Green Travel Magzine

Traveling Consciously with a Lower Carbon Footprint

Hosts of Conscious Living now on PBS

While producing the last fews seasons of Conscious Living, we’ve had the pleasure of traveling across four different continents, including two cross-country road trips throughout the United States. But as producers of a mindful travel show, it’s impossible to ignore the tremendous negative impact our travel adventures can have on the environment, and the delicate communities and ecosystems that depend on it.

Tourism is responsible for 8% of all carbon emissions and a significant contributor to global warming, with airplane flights being the biggest culprit. The irony of producing a mindful travel show – while simultaneously emitting carbon as we produce it – is not lost on us. 

The truth is, we’ve made plenty of sustainable faux pas during our adventures. Whether it’s neglecting to offset the carbon from an international flight, leaving our BPA-free stainless-steel canisters at home and being forced to sip water from thimble-sized, single-use plastic bottles, or mindlessly buying tchotchke souvenirs that were mass-produced in China. Though we strive to walk our talk, there’s a thin line between mindfulness and mindlessness. Thankfully, Conscious Living is about progress, not perfection. 

Here are a few of the hard-won lessons we’ve learned along the way that help us lighten our load on the planet, while still enjoying the journey.

1. Go Vegan.

Adopting a plant-based diet can reduce the average person’s carbon footprint by 70-80%. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if every American skipped just one meal of meat per week and swapped it with a plant-based dish instead, the C02 savings would be the same as removing more than a 1/2 million cars from the road. It takes about eleven times as much fossil fuel to produce a single calorie of animal protein as it does to produce a calorie of grain protein, so whenever we travel we say no to meat and dairy. If you’re not already plant-based like us, hitting the road is a great time to start. You’re already out of your usual comfort zone habits, so seeking out a new dish can be as much a part of the adventure as speaking a different language, learning a new culture or making new friends. Our favorite vegan travel app is Happy Cow – we’ve used it all over the world for culinary adventures from delicious $2 hawker marts in Singapore to authentic back-alley vegan currywurst in Berlin.

2. Where Possible, Avoid Flying.

Flying is the most carbon-emitting mode of transportation, so instead of flying to our chosen destination, we train or drive wherever possible. Once we land, we take long relationship walks to get to know the city first-hand on foot, or use scooters and bike sharing apps while taking in the local sights and sounds. We never get stuck in traffic! For longer trips, we love to drive. If we get a break from our busy 24-7 production schedule, the slower route gives us a chance to be more mindful and enjoy the ride. Last summer, we drove the Tesla cross-country for the first time. Before leaving, we were scared we’d run out of battery along the way. Stopping at Superchargers forced us to take pit stops and get acquainted with parts of the country we otherwise would have just sped past. Sometimes, it’s nice to stop and smell the roses.

If for whatever reason we must travel by plane, we try to book non-stop flights. Takeoffs and ascent consume almost 25% more fuel than cruising at altitude. The more take-offs and landings during your travels, the larger your carbon footprint. When heading to the airport, instead of Übering or taking a Lyft, we love to pack light (which also saves C02) and take the subway. This saves money, and a bit of the burden on Mother Earth.

3. Booking Greener Accommodations

Traveling green doesn’t mean you have to give up luxury. When traveling away from home, instead of staying at any old four-star hotel chain with hundreds of identical rooms, we book eco-chic homestays at local AirBnBs to support independent homeowners. They typically offer smaller, more unique living spaces with smaller carbon footprints. If you’re jonesing for the luxury of hotel white glove service, opt for a green hotel chain, like The Fairmont or Kimpton Hotels throughout the U.S., The Hidden Hotel in Paris, or The Hotel Pickering in Singapore. With green roofing and design throughout, recycling in every hotel room, energy and water efficient appliances, practices and offsets, and a commitment to serving local and organic produce, eco-hotels are setting the bar high for conscious travelers around the globe.

4. Giving Our Travel Wardrobe an Eco-Makeover

With the rise of cheap, disposable fashion, the average person has four times the clothes in their closet than they did in 1980. Unfortunately, most people throw away the same amount of clothing each year, keeping our landfills brimming with perfectly reusable clothing. These days, it’s easy to be a conscious fashionista and reduce, reuse and recycle your way to a fresh new style. Instead of buying new clothes before a trip, we love treasure hunting at our local Goodwill, Crossroads, Buffalo Trading Co. or vintage thrift stores to stock up on gently reused basics or stand-out one of a kind upcycled pieces. If second-hand fashion’s not your thing, consider buying garments made from fair trade, sustainable materials like organic cotton, bamboo or tencel before purchasing clothing that might be harmful to people and the planet.

5. Shopping Locally

When traveling, it’s easy to be tempted to overindulge in ubiquitous cheap souvenirs, tee-shirts and tchotchkes being hawked by local merchants on every corner. Sadly, most of these souvenirs are mass-produced in China under inhumane sweatshop working conditions, using toxic chemicals and materials that are harmful to the environment. Avoid the tourist trap. When traveling, we aim to find local makers and artisans who employ indigenous, small-batch techniques to create one of a kind pieces that tell a story of their own. During a recent trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, we skipped the mass-produced night market and ventured further in town to find a few stand-alone boutiques specializing in natural dyes and heritage embroidery. Though they cost a bit more, by going the extra mile, we were able to support the livelihoods of several local woman entrepreneurs while bringing home beautiful, hand-made textiles celebrating the region. 

6. Cleaning Up After Ourselves

Like Mom always said, “whenever you visit a place, leave it better than you found it.” When traveling through Bali, Indonesia, we were shocked to discover many beaches covered in debris and plastic, much of which was also floating along the shoreline. The primary culprit? Irresponsible tourism. No different than visiting the home of a close friend, when traveling, we aim to leave no trace. This includes simply picking up after ourselves, treating rental homes with the same respect as if they were our own, and sometimes even cleaning up other people’s trash.

Hit the Road, Mindfully!

When all else fails, we reduce what we can and offset the rest. Carbon offsets can work in a variety of ways. When purchasing offsets, you invest in earth-cooling projects from reforestation and conservation, to carbon sequestering and abatement to renewable energy. One of the easiest ways to offset your carbon is through the non-profit Cool Effect. Visit their user-friendly app to offset carbon from your next flight, road trip, cruise or accommodations, or even your business, home and car.

Whether it’s eating more plant-based, packing lighter to sport eco-fashion (who needs that extra blow dryer, anyway?), driving an EV, staying in a green hotel or offsetting your carbon when you hit the road, there are lots of easy ways to be a more mindful traveler. Life is a journey, not a destination – so enjoy the ride!

Watch Bianca and Michael’s latest adventures on the next season of Conscious Living, airing now on your local PBS station, or stream it via the PBS app. For more tips on fun eco-conscious getaways, visit ConsciousLivingTV.com, or follow @ConsciousLivingTV.

Source: Conscious Living TV


ecomadic is a sustainable tourism brand that empowers travelers to make more conscious decisions. By curating a marketplace to easily find and identify responsible businesses to support, and providing educational publications through our online green travel magazine, ecomadic is committed to helping empower travelers make responsible choices throughout their journeys.

Bianca and Michael Alexander
Bianca is a co-founder, host, and creative director of Conscious Living. Through this project, she combines her passion for media and social justice. Alongside his wife Bianca, Michael is a co-founder, executive producer, and co-host of the show, bringing stories of health, sustainability, and practical spirituality to hearts and minds across the globe.