5 Super Easy Ways To Travel Sustainably

The idea of traveling sustainably appeals to a lot of us, and yet most of us still don’t do it. It’s not that we don’t care enough about the environment … but it’s just that once we start thinking about calculating carbon emissions, or buying offsets, the whole concept suddenly seems so complicated.

The thing is, being an eco-conscious traveler doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, some of the simplest actions can have a huge impact on the environment. And the good news is many of those actions won’t cost you anything – and some of them will even save you money in the long run. Want to know how you can travel and still do your bit for the planet? Read on to learn five super easy ways to travel sustainably.

1. Unplug household appliances. Traveling sustainably starts even before you step out through your front door and onto that airplane. All those electronics you have at home are sucking up power even when you’re not using them – standby mode does not mean the device is actually off. So if you’re going to be away from home for more than a couple of days, go ahead and unplug everything you can. Televisions, DVD players, stereos and computers are some of the biggest power drains, but don’t forget smaller appliances too. If you want to see just how much juice your appliances are drinking, there’s a handy chart here. Of course, there are some things – such as your DVR or alarm clock – that you may not want to shut down. A great option for these kinds of devices is to plug them into a smart power strip. These power strips stop the appliances from consuming power when they’re done charging or operating.2. Use refillable toiletry containers. When you’re trying to stick to the carry-on liquid restrictions, it makes sense to go out and buy the travel-sized version of your shampoos, lotions and cleansers. The problem is, all those little containers get used up quickly and generate a ton of trash. So instead of rushing out and buying mini products, pick up a couple of empty, reusable containers and fill them with your regular products. By topping them up rather than discarding them once they’re empty, you’ll stop a lot of plastic from ending up in landfill. Your wallet will thank you too, since those miniature products don’t exactly come cheap.

3. Reuse hotel towels and bedding. There’s something luxurious about fluffy, white bath towels that have been freshly laundered, and when you’re staying in a hotel, it’s so easy to just drop once-used towels on the floor and have housekeeping bring you bright, clean, new ones. The problem is, this practice uses up huge volumes of water. Believe it or not, it takes 6-8 gallons of water to wash one set of towels and another 6-8 gallons to wash one set of bed sheets. It’s not hard to see how that would quickly add up in a hotel with hundreds of rooms. So, tempting as it may be to discard that barely used towel or ask for fresh sheets, hold back. After all, do you really change your sheets and towels everyday when you’re at home?

4. Carry a reusable water bottle. There are lots of places in the world where it’s unsafe or unadvisable to drink the tap water, and many travelers end up buying little bottles of water every time they’re thirsty. You can see where this is going, right? Most of those plastic bottles end up in a dump somewhere (recycling isn’t the easiest thing when you’re traveling, even if you’re so inclined) with about three quarters of the plastic bottles produced in the U.S. making their way to landfills each year. If you really want to go green, pick up a water bottle that comes with a built in water filter – this way you can fill up with tap water and the liquid will purify as it flows through the filter. You’ll eliminate the need for bottled water entirely and save a ton of cash in the long run. If you don’t want to go that far, at least buy a regular reusable bottle and then purchase large bottles of water (like the multi-gallon variety) to keep in your hotel room and fill up from. By avoiding the single-serve bottles, you’ll be one step ahead in the sustainability game.

5. Eat local foods. The world is so globalized and interconnected these days that it seems like you can get whatever you’re craving, no matter where you are. Got a hankering for a cheeseburger while in India? No problem. Want some pizza while traveling through Africa? Done. The problem is, if you eat foods that aren’t local to an area, you get what you want while the environment pays a price. Shipping ingredients half way around the world causes a lot of pollution, mainly in the form of carbon dioxide, which is the gas that leads to global warming. If you want to travel more sustainably, one of the simplest things you can do is eat foods that are local to the area you’re visiting. Not only does that help halt climate change, but supporting small mom and pop restaurants is also great for local economies. As an added bonus, locally sourced ingredients are fresher and tastier, which should be all the incentive you need.

[Photo credit: Flickr user epSos.de]

Culture Shock In Green California, Where Even Homeless People Drink Craft Beer

homeless drinking beerI live in a very left-leaning community just outside of Chicago, a city that would sooner elect a Martian than a Republican to office. But even though I’m accustomed to mingling with people who listen to NPR’s “Car Talkin order to feel like honorary members of the proletariat and cast stink eyes at people who fail to bring their own bags to Whole Foods, traveling to California, the state that invented cool, still presents a kind of culture shock.

We went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, traveling in a carpool lane for much of the way, and noticed that all the best parking spots were reserved for hybrid cars. On our Africa tram ride at the park, our driver gave us a lecture on how to drive (slow down, come to complete stops, use proper tire pressure) in order to help us be more green. Afterwards, we repaired to a nearby mall to get my sons, ages 3 and 5, slices of pizza and noticed a Caucasian family all eating with chopsticks in the food court.

I approached the mother and told her I was impressed that her children, who ranged in age from 4 to 15, were using their sticks so deftly.kid eating sushi“They’ve been eating sushi and using chopsticks almost since they were babies,” she explained. “The trick is to tie them together with rubber bands for them to practice.”

My son, James, is such a bad eater that he actually nibbles around the exterior of McDonald’s chicken nuggets so as to avoid eating the stuff that is supposed to resemble chicken in the middle. If we can’t find pasta, pizza, mac-n-cheese, grilled cheese, McDonald’s or peanut butter, my kids are in trouble, but these kids eat sushi for God’s sakes?

In Laguna Beach, we had dinner at a fast food Mexican place called La Sirena Grill and when I asked the cashier why the food was so good, I got another dose of eco-California.

“Everything is all natural,” he said. “The fish is wild, sustainably caught. The mixed greens and the rice and beans are all organic. The meats are humanely raised and even these containers are made out of corn.”

We stayed at my brother’s home in North County and noticed that he has three cans for different types of garbage and recycling provided by the city. And if you’re anywhere near the Pacific, you’ll see legions of surfers, cyclists using bike lanes and nary an overweight person in sight. (Although there are a startling number of people in this state who supposedly need medicinal marijuana for various health problems!) Chain restaurants in California are required to display the calorie count next to menu items and many other restaurants do so as well.

waterless toiletIn San Diego, our hotel encouraged us not just to keep our same sheets and towels but also to decline housekeeping altogether. And in a La Jolla cupcakery (organic, of course), we encountered an eco-friendly waterless toilet. Is it any wonder that 7 of the country’s top 30 greenest cities are in California?

And if you’re looking for a psychic, a tarot card reading or some kind of eastern style wisdom seeking, California is certainly the place for you. In Encinitas, I saw this enormous complex with golden domes (see photo) and a sign advertising “Self Realization Fellowship” and thought, only in California.

One of the other things a traveler can’t help but notice in California is that there are homeless people everywhere. A 2011 study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness put the total population of homeless in California at 135, 928, while other estimates put the figure at closer to 200,000.

self realization center encinitasAs a traveler who covers a lot of ground on foot, I’ve encountered dozens of homeless persons every day so far in my travels around Southern California and it isn’t possible to help them all. Southern California’s mild climate makes it about as good a place as any for homeless people in the United States but it’s hard to know if most of the homeless here are native Californians, people who moved here on a wing and a prayer to follow a dream that didn’t work out, or people who were already homeless and moved here to take advantage of the warm climate.

Whatever the case may be, at least some of them apparently still retain their good taste in beer. I saw a young, heavily tattooed and pierced homeless man drinking early in the morning in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and at first I thought he was drinking some kind of cheap 40-ounce beer. But upon closer inspection, it appeared to be a 22-ounce bottle of Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale.

Along that same brighter culture shock angle, it’s practically illegal to drink Bud Light or other bland, mass-produced beers in San Diego and other parts of Southern California. In hipster circles around the country these days, it’s socially acceptable to drink either very, very bad cheap beer, like PBR or Old Style, or craft beer, but certainly not Bud, Miller and the like. There might be people drinking bad beer in San Diego, but I certainly haven’t noticed them.

Last night in San Diego, I was in the mood for some good beer, so I did a quick Google search of brewpubs in the area and found that there were at least 32 to choose from. It’s no wonder that Men’s Journal named San Diego the best beer town in America. I ended up at the Coronado Brewing Company, which serves up a pretty damn good English Brown Ale, but the dizzying selection of places almost had me feeling nostalgic for the days when cities had just a handful of places to drink good beer and it wasn’t so hard to figure out where the hell to go.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, eyeliam and Darin Barry on Flickr]

Five Things You Can Do On Earth Day To Save Natural Resources

earthEarth Day is upon us, and even if you’re not planning to celebrate our planet’s making it through another year (what global warming?), there are still some simple measures you can take to show your gratitude. Love your Mother, you know?

Whether you’re on the road or at home, the following are smart rules to implement every day of the year:

  • Do laundry at night, after peak electricity usage hours and only wash full loads.
  • Use a travel mug when you purchase your morning coffee and carry a reusble water bottle.
  • Stash reusable shopping bags in your car, purse or backpack and desk.
  • Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth, washing your face, doing dishes or shaving.
  • Switch to e-tickets, e-pay, and other paperless forms of commerce; add your name to no junk mail and catalog lists.

[Photo credit: Flickr user kevin dooley]

How to Save Water and Save Money

Conservation victory: Serengeti highway plans cancelled

Serengeti
Plans to build a paved, two-lane highway through the Serengeti National Park have been canceled.

The road, which was supposed to bring better access to Lake Victoria, will possibly be rerouted further south to avoid having an impact on the Serengeti’s rich wildlife.

There’s already a gravel road across the park, but paving it would have attracted much more traffic and probably fencing. The U.S. government expressed concern, as did UNESCO, after a study showed the project would affect the annual migration of millions of animals that’s one of the wonders of the natural world.

This is a rare victory of common sense over unbridled “development.” It’s also an example of how being eco-friendly can be good for the economy. Tourism generates a major part of Tanzania’s income, and there’s no way a road cutting through the nation’s most valuable natural resource wouldn’t have had a negative impact.

[Photo courtesy D. Gordon E. Robertson]

Mastercard to measure carbon footprints

Mastercard carbon footprintMasterCard has teamed up with environmental group Brighter Planet to offer corporate customers carbon footprint reports. By capturing and analyzing travel-related carbon emissions based on card transactions, the program hopes to help companies go green.

“Travel is a huge driver of costs and carbon emissions,” Brighter Planet CEO, Patti Prairie told Forbes. “As much as 30 or 40 percent of total operations for some companies.”

Based on “standards-compliant” calculation methodologies, the service will let companies track, compare, and report emissions metrics across organizational divisions, MasterCard said.

Brighter Planet’s software is already used by sites like Yaktrak, which allows users to plug-in a FedEx tracking number to find out how much CO2 was emitted to deliver a package.

The MasterCard application of Brighter Planet software looks at cardholder purchases such as flights, car rentals, hotel reservations the translates them into carbon dioxide emissions. Supplied with that information, businesses can manage their carbon footprint and increase sustainable practices.

The MasterCard program will automatically look at several billion calculations each year at no additional charge to customers. Those add up to $240 billion in travel-related expenses spent by U.S. businesses annually.

Flickr photo by jon smith ‘una nos lucror’

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