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]

5 Places To See In 2013 Before They Disappear

If you’ve been thinking about where you might want to spend your vacation this year, don’t make any plans until you’ve read this list.

There are a lot of places and sights in the world that might not be around very much longer. Climate change, rising sea levels, human destruction and even shoddy artistry are to blame for the deterioration of some of the world’s treasures. Want to see them before they’re gone? Here are five places to see in 2013 before they disappear.

1. Jungfrau, Switzerland (above)

You’ve probably heard about the receding ice-cap on Tanzania‘s Mount Kilimanjaro, which grows smaller and smaller with each passing year. But climate change is affecting glaciers worldwide, including the Aletsch Glacier, which is the largest in the Swiss Alps. Over a period of 55 years, the glacier has shrunk in volume by 60 percent and continues to retreat at a pace of about 3 percent a year. Scientists believe there’s nothing they can do to stop this UNESCO World Heritage Site from melting away.If you want to visit the region before it changes forever, consider going to Jungfrau, which is one of the main summits in the area. Jungfrau is not just for mountain climbers – you can access parts of the mountain by train and visit the observatory, the Ice Palace (a museum made of ice that’s filled with ice sculptures) as well as other attractions.

If you go, you might want to download this iphone app that teaches you about the effects of climate change in the area. The app was designed by scientists at the University of Bern and includes maps and walking trails designed to improve your understanding of the melting glaciers.

2. “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci

“The Last Supper,” as you probably know, is a famous mural by artist Leonardo Da Vinci, painted during the 15th century. However, what you might not realize is that the artwork is slowly deteriorating and flaking away.

The mural, which is located on a church wall in Milan, Italy, began to fall apart less than 20 years after Da Vinci painted it. Part of the problem was the untested application method Da Vinci used to create his mural, but attempts to restore the artwork over the years have also contributed to the damage.

If you want to see “The Last Supper,” you’ll have to book well ahead (at least four weeks in advance is a good bet), as access to the mural is restricted to a small number of visitors at a time. After passing through a humidity-controlled environment, you’ll get 15 minutes to enjoy the masterpiece before being ushered out. You can reserve your ticket through this website.

3. The Maldives

The Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean that is slowly sinking into the sea. The country – which is made up of almost 1200 islands and atolls – is the lowest country in the world, with the islands averaging a height of just 4’11” above sea level.

As climate change leads to rising sea levels, it threatens to swamp the islands. Water has already eroded 14 of the islands badly enough that they’ve had to be abandoned. Local authorities are so worried they’re even buying up land in neighboring countries so they’ll have somewhere to relocate their 300,000 citizens.

Tourism is the main source of income in the Maldives and a lot of that money is going towards the country’s relocation funds. So if you visit the Maldives, you could actually play a part in helping the inhabitants find a new home after theirs slips beneath the sea.

4. Madagascar

Madagascar is an island nation off the east coast of Africa famed for its biodiversity. Because the country split off from India more than 88 million years ago, the plants and wildlife on the island have been able to continue developing without interference. As a result, more than 80 percent of the flora and fauna is unique to the country and can’t be found anywhere else on the planet.

Unfortunately, the environment is under threat because of deforestation. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and many of its people are forced to slash and burn the forests in order to plant crops for food. A lot of the timber on the island is also highly valued and can sell for more than $2000 a ton, causing people to log even where it’s illegal. More than 80 percent of the country’s forests have already been destroyed and many species of wildlife have disappeared.

5. Polar bears near the Arctic

Polar bears were the first animals to end up on the endangered species list because of global warming. These animals can only live in areas where the ocean freezes, because they hunt the seals that live under the sheets of ice. Problem is, as global temperatures rise, arctic ice only stays frozen for short periods – which means polar bears don’t get enough time to hunt their prey. The situation gets worse and worse each year and a lot of bears die trying to swim long distances between the ice. Some even die as a result of cannibalism, since desperately hungry adult bears will eat the cubs.

There are only about 20,000-25,000 polar bears left in the wild. If you want to see them, your best bet is in Canada, which is home to about 65 percent of the world’s polar bear population.

[Photo credits: Flickr user Neville10; Flickr user vanz; Flickr user YXO; Flickr user Frank Vassen; Flickr user Travel Manitoba]

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]

Retreating Italian Glacier Reveals Dead From World War I

World War OneTwo soldiers’ bodies from World War I have been discovered on an Italian mountain, the Telegraph reports.

Workers on the Presena glacier in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of the Dolomites in Italy found the bodies at an altitude of 9,850 feet. The glacier has been receding because of an unusually hot summer and the workers were covering it with a giant tarpaulin to keep it from thawing further.

The soldiers are believed to have been from an artillery unit of the Austro-Hungarian army and were killed in 1918. The skeletons were identified by remnants of uniform and insignia. No word yet on whether they can be named.

During World War I, Italy fought against Austro-Hungarian and German forces in the bitter cold of the mountaintops. One favorite tactic was to fire artillery shells above enemy positions to cause avalanches to bury them. In other cases soldiers died from wounds or exposure and were lost. Many of these bodies have been found in later years.

From more on the Italian Front, there is an excellent website and photo collection here.

The Presena glacier isn’t the only one melting. The entire Alps is seeing less ice cover, reducing the number of ski slopes and increasing the risk of avalanches for trekkers.

[Photo courtesy German Federal Archive]

World Tourism Day Promotes Energy Awareness With Photo Contest

World Tourism Day

World Tourism Day is coming up on September 27 and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) hopes to raise awareness about the role of tourism within the international community. Showing how tourism affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide, this year’s theme puts a spotlight on the role of tourism in a brighter energy future.

If the United Nations has its way that will be a future in which the world’s entire population has access to modern, efficient and affordable energy services. To raise awareness, the UN hosted a photo contest looking for pictures that captured new ideas to increase energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy and photos showing how tourism is bringing modern and clean energy to local communities.

%Gallery-166318%With a record 467 million tourists traveling in the first half of 2012, international tourism is on track to reach one billion tourists by the end of the year. That means there are one billion reasons to focus on a tourism industry committed to using energy responsibly. On cruise vacations alone, a record 20 million people took a cruise last year, an increase of almost 2 million, according to the latest industry figures.

As much of an impact as the global tourism industry has on the environment, those visiting destinations around the world can have a huge impact by focusing on being eco-friendly travelers, as we see in this video: