Travel is a big part of our lives. Travel opened my eyes to the world around me and taught me to recognize my priorities. As I sift through travel memories and try to figure out our next travel moves, what I want our future to look like becomes clearer and clearer. When we first started our frequent travel journeys, it included days wandering at Disney World and exploring all of Florida, annual cruises, and plans to extend into more distant locales in Europe and Asia.
During the pandemic, our Disney days came to a screeching halt and we opted out of renewing our annual passes. We spent more time in outdoor spaces and avoided museums and restaurants. We searched for more secluded locations and off peak times to go there.
Just a Reminder…
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Now that travel is hopping again, we still have to look at our next moves just as carefully. With children aged 6 & 8, we only have 2 choices for international travel, they either can’t go or they have to take COVID tests to enter another country and in order to return to their own. At this time, taking them on an international trip just doesn’t feel like a good idea.
I’m well aware that there is an entire group of people who do not see things the same as I do, that don’t want vaccinations, tests, nor masks. But, where does that leave us? Moving very cautiously in an environment where tantrums and outbursts have become the norm in public spaces including on flights.
It leaves us re-assessing how to do what we love safely and responsibly. We have been adjusting our worldview, our family goals, and our commitments to raising global citizens that care about the impact they have on the world. We’ve tried to focus on things we can change instead of things we cannot. One of the things we can change is being better travelers.
How Do We Travel Better?
We have to have purposeful intent towards a conscientious effort of sustainable travel. We must take on the responsibility of caring about the people and places we visit and not just satisfying our own wanderlust by any means necessary.
Our future travels need to revolve around supporting sustainable efforts while still being budget friendly. That means we have to pack light, see less places at once, travel slower, look for more eco-friendly options, be open to alternatives we may not have considered before, and re-use as much as possible.
Meeting the goal of traveling in a more sustainable way has meant doing a lot of the things that we already did such as road trips and lots of walking. But, it also means considering a flight to the west coast with a driving trip along the coast for 2 weeks instead of a quick weekend trip to one town.
Focusing on more local travels includes revisiting local places for new perspectives and provides opportunities for growth and deeper understanding. It also becomes a chance to find more local businesses to support.
- Use local guides
- Tip aggressively (if you can)
- Shop local markets, small businesses, and independent restaurants
- Forgo the meaningless trinkets as souvenirs and look for quality craftsmanship from local artisans (stop collecting things without meaning).
We’ve focused on it for over 2 decades but suddenly find ourselves in a place where our trash collection has continually reduced what they actually recycle. This is all while living in a vacation rental community near Disney World. This experience has been eye-opening to the amount of waste that vacationers create.
Every week, trash cans of the vacation rental homes overflow and the recycle bins are filled with trash which could contaminate the entire batch of recyclables. Meanwhile, we barely use half of our trash can because of our recycling efforts. Most of the bear-proof cans don’t seem to thwart off raccoons let alone if a hungry bear came along. Yet, we learned how to be better travelers from watching this weekly scene play out repeatedly with each new visitor.
How to minimize waste:
- Avoid single-use options. A big box of cheez-its is easier to break down and can be split into reusable small travel cups. (Less plastic, less garbage, less litter)
- Stack containers into each other from carry-out dining, this results in a few extra seconds and a little more space.
- Buy less, overbuying is a big proponent for ending up with tons of extra waste.
- Decline the free water bottles at a hotel or anything else that you won’t or don’t want to use.
- In areas where drinking water is an issue, buy by the gallon instead of smaller individual bottles.
Before you throw away another Hasbro toy or game, check this FREE Recycling Program out first!
Nothing to buy just sign up and mail them in.
Things that we have the most uses for should become a more permanent fixture in our lives. A reusable travel kit can include: silverware, a water jug, silk pillowcase/pillow, snack cups/bags, toiletry bottles. Having a ready to go kit also helps make packing faster.
Finding eco-friendly or sustainable accommodations
This is probably the hardest area for me because I have to practice being less picky and more open in order to find accommodations that meet what I want vs what I need and still stay within budget. Some things to look for are solar efforts, recycling, biodegradable cleaning products used, locally sourced food, and signs of local charitable support in the community. Think of it as spending your money on spaces that make you feel good ethically and physically.
Internationally, you can look for certifications from organizations, such as EarthCheck (Australia), Green Globe, Rainforest Alliance (Latin America, Caribbean), and the Green Tourism Business Scheme (UK). The government of Costa Rica has its own sustainability certification program.
Overtourism is killing your travel experience and you can change it. The whole reason for traveling is to see and experience something you read about or dreamed of. There’s nothing more disappointing than arriving and finding that you can barely see it over the other hundreds of heads or you didn’t bring any snacks and the line has an hour long wait or more.
Overtourism is thinking that you should be able to make a reservation a month before your trip and finding that you’re already too late and everything is sold out. We’ve experienced this many times from Versailles to Las Vegas. It feels devastating to realize you’re only in a place during a certain time and you cannot see that one thing you were looking forward to.
How do you avoid it?
- Travel during off-peak seasons and visit popular places during off-peak times.
- Pick places that are lesser known.
- Take the paths that are less traveled.
- Hire a local guide that knows the ins and outs.
- Do the opposite of what everyone else is doing.
- Be flexible.
- Take advantage of last minute deals that might indicate less busy times.
- Make reservations as early as possible (not possible when taking a last minute deal).
- Be adventurous and explore, wander the local area looking for your own hidden gems.
- Head to nearby towns instead of the more popular destination, pick off peak times to sneak in a visit to it while exploring the alternatives.
- Lose the Do Everything belief and embrace doing the most important parts to you.
One of my favorite ways to avoid the backups at Disney World was to turn the opposite direction of the traffic flow. Have you ever noticed that you keep seeing the same people on every ride or in a store? You are following the planned/normal path like everyone else. If it feels right to turn left, just go ahead and switch it up to turn right. (Disturb the system!)
Off the Beaten Path
Typically, nature has less people but national parks can get very busy during the summer. Look for: conservation areas, reserves, preserves, educational centers, national monuments, and protected state or national areas. Gardens often have conservation workshops and exhibits.
In Florida, the paid parking or paid access beaches are usually less crowded than the free public beaches depending on the area. If the beach is crowded, keep walking a little bit further from the access than everyone else. You’ll find your spot. There’s a point where most people give up and want to stay close to the access point. Embrace the journey, get a few more steps in and find your oasis.
While the past year had a big influence on our lives, our past travels also revealed that we could travel lighter through organized packing. We could also bring less toiletries by refilling our own bottles and maintaining a dedicated travel cube. The best thing that travel brings out in you is the realization that you just don’t need half of what you think you do.
Seek out more ways to experience cultural tourism by visiting smaller lesser known museums, planning travel during local cultural festivals and events, or taking a food tour with a local guide. Approach these opportunities in the spirit of learning, visit temples and heritage sites. Homestays can be a full immersive cultural experience.
This may be one of the hardest areas to work on, being less spoiled, having less judgments, and less expectations. Smiling when plans don’t work out and being ready to do whatever the alternative is. That means forgiving the people that seem to be taking up more space and more time than they should whether they are in line in front of you or seated next to you.
It means accepting discomfort at times without letting it become painful to your experience. That’s not easy but it is better for you and everyone you encounter. I can’t promise that eyes won’t get rolled, I can only promise to try not to follow it with long exaggerated sighs, and discomfort that becomes vocal. I can also try to think of ways to be helpful instead.
Changing Your Mindset
So how do you change your attitude towards traveling? Almost everything you’ve chosen to do in your life has progressed from how you first felt about it to the point where it became second nature.
Maybe a small change for you is ditching the plastics, paying for carbon offsets, or staying in different spaces than you normally would. These small changes add up over time. Slowly, you can make a large difference in your life and travel like the traveler you want to be.
Being a better traveler starts with each of us. It means treating everywhere you go like the most precious parts of your own home, enjoy it and take care of it.