glass roll-on versions but this still has a plastic ball and lid. After meeting some new friends in Armenia we were inspired to try making our own deodorant from baking soda, coconut oil and essential oils (recipe here). We've only used it a couple of times as we're waiting to finish our other ones but will give a review later this month.
Max has an electric trimmer and I already use a razor that has replaceable heads which reduces plastic but not entirely. When we're in Germany I'm going to look at getting a metal safety razor which lasts forever and isn't much bigger than a normal razor and it costs less than the horrifically overpriced razor heads!
Difficulties and Conclusions
One of the pieces I read this month about becoming more sustainable talked about it being a process and that everybody makes their changes at their own pace according to their lifestyle, beliefs, budget and access to alternatives.
I think this is especially true while travelling. The choices we have on the road are so much more limited and less informed than if we were living in our own countries. The country we're in also has an impact on our decisions, for example, there are recycling systems in Germany so using the occasional plastic bottle doesn't feel as bad.
Sustainability is a big discussion for us. We don't believe all plastic is evil and shouldn't be touched. There are many brilliant inventions involving plastic (this computer I'm typing on for one). There are also many things we don't want to live without or haven't found a plastic free solution to yet; we love Snickers bars and there's no way these two whities are heading to a beach without sunscreen! But for us, it's about making choices that we can commit to in the long term that don't impact our enjoyment of life and that help the planet in areas that we're passionate about. Our choices will grow and change as we do.
Our biggest barriers at the moment are budget and accessibility. More often than not, the organic/plastic-free/ethically made option is significantly more expensive than the alternatives (like sometimes 10x the price!) For budget travellers this is a hard pill to swallow. Again, we choose what's worth a bit extra and shoulder the guilt with some choices.
It's also just really difficult to find eco-friendly and ethical choices in countries that have no awareness or demand for it. You just try finding a zero-waste supermarket in Georgia or organic soap in small town India! Sometimes we just have to accept that we're not at home and that's also a choice we've made.
Things we're working out
Reducing plastic is like a gateway drug to a sustainable lifestyle. Once you start there are so many other things to consider, improve, change, eliminate and support. It's hard to think about our plastic use without considering other lifestyle choices. We're constantly plagued by questions like:
Is it better to buy the imported organic produce or local fruit packaged in plastic?
Does it count if we eat in a restaurant? They no doubt use plastic but also buy in bulk....
Is ordering an eco-friendly product online and having it shipped to us defeating the purpose?
Should we buy the crappy made t-shirt from a local who relies on the income or shop for eco-friendly cotton in a chain store?
Should we eat meat and dairy? Travel by plane? Shop in supermarkets? Buy imported products?
We honestly don't know the answer to a lot of these questions but we're definitely looking into what we eat, wear, support financially and consume.
When our milk/cheese is produced like this we feel ok!
We're only humans and we feel that we've made a good start. We'll keep you posted!
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Travel the World in Books
Books from different countries are my favourite kind of books. I never go anywhere without a book in my bag. Right now I'm lucky enough that I'm travelling whilst reading. But there have been many times in my life when I've turned to books to transport me to far away places, give me travel inspiration and teach me about other countries and cultures.
So I've created a list of books to take you around the world without leaving the comfort of your couch. These are my favourite books to inspire travel that are set in a variety of countries, cultures and time periods. Click on the book to read more about it or purchase a copy!
The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Sweden
Yes, the title is a mouthful but this is a truly brilliant book. Both Max and I laughed our way through this funny, heart-warming adventure of Allan the centurian as he gets caught up in all kinds of events. It also tells the story of his incredible 100 years. Very entertaining and clever. 'The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden' by the same author is also great.
The Little Coffeeshop of Kabul - Afghanistan
I accidentally bought this book twice as it has a different title in the US (A Cup of Friendship). This story is about five women and their lives in Kabul. An interesting and gripping insight into their individual lives and how they all come together.
The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas - Germany
This book was originally meant for children but it's harrowing subject makes it a good read for adults too. Set in a concentration camp in Germany two little boys strike up an unlikely friendship. Very sad but very striking, it's a book that stays with you. There is also a movie which is good.
Also Read: 24 Hours in Frankfurt: Things to do
The Caliph's House - Morocco
This is the amusing and intriguing true story of a family who move to Casablanca for a year. I really enjoyed reading all of their hassles, problems and triumphs trying to renovate a house and fit in. It didn't sound easy but some of the descriptions of the place had me wanting to go back and explore more of Morocco!
Small Great Things - The United States of America
I always whizz through Jodi Picoult novels but often find them thought-provoking and gripping. This was no exception. The story of a nurse and a family whose baby dies at the hospital and a the following court case. Brings about lots of discussion about race in modern USA.
Also Read: Seven Free Things to Do in New York
Mr Pip - Papua New Guinea
Set during the civil war in the 1990s on a small island. It follows Matilda, a teenage girl, through her experiences of the war. The one white man left on the island, Mr Watts, begins reading 'Great Expectations' to the children and they are swept away by their imaginations. But soon terrible things happen in Matilda's village. This is a pretty sad and often graphic story but I definitely learnt about country's history I knew very little about previously.
Do Not Say we have nothing - China
I read this one recently after picking it up at an airport in the UK (panicking that I wouldn't find a good range of English books for a while.) It's chunky (460 pages) and the language is very poetic but.. wow! With the risk of sounding corny it really takes you on magical journey. Weaving characters and families from modern day Canada to periods across Chinese history. And I know you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover but this one is as beautiful as the story within!
Also Read: 12 Hours in Beijing: Layover in China
The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Pakistan
This book is extremely well written. It takes place in a cafe in Lahore where a local Pakistani man sits with an American tourist over tea and tells him the story of his life. The cliff-hanger ending leaves the reader to decide how the story ends. I found this a very witty, interesting and gripping read. If you're looking for a true story set in Pakistan 'I am Malala' is a must-read.
The Motorcycle Diaries - Argentina
This iconic true story of Che Guavara and his friend who travel South America by motorbike. Along the way they discover many of the social injustices within the continent and are inspired to fight for the cause. An great piece of travel writing but also an interesting insight into the start of Che Guavara's revolutionary thinking.
The White Tiger - India
I found this book very different to lots of books I'd read set in India (I've read a lot). It's the story of a boy from a small village and his life as he tries to make something of himself, struggling against the class he was born into. It is written in first person in the form of letters and has some very sad, funny and thought-provoking moments. It is superbly written and won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.
Anything by Ian Rankin - Scotland
When I moved to Edinburgh I lived on the street next to the police station where these books are set. After constantly being told by my dad to go and 'ask for Inspector Rebus' I finally decided to read the books and see what he was going on about. Thoroughly gripping crime writing and all set in the streets of Edinburgh which I called home. There are 21 in the series so they are a great option if you're looking to get hooked into something. Also a great read if you've been or are going to Edinburgh. There are Rebus tours of Edinburgh too!
Also Read: Best Bookshops in Edinburgh
Half of a yellow sun - Nigeria
This is hands down one of my favourite books of all time. I love books that write from the perspective of multiple characters and weave the stories together and this book does it brilliantly. Set during the Nigerian civil war it tells the story from the perspective of twin daughters of an influential businessman, a professor, a British citizen, and a houseboy. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie also writes 'Purple Hibiscus' and 'Americanah' which are both fantastic.
Reading lolita in tehran - Iran
This is a true story of a university professor who starts a book group in 1990s in Tehran when many books are still banned in the country. It also tells the story of the revolution in Iran through the experiences and favourite books of the author. A great read for book lovers, women and anyone interested in the history of Iran.
Captain Corelli's mandolin - Greece
A love story set on a Greek island during World War Two. An Italian Army captain and local Greek woman fall in love and the story follows their relationship through the war and beyond. This is historical fiction so the events are based on real happenings during the war. An excellent story of love and life on a little Greek island.
The Whale Rider - New Zealand
I struggled for a while to choose a novel from my home country but this one is pretty iconic. It's set is a small town on the North Island of New Zealand and follows a young girl who wants to be the chief of her tribe. The story also incorporates the Maori traditional myth of the whale rider. A good read for anyone interested in Maori culture and myths.
Also Read: Christmas in New Zealand
All the Light we cannot see - France
Set during World War Two a blind girl and her father escape from Paris. The story simultaneously follows a German soldier and throughout the story you know they will meet but are constantly drawn in as to where and when! It's a beautifully told story that spans the lives of two interesting characters both before and during the war.
The ruins of us - Saudi Arabia
Told from the perspective of a American woman who spent part of her childhood in Saudi before marrying a Saudi Arabian man and moving back there and raising two children. Her husband decides to take a second wife and the family is suddenly put through some very trying times. I found this situation interesting and enjoyed reading about ideas such as polygamy, marriage and religion from a different perspective.
Child 44 - Russia
A crime thriller set in Moscow during the Stalin regime of the 1950s. Leo, a former state security agent, begins to investigate a series of murders and is exiled. But he continues to search for answers with the help of his wife. A real eye-opener into life under Stalin and also a gripping thriller.
Without you there is no us - North Korea
North Korea is by no means on my travel list but it's sure an interesting place to read about, especially considering the lack of information coming out of the country. This is the true story of a woman who goes to teach in English in North Korea. Her stories and experiences are entertaining, scary and at times completely mind-blowing to think this is really happening in our world in 2017.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of harold fry - England
As I read this book I found myself thinking of a little less complicated version of 'The 100 year old man...'. Harold receives a letter and is compelled to leave his home and walk the length of England to see an old friend. A simple, touching, sad and funny story.
The Poisonwood Bible - The Congo
This is about a missionary family from the US who move to the Belgian Congo in the 1960s. It follows the family through the narratives of the four daughters during their time there and the years that follow. It's a long read but has an interesting storyline and deals with important themes such as colonisation, family bonds and guilt.
Long Walk to Freedom - South Africa
Ok confession: I haven't finished reading this book. It's a real brick and is currently keeping all of the other books stable on our van bookshelf. But I think it's a really important book to read about an incredible person. The autobiography of Nelson Mandala is a great way to understand some of the recent political events in South Africa. It covers is early life and his 27 years in prison leading up to him being released and becoming the first black president of South Africa. Inspiring to say the least.
Cloud Street - Australia
Somewhat of an Australian classic I'm told. This is set in the suburbs of Perth over the 1940s-60s and is about two working class Australian families living in a two floors of the same house. The way their lives become entwined over the 20 years makes for a funny, sad and entertaining read.
So now you know all my favourite books from around the world. The next time your looking for a book to inspire travel, teach you something new or just to cuddle up with on the couch, pick a country and get reading!
All books are affiliate links. This means if you purchase one I'll get a small amount towards a new book too (at no extra cost to you!) Happy reading!
For a lover of books and travel what could be a better activity than visiting libraries around the world?! From beautiful old libraries to modern buildings there are so many worth seeing and they are usually free to go into. While I don't always sit and read, the feeling of walking through large rooms filled with books is enough to satisfy my inner bookworm. So, in no particular order, here are some incredible libraries I have visited around the world!
A little hard to find among the sprawling buildings of the university but when you do it is worth it. There are mixed reviews about which parts you can go into as a member of the public but we managed to find a friendly librarian who took us on our own little tour (free of charge). The highlight was the Aula Magna, a beautiful room lined with books from floor to ceiling with globes standing next to wooden reading desks and ladders leading to the higher shelves.
The New York Public Library is free to enter and has brilliant hallways to walk through as well as stunning reading rooms. In the children's section you can see the soft toys which inspired the characters of Winnie the Pooh. There is also a great shop with lots of book related gifts.
National and University Library, Ljubljana, Slovenia
The reading room of the National and University library, Ljubljana is only open at certain times as it is still used as a study room for university students. It costs €2 to enter and is a really beautiful old reading room. The rest of the library and exhibitions are free to enter.
Jose Marti Provincial Public Library, Santa Clara, Cuba
Technically not a tourist attraction, we found ourselves invited inside for a tour with the security guard and a Danish family we had met a few days earlier. The place was closed for the day but usually functions as a public library. To me it looked more like a museum set up to show what libraries looked like 50 years ago. Huge wooden book shelves, two ancient computers and a paper system for categorizing and checking out books. One wall was painted with a giant mural of Mother Earth. Although it had a bit of a ghost-town feel this was an interesting experience and very different to most other libraries I've experienced.
Duchess Anna Amalia Library, Weimar, Germany
This is an amazing library with a very interesting history. Entrance is limited to 290 people per day and costs €7.50. We went in the morning and got in without an issue. There was an audio guide available in many languages and is free. It explained to us about the history of the library and how lots of it was lost in a fire in 2004. There are videos and exhibits showing the painstaking process of restoring both the library and many of the priceless books.
Library of Alexandria, Egypt
If you're like me this name conjures up images of an ancient library filled with scrolls. However, this is a brand new building built in 2002 to commemorate its namesake which was destroyed in a fire. Entrance to the library is around €5 and cheaper for students (Egyptians are free). The building includes an impressive collection of books in a large reading room. There are also several other rooms and a shop. Downstairs there is an exhibition hall with a collection of ancient artefacts, this costs extra, The best view of the library (in my opinion) is from the outside where you can clearly see the amazing architecture of the building.
National Library of Kosovo, Pristina, Kosovo
This was named one of the worlds ugliest buildings and the architecture sure is interesting. But it's a cool place to see. It's free to enter and is quite small. But there are some historic photos on the walls and nice architecture inside. It's definitely one of the more novel libraries I've visited.
Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
This is the first library that will come up in most amazing libraries bucketlists. It's an incredible place and should be number one on your list of things to do in Dublin. You can walk through the amazing library rooms and see The Book of Kells. Entrance costs €10.
Sitting in a hotel room in a small German town, less than one week back in the country since my trip to Central America and only 2 days after booking flights to NYC, Max and I decided we wanted to purchase a camper van. Not a big one with a kitchen and electricity but a converted delivery van with just the basics for sleeping in (on the side of the road without being noticed). We were inspired by one for sale on a facebook page connecting NZers in Germany and after a bit of research decided it would be a pretty economical, flexible and fun way to travel through Europe for the first part of our big adventure next year.
After further research we found that the van for sale was a decent model and had been well-built up to be stayed in for long periods. We messaged the guy and agreed to take a trip up to Hamburg the following weekend to check it out. The van came with everything we could possibly need (including a book collection, lego figures and a toaster) and despite a dent and a little surface rust, we fell in love with it.
Max engaged in some excellent bargaining with the owner and we drove away with what we felt was a great deal and a new home! Over the next few days we (well more Max) managed to negotiate the complex system of vehicle registration and insurance in Germany and with shiny new number plates we were ready to roll.
Key Features of the Van
Large double mattress
End of the mattress folds up to be a table.
Side shelf and fold out shelf which also works as a small table.
Front seats swivel 180 degrees to face the big table.
No side windows so it is private and looks like an ordinary van from the outside. Perfect for wild camping!
Sliding doors on both sides
Awesome retro curtain from Max's grandmother's house across the back window.
Apple crates which slide under the bed for storage.
Small camping stove, pots, pans etc
Tarpaulin which can be attached to the side of the van and then neighbouring trees for extra sheltered space.
After living in the van for 3 months now we can safely say we made a good investment. It's the perfect size for 2 people while still being not much larger than a normal car. It's very easy to park and we can easily free camp even in cities as we just look like a parked vehicle rather than a camper. We did pretty well at stocking up with all the vanlife essentials before we left Germany and besides a new battery (eek!) Morrison has made it thus far without any problems.