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Weekend Agenda: 10 Tips to Practice Sustainability While Traveling

During Earth Month, we shared useful and practical resources on how to take better care of our planet. Our goal was to foster awareness while encouraging local activation. In today's Weekend Agenda, Johnie Gall  a photographer, writer, producer, and well-versed traveler — breaks down 10 sustainability practices and mindsets to keep in mind before you hit the road, while on your adventure, and during the moments in-between. As we ease back into travel, both around our own towns and all over the country, we invite you to consider Johnie's tips on how to have a lighter footprint.

It’s Plastic Free July, and I’m a self-proclaimed environmentalist writing this from 30,000 feet in the air. By a rough calculation, my cross-country flight is emitting 20 percent of what my car does over the course of a year. There are myriad ways to lessen your impact on the planet — travel isn’t one of them.

But living in the world the way it is isn’t an argument against wanting to make it better. According to recent reports, individuals are statistically blameless when it comes to the planetary-scale threat of climate change (there’s a fascinating article from Fast Company if you want to read more on this line of thinking).

Still, we need top down and bottom up approaches, and a little personal effort goes a long way toward creating wider cultural shifts. You can see evidence of this already in the travel industry: airports around the globe have installed refillable water bottle stations as an alternative to harmful single-use plastic bottles. Here’s a crowdsourced collection of other ideas for making your next trip a little more eco-friendly during Plastic Free July (and every month!).

Johnie Gall Backpack

1 | Purchase the Most Direct Flight Financially Possible

Then, take it a step further and fly economy. According to a report from NASA, 25 percent of airplane emissions come from landing, taking off, and taxiing. You can also help counteract your flight by buying carbon offset credits, but make sure the program you donate to is credible (as in, verified by a third party).

Say no to single-use plastics on the plane, too, by bringing your own food and reusable water bottle if possible. If you do accept some refreshments, ask the flight attendant to keep the napkins, coffee stirrers, and extra cups.

2 | Build an Eco-Friendly Travel Kit

You can toss this simple sustainable living kit in your carry-on bag. Having items like a water bottle, insulated coffee mug, bamboo utensils, reusable straw, some Bee’s Wrap or Stasher bags on hand will help you cut down on the waste you create away from home.

3 | Invest in a Water Filtration System

Minimizing water consumption and single use plastics is the essence of a sustainable lifestyle. Invest in a portable water filtration system so you don’t have to purchase bottled water.

In countries where there are limited potable water sources, a simple water filter pump or a Lifestraw can help. Try not to travel to locations that are experiencing water crisis — you’ll only strain the limited resources available.

examples of sustainability
"Minimizing water consumption and single use plastics is the essence of a sustainable lifestyle."
sustainability examples

4 | Research Local Outfitters

Research travel companies and guiding services to find ones with ethical practices, such as paying trail porters fairly and hiring female guides. This sustainable practice contributes to a healthier ecosystem as a whole by bolstering the local economy. Some animal “sanctuaries” actually exist just to attract tourists, so avoid those that ask the animals to operate in unnatural ways.

5 | Look into Local Waste Management Resources

Investigate the waste management resources available on the ground where you’re traveling — some countries have limited or no recycling programs, so it’s best to pack your plastic waste back out in your suitcase and recycle it when you get home.

6 | Beware of “Greenwashing”

Many hotels and resorts engage in a practice called "Greenwashing" in attempt to appeal to those living a sustainable lifestyle. These places market themselves as “eco-friendly” and end up dumping waste into freshwater systems or the ocean, so ask some questions.

One of the easiest sustainable practices to use while traveling is to cut down on indirect water consumption. Hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door for the duration of your stay to cut down on how many times the maid service washes your towels and replaces your in-room plastics.

Taking the time to find accommodations, restaurants, and markets that are locally owned and managed helps contribute to the local economy (again, with the trickle-down effect for a healthier environment).

sustainable lifestyle

7 | Slather on Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Ingredients in many sunscreens, like Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, can cause coral viruses and destroy fragile reefs — when the coral gets sick, it “bleaches” itself and dies. Right now, an estimated eight million tons of sunscreen wash off people into these environments every year, leading Hawaii to pass a ban on ‘screens that contain the harmful chemicals.

However, not all “reef-safe” sunscreens are created equal and can still do harm, so try to pick up ones made from food-grade ingredients, like Manda. Choosing a environmentally sustainable sunscreen is a simple-yet-effective way to leave no trace when enjoying the natural world.

8 | Leave No Trace 

The Leave No Trace movement goes for any environment, wild or urban. The best thing you can do to make your travels more sustainable is to adhere to the Leave No Trace principles in any location — stay on trails and sidewalks, pack out or responsibly dispose of waste and trash, don’t geotag locations to cut down on the human traffic that passes through, and leave what you find where you found it.

environmentally sustainable

9 | Sign up for a Day of Volunteering

One of the best examples of sustainability in traveling is to give back to the community that's hosting you. Sign up for a day of volunteering with a local environmental nonprofit on the ground wherever you’re visiting.

Patagonia Action Works is a great resource for connecting with grassroots efforts in different locations. If you don’t have time to commit to a volunteer project, grab a reusable trash bag (we’ve found that seafood restaurants always have old oyster bags they can give you) and do your own mini beach/mountain/roadside cleanup.

10 | Normalize Better Travel Habits

Be the example of sustainability in your friend group; it's the most important thing you can do is make all of these changes measurable and sustained. Share ideas with family, gift your travel companions reusable water bottles, and use those Instagram posts from your vacation to educate your friends about how to have a less negative impact while traveling.

how to be sustainable

Thanks for reading along! You can follow along on Johnie's next adventure by heading to her Instagram.

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