Updated: Nov 9, 2020
The cabin fever is setting in and travel is on the top of my mind. With all of our 2020 plans
cancelled and no end in sight, I can't help but plan our next adventure. Where will we go? What will we do? When can we leave? And, most importantly, how can we reduce our impact on Mother Earth?
Travel is all the rage these days, and why wouldn't it be? The world is at our disposal, but that's part of the problem. Traveling obviously isn't the most environmentally friendly hobby, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. However, it is important to travel mindfully and make an effort to keep our desecration to a minimum. Easier said than done, right? Wrong. Eco-tourism is trending and I think it will become the norm (we have no choice). So how can you do your part in keeping your travels sustainable?
Here's my list of my Top 13 Tips for Traveling Mindfully:
Avoid Single-Use Plastic
Before I even head out on the road, I always make sure I have my sustainability kit packed; even if I'm just going for a day trip. For me, that looks like a tote bag or backpack loaded up with a reusable water bottle, stainless steel cup, my bento box, utensils, a straw, cloth napkins, and a few grocery bags. If I'm going on a longer trip, I usually have extra containers, a couple jars, some silicone bags, and basically every to-go cup I own, just to be safe. It's nearly impossible to be 100% zero-waste, but the goal is reduction, not perfection.
Another way you can reduce your plastic consumption is by skipping the travel sized toiletries. You don't need the little bottles of hotel shampoo, and your body will thank you in the long run if you switch to an eco-friendly option! I, personally, opt to DIY everything in my home, so bringing smaller portions onto an airplane only makes sense. If you already have small bottles from previous trips, the best option is to refill those - but you can also find travel bottles just about anywhere. If you're not the DIY type, I highly recommend supporting your local refillery such as Conscious Space in Fort Myers, FL. Otherwise, you can always buy large bottles of what you need from wherever you get your self-care products and fill your travel bottles before you head out on your adventure.
If you're travelling abroad, or to anywhere with a different native language, it's important that you familiarize yourself with their language and culture. Learn some basic phrases to help you get around; don't be disrespectful when you realize the rest of the world doesn't speak English. Be mindful of the rituals, holidays, and patterns within the country that you're headed. Remember, you're a tourist on their homeland.
One of the best ways to explore a new place is through the eyes of a local. Open yourself up to meet new people - ask around for suggestions on what to do and where to eat. Most of the time, their advice will bring your somewhere way more interesting than TripAdvisor.
Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
We're all aware of how travel can impact the environment. As much as we want to, we can't just ignore the fact that transportation adds to one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions: the use of fossil fuels. We can't all afford electric vehicles or solar panels to charge them (though, that would be great). So what can we do to offset our carbon footprint?
There are several organizations that help with this, the one I use for travel and business is called OffCents. You can download their free app, fill out your vehicle specs, and they will track your movement to record the amount of carbon emissions you have produced! At the end of the month, week, or day, you can offset your footprint by donating to the projects they support. You'll be surprised by how little it costs to travel with virtually no emissions! Check out this article from Terrapass to learn more about carbon offsets.
Explore By Foot
One obvious way to reduce your footprint that most people take for granted is by using your legs. I know walking sounds far fetched in a society that thrives on Uber, but let's be honest, we could all use a little exercise. I challenge you to explore the city by foot, bike, scooter, and public transit the next time you're out and about; see what neat things you stumble upon (and let me know in the comments!).
Have you heard of slow travel? It's exactly what it sounds like. In laymen's terms, it's when you don't go directly from point A to point B; you slow down and explore the in between. It might not always be an option, but when it is, it's extremely beneficial - especially on a long road trip. This gives you time to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and explore a city that you may not have stopped in otherwise. Plus, it gives the Earth a little break, too. I fell in love with Kansas City, a place I never saw myself going, on my way from Florida to Colorado. My husband and I were only in Missouri for a total of 36 hours, but we did a lot of exploring in that time (and ate a lot of good food).
Try a Plant Based Diet
Animal agriculture makes up a ridiculous percentage of the world's CO2 emissions. No, I'm not saying go vegan (even though you should, lol). What I am suggesting is that you try eating plant based for a week, a day, or even just a meal. While you're out on the road, you can check out Happy Cow to find restaurants, bars, farmers markets, grocery stores, shops, and maybe even a bed & breakfast with vegan and vegetarian options. It's a great way to try something new, and my favorite way to reduce my impact on the Earth (and the animals).
Contribute to the Local Economy
Skip the Chains
Supporting the local businesses, wherever you are, is so important. It means putting money back into the local economy, and not into big corporations' pockets. It means supporting a family trying to make a living, and the civilians who work for them and make up the community you are visiting (or live in). Next time you go to a restaurant, bar, or shop, aim to support small. Chances are, you're going to have a better meal or cup of coffee at a mom & pop cafe than you would at Panera Bread or Starbucks.
Your five star hotel (or shitty motel) isn't local or eco-friendly, either. Actually, it's quite the opposite. Instead of staying at the Holiday Inn or Super 8, try seeking out a locally owned bed & breakfast or youth hostel, or at least opt to stay in an Airbnb. Try going camping for a couple nights! Get in nature and out of the hustle and bustle of the city. If you're really keen on staying in a hotel, or it's your only option, you can make and effort to make your experience as sustainable as possible. Try to find Green Choice hotels that do their part in caring for the environment; this looks different from business to business. If that still isn't an option, you can request that you don't have your linens cleaned everyday and bring your own toiletries, coffee cup, and water.
Support Local Farmers
If you stumble upon a farmers market while you're on the road, or can plan on visiting one, go! You never know what you'll find, but you can be almost certain that you can find a plethora of fresh produce, honey, spices, and lots of handmade souvenirs. You can avoid the grocery store and the gift shop, and find some truly unique treasures at the local markets. Try to find locally grown and organic fruits and vegetables and cook a meal or two wherever you're staying. If there are no farmers markets around, you may be able to find a local grower who sells produce directly from their farm.
Spend Your Money Ethically
Don't Inadvertently Exploit Animals
This one may seem obvious, but unfortunately, many activities people consider normal are actually quite unethical. Instead of going to the zoo or circus, swimming with captive dolphins, or taking a ride on an elephant's back, consider supporting an animal sanctuary or rehabilitation center. Just make sure you do your research about whether or not the animals were actually rescued. No one should profit off of animal abuse, but that's exactly what many organizations are doing.
Avoid Giving Money to Beggars
It might seem counter-intuitive if you are feeling generous or want to help, but handing money over to beggars on the street isn't actually helping anyone. This is a problem mostly in underdeveloped countries - children and women are exploited and kept out of school to ask for money from tourists. I witnessed this first hand in Ecuador. It's a tough situation to be in, because while you want to help, you don't know their story. Children who are kept out of school to bring money home to their families aren't getting the education they need; how is that going to look for them down the line? Instead of giving a dollar here and there to beggars, you can donate to or volunteer with a local organization that is actually working to solve a crisis.
Stay in the Moment
Take a hike. Go kayaking or paddle boarding. Hop on a bicycle and ride for miles. Climb a mountain, go for a swim, or try something new. Bathe in the sun and listen to the sounds of nature; feel the breeze against your skin and the ground beneath your feet. Take a few photos, and then put your phone away. Better yet, put it on airplane mode - the texts can wait. When the day is done and you're back in your office in front of your computer or standing at that customer service counter, you'll be thinking about the beautiful sunset you watched, not how many likes you got on your Instagram post.
Drop the Itinerary
This one is hard for me. I'm notorious for planning my trips down to the minute. In the past, I've had our vacations mapped out by time and place, typed up, printed, and highlighted in different colors to know I am in full control of my time. The thing is, my time is never spent exactly as I planned. We didn't wake up on time or something took longer than I had expected - we're off course. It took me a few years to adjust to letting go of the agenda, but now I've gotten the hang of letting life take the lead. Don't get me wrong, I still do my research, decide on a few places I definitely want to eat or things I need to see/do, but I no longer set them in stone. I no longer plan out exactly when we're doing what. To my surprise, things are actually more fun this way. Who would've thought? I don't have to have all the control - and I do love control (my sun is in Capricorn, I had no choice). The best part about dropping the itinerary is that you can come across things you never would have seen had you been on a strict schedule. It's kind of magical to allow yourself to get lost in a new place.
My last piece of advice, and probably the most valuable, simple, and FREE thing on my list, is to stay in the present moment. Don't think too far into the future or regret what you may have missed. Otherwise, you'll end up missing a lot more than you think. This doesn't apply solely to travel, this is everyday life. Stay in the moment and you'll find yourself enjoying whatever it is you're doing, even the not-so-fun stuff, a whole lot more. When you're fully immersed in the task at hand, not multitasking or thinking about what you're having for dinner, you will find your mind at ease and full of joy.
I hope you enjoyed this post and can incorporate some of my advice into your life! Remember, we can't do it all, but we can do our best.
I'd love to hear from you! How do you incorporate mindfulness and sustainability into your travels or day-to-day life? Let me know in the comments or shoot me a message directly!
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