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Sustainability “on the road”: Tips for an environmentally conscious vanlife.

A woman stands outdoors in front of her Sprinter and takes a shower

An ecological lifestyle and the vanlife are not mutually exclusive. We have practical tips and tricks to help make your travels resource-saving and environmentally conscious.

The sustainable van conversion.

Sustainable travelling begins with the conversion of the van itself. Anyone choosing a customised body should utilise natural materials. Another rule also applies: everything does not necessarily need to be brand-new. Instead, use existing material or buy second-hand – this is also more cost effective. The opportunities range from retired camping furniture to left over wood that can be transformed into shelves or kitchen equipment with a little skill. Good insulation saves you from having to use the heating or air conditioning too much. Natural materials such as cork are an option here. The same applies for the flooring: Linoleum made of pollutant-free material of natural origins is an alternative to an elegant wooden floor. To sum up: when buying new, always pay attention to quality. Because sustainability also means ensuring a long service life.

The interior of a converted van

Natural materials are both comforting and environmentally friendly.

The place on my right is free.

When choosing a vehicle, an economical engine is important. One rule of thumb applies: the larger the vehicle, the higher the fuel consumption. The emissions per head decrease when the van has as many passengers as seats. In addition, the length of the journey should correspond to the length of the stay. It is better to choose nearer destinations for short trips and forego long drives that use a lot of fuel. Last but not least: always drive with the motto “slow travel”. Because a forward-looking driving style and a constant speed not only has a positive influence on the traffic but also on your fuel consumption.

A Sprinter parked between towering trees in the forest

When living and travelling in a van, the world becomes your living room and you spend a lot of time with nature.

Camping in harmony with nature.

Keep your eyes open when choosing a camping site: look for ecological camping areas on your sustainable journey. These make especially efficient use of water and energy, for example. In addition, the nature-oriented design also promotes species diversity. You can identify environmentally certified camping grounds by the international eco-label (see below). Camping needs electricity. LED lights and solar panels are energy-saving options. Another benefit: supplying your own energy is not only more environmentally friendly but also increases your independence.

Three international camping eco labels.

If you are interested in ecologically sustainable camping, keep an eye out for the “Green Key”, “Green Globe” and “EU Ecolabel” international eco-labels. These programs certify camping grounds focused on sustainability and social responsibility. This includes environmentally conscious waste disposal, energy supply from solar panels, respectful use of resources, environmentally friendly water and waste management, local shopping, bio-awareness and social responsibility toward employees and guests as well as environmental awareness activities.

Waste prevention “on the road”.

Waste prevention on the road is definitely more difficult than at home. But still doable. When shopping: use as little packaging as possible and use fabric bags rather than plastic bags. Ideally, buy fresh produce at the local markets. This supports local producers and avoids unnecessary packaging. Instead of small plastic bottles, you can purchase your water in large canisters and fill it into glass or stainless steel drinking bottles. Dispose of any waste the right way. Set a good example and make sure that you leave the places you stay clean and tidy. If you want to go one step further, you can organise “beach clean-ups” (see below) and remove rubbish left on the beaches.

A person stands on a bank and holds collected refuse in their hands

Clean oceans: everyone can contribute to freeing our oceans from refuse.

How to organise a “beach clean-up”.

Next time you drive to the beach, download the “Clean Swell” app from Ocean Conservancy and take a rubbish bag with you to collect and document any waste left behind or washed up on the beach. No matter where you are in the world: the data collected is immediately uploaded to the global Ocean Conservancy refuse database. This data creates a snapshot of ocean waste and provides researchers and political decision-makers with insights to find solutions. You can share your results and the effects you have achieved with friends via Facebook, Twitter or e-mail.

Natural products for (vanlife) hygiene.

Also focus on environmentally friendly products for your own personal hygiene. Whether shower gel, shampoo or toothpaste – cosmetic products generally contain micro-plastics or other chemical substances such as tensides that are a burden on the environment as they are not biodegradable. To protect the environment, choose natural cosmetic products or alternatives: instead of conventional body lotion, you can use pure natural oils such as coconut oil, argan oil or olive oil. Solid soap is also more environmentally friendly as it creates less packaging waste. You can also manufacture a lot of cosmetics yourself using a few simple ingredients.

Make your own deodorant out of three ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tsp. coconut oil
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. potato or corn starch
  • Optional: 10 drops of an essential oil of your choice

Preparation:

Evenly mix the baking soda and starch. Add one part of the liquid coconut oil (do not add it all at once to better control the consistency). Mix everything well until it creates a creamy paste. Add more coconut oil as needed to create a smooth cream. Last of all, stir in 10 drops of essential oil for the fragrance. Fill the deodorant cream into a pot and you are done. Simply put a pea-sized dollop on your finger to apply the deodorant. Rub the cream into your armpits and let it absorb. (Source: smarticular.net)

A pot with coconut oil and a wooden spoon

Natural oils such as coconut oil are ideal for many cosmetic articles.

Eat regional and seasonal foods.

There is little space in the van for storing food. Conscious shopping is essential. That is why you should focus on regional and seasonal produce. Every country has its own dishes and regional specialities. When you have already travelled a long distance, there is no reason for your food to do so. So support local producers and discover the regional delicacies. Plus, local restaurants are often less expensive than fast food chains. Unfamiliar with the menu? Simply ask the locals what they recommend.

A man tossing a pan in the kitchen of his van

Regional and seasonal: you can also expand your culinary horizons in the country you are visiting.

The shown conversions were carried out by independent third parties. The suppliers and conversions were not checked by Mercedes-Benz. In this respect, these illustrations do not represent an assessment of the supplier and/or conversions by Mercedes-Benz.

Photos: Lee & Max; Forest of Dean photographer videographer Capturing Adventure; We, Who RoamTiny Watts SolarMatt McMonagle

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