I love Earth. Since childhood, I felt like I was put on this planet to help people become more eco-friendly. When I was 7, I taught my parents how to recycle. I became a vegetarian when I was 11 and had an on-again/off/again love affair with my meat-free diet until I became a full-time vegan when I was 22. And now, at age 34, I am starting a sustainable travel blog.
I have made some dramatic life choices to reduce my carbon footprint. I made a pledge to myself to not bring children into the world (I will adopt, if and when the time is right). I buy most items second-hand. I even walk and take public transit as my primary modes of transportation, and on the rare occasion I need to drive, my vehicle of choice is the unglamorous Prius (hopefully this blog will pay for a Tesla in the future). But I am not willing to give up travel without trying to do it responsibly. This blog is my journey to find sustainable ways to travel and to share what I learn with you.
Here’s why travel is the one thing I cannot give up in my life:
Travel is magical
Travel keeps you young at heart and in body. Our brains are elastic; they change and grow throughout our lives (it turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks). Travel creates new neural connections by exposing it to experiences that light up different areas of the brain. For example, when I went to Iceland in the winter, the beauty was so breathtaking that it changed who I am as a person—it moved me. The experience motivated me to become more mindful of ways to protect and embrace nature. I had a similar experience in Italy. The ancient city of Rome is bursting with astounding monuments and pieces of art that were created by humans. I couldn’t walk around a corner without dropping my jaw in complete and utter awe. I can be cynical about humankind at times, but this experience turned a large chunk of that cynicism into respect and wonder.
Globe trotting also taught me how to appreciate different ways of living life. I’ve always considered myself to be a tolerant person, leaving each person to their own devices, but experiencing different ways of life for myself has allowed me to not only understand cultural differences, but to respect them and sometimes adopt them for myself. I am a blunt person, and when I visited Japan, I was painfully aware of my American habits. At first, it was painful to conform to their society, mostly because I wasn’t used to it and it was so contrary to who I was. But I was there for work for my first week in the country, which gave me little choice but to adhere to their ways. Working through my discomfort and embracing the Japanese way of life transformed me. This experience led to a deep appreciation for what their society brings—peacefulness, simplicity, a lack of aggressiveness, childlike wonder, embracing subtleties, and the ability to connect with personality types that are more subdued than my own. I experienced major culture shock returning to Seattle after three weeks in Japan—it was tough getting used to life in the US again, and I now long for the peace and simplicity of Japanese living.
Travel is entertaining! I can’t tell you how many nights I spent laughing at Japanese game shows and drunk Brits attempting feats of greatness with their friends. I’ll let you in on my real guilty pleasure: I like to watch. Not in a peeping Tom sort of way, but I love watching sight seers do touristy things. My specialty is taking pictures of other people posing for pictures (I give myself bonus points if I also capture the photographer taking pictures of other people posing for pictures). Not only does it save me from having to take awkward pictures of myself, but it fulfills my need for entertainment. Plus I love narrating people’s actions as if I’m David Attenborough and I’m just watching another episode of Planet Earth. I’d rather reminisce over pictures of other people posing for pictures than a bunch of photos of me failing to look cool any day. Follow me on Instagram to see the best pictures of other people posing for pictures.
How travel is bad for the environment
Now that we have some of the fun stuff out of the way, let’s discuss the environmental costs of travel. Flying first class on one round-trip flight within the US can contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than one year of driving (how scary is that?). Hotels account for 15% of all water use in the US. Travelers are catching onto these facts; 72% say that they need to act now to decrease their carbon footprint, and I am one of these people. The only way I can responsibly continue my passion, travel, is to figure out how to do it sustainably. Like I said, travel is something I cannot live without, so figuring out how to do it sustainably is the only solution for me.
Here are some ways that tourism is destroying the planet:
Water: Tourists can use up to twice the amount of water that they would use while they are at home. This is largely due to overuse of water by hotels for laundering items daily, property and garden irrigation, air conditioning, swimming pools, and the insane amount of water and pesticides used to maintain golf courses. According to the Global Water Forum, the impact of water is exacerbated in tropical areas where water scarcity is already an issue. Tropical destinations also have a greater number of resort-style hotels, which are notorious for the amount of water spent to keep their properties green and lush. Islands in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean dedicate over 7% of their nation’s water use to tourists. What’s worse is that a large percentage of island tourists are on cruises, so they spend less than one day on the island but leave their carbon footprint for the locals to deal with, without contributing anything to the community that can benefit the locals. I will go into the details of everything else that cruise ships do, making them a non-sustainable choice for vacations
Air pollution: There are more commercial flights taking place now than in any other time in history, accounting for 2-5% of all carbon dioxide emissions on the planet. This may not sound like much, especially when compared to the amount of emissions generated from animal farming, but air travel is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. If the aviation industry were a country, it would rank in the top 10 for greenhouse gas emissions. This number is projected to increase 300-700% by 2050. Yikes
It’s win-win for everyone—people have the life-changing experience of travel, the environment doesn’t carry the load of our carbon footprint and we leave the places in better condition than they were in when we arrived.
Food: We all know that animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions. The global food system accounts for 30% of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions, and the top 20 meat and dairy corporations in the world produce more greenhouse gasses than the entire country of Germany. Travel can exacerbate the amount of emissions made per meal, particularly in tropical destinations, where they import most of the food that is served to tourists, in order to create the ideal resort experience. I don’t know about you, but I like to have the local experience when I am discovering a new place
There’s more! But I will get into those reasons in future blog posts.
Why I started Earthfluence
I wanted to start a travel blog for a long time, but didn’t want to increase the devastating impacts that tourism has on the planet, if people traveled more because of my influence. Then I had the idea to become an Earthfluencer, where I talk about ways to travel that benefits the planet and people. It’s win-win for everyone—people have the life-changing experience of travel, the environment doesn’t carry the load of our carbon footprint and we leave the places in better condition than they were in when we arrived. Travel can lead to more good, and I want to put this energy out into the world, which is why I am here with this blog. This is my opportunity to contribute to the planet in a meaningful way that others can relate to and learn from. I promise this won’t be a doom and gloom blog (although I will raise awareness of the different impacts that travel has on climate change). I will mostly share sustainable travel experiences and products that are beneficial to people, animals, and the environment, along with tips and tricks for improving your travel karma.
Join me on my journey towards sustainable travel. I’m not the most sophisticated traveler, or the most experienced, but I want to learn more about responsible travel and share what I learn with you. We can learn from each other, experience the world, and leave places in better condition than what they were in before we visited them.