Two Dusty Travelers: How to Travel Ethically

First off—the standard travel stuff. Where are you from originally? Where do you live now? Where are you going next?

I (Emily) am originally from Seattle. Aaron was born in Australia but moved to Seattle as a child, and that's where we met (many years later)! Seattle is still home base for us. Our next trip is a big road trip through National Parks in the Western US this summer - including our first visit to Yellowstone!

How long have you been promoting ethical travel? What was your first foray into traveling and working abroad? 

We've been blogging for about two years, but have been promoting ethical travel since long before we officially had a blog. We've always been passionate about traveling in ways that help, not harm, the places we visit.

My first foray into traveling and working abroad was as a college student hoping to "save the world". I spent a summer volunteering in Kenya, which led to my decision to go to nursing school so that I would have a skill that would allow me to travel and do humanitarian work. Shortly after that, Aaron and I moved to Tanzania together to volunteer for 6 months.

In the decade since then, I've participated in many medical missions and learned so much about how damaging "voluntourism" can be if it's not done responsibly. One of the main reasons I wanted to start our blog was to speak honestly and openly about volunteering abroad.

Road tripping around the US in our rooftop tent instead of flying to reduce our carbon footprint

Road tripping around the US in our rooftop tent instead of flying to reduce our carbon footprint

What do you think are the most common mistakes or misperceptions people have when it comes to volunteering in other countries? 
The most common misconception about volunteering abroad is that good intentions are enough. I have no doubt that people who volunteer in orphanages or spend a week working at a medical clinic have their hearts in the right place. Unfortunately, that doesn't prevent them from causing serious harm.

Most people are surprised to hear that many children in orphanages in developing countries aren't actually orphans. The increasing popularity of orphanage volunteering has basically made children a commodity - meaning that foreigners have created a demand for orphans and they're willing to pay big bucks to spend a week snuggling babies, so local communities will find a way to fill that demand.

In many cases poor families are encouraged to hand their children over to orphanages, where they're told they'll get an education. Instead they're raised by a revolving door of strangers, which can cause lifelong psychological damage. (This is why we don't have orphanages in the U.S.—studies show it's a terrible way to raise children.) The best solution for these kids would be to invest in programs that help lift their parents out of poverty, but that would cut foreign volunteers (and their money) out of the picture so instead these kids end up in orphanages to entertain tourists.

Medical missions also have hidden problems: Who follows up with patients after volunteers leave? Why are we spending money to fly foreigners in to treat patients instead of training local staff? Is it ethical to allow medical and nursing students to treat patients in developing countries when they aren't licensed to do so at home?

It's the responsibility of the volunteer to do a LOT of research and ask the hard questions before they ever step onto a plane. Just meaning well isn't enough. (Here are some questions we recommend asking yourself and any organization you're thinking of working with.)

What are some resources/organizations you recommend so people can be sure they're actually helping/supporting communities they visit?

We put together a massive ethical travel resource to help answer that question! There are tons of resources to learn more about responsible volunteering, cruelty-free animal tourism, how to travel sustainably, you name it! There are endless resources out there to help you no matter what aspect of ethical travel you're interested in.

For those who want to learn more about volunteering overseas, I highly suggest reading Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad. In fact, I don't think anyone should volunteer unless they've read this book first!

On safari in Tanzania, where we volunteered for 6 months

On safari in Tanzania, where we volunteered for 6 months

What would you say are 3 ways someone thinking of traveling/volunteering abroad can prepare and "do it right"?

- Think critically about the long-term effects of your actions. After you go home from your volunteer trip, what happens to the people you helped? Who continues the work? Is someone trained to repair that water pump or solar panel you installed, or will the community be dependent on foreign intervention permanently? Does bringing American high schoolers to build houses really help, or does it take paying jobs away from locals who need them? The answers aren't always easy, but if you're truly volunteering to make a difference (and not to get a cool selfie and a line on your resume) you'll want to do it right.

- Spend your tourist money in the local community. It can be easy to travel without every really setting foot in the local community. If you stay at an international hotel chain, eat at expat-owned restaurants, and take tours with big foreign-based companies, then very little of your money is actually staying in the country you're visiting. Tourist dollars can make a huge difference to a community, so spend them wisely. Seek out locally owned places to stay, eat, and play. The bonus is that you'll probably have a way more interesting and meaningful experience, and see things that most tourists will miss!

- Use social media carefully. Ask yourself: Would you want a photo like this posted of yourself, or your child, for the world to see? Volunteers often share photos while traveling that they would never take at home (like pictures of children you don't know, or photos of patients in a hospital). Also, be intentional about the story you're telling with your photos and captions. Is it something positive about the place and the people you're visiting, or are you reinforcing tired old stereotypes about poverty and helplessness? Assume that the locals you're with will see the photos you post - would you want a visitor to talk about your hometown that way? You may very well be the only reference point that your friends and family have for the country you're visiting, so use that power for good.

What countries would you say could benefit the most from tourism and volunteering abroad?

I think any country can benefit from tourism if it's done the right way! That said, I'm a big believer in visiting off-the-beaten-path places. That takes the pressure off of super popular places (like Santorini or Venice) which are suffering from over-tourism. Plus, cities and countries that are less visited can benefit so much more from tourist income. We've had fantastic experiences in places that aren't popular tourist destinations, whether it's a rarely-visited country like El Salvador, or a remote location like a safari in Tuli, Botswana.

Visiting El Salvador after Trump called it a "shithole" and we wanted to give it some positive pres

Visiting El Salvador after Trump called it a "shithole" and we wanted to give it some positive pres

How do you see travel evolving in the coming years?

I hope that travel evolves to become more thoughtful and meaningful, rather than just checking countries and experiences off a bucket list. I'd like to see travelers recognize how much power their choices have (where they stay, who they spend their money with, how they interact with locals, etc) and use that power to affect positive change. If travelers make it clear to the tourism industry that we want responsible, sustainable options that benefit local communities, then those options will become more popular and accessible!

Traveling in Mexico? Join our Mexico Digital Nomads group here!

Earth Day Feels: Sustainable Travel with Laura in Waterland

First off, where are you from and how long have you been traveling?

I was born in Belgium but I have been infected with the travel bug for so long that I consider myself more of a “citizen of the world.” I started traveling on my own for very short trips at 16 and haven’t stopped since. I left Belgium for what was supposed to be a six month backpacking trip in January 2010, and haven’t really stopped traveling since. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Indonesia for about six years now.

Amazing! How did you become passionate about the sustainable travel movement - particularly with oceans?

I grew up surrounded by a dad who picks up litter on walks and environmental TV shows like Captain Planet, Stop the Smoggies and Ocean Girl. The decision to live a more sustainable life came later, however. I had learned scuba diving that year and became increasingly aware of the devastation of plastic and fishing from seeing it firsthand underwater. I fell in love with the Ocean and nothing made more sense than protecting what I love. I participated in ocean cleanups and started using reusable items like a refillable bottle. The veganism and strive towards a low waste lifestyle came gradually after that because I kept informing myself and realizing living and traveling sustainably didn’t impair my way of life but would help save what I loved: the Ocean. I think seeing the underwater world helps people realize what is at stake. That’s why surfers and scuba divers are some of the best ocean advocates! So I would recommend to anyone to try snorkeling or scuba diving.

It truly is another world. On a similar note—it seems everyone’s jumped on the bandwagon of banning straws, but some people have criticized it as not doing enough. Thoughts on this?

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Straw bans are great! this has helped reaching so many people who may otherwise have never realized how badly plastic can injure marine creatures and seabirds. But I do believe we should not stop at straws. Bans must extend to many more single-use items such as plastic bags, produce bags, disposable take away items, etc. Some corporations are taking this opportunity to do some “greenwashing” but more and more people see through those campaigns. Over time, thanks to the initial awareness about straws, more people will keep questioning their habits and what’s normalized in our society. Public awareness and education is absolutely key in further and long-term change. The more we are, the louder our voices, and the more power we have to hold businesses, corporations and politicians accountable.

Absolutely. We know it takes a village, but what would you say are three ways that digital nomads can lessen their environmental impact while on the road?

1.) Reduce plastic use. A lot of the countries just don't have the infrastructures to deal with their own waste and it gets worse with tourism. So I would advise to travel with and use as many reusable items as possible. Even starting with a refillable metal bottle is a good first step. And skip as many plastic items as you can unless absolutely necessary. I would also go further and say that these habits need to be upheld in countries with good waste management too because, although recycling must go on, it is not a great solution now, or long term.

2.) Avoid animal attractions or products. Riding an elephant is the biggest no-no (http://laurainwaterland.com/elephants-rescue/) but it doesn't stop there. Abroad, you often encounter animal selfie opportunities or "free a bird", etc. No animal wants to perform and live among humans. They are abused so they conform. I don't recommend supporting any of these activities or buying animal products. Some things can seem harmless such as the now famous "poop coffee". However, the "luwak" (the animal) are captured in the wild, kept in tiny cages and fed an exclusive diet of coffee beans. The wild population is now at risk. Turtles are also kept in tiny tanks or killed straight away to make jewelry from their shells. These are all examples of things to avoid. Use your wits and ask questions when traveling so an animal doesn't suffer behind the scenes.

3.) Support businesses that care. Choose the eco-friendly hotel or operator. I always try to look for the companies that have pledged to do better. Check their websites and social media page before booking to see what kind of actions they are taking.

4.) I think this last point is also important but I will be brief! Offset your carbon emissions after flying. It doesn't solve the issue and we should be mindful of choosing the train when possible. However, if we must fly, offsetting should be the norm.

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Are there any top companies or or travel products you follow or admire for their sustainability mission?

I admire any company that strives to reduce their environmental impact or help others do so. I think it’s honorable and they really deserve our support even if they are not perfect yet. I recently traveled to the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand and was appalled at the plastic wrapped items in the souvenir shop but I can't help support the main project of elephant rescue, and education of other companies using elephants around Thailand and South East Asia. Lek Chaileart, the owner, is an inspiring woman and I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for her.

Do you have any big plans/dreams in the next 1-2 years regarding sustainable tourism and travel?

There are so many places I still want to go. I am planning to do quite a bit of discovering this year. Most of it will probably be around Indonesia.

To find out more about Laura, check out her website.

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Self-care for the Win: Tricks for Health on the Road

Self-care on the Road: Tips and Tricks

It’s easy to imagine #digitalnomadlife in the typical fluffy form: mojito in hand, new faces, new places and a constant state of adventure from the comfort of your laptop. While life on the road certainly lives up to its reputation at times (wink), let’s be real—it can get exhausting. Whether you’re traveling on a shoestring or working 40-50 hours, too much of anything is, well… too much.

We rounded up some tips and tricks from nomads near and far to stay sane while you’re staying somewhere far from home.

Packing

Before you’re off to put another stamp in the passport, there are some things to add to the list. While you might not be able to control that hostel dorm mate who’s decided to wrestle a plastic baggie at 6 a.m., you can arm yourself against unwanted noise, light and general discomfort.

Remember to bring:

-Notebook

-Melatonin tablets/sleep tablets

-Earplugs

-Noise-canceling headphones

-Eyemask

-Soft sweatpants

-Your favorite lipbalm

These items might seem small, but they can make the biggest difference when you’re needing some comfort—or simply sleep.

Schedule Time

Whether it’s first thing in the morning, an entire day of sightseeing or just some time reading in bed, scheduling your self-care in advance helps you prioritize its importance.

Since travel often includes the hiccups of missing a bus, a delayed flight or the classic case of bureaucratic red tape, carving out time in your schedule to relax and reflect is crucial. If you want to handle all the bumps of the road in smooth style, having the time to take it all in makes everything easier.

Unplug and Unwind

Phones. Laptops. Cameras. Kindles. It seems like everything is on a screen these days— and it’s scientifically proven that screen lights have a habit of keeping us awake and anxious.

Unplugging from it all is an easy, natural-feeling way to refresh. Go on, bask in the glory of some time on the beach with just a good book and the sound of a guitar (the waves too). Find ways to occupy yourself without the easy flick of a thumb or typing on a keyboard—it will help you reset and power off.

Make Time to Reflect

Sure, you’re gallivanting the world, doing all the things and meeting all the folks—just make sure you take some time to pause and turn inwards. Bring a notebook. Write stuff down. Pause. You’ll thank yourself later.

And speaking of thanking yourself, why not take some time to reflect on where you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going—both inward and outward? Even making a list of failures and wins can help get the hurricane of thoughts in your head a bit more organized!

Another proven way to pause is meditation. There are even apps to help you get out of your head and into that quiet space—even if it’s just a few minutes.

Meditation apps:

Insight timer - Free guided meditations + timer (https://insighttimer.com/)

Calm - Meditation techniques for sleep/stress (https://www.calm.com/)

Stop Breathe Think - Mindfulness guided meditations (https://www.stopbreathethink.com/)

Headspace - Classic guided meditation app (https://www.headspace.com/)

Physical health

It’s easy to get caught working one way or another (we’re definitely guilty of that), staying up too late sending e-mails… you get the idea. Since most digital nomads are traveling AND working, challenging themselves with an itinerary while trying to keep track of their work schedules, finding balance mentally and physically is crucial.

We rounded up a few gym apps in our last blog post, but here they are again as well as some health/wellness apps

Zeamo - International gym passes (https://zeamo.com/)

GymPass - International gym passes (https://thegympass.com/)

Global Fitness Pass - International gym passes (https://globalfitnesspass.co.uk/)

Sweat - app built with female trainers (https://www.sweat.com/)

MapMyFitness - app for tracking fitness (https://www.mapmyfitness.com/us/)

Skimble - workout app/trainer (https://www.skimble.com/)

My Water - Tracks + reminds you to drink water throughout the day (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/my-water-balance/id964748094?mt=8)

HealthyOut - Healthy Restaurant Nutrition Guide (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/healthyout-healthy-restaurant-nutrition-guide/id566409966?mt=8)

Food Intolerances - handy app for or peeps with intolerances/sensitivities (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/food-intolerances/id419098758?mt=8)

Self-care for the Win

In short, self-care is essential to staying healthy both on the road and at home. So go ahead, give yourself a self-hug—you deserve it!