One of the big things I’m think about this year is how to incorporate more conscious travel into my life and job.
That’s kind of my word going in to 2020, courtesy of my friend, Megan, who said it perfectly describes how I try to be. Conscious really encapsulates a lot of things from awareness of the environment to awareness of yourself.
Entering this new decade, I think it’s safe to say my job is 100% travel. My blog makes a nice income on its own; I work for other travel bloggers, and I co-own a group of over 50,000 female digital nomads. It’d be irresponsible of me not to be conscious of how my work impacts people.
At the most basic level, it’s as a tourist. I understand how my travels affect a local economy and the environment. If I choose to eat at only global franchises for a whole trip, my consumer choices directly and negatively impact smaller, family owned restaurants. If I choose the fastest way to get everywhere, I know my carbon footprint is much, much larger than taking it slower and using public transportation.
Wouldn’t I be a pretty careless travel blogger if I just told you guys to go to McDonald’s and to fly or taxi everywhere all the time?
There’s also another aspect to being a travel blogger/influencer, and that’s being conscious of how I’m portraying my travels and myself. If I show you a picture of me in a skimpy dress in Saudi Arabia that I’ve Facetuned to look like a size 0 with hair twice as long as normal and tell you this could be you, I’d be doing a very shit job. At best I’m deceiving you, at worst I could be putting you in danger.
So, consciousness. I want to be a more conscious traveler and blogger this year and moving forward, and I want to share what I learn with you guys. I mean, as we start this decade Australia is quite literally on fire (not to mention all the ways we’re seeing global warming at work), eating disorders are on the rise, and fast fashion is playing this fun greenwashing game. That’s just to name a few issues.
I’m exhausted just trying to absorb all of it, and I have a career that affords me a good deal of free time and isn’t stressful. I can’t imagine being a full time teacher in the US with kids trying to grapple with even one of these problems. You barely have time to breathe!
So that’s my goal moving forward. I want to be more conscious and to share with you guys what I learn so that both of us can make more informed decisions. I also want to offer ways to improve. After all, if I constantly just bring up problems with no solutions, I’m not really helping anyone.
That’s all to say, I’m kicking this off with nice, easy ways to be a more conscious traveler this year and beyond! I hope these little pieces of advice help you if you’re struggling with how to make small changes.
Just a Reminder: You don’t need to do every single one of these things all the time, perfectly. At best I’d give myself a C. Don’t beat yourself up if you wind up needing to use a plastic straw or took a Lyft when you could’ve taken the subway. Not only is it going to be too tiring, it’s the exact kind of guilt big companies want you to waste energy on so you can ignore all the horrible things they’re secretly doing.
20 Easy Ways to Be a Conscious Traveler in 2020
1. OFFSET YOUR FLIGHTS
Okay, so let’s just get it out there. Air travel is pretty horrendous for the environment. There’s just no way getting around it.
However, frankly speaking, I don’t see myself never using an airplane again. And I don’t think it’s realistic to think planes should stop existing altogether (private jets maybe…).
A small way you can sort of give back a bit is to looking into carbon offset programs. Essentially you pay these programs based on the miles you’re flying and that money goes towards environmental initiatives.
I’m not super familiar with it, but I do want to look into paying into them more once I’ve paid off my personal debt. Alex has a really great, extensive guide on carbon offsets here if you want to read more about it and figure out which program works best for you!
2. OPT FOR THE MOST ECO FRIENDLY TRAVEL WHEN POSSIBLE
Cruises are quite possibly the least conscious way of traveling. From their carbon footprint to cases upon cases of worker issues to their contribution to overtourism… Just watch this episode of “The Patriot Act.”
I know a ton of my friends love them, but if you really want to make a conscious change in 2020, you’re better off not using them and planning a different kind of vacation. At the very least, choose a cruise company that’s trying to make an effort towards sustainable and ethical practices!
The best thing to do is to pick a train or a bus when possible with your itinerary. Wanderu did a little test from New York to Boston, and they found that a bus would cost a small fraction of CO2 compared to cars and airplanes. It’s even less than half of the CO2 emission of a train.
3. GO PAPERLESS
So I can’t find a specific article or statistic about airplane ticket waste, but considering there will be nearly 5 billion passengers in 2020, can you imagine how many discarded ticket stubs there will be?! Even if only 20% of fliers printed their boarding passes, that’s 1 billion long pieces of paper floating around out there.
Not only is going paperless a super easy thing to do, it’s a thousand times more convenient. You can check in online and skip that line altogether. If you have luggage to check in, you go to a whole separate line, and if you only have a carry-on, you can skip right over to the security section!
Keep in mind, not every airline has this option (I just flew Norwegian, and I had to check in at the airport), but it’s becoming more and more frequent!
Trip Planning Ideas
4. PICK YOUR DESTINATIONS RESPONSIBLY
This is honestly going to be unique to you because we all have different backgrounds, dealbreakers, and motivations. However, if you’re going to a new country that’s got a lil controversy, it might be a good idea to write down your dealbreakers beforehand.
Personally, I ask myself, “If I visit, just how much will I be able to separate the citizens from their government?” And then I go from there. After all, you can hate both the US and the North Korean governments, but visiting each of those countries will look very different in terms of who you meet and how you can travel.
5. USE ECOSIA TO RESEARCH
Here’s, like, the absolute easiest way to be a little more conscious this year: Use Ecosia to start trip planning! Ecosia is exactly like Google, except they use their profits to plant trees around the world. They even have a little tracker in the corner so you can see how many searches you’ve done.
I will say Ecosia isn’t my favorite since it’s powered by Bing. Google still offers better search results, but for a lot of general info when trip planning, it works just fine.
And, hey, roughly 45 searches means you plant a tree! With Google Chrome, you can just add the extension so when you type in the search bar, it automatically goes to Ecosia.
6. BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION AS LOCAL AS POSSIBLE
There are so many layers to this, I don’t really know where to begin. So, first of all, I get the appeal of Airbnb. Frankly, it’s what I look at first whenever I go somewhere new because it strikes the right middle ground between hotel and hostel and is especially affordable for long term travel. However, I fully understand how problematic it can be when visiting certain cities or smaller communities.
If you want to use Airbnb, take a look at who is hosting you. Book the places where it’s clearly a local person or family who’s just renting out an extra space, not a real estate type company that bought up a bunch of property and is avoiding occupancy or hotel taxes. I always find looking at their profiles gives you an idea!
Now for the non-Airbnb fans, when it comes to hostels and hotels, I like to see who they’re owned by and what the building is like. Wouldn’t you rather support a hotel that takes the local culture into consideration instead of just plopping a bland, beige rectangle in the middle of the city?
I loved the independently-owned hostel I stayed in Portland, ME; you could tell the owner put so many fun, personal touches on the decor (not to mention the cute dog). I also loved that my hotel in Cleveland wasn’t a new standalone building, but rather built within an existing historic structure!
It’s not too difficult to spot locally-owned hostels and hotels. Simply search “boutique hotels in…” and that should give you a good start. Plus, if you’re on something like Booking or Hotels.com, you’ll get a pretty good idea from seeing the images and names!
7. DON’T PARTICIPATE IN UNETHICAL ATTRACTIONS
I’m not saying you need to research every single activity you have planned to the nth degree. However, be aware. These days, it’s pretty hard not to know that riding an elephant or petting drugged tigers is bad. But that doesn’t mean all animal attractions should be on your blacklist. (Wild Florida, for example, is a fantastic place).
Just do a quick Ecosia search and see if anything sticks out glaringly when you go to plan your itinerary. Or join a travel group on Facebook and just ask. From there, you can decide, based on information, what you feel okay with doing!
8. PACK MINDFULLY
What does this mean exactly? Well, think of it on two fronts. The first is respect for the local culture; the other is respect for yourself and your own comfort.
If you’re going somewhere you know is more conservative than you’re used to, it’s respectful to dress accordingly. Yes, the modern feminist in me wants to throw things when I think about how some places relate showing some knees and shoulders to asking for it, but that’s a conversation for another day, and it’s not my place as an outside tourist to push it. If a mosque requires you to put a robe on, put the robe on and don’t make a scene.
All it takes a simple search to see if there are some outfit rules to be aware of. Simple search “what to wear in X,” and you’ll have plenty of results.
Now, for my second point on respect for yourself and your own comfort. When it comes to packing mindfully, I also mean being mindful of how clothes make you feel! There’s no point in getting a skintight, polyester outfit if you’re going to uncomfortable in it your whole trip. If you gained 10 lbs over the holiday, don’t make your stomach suffer with shorts that are a size too small.
My best tip is to try on everything you plan on packing before it goes in your suitcase. That way you know 100% before leaving that something fits, feels nice, and, you know, looks good!
9. MINIMIZE YOUR SINGLE USE WASTE
Think about all the things you use once while traveling and discard. Now remember that 5 billion statistics from above? Yeah, it gets real grim. One way to offset that is to start getting into the reusable game.
Straws are having a real moment, but some other ideas:
- a cutlery set
- reusable zip bags
- tote bag for carrying groceries, etc
- coffee tumblr or cup
- water bottle
10. GREENIFY YOUR PERIOD
There’s really just so many products now, that it’s becoming easier and easier to say no to single use pads and tampons. I wrote a whole post on getting used to my Lily Cup Compact, and I’m a big fan of THINX underwear if cups still scare you.
For even more options, try cloth pads or organic tampons. Heck, even switching from plastic applicators to cardboard to no applicator is a step in the right direction!
11. SWAP OUT YOUR TOILETRIES
Cotton pads, Q-tips, razor blades, hotel mini bottles… This stuff also adds up as waste over time too. Next time you need to refill, try these options instead:
- Use reusable face pads
- Swap your plastic razor for a safety razors
- Instead of buying travel versions, decant your normal products into reusable, travel size bottles
- Or look into companies like LUSH for their no package alternatives
- Get on the solid toothpaste train (LUSH and Bite make them)
If you have more ideas, let me know! It’s my new favorite thing figuring out how to waste as little as possible when it comes to my toiletries.
12. SHOP SECONDHAND & SUSTAINABLE BRANDS
I never did get the concept of buying all new clothes just go on vacation. However, I do get needing something new for a trip. Going somewhere like Northern Norway is going to be a different kind of cold compared to winter in Pennsylvania. Sometimes you do need a new article of clothing!
If you do, try to buy as sustainably as possible. Check our your local thrift store to see if you can find what you need, and if that doesn’t work, try to buy from somewhere sustainable and ethical that will also last.
I promise I’m working on making posts to help you guys shop through all the different sustainable companies, but you start here with my ethical summer packing guide.
13. UNPLUG YOUR SHIT
Another super easy way to be more conscious is to unplug all the electronics you can when you leave. TVs, laptops, computers, lamps… Unless it’s something that’s a pain in the butt to restart, unplug it. It’s such a small thing to do, and yet most of us don’t do it ever remember to.
Also, this should go without saying, but turn the lights out when you leave a room. College taught me that this is apparently not as common sense as I would think.
14. DON’T SOUVENIR SHOP WILLY NILLY
Listen, I’m not really one to talk either when it comes to souvenirs, but I do want to make a better effort this year. When you go somewhere new, just see if you can find souvenir shops that do a little more than just sell you trinkets and postcards.
For example, in Hoi An, I got the loveliest teapot necklace from Reaching Out, a company that empowers individuals who may be dealing with disabilities both with their souvenir shop and their lovely teahouse.
Also, really think about the souvenirs you’re buying. I remember on my very first trip to Italy and Greece, I bought the most random crap for me and my family, and I don’t think any of us still have anything I brought back!
15. MOM & POP > STARBUCKS & MCDONALD’S
Look, I’m a bit of a slave to Starbucks as the next person. Their iced chai lattes with almond milk are my go to, and not many countries have good milk alternatives! However, why would I go to a Starbucks in Italy when I’m surrounded by cafes?
Choose the little, locally owned restaurants over the big franchises, no matter how tempting Burger King and Subway may be. I mean in Korea alone, there are so many fun cafes and little hole in the wall restaurants with the best Korean food.
My best advice is to just do a quick Google Map search and glance through comments. Or, you know, read blogs like mine that have little food guides or restaurant recommendations for wherever you’re going ;)
16. EAT VEGAN WHEN POSSIBLE
Here’s the deal. I think one of the worst things you can do when you travel is try to adhere to a strict vegan diet. So many countries’ and cultures’ foods are rooted in non-vegan friendly practices that you’re missing out big time if you don’t loosen up your eating restrictions.
However, there are very real and compelling reasons to be vegan, and I fully understand why as a society we ought to incorporate meatless meals more and more into our diets. Everything from the environment to the animal cruelty… I don’t need to link article after article of horrible exposés.
For me, this is a bit of a compromise. In an ideal situation, I would choose vegan at home and as often as I could while traveling, but if there’s a traditional dish or meal that isn’t vegan friendly, I won’t beat myself up over eating it.
I would say just try eating a meatless meal once or twice a week. If we all did that, the benefits would be huge and it wouldn’t feel like much of a loss to us on a personal level.
17. FREQUENT BUSINESSES THAT GIVE BACK
I touched on this in my souvenir point, but another way to be mindful is to spend your money with businesses that give back. Tour companies, restaurants, souvenir shops, etc.
Another example of this is one of the places we ate in Marrakech, the Amal Centre. They train disadvantaged young women, so that after a year they’re qualified to enter the culinary and restaurant world. Plus, you know, the food is delicious, so why not get lunch here instead of somewhere random?
18. RESPECT THE RULES
If the temple says cover your knees, cover yo knees! Yes, the modern woman in me eye rolls whenever there’s a situation where women are forbidden from entering or need to cover up while men can wear whatever they want. However, as a guest in another country’s temple or place of worship, it’s not really my place to throw a fit or prove a point, now is it?
This goes doubly for places that have rules in place to protect the natural environment!
19. WATCH OUT FOR YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Seriously, I cannot emphasize this enough! The ultimate form of being conscious is to be fully aware of your surroundings. Check all the people around you, make sure your bag is zipped and close to your side… It’s not too difficult, and it’s something I feel most of us do naturally in our daily life anyway.
Just, you know, if some guy seems to be shadowing you, get somewhere crowded and public ASAP and then pretend you’re meeting a friend. Also NEVER tell anyone where you’re staying (especially if you’re not in a hotel but an Airbnb).
Part of being a conscious traveler is to, you know, not get killed or kidnapped while you’re abroad!
20. AND FINALLY, LOOK OUT FOR YOUR FELLOW HUMAN (& CRITTERS)
To end these twenty tips, my best tip of all is this. Just look out for each other, okay? If you see a girl walking by herself and looking uncomfortable, keep an eye and see if anyone is following her. Check to see if she’s okay.
If you see some bratty little kid kicking at a cat, scare him away and make sure the kitty is okay. Hopefully, you’re already aware of your surroundings, so just doing a once over to make sure other humans and critters are okay too shouldn’t take too much more effort!
And there you guys have it, twenty ways to travel a bit more consciously in 2020. Do you have anything to add? I’m always trying to improve!