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]

Sacramento Serves Up Second Annual Baconfest

porkPork products may have reached their tipping point, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate their existence. The second annual Sacramento Baconfest, held January 20-27, pays tribute to “pork from pigs who lived healthy, happy lives at farms where farmers value ethical and sustainable food production.” I’ll scarf some pork belly to that.

All bacon and other charcuterie served at Baconfest are made in-house by “Sacramento chefs who give a damn about quality natural foods.”

So besides cured meat products produced by introverted industry people with tats of butcher’s charts on their forearms, what can you expect at Baconfest? Besides lots of saturated fat? For starters, there’s an opening night party at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co., featuring a special menu by chef Brian Mizner. There there’s the BLT Bike Crawl; Baconfest-vs-Sacramento Beer Week; a Chef’s Competition; a “secret event,” and a multitude of special dinners and happy hours. And let’s not forget the “Second Annual Kevin Bacon Tribute Night,” which features local bands playing songs from the actor’s films (“to the first degree.”).

Sounds like a blast, and the makings of a swine time. And hey, check this out: most of the events are free; those that do charge minimal fees give back to local chefs, restaurateurs and the very fine Center for Land-Based Learning in nearby Winters.

[Photo credit: Flickr user ChefMattRock]

California Restaurant Month Kicks Off In January

chez panisseThe land of goat milk, arugula, and honey continues to prosper, and no surprise, given that California’s 81,700+ farms produce nearly half of all domestically-grown crops.

Thus, the third-annual California Restaurant Month kicks off in January, offering up 33 destinations where visitors and locals alike can savor the flavor of the nation’s most cutting-edge culinary state (sorry, New York).

Select California restaurants will offer special dining promotions such as prix-fixe menus, wine pairings, and other treats designed to promote the state as both food and vacation destination. Add-ons to culinary tourism are available, including skiing, surfing and spa visits.

Nine new dining destinations are a part of the 2013 promotion, including Berkeley (above photo is of the legendary Chez Panisse, now in its 40th year), Beverly Hills, Downtown Long Beach and Santa Monica. Established locales include the wine regions of Temecula Valley, and Santa Maria, Monterey, and Santa Ynez Counties, and small-farm epicenters such as Marin and Shasta counties.

[Photo credit: Robert Holmes]

Tawlet: Lebanese Locavore Love

tawlet

On my first visit to Beirut’s Tawlet, I stopped to ask a shopkeeper directions. “Tawlet?” she verified. I nodded. “C’est très bon,” with a delicate flutter of the fingers accompanying her très, before she pointed me in the right direction. I’d heard great things about Tawlet for quite some time. The shopkeeper’s gesture was the icing on the cake. I knew the way I know my own name that this meal was going to be exceptional.

I found Tawlet at the rather inauspicious end of an industrial cul-de-sac in Mar Mikhael, an up-and-coming neighborhood with an exciting slate of new shops, some of them quite innovative.

It was still on the early side but I couldn’t wait. I walked into Tawlet before the restaurant opened for lunch and sat patiently for the wait staff to finish setting things up. A Saudi television crew was taping interviews of the day’s chefs. Just when my hunger had reached epic proportions, just when I thought I wouldn’t be able to wait any longer, a distinguished looking man approached me in English and told me I could begin to eat. He carried himself like a proprietor. And as it turned out, he was Kamal Mouzawak, the head honcho. I introduced myself and we chatted briefly.

Mouzawak has pioneered and tended a food revolution in Lebanon. Souk El Tayeb is the umbrella organization behind his efforts. It has spawned the Beirut Farmers Market, founded in 2004, Dekenet, a farmers shop, established in 2006 and regional food festivals, which followed in 2007. Tawlet, interwoven into the other Souk El Tayeb endeavors, opened its doors in 2009.The restaurant is an emporium of fresh, organic, and very local food from all over Lebanon. It is set up essentially as a farmers table. Different individual chefs or cooperatives host the buffet every day, working with a few permanent kitchen support staff. The result is essentially home-cooked food that reaches a clientele far wider than most home-cooked food tends to do. The presence of different chefs means that every lunch is different. (I didn’t think twice about returning for a second lunch the day following my discovery.) Including VAT, the buffet costs 44,000 Lebanese pounds ($29). Water and dessert come with the meal. Not included are regional wines, some very good.

The chefs-for-the-day come from all over Lebanon, bringing local variations in recipe and ingredients to the attention of a wider audience, elevating local regional culinary traditions to national attention. Tawlet publishes weekly menus online, which detail upcoming menus and chefs. On occasions Mouzawak himself does a turn as guest chef. Tawlet also offers brunch on Saturday.

What Mouzawak has done with Souk El Tayeb has major far-reaching implications. He has established a blueprint for encouraging and supporting local food traditions, for transforming vernacular food into recognition-deserving “cuisines” and for giving a wide range of cooks and chefs exposure to larger markets. This blueprint is broadly applicable to other countries and territories. It is a model for championing sustainable local food traditions.

[Image: Alex Robertson Textor]

Roadside America: Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley

If you were to ask most Americans if they’d heard of the Roaring Fork Valley, you’d get a blank stare. Mention Aspen, however, and the light goes on, regardless of their social or economic standing (blame reality TV, our cultural obsession with celebrity, and 1970s/Reagan-era excess).

Aspen may be the St. Moritz of the U.S., but its location at the upper (southeast) end of the western Colorado’s stunning Roaring Fork Valley is what makes it special. The 50-mile valley runs along the river of the same name (the Frying Pan and Crystal Rivers down-valley are tributaries that provide top-notch fly-fishing and paddling).

It’s a region of meadows, aspen groves and the soaring alpine peaks of the Elk Mountains, as well as stark red cliffs and pine forest. The Ute Indians inhabited the area before the mining boom of the late 19th century. Following the silver crash of 1803, coal mining drove the local economy, through the early 20th century. Today, the valley towns are largely comprised of refurbished original storefronts housing galleries, boutiques, cafes, bakeries, coffee houses and restaurants, but the remnants of ghost towns can be found throughout the valley.

While Aspen is an international destination, the down-valley former mining/ranching towns of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs are more affordable, low-key options for lovers of outdoor adventure, solitude and a thriving local food scene. And just minutes from Aspen is the lovely, rural hamlet of Woody Creek, home of Hunter S. Thompson in his final years, and a favorite spot for Aspenites to engage in outdoor recreation due to its extensive trail system.While it’s true down-valley is blowing up, real estate-wise, and housing developments are popping up like toadstools in outer Carbondale and neighboring El Jebel (where the August opening of a Whole Foods had the valley in a divisive uproar), the region is still pristine with regard to commercial tourism and most of the ills of urban living. Ranching and farming are still the backbone of the valley economy, and Carbondale has become an epicenter of grassroot organizations dedicated to alternative energy, green living and the local food shed. Indeed, the entire region is very invested in sustainable, low-impact living, and that carries over to tourism.

Come for a visit if you’d like to avoid the exorbitant prices and scene that can make Aspen (a place I love, it bears mentioning) a bit of a bummer during high season. Let me be clear that down-valley accommodations aren’t cheap, but they’re affordable compared to the ski resorts, and provide a different kind of holiday, whether it’s self-catered, or designed for lots of snuggling on the couch in front of the fireplace.

This time of year, the aspens and meadows shimmer like gold, and the mountain peaks are dusted with snow. Starting next month, big-spending skiers will head up to Aspen, but valley locals are more likely to strap on their snowshoes or Nordic skis and avail themselves of the trails and famed 10th Mountain Division Hut system. Follow their lead, then end the day by unwinding in a nearby hot spring or preparing dinner, reading, and enjoying a regional craft beer or wine (the nearby Western Slope, just over the McClure Pass outside of Carbondale, leads to a number of wineries and tasting rooms, open in summer) before a cozy fire.

There’s no shortage B & B’s, inns, cabins, farm stays, and guest ranches in the region, and in summer, camping is also a popular pastime, as is kayaking, rafting, horseback riding, fishing, climbing, hiking, road cycling, and mountain biking. The seasonal farmers markets in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale are full of handcrafted foods and beautiful produce from nearby farms. In winter, you’ll still find many menus in the area dominated by locally-grown and -made foods; check out Edible Aspen magazine’s website for more in the way of great local eats and brews.

Getting there
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has daily non-stop flights from Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver and Chicago. From Denver International Airport, it’s approximately a 3.5-hour drive to Glenwood Springs on I-70. It’s best to have a car for exploration if you’re staying in the valley, although there is a bus system.

[Flickr image via JimLeach89]