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]

Three Unsung Travel Gear Items

I registered for the Summer Outdoor Retailer Show, a gear extravaganza that takes place twice a year in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, “day job” stuff got turned on its head such that I can’t attend, though fellow Gadling Gear Guy Kraig Becker will be representing and will have his eyes open for new, cool stuff. Because I’m listed to attend, I’ve got an inbox full of press releases and invitations to check out the newest, latest, coolest … and a surprising number of those releases are for gear that’s really hard to say anything about. It’s critical stuff, don’t get me wrong, you need these things. But how much can you say about these items?

  1. Socks: Merino socks, toe socks, performance socks, recycled fiber socks, socks, socks, socks. I know, when you were a kid and you got socks as a gift, you thought, “Really? SOCKS?” but as a grown up, I appreciate nice socks. But what can you say about socks that the laundry basket and your sock drawer and time do not tell you? The bad ones are at the bottom of the drawer, the good ones are in the wash. I struggle when presented with a pitch for socks because, really, socks? And also, yes. They matter. Good socks are a travel essential; they should be seasonally appropriate and wear well. You can’t have too many SmartWool socks, I’ve become a fan of Darn Tough Vermont socks (hey, American made, if you care about that) and Dahlgren’s winter alpaca socks are super cuddly. So, yeah, socks.
  2. Water Bottles: One that doesn’t spill when I knock it over, thank you. One that doesn’t weigh a ton. One that seals up properly and doesn’t leak when it’s in the bottom of my backpack or knocked sideways on the luggage rack over my seat on the bus. But any water bottle is better than none, and I don’t know about you, but I pick these things up as swag almost everywhere. So maybe there are those with standout qualities, but like your camera, the best water bottle is the one you have with you.
  3. Flashlights: Portable lighting switched to LEDs a while back. That was a huge improvement in brightness, but once you’ve got a new LED light, you’ve got a new LED light and you’re done. Sure, they come with bells and whistles – flashing modes for emergency, multiple brightness settings, waterproofing, maybe a beam that you can focus – but before you go all crazy, think about what you need your light for. I keep a Petzl headlamp in my bag; it works well for reading in the tent or finding my way back to my cabin at the luxury off-the-grid resort (funny how these two things share that low light quality). And I have a little hand held flashlight from Icon – it’s super bright and great for picking out the eyes on hyenas in your safari bush camp, but I have a hard time imagining you ending up with a flashlight that you really hate. Remarkable shifts between brands? Uh, I’ll let you know when I see that. But essential? Absolutely.

Other stuff – tents and related camping gear, (we’re big car campers at our house), great luggage, clothes that travel well, shoes? That stuff keeps evolving. Fashion and new materials and interesting leaps in design, style, and tech toys? That stuff I find I have things to say about. But these three basic additions to your travel kit? I’m not seeing great leaps in the technology, but you need this stuff, regardless. My advice? Get some. Don’t cheap out. Nothing here is glam, but it’s stuff I pack for every single trip.

[Image: Pattern-aholic by Capture Queen via Flickr (Creative Commons)]

Gadling gear review: Camelbak All Clear water purification system

The Camelbak All Clear water purifcation systemFinding safe and clean drinking water while traveling can often be a real challenge, particularly if you’re visiting some of the more remote destinations on the planet. Wandering off the beaten path may be one of the more rewarding elements of travel, but it can also be detrimental to our health as many of the world’s water sources contain bacteria, viruses and even parasites. Fortunately there are a number of ways to treat potentially contaminated water, making it safe to drink, including water purification tablets, micro-filters and treatments of ultraviolet light. Of those, UV light is the most effective and has become a much more viable option over the past few years.

Camelbak, the company that practically invented the hydration pack, has recently introduced a new product called the All Clear that looks to marry a high-quality water bottle with a UV purification system. The company has cleverly integrated an ultraviolet light into a specially designed lid for the bottle that when activated will kill more than 99.99% of all bacteria and viruses found in water. That makes it an incredibly useful item to have in our bags when visiting destinations where clean water can be at a premium.

Using the All Clear couldn’t be easier. You simply fill the bottle with water from any source you have at hand, secure the lid on top of the container and activate the UV light by pressing the power button. That will initiate a 60 second countdown timer on the integrated LCD screen which serves as a prompt to begin slowly rotating the bottle back and fourth in 180 degree turns. That motion helps to ensure that all of the water inside the bottle receives equal exposure to the purifying light, which is vital for killing off the harmful bacteria. When the countdown has finished the UV light shuts off and the contents of the bottle should be ready to drink.The All Clear is powered by an integrated battery pack, which is recharged using an included USB cable. That means the device can be powered up by plugging it into your laptop, a USB battery pack or even a portable solar panel. This adds a great level of versatility for travelers but brings a bit of unevenness to the process. Recharging from my laptop took about 4 hours but Camelbak estimates that it will take 15-20 hours using the sun. When fully charged the All Clear is good for about 80 uses, which is enough to purify 16 gallons of water.

Camelbak has clearly taken great care to consider the needs of travelers and backpackers while designing the All Clear. For instance, they have included a second lid that is better suited for drinking from the bottle and have added a convenient carrying case for the UV lid to the package as well. They’ve also printed step-by-step instructions on how to use the device on the outside of the bottle making it nearly impossible to get the process wrong. Those little touches may not seem like much, but they are greatly appreciated when packing for a trip.

For many of us a good water bottle is almost a mandatory piece of travel gear these days and having one with an integrated UV purification system is a great option. That said, the All Clear’s UV lid is a bit on the heavy side – especially when compared to the competition – although it isn’t particularly large or bulky. The heavier cap does include a more powerful ultraviolet light, however, and is designed to work well in a variety of conditions including colder weather.

If you frequently find yourself traveling to destinations where the drinking water is suspect then the Camelbak All Clear is the kind of purification system you’ll want to take with you. It is an easy to use system that knocks out nearly all of the harmful bacteria and viruses that we could potentially encounter on our journey and it does so in a fairly compact and rugged package. The system comes with a $99 price tag and includes a good water bottle, two lids, a carrying case and a USB charging cable. That is a very good package for the price and one that I think you’ll appreciate on future excursions.

Grand Canyon National Park to ban plastic water bottles

The Grand Canyon will ban the use of plastic bottlesPlastic water bottles are about to become an endangered species at Grand Canyon National Park. The Park Service has announced that the sale of bottled water in vending machines, shops, and hotels inside the park will be banned early next year, in an effort to cut waste and protect the environment there. But first, park officials must complete an extensive survey of the availability of other water sources and the impact the ban could have on the safety and health of visitors.

The Grand Canyon was first set to implement the ban last year, but Jon Jarvis, the Director of the National Park Service, put a halt to that plan. At the time, Jarvis said that the NPS was working on creating a policy for potential adoption by the entire park system, but his announcement led some to speculate that the Coca Cola Company was exercising its considerable influence. The soft drink maker is a major contributor to the parks, but also sells a lot of bottled water as well.

Undaunted by the change in direction, officials at the Grand Canyon continued to move ahead with their own plans. By strategically placing water bottle refill stations throughout the park, and actively encouraging visitors to bring their own reusable bottles, they hoped to cut back on the use of disposable bottles within the Canyon. As a result of these efforts, park officials feel that they are prepared for the ban to go in effect, although they admit that comprehensive studies have not been done yet to determine the impact of the changes.

The Park Services announcement opens the door for other parks to ban plastic bottles as well, although they will have to undergo a rigorous self-assessment before they do so. Some of the things that will need to be considered include the safety of visitors, ease of access to water, and existing contracts with onsite vendors for selling bottled water.

While it may still be a few years off, we’re looking at the potential for a ban of plastic bottles in all of the national parks down the line. In the long run, that is a very good thing for the environments in those parks, but in the short term, a lot of work will need to be done to prep the parks and educate visitors about bringing their own bottles.

Gift Guide for Warm Weather Adventurers

Gadling Gift Guide: Hiking BootsAs December approaches and the holiday season draws near, those warm summer days that we enjoyed just a few months back are already a distant memory. But no matter what the calendar says, I guarantee the adventurer on your shopping list is already plotting his or her next warm weather escape. Considering summer really is just a short plane ride away, here are some suggestions for what to buy them for their next adventure.

Keen Voyageur Hiking Boots
A good pair of shoes are essential for any adventure and the Keen Voyageur hiking boots are a great option for any summer escape. Both comfortable and durable, these shoes are well ventilated, keeping your feet cool and dry, while also preventing unwanted moisture from getting in. Amazon has them starting at $87.21, making them a bargain for trail shoes of this quality.

Gadling Gear Girl Pam Mandel is a fan of Keen shoes too, recommending the McKenzie as a versatile warm weather shoe for a variety of activities. ($85)

ExOfficio Sol Tech Tee
Staying cool and dry is one of the most important aspects of enjoying any outdoor activity in warmer weather. The ExOfficio Sol tech tee not only wicks moisture away from the body, it is also highly breathable, and provides UPF 50+ sun protection as well. All of that is marketing speak for “it’s comfortable to wear when it’s warm outside.” Available in a variety of colors, the Sol is perfect for hiking a local trail or traveling to the far side of the planet, and is a perfect addition to any adventurers closet. ($25)

Pam also recommends the BugsAway line of shirts from ExOfficio as well. The shirts earned high marks in her review of a variety of mosquito repelling gear. ($40)

Columbia Silver Ridge Cargo Shorts
A good pair of cargo shorts are a necessity for any warm weather adventure, and Columbia delivers a comfortable, durable product with the Silver Ridge. Super lightweight and breathable, these shorts are quick drying and include large pockets, as well as an adjustable waistband. With a UPF rating of 30, they also provide solid protection from the sun, and look as good around town as they do on the trail. ($20)Gadling Gift Guide: Marmot PreClip Safari HatMarmot PreClip Safari Hat
Staying protected from the suns rays is an important aspect of any warm weather adventure and a good hat helps considerably. I’m a big fan of Marmot’s PreClip Safari Hat, as it has a wide brim, is comfortable and cool to wear, and is highly packable. It is also waterproof and so lightweight that it actually floats. I’ve carried mine with me on six different continents and it remains one of my favorite pieces of gear. ($35)

Sierra Designs Meteor Light 2 Tent
The summer months are tailor made for camping and a good tent is an essential part of enjoying evenings in the backcountry. The Meteor Light 2 from Sierra Designs is a perfect 3-Season option that stays warm on cooler nights, but provides plenty of ventilation when it gets warm. It sets up in just minutes and sleeps two comfortably. ($210)

Kelty Cosmic Down 20º Sleeping Bag
While a tent is important for any camping trip, when it comes to getting a good nights sleep, it is only part of the equation. A good sleeping bag is essential as well, and the Cosmic Down 20º is a great choice for warm weather outings. Kelty has managed to make a comfortable, lightweight, down sleeping bag that won’t break the bank. ($75)

Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack
Nothing inspires adventure like a good backpack and Osprey makes some of the best. Their Stratos 24 daypack provides plenty of storage for a long day (or even overnight) on the trail. Its size makes it perfect for peak bagging or other short, yet gear intensive, adventures. The Stratos’ integrated suspension system helps you to stay cool on the move and the pack is hydration ready, keeping water close at hand at all times. ($89)

If you’re looking for something a bit smaller, Gadling gear reviewer Mike Barish recommends the Raptor 14, also from Osprey. He found it to be the perfect options for day hikes in warm weather destinations such as Zion Natoinal Park. Read his review here. ($81)

Polar Bottle Insulated Water Bottle
Staying hydrated on our warm weather adventures is vitally important, but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for drinking warm water while on the trail. The Polar Bottle uses an insulating foil to reflect back the heat of the sun, keeping the liquids inside cooler for a lot longer. These bottles make fantastic and affordable gifts for the hiker, trail runner, or cyclist on your list this year. ($11.25)