*This post is generously sponsored by Wander Travel. I received a fee in exchange for writing this story and access to my audience. All opinions are, as always, honestly mine.*
Traveling is a privilege, an amazing way to see the world and learn new things. A trip abroad can offer the opportunity to unwind or adventure, but it also opens you up to making decisions that do not necessarily reflect the conscious, sustainable lifestyle that you lead at home. Whether it’s flying in a carbon-intensive airplane, staying at a hotel that exploits local workers, drinking from water bottles when you’re out and about, or even something as simple as interacting with a local, travel leaves a lot of doors open for non-sustainable and non-conscious actions. Yet traveling with a clear conscience is possible and fun! Being a conscious traveler takes a decent amount of thought and pre-planning, but the resulting reward is always worth the effort.
When I travel I always do my best to be conscious of the environment, my budget, and the culture that I am visiting. It’s important to me to take actions, both small and large, that can turn my impact as a traveler into a positive one. How can I minimize my carbon footprint and waste when I’m adventuring around the mountainous roads of Vietnam? Can I support indigenous people’s rights when I’m chilling on the beach in Tulum? Is it possible to stay on a budget and eat sustainably sourced food when I'm sitting on the Seine in Paris? After 5 years of various adventures with a sustainable heart and conscious mind, I’ve come up with some pretty good tips and tricks. Try implementing some of these the next time you go on vacation!
1. Bring your favorite reusable items
It’s ridiculous that much of the world does not have access to clean drinking water from the tap - but that’s a conversation for another day. Now we’re focusing on the vessel for said water, a vessel that should be reusable and sustainably made as opposed to made out of flimsy petroleum-based plastics. The easiest way to ensure that no plastic water bottles make their way into your vacation is to bring along your own reusable bottle and a portable filter. A good metal container is a great way to eat food on the go - no styrofoam trash required - and a reusable grocery bag is an absolute must. Up your sustainability game even more by bringing along a set of reusable utensils, a few sheets of Bee's Wrap for wrapping random bits of leftover food, and a bandanna or handkerchief to stand in for paper napkins. Imagine a day spent traipsing around Tel Aviv with your own filtered water on hand to keep hydrated, a cloth bag packed full of falafel in a steel container, a bit of halva wrapped safely in a sheet of Bee's Wrap, and all the utensils you need to enjoy a nice picnic on the Mediterranean. Doesn't that sound more pleasant than stopping off to pick up a plastic bag full of various plastic-encased items as you head to the beach?
2. Book ahead and do good
Where you decide to stay while you are visiting a new place can have a big impact on your fellow world citizen, and choosing to support a cause or an individual through your hotel booking is an added bonus for any conscious traveler. Stay with a friend, at a homestay, or at a small family-owned property in order to keep your money in the community that you will be visiting. Use a booking site like Wander to find the perfect hotel and give to a charity of your choice every time you book a room. Simply bookmark Wander as your go-to site for finding a hotel and support people in need around the world whenever you set off on an adventure! Sometimes, being an ethical and conscious traveler really is that simple.
3. Go by bus, bike, boot or train
If you’re not going far, whether at the beginning of your trip or in between stops, consider alternative vehicles to the fuel-guzzling airplane and watch your carbon footprint shrink. Zip around Europe or Japan via high-speed trains, zoom around Amsterdam or Barcelona on a bike, hike up and down the hills of Lisbon or meander the winding alleys of Florence instead of hopping in a car or booking a flight. These alternative, environmentally friendly modes of transportation are often the better way to see a new place anyway. One of my favorite travel stories is from the day that Jeremia and I decided to take the local buses to get across Bangkok and back - it was a hilariously confusing journey that resulted in us meeting interesting people, seeing a side of the city that we never would have otherwise, and boosting our confidence as people who can keep calm and figure things out, even when every sign and every voice is speaking in Thai. Get off the plane and out of the car and opt for a challenging and exciting adventure instead!
4. Find something to do outside of the tourist traps
Tourist strips in popular places tend to be high-priced and low-quality. Avoid the hype and opt for something off the beaten path. Maybe there is a local cafe nearby where you can sample traditional treats and enjoy watching the people go by, perhaps there is a hiking trail just up the road that will lead you to a gorgeous view, or it’s possible that by wandering the streets away from tourist traps you may just find a hidden gem that few travelers have discovered before. Get outside the part of town where every rowdy bar is packed with Aussies, Americans and Europeans, walk away from the generic pizza joints (how is there pizza in every country of the world?) and discover something more affordable and more enjoyable than you might imagine.
5. Visit the market, buy some groceries and get cooking
Traveling on a budget becomes a lot harder when you’re buying every meal out at a restaurant, especially if you’re staying in or frequenting touristy areas. My favorite thing to do when I arrive in a new place is to seek out the local farmers market. Winding my way through stalls packed with fresh, local fruits and listening to the fast-paced chatter of vendors and regular customers is a more exciting experience than any other part of my vacations. The hustle and bustle of the local market is the best way to experience a new culture, and cooking up a healthy meal from local ingredients is a close second. Reduce your carbon footprint by purchasing goods that came from somewhere close by, respect the local culture by meeting people and learning about their lives, and give your wallet a break by bringing your fresh goodies home and making a simple meal that can last a few days.
6. Support the local makers
Despite my commitment to sustainability, I'm not really a minimalist. I live for finding beautiful textiles and trinkets that either tell a story or teach a lesson. One of my favorite things to do in a new place is to seek out pretty objects to take home with me. So many travelers share my love of acquiring mementos, which has unfortunately encouraged a flourishing industry of cheap, poorly made tchotchkes that are either inappropriately appropriating a culture or directly harming it by exploiting it's people and their resources. When hunting for a beautiful item that will remind me of my travels I am able to avoid those cheap, exploitative items by asking a few simple questions: Where is this made? What is it made from? and How is it made? These three questions can quickly help me to discern whether an item is made locally by a family business or community cooperative or if it was made far away from who knows what by unnamed laborers. I will always opt for the local, community driven products because I know that when I purchase them, my money will go directly back into the community whose culture I've had the privilege of visiting and enjoying on my travels.
7. Be nice
Last but not least, remember to be a decent human being. Americans have a reputation for being rude, loud, and messy world travelers. To prove that reputation wrong, I always try to smile and treat everyone with respect. Flying, taking a bus or a train, finding something good to eat, or booking an exciting activity can all be stressful tasks, especially when you don’t know the language or the nuances of a particular culture. A smile and a healthy dose of patience will make a huge difference when dealing with these situations and interacting with others. Remember that you are are a visitor in their home and be polite! The easiest way to be nice to locals is to learn their way of saying “hello,” “please,” “thank you” and “excuse me” as soon as you arrive. A little bit of respect and friendliness will go a long way when meeting strangers from around the world.
There are so many ways not to be a conscious traveler, but why should that be our default? My purpose when traveling is not just to relax, be treated like a queen and get a tan. No, my purpose is to discover the world and the people in it while showing respect for them and the incredible planet that we all inhabit together.
This post was generously sponsored by Wander Travel in collaboration with the Ethical Writers & Creatives. See their take on conscious wandering:
*All images in this post are taken by Faye Lessler*