If we are to go on living together on this Earth, we must all be responsible for it.
Full disclosure: I couldn’t have written this post a year ago. Hell, I probably couldn’t have written it even eight months ago. But that was before the president pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. That was before the goal of his budget proposal would potentially slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific research programs by nearly half. That was before I woke up and realized that my so-called valiant efforts of recycling and turning off the water when brushing my teeth wasn’t nearly enough to even make a dent in helping protect our environment.
So I decided to do more. I made some big changes in our day-to-day life like composting and some little changes like buying reusable paper towels. Each and every day I try to reduce my carbon footprint a little bit more–there are days that I’m relatively successful (those are the days I walk pretty much everywhere and fill up our compost bin until it’s nearly overflowing) and there are days that well, not so much (like when I call Uber in the morning because well, #morningsarenotmyfriend). And while I am far from perfect and still have a looooong ways to go, I sleep a bit easier knowing that my concerted efforts (even the teeny tiny ones) are making a difference.
But why stop here? As frequent travelers, I know that it’s our moral responsibility to be more deliberate and responsible in our travels by traipsing through this world a bit more delicately and purposefully.
Something to note: I’ve been reading quite a bit on this topic over the past several months, and while there are numerous ways to travel more sustainably, I’ve chosen to focus on the ones that are the most realistic and approachable. Sure, we’d all love to solely fly on direct flights–since take-offs and landings use the most fuel–but that’s not always feasible and/or the most cost-effective. So while choosing direct flights has a significant impact on our environment, it’s just not always plausible.
All of the tips featured below are simple(!) and totally doable(!) action steps that we can all take to help reduce our carbon footprint and take better care of our home, Mother Earth.
Pack a reusable water bottle
The easiest change I’ve made so far while traveling.
Just because you’re away from the comforts of your home doesn’t mean you have to contribute to plastic waste. I’ve started packing my reusable water bottle in my carry-on and have drastically reduced my plastic bottle consumption. In many western nations like Austria, Canada, and the Netherlands, the tap water is perfectly safe to drink and is just waiting to fill up that water bottle of yours. But in other countries like Mexico and the Peru where it’s not safe to drink the tap water, look to see if your hotel offers purified filtered drinking water in its lobby and/or restaurant where you can repeatedly fill up your bottle to your heart’s content. Furthermore, some airports in cities like Charlotte and Chicago provide filtered water stations that are especially designed for reusable bottles. Such a simple yet impactful step toward eliminating waste.
Filtered water station at Charlotte Douglas International Airport:
Pack an eco-friendly tote bag
You bring reusable bags to the grocery store (right?!), so why not bring one along on your travels? If you plan on shopping during your trip, pack a canvas tote in your luggage so you don’t have to use plastic bags. If we are traveling somewhere that’s known for its amazing markets, we typically pack an empty duffle bag to carry larger and fragile items like pottery and vases. Bringing an extra reusable bag takes very little room in your suitcase, serves as a carry-on, and is eco-friendly. Win-Win-Win.
One of my all-time favorite markets: Istanbul’s incredible Spice Bazaar:
Satisfying my spice obsession at New Delhi’s Chandni Chowk market:
Shopping in Cairo’s famous souk, Khan el-Khalili. Yep, more spices. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
Visiting a local market in Bali:
Whenever at all possible, support small business owners and local artists by shopping locally. Purchasing local products greatly reduces the amount of transport and fuel needed to ship and fly goods in from overseas. One more thing: if you are traveling somewhere, especially another country, wouldn’t you rather experience something like the food and art that is indigenous to the region? Connecting with different cultures and seeing others’ perspectives creates a more global society where global citizens co-habitate and begin to see beyond geographic and cultural divides.
Buying artwork in Buenos Aires’ colorful La Boca neighborhood:
Posing with this talented artist and my beautiful new bowl in New Mexico:
Eat and drink locally
Experiencing the local culture is a significant part of traveling and trying traditional food, local ingredients, and regional delicacies are all largely connected to that cultural experience. Eating locally provides a glimpse into the country’s heritage, customs, and memories; so much of a country’s fabric centers around its cuisine and relationship with food. Purchasing local and seasonal food cuts down on travel and transport as well as supports local farmers and helps maintain farmland and green spaces. Choosing to drink coffee in a local café, snacking on street food, and/or dining in neighborhood eateries are all simple yet effective ways to be a socially responsible tourist, all while boosting the local economy.
Learning to cook traditional moqueca in a family-run restaurant in Rio de Janeiro:
The girl who doesn’t eat meat trying (and liking!) fried scorpion in Beijing:
Trying decomposed shark carcass (hákarl) in Iceland. And yes, it was as disgusting as it sounds:
Learning about rice harvesting in Bali:
Delicious churros in Havana:
Be on the lookout for recycling receptacles
Sometimes the most unlikely of places can surprise you. Whenever we visit the Dominican Republic, I complain about the lack of recycling options, particularly in our condominium complex. So imagine my delightful surprise when walking through the airport to find this:
Have these receptacles always been here? Perhaps. Have I blindly walked by them countless times? Most likely. Will I now make sure to seek them out the next time we’re in the Dominican Republic? Absolutely.
More walking. Less Driving.
Not many things are better for you and this world of ours than walking. Living in a city, we are extremely fortunate that we can walk to countless places, including my job. But of course, sometimes it’s pouring rain, sometimes places are too far to walk to, and sometimes, calling Uber or hopping in our car is just plain easier. If you’re traveling in a city, consider taking public transportation and/or walk! Walking is the best way to explore a new area–and you won’t feel nearly as guilty about skipping your workout that day (or, umm, the entire trip). If renting a car, inquire about more fuel-efficient vehicles, like hybrids, electric, and smaller cars.
NEXT STEPS: #ecofriendlygoals
Goal #1: Just say no to straws
Have you seen the #Stopsucking campaign with the video of numerous celebrities saying catchy phrases like: I suck, we suck, and we all need to stop sucking ASAP? With the exception of drinking an iced coffee every now and then and the occasional cocktail when I’m out, I don’t tend to drink out of straws all that often in my day-to-day life. But when I’m traveling? Especially if it’s a tropical location? Well as with my somewhat strict diet and exercise regiment, things tend to fall by the wayside when I’m traveling. Straws in my cocktails. Straws in my Pina Coladas. Straws in my margaritas. Straws, straws, and more straws. So just like Adrian Grenier and Van Jones, apparently when I travel, I suck, too. But this sucking problem can be easily resolved (or at least alleviated) by simply asking my servers and bartenders to skip the straws. It’s settled. This is my new and totally doable goal.
Proof that I suck: Drinking daiquiris at one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering holes, El Floridita in Havana, Cuba:
Goal #2: Stay in local eco-friendly lodging more often
It’s no secret that large hotels are pretty inefficient when it comes to sustainability. Choosing alternative accommodations like an ecolodge or private home are not only significantly better for the environment, they also often provide economic benefits to locals and small business owners. One of the best places we’ve ever stayed at is Lapa Rios Lodge in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. And wow. It just dawned on me that I’ve never blogged about Costa Rica–Where T and I got married and honeymooned–how can that be?! But I digress. All of the guided tours at Lapa Rios help to support the ongoing maintenance of the reserve and the community economy is supported by the lodge. An incredible place to stay with the added bonus of supporting the local community. I need to do more of this much more often.
Phenomenal bungalows with striking views at Lapa Rios:
So what other easy and sustainable travel tips have I missed? Feel free to leave a comment sharing your go-to eco-friendly travel suggestions!