How We Travel Sustainably

When I left San Diego to travel, I wasn’t sure how long I would be gone, or where exactly I was going, but I was sure about one thing; I didn’t want to be another western traveler exploiting our natural resources and ruining local cultures and communities,  I wanted to be a conscious, sustainable traveler.

There are many aspects to our sustainable travels, but here I’ll focus on transportation, waste, and making a positive impact.

Transportation: Being mindful of Climate Change

It’s not a surprise that flying is by far the most green house gas-intensive mode of transportation per mile per passenger! Since we did fly to get here, we want to reduce our emissions while we’re here; so we opt to travel by land (or sea) as much as possible by taking buses, trains, minivans, ferries, and hitchhiking. The cheap local flights can be tempting, but we’re not in a rush, and traveling by land has granted us with great experiences where we’ve been able to see much more of the countries we’ve visited.

While in a city or town we also opt to use public transportation, bikes, or walk as much as possible. It’s not only cheaper but also more eco-friendly than taking taxis everywhere.

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The beautiful scenery we experienced when traveling by minivan in Laos
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We rented bikes in Chiang Mai to explore the city and make it to our favorite  restaurant
 

Waste: One thing travelers don’t bring back home 

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When you make trash, it could end up here. And I don’t want to contribute.
This is something that’s really important to me. I’ve worked many years educating San Diego’s youth on the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling, and I was up to the challenge of reducing my waste even while traveling.
One of the key things we do to reduce our waste is refuse  disposables. This can be a challenge when it’s not a habit and you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language and disposables are the norm. But it helps a lot that Fernando and I are on the same page, so if one of us is not paying attention, the other one can interject before they give us a straw or plastic bag. Being alert is key! It’s also essential to let go of fears of speaking up (this is still me sometimes). I need to remind myself to not worry about the shop owner being annoyed when we ask for no straw, or to not give up when they don’t understand me the first time. After all, many people are happy to see what we do, and in the end they also end up saving money and having a cleaner planet.

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Said “No” to a plastic bag in Luang Prabang, Laos. Remember to bring your own bag!

 

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The server didn’t understand “straw”, so I had to act it out. Doin it for the planet!

Using reusables has also been crucial to reducing our waste. Our essentials are reusable bags, reusable bottles, reusable utensils, and a reusable food container. I also carry around a reusable straw, reusable chopsticks, reusable thermos, and a reusable napkin; these have also been used a lot, but I wouldn’t say they have been essential.

Before we leave our guesthouse, I think about where we’re going and what we’ll need. If it’s a hiking trip to the national park we’ll bring both our reusable bottles and find somewhere to fill them before we leave. If we’re going to the night market, I’ll bring our reusable stainless steal food container, chopsticks, and utensils for all that yummy food. If I’m stepping out for a fruit smoothie I’ll bring my reusable cup and straw. It’s all about planning ahead and being prepared. But it’s also about being creative when you’re not prepared. Today for example I wanted to buy bananas but I didn’t have a bag, so I looked around and in no time I found a used plastic bag in a box under the bananas.

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Packed my reusables in Vientiane Laos.
Making a contribution 

Lastly, we travel with a purpose, to make a positive impact in the places we travel to. One of the easier ways I’ve done this is by cleaning up. Litter is bountiful in many of the places we’ve visited, it’s not only an eyesore but it also clogs up storm drains and eventually leads to the ocean. If every traveler picked up at least 3 pieces a day, I’m sure the places they visit, and the ocean would be much cleaner!

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I participated in a beach cleanup in Koh Lanta, Thailand. 

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If there are no organized cleanups, do your own! I spent 5 minutes filling up this bag with plastic trash.
Another way to contribute is by supporting conservation projects, like national parks. Some of the best days we’ve had have been at National Parks in Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia. We’ve been able to see elephants, gibbons, porcupines, and other wildlife all in their protected natural habitats. It’s money well spent to help promote the conservation of these important spaces.

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At Phou Khao Khuay National Park in Laos. A portion of what we paid for our homestay with a local village went towards park conservation efforts
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Beautiful Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. We saw wild elephants, deer, and gibbons.
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Did a trail cleanup at Khao Yai National Park
And finally, we’ve also spent about 1/3 of our time volunteering with different projects we’ve found through workaway.info . These experiences have been very meaningful and rewarding. So far we’ve helped build a mud brick house for an organic farming family,  helped reforest land that has been depleted of resources after years of conventional agriculture, and we’ve also helped with the building of a permaculture learning facility. Not only have these experiences been a great way to give back, but they’ve also been great learning experiences for us and an excellent way to meet like-minded travelers.

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Taking a tea break after helping build a mud brick house and cob bathroom for a young Thai-Burmese  family in Pai, Thailand.
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We helped build this volunteer cob house for others to help reforest the land
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Using salvaged elephant dung, rice husks, and dirt to plant seeds that were saved from the kitchen. Eventually the seedlings will be replanted in the food forest. 

This is just a broad over view of a few of our sustainable practices while traveling. Eventually I’d like to write more about each in detail, so stay tuned. Sustainable travel is possible, fun, and rewarding and I encourage everyone to live a more sustainable life wherever they are in the world!

 

Best,

Monica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “How We Travel Sustainably

  1. Wow! I love your article and what you do is amazing. I will travel to Indonesia in some weeks and will try my best to travel sustainably. I already do most of the things you wrote but I can improve it more. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Like

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