12 Tips for a Sustainable Study Abroad

Friday 26 March 2021

If you are currently preparing to or studying abroad, have you considered how sustainability fits into your placement? Have a look at the following tips to help you make the most of your time abroad by being environmentally-conscious, saving money and getting involved!

Move in/out

Before you head abroad, consider what you’ll need during your time away and ask yourself whether it’s worth bringing some extra belongings with you. This can be cheaper and more sustainable than buying lots of new items when you arrive at your destination. However, luggage space can be filled up quite quickly, so if you do find yourself needing to buy some extra things, consider this:

1. Don’t buy new

Before you head to the nearest retailer, browse through second-hand advertisements on platforms such as Facebook Marketplace, apps like OLIO and Too Good To Go or local charity shops – you might find exactly what you are looking for, but at a much better price! If you do end up buying a few extra bits, you probably won’t have room in your luggage to bring everything back home with you. If that is the case, don’t throw these things away. Instead, try this option:

2. Donate

Check if your University has any zero-waste initiatives such as St AndReuse. If not, try to find any local donation points, charity shops or volunteer groups that will take your things. If you must keep possessions, such as books for your research, it might cheaper and better for the environment to send them via a courier company, rather than paying additional baggage charges at the airport.


One of the biggest environmental impacts we have as individuals is our carbon footprint, which is strongly affected by how we travel. Study Abroad placements often lead to a higher than usual carbon footprint due to increased long-distance travel, especially flights. You can try to minimise this by avoiding long-haul and indirect flights where possible and consider not travelling back home throughout the duration of your placement. You can also reduce your mobility emissions through:

3. Carbon offsetting

This is a good way to make up for emissions that are otherwise unavoidable. Many airlines offer their own schemes that you can contribute to while booking your flight, or you can search online and choose specific projects to support.

4. Public transport

This is a cheap and easy way to travel locally. Many places offer student discounts on monthly or yearly travel passes. If you are wanting to go on a longer trip, try options such as FlixBus or consider getting a rail pass, e.g. through Interrail.

5. Cycling

A second-hand bike can be a great investment while you are abroad – it saves transport costs, keeps you fit and emits zero emissions. Many universities and cities also offer bike schemes through which you can rent and return bikes whenever you please.

Daily life

It can sometimes be difficult to see the significance in small individual choices, but these can make a real difference in the collective long-run. The following tips can help you become more sustainable in your everyday life whilst abroad:

6. Recycling

Make sure to recycle your waste and check your local recycling guidelines before doing so, as these can vary across countries, cities and even municipalities.

7. Buying seasonal, local produce.

This reduces the environmental impact of your food through reduced air miles and energy consumption. Remember to bring a reusable bag when shopping and try some regional specialties!

8. Reducing consumption of animal products

This is not only better for the environment (animal agriculture is a big source of greenhouse gas emissions due to deforestation, methane production and transport), but also for your health (lower risk of cardiovascular problems such as high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease).

9. Drinking tap water

Check if the water in your area is potable – if yes, refill your reusable water bottle to avoid single-use plastics and save on buying bottled water!

10. Sharing

Get together with other exchange students and share items such as cleaning products to avoid buying these in excess, or do your laundry together.

Get involved

Finally, if you want to go beyond individual action to promote a sustainable society and help others, consider the following:

11. Integrating sustainability into your curriculum

Universities are offering an increasing number of courses with direct links to sustainability and these are often available to all students. Why not browse through your University’s course selection and see what’s on offer?

12.  Volunteering

In most university towns, there is an abundance of student groups and local organisations that focus on all kinds of sustainability issues. Have a look and see what’s available in your area!

Hopefully these tips have inspired you to live a more sustainable life whilst studying abroad. If you think of anything that should be added to this list or have any comments, feel free to contact me at [email protected]!

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