Hello dear friends!
I’m finally home and settled in, after my meditation retreat in Costa Rica. It’s been quite a transition, let me tell you, from sitting for several hours every day in the rainforest ambiance, to the hustle and bustle of daily life in Denver. Whew!
While this retreat was anchored in silent meditation, it also had a strong component of ecology and learning about the natural world. The combination of the contemplative practice and the jungle exploration really stirred in me, the desire to do better in my commitments to our planet. Most of you know I’ve been on a (slow, winding) journey to reduce my waste over the past year or so, and some of you also know that I just got involved in a local nonprofit for ocean stewardship. And again, most of you know that mindfulness and compassion are huge parts of my own personal practice, and also components of my coaching programs.
There was a wonderful little learning center/display at the lodge we occupied in Costa Rica, filled with information about different local species, conservation efforts, and the like. I noticed one particular section about the impacts of travel on the environment, and immediately I knew I wanted to write about mindful travel when I got home. So, here we are!
I know many of you are probably planning vacations this summer, or perhaps sometime in the next year...I certainly am already charting my next adventure! And while there is no denying that travel can have its downsides (on the planet, on certain cultures, etc…), I firmly believe in the healing and life-affirming powers of travel. Opening up your world, seeing new things, connecting with different people, and discovering your own capabilities are truly priceless. So how can we be mindful about our traveling? How can we minimize the negative impacts of our vacations or work trips?
Here are my five tips for mindful travel:
1. Check your privilege
There is a reason that this one is first on the list...because in my opinion, it’s the most important. It is CRUCIAL that you acknowledge your privilege and the imbalances of power between you and the local people, wherever you go. Far too many of us educated white individuals descend upon countries that are primarily populated with low-income people of color, and don’t even think for a second how those privileges come into play. We all have privileges that should be checked, but especially if you are white, male, middle or upper-class, heterosexual, have a college education, come from a Westernized country, are able-bodied, or other similar circumstances, please keep these things in mind when traveling. You have access to far more than most, and the balances of power will almost always be in your favor. Act accordingly.
2. Offset your carbon footprint
You guys, travel creates a pretty serious carbon footprint that too many of us like to ignore. And no, no amount of trees planted can make up for the emissions put into the atmosphere, but there are ways to minimize your travel footprint. For those of us who choose to leave our own cities or states, it’s important to be honest about how much of an impact we’re having. Thankfully, there are many awesome online resources now to help you calculate your travel emissions, and provide some options to invest in sustainability projects to counteract them. Or, you can purchase carbon offsets that are roughly equivalent to your emissions. Here are a few helpful websites to check out:
For my trip to Costa Rica, I chose the latter, and bought carbon offsets through TerraPass for the approximate 3,500lbs of carbon that was released through my air travel. You can also choose to plant trees, donate to renewable energy projects, or other methods to balance out your travel footprint. I recommend doing these things anyway, but hey, even if you make it a habit every time you fly somewhere, just think of the awesomeness we could create together!
3. Pack only the essentials
I know this sounds like a “duh” kind of statement, but packing like a minimalist not only reduces your footprint (physics tells us that it requires more fuel to move more weight), but also saves your back, legs, and shoulders while traveling. I haven’t checked a bag in over 15 years, and I honestly can’t remember a single trip where I regretted leaving certain things at home! Pack items that do double duty, like one bar of soap for your face/body/shaving. Choose clothes that resist stains and wrinkles, and can be combined in a variety of layered outfits. And be conscious while packing, to utilize every inch of space in your carry-on bag: stuff soft items into your shoes, downsize your containers to reduce empty air space, and fold/roll everything as small as possible. For my recent trip, I used these amazing compression packing bags, which not only helped me fit more, but also kept everything organized. Because I know I’m not the only one whose suitcase turns into a disaster zone on vacation!
4. Go as low-waste as possible
When you’re packing your essentials, don’t forget to save room for a few reusable, portable items. Yes, it’s probably impossible to be completely zero-waste while traveling, but that doesn't mean we can’t do our best! Every single plastic bag, plastic straw, or plastic water bottle you don’t use is a win. This is especially great when you’ll be visiting big cities, since there are restaurants and shops everywhere. My usual low-waste travel goodies include: stainless steel water bottle, one or two cloth napkins, a stainless steel straw, a couple of reusable grocery bags, a stasher bag or two, and maybe a bamboo utensil set. These few items are incredibly practical, and can add up to a LOT of waste saved just after a few meals.
Bonus points for doing some trash pickup while you’re out and about, sight-seeing!
5. Don’t forget your self-care
A few years back, whenever I’d travel, I would push myself to keep up with everyone else and/or see and do everything possible. And I paid dearly for those decisions! After a couple of days of sleep deprivation, too much physical strain, and crappy food, my symptoms would flare up and I’d be a miserable, cranky b*tch. Who wasn’t even able to be present or enjoy the fun of travel anyway, might I add! Nowadays, I know better, and I always fold in time for self-care when traveling. This looks different for everyone, of course, but for me, it means a little extra sleep (bringing my sleep mask and ear plugs!), scoping out healthy restaurants or juice bars, and budgeting downtime where I can put my feet up, or soak in a pool. It also means being responsible for packing and remembering to take my medications and supplements, and taking breaks for meditation, yoga, or just some deep breathing. Trust me, it may feel like an inconvenience at the time, to have to invest in your health while traveling, but you’ll have a much better time when you are out and about, and your traveling companions will be grateful as well!
Mindfulness is a real practice, and it’s not one that you can just leave behind when you walk out your front door. No matter where you’re headed, whether it’s a few states over, or it’s on the other side of the globe, you can make the choice to be a conscious, compassionate, and responsible traveler.
So, friends, what are some of your mindful travel tips? What are your upcoming travel destinations? Tell me in the comments below!
Much love, as always…
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~
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