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Traveling in (Sustainable) Style

Published June 18, 2018

For those of us who care about the environment, it can sometimes be challenging to lead a low impact life.  It can seem even more daunting while on vacation. There are, however, lots of ways to practice your sustainable lifestyle while traveling, as I learned on my recent trip to Chicago.  Here are a few green tips and tricks that anyone can adopt to reduce the ecological impact of their trip:

1. The flight. Pack light snacks in reusable containers, such as sliced apples or trail mix and fill your reusable water bottle after passing through security. You can then avoid the packaged snacks and disposable cups the airline provides. When you can, choose direct flights rather than flights with layovers. The majority of fuel is consumed during take-off and landing, so taking direct flights means a smaller carbon footprint for your trip. Here’s a link to the most fuel-efficient airline

2. The food. Disposable cutlery, plastic-wrapped snacks, and excessive packaging are just a few sustainability faux pas you are likely to encounter while indulging in the delicacies of your travel destination. To avoid being a trashy traveler, make sure to carry a zero waste fooddining kit which includes:

My kit came in handy during my trip! After finishing a meal (like that famous Chicago deep dish pizza), I would simply wipe off my fork with my reusable napkin and wash it at the end of the day.

3. The transportation. Many travel destinations, including Chicago, have incredibly reliable public transportation; my friends and I never waited longer than five minutes for the "L" (Chicago's famous elevated train) to arrive. Trains and buses have an overall smaller carbon footprint and are some of the best ways to explore the city like a local. Or better yet, rent a bike or scooter! Rideshare programs are popping up in cities all over the world

4. The conversation. Mentioning the environment while talking to cashiers, servers, and other service workers can be nerve-wracking, (will they think I’m a crazy California hippie?!), but it is a necessary part of asserting your sustainability principles. Telling your server you don’t need a straw for your drink, or asking the cashier not to print your receipt are just two ways to prevent waste creation. Even simple things like a reusable bag can make major impacts in terms of saving wildlife. The Chicagoans I talked to were friendly, and found my endeavors inspiring, or interesting at the least, so don’t be afraid to embrace yours.

Just because you are on vacation, it does not mean your ethical obligations are too. Even though your travel destination is not your home, remember that your actions will affect the rest of the globe, and that’s everybody’s home.


Photographs courtesy of  Erick Zepeda and Claudia Villalta-Mejia

Claudia Villalta-Mejia is a fourth-year Film & Electronic Arts major who works as a Student Assistant in the CSULB Office of Sustainability.