Growing up in a family where we washed and reused plastic bags, grew much of our produce, composted more than anyone I knew and camped our way across America, I’ve always tried to be conscious of my impact on the environment.
But traveling through Central America this last year — watching waves of trash wash up on beaches and sewage pumped directly into rivers and lakes as well as the effects of climate change, such as great drought — has caused me to think even more urgently about living green.
The problem is, in many parts of the world, particularly poorer countries, being eco-friendly isn’t always convenient or even possible all of the time. In vast areas of Central America, for example, messaging about waste and realistic alternatives for single-use plastic are rare while large-scale recycling programs are entirely absent. Compounding my own personal mark are the tiny toiletries I’m forced to buy (small bottles vs. large bottles) thanks to living a life on the move, and the wet wipes I use constantly because of the lack of clean water, soap products and space. (I’m far from perfect.)
It’s easy for a lot of us to throw our normal standards to the wind while traveling or vacationing — when room service, eating out and sightseeing create different patterns than the perhaps more eco-friendly habits we’re used to abiding by at home.
Still, there are many ways to reduce your carbon footprint and travel more sustainably whether you’re venturing across the country or overseas — if you’re only willing to put some thought in and make moderate sacrifices.
A guide to the best beaching, bitters hopping and day tripping the peninsula has to offer.
Tucked at the end of a peninsula on the Central coast of Belize, Placencia draws vacationers and retirees alike thanks to its tropical climate, prime beaches, laid-back vibe and English speakers.
The village won’t overload you with activities or bustle — part of its charm is that the Belizean adage “Go Slow” takes on a literal meaning here — but the longer you hang around, the more likely you’ll find there is more to this town than first strikes the eye, from the warmth of the intertwined local and expat communities to back streets that wind into the canals, revealing pockets of life not seen from the main stretch.
Like other tourist destinations in Central Belize, the prices are on the high end for Central America, a reality that should be evident at the first passing of shore-lining mansions and the celebrity-attracting Turtle Inn — a Francis Ford Coppola property that touts rooms for upwards of $500 USD a night. But just as there is luxury to be soaked up if you’re so inspired, there are deals to be found, too; and plenty to entertain for a week or more.
Welp, here we go again.
How does one pack for indefinitely? I have no idea. But I’m learning better by the week, and getting more sophisticated with each pitstop back in the U.S.
After my latest evaluation, I dumped a lot (goodbye water filter and second pair of jeans, among other things) while piling on a couple of pretty significant additions. (Um, yoga mat and full-standing tripod? OK SURE).
How’s this gonna work? I recorded this video as I test-packed my new load for the first time.
When I first announced my plans to head to Belize after several months in Guatemala, one of the first questions I got was whether I’d be able to have any “real” experiences in a county that elicits images of swaying palm trees, immaculate beaches and touristic experiences.
But although Belize — conveniently the only country in Central America whose official language is English — has a long coastline, one of the world’s best barrier reefs and vast supplies of clear, cerulean waters, it’s identity stretches far beyond the dispatches most often received.
My first glimpse of that reality came in San Ignacio — a little river town on the Western border that will live on as one of my favorite locales in my Central American travels thus far. Here, you’re only about 70 miles from the coast as the crow flies, but you’ll feel much farther away, surrounded by dirt roads, Mayan ruins — even within city limits — and a variety of cultural experiences. Walk down the main street and it will be immediately obvious that you’ve left Guatemala, even though you’re just over the border. Expect to smell curry, spice; you stop seeing much corn; that carbohydrate sustenance replaced plentifully by rice and beans. In addition to the expected Mayan and Hispanic influences, you’ll find a big population of Chinese, Asian Indians, Mennonite Germans and of course many of Creole backgrounds that lend great flavor and distinction to the food. You can hardly soak it up in a week, but I tried.
On Sunday, I had brunch on a perfect, white sand beach, hammocks swinging near by, then ordered a drink, dipped in the pool and selected a lawn chair, book in hand.
Cool breezes floated in from the ocean. The sun beamed down through palm trees.
And under my sunglasses, tears were falling down my face.
I was exhausted. And suddenly, it was all pouring out.
After a bit of a rough week, I had made what is an unusual decision for me: I was giving myself a vacation day, free from work and discomfort. I cabbed to a beautiful resort 30 minutes away, and feeling far from my typical reality of sweaty, sleepless nights, constellations of mosquito bites and street food, I plopped down and immediately started crying.
Now, I realize many of you reading this are doing so with mounds of snow outside or maybe from under the fluorescent lights of a cubicle. Sympathy for someone gallivanting around the coast of Belize and writing paragraphs like the one I just did is a hard sell, so I won’t try it.
I’m thrilled to be traveling through lesser tread parts of the world and sharing their underrated beauty. I experience incredible highs, deep fulfillment and satisfaction in an internal, if not always superficial sense. I wouldn’t change a thing about my decision to do this; at this point, I really can’t even imagine going back.
But beyond the veneer of “a glamorous life abroad,” this is also the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I am still very much adjusting to a world flipped upside down.
If there’s one skill of the nomad life I’m terrible at it’s this: staying in a place for only a week.
It’s torture — a week seems to be just enough time to find myself settled and fulfilled by new routine before uprooting again.
As I’m leaving San Ignacio today (Monday), I’m feeling that sentiment sharply.
Somehow, in my old life, I did this on the regular while vacationing. When I look back and think about traveling through Mexico or Asia or Europe, spending three short days (or even TWO?!?!?!) in a single place and acting like that was normal, my mind is blown.
Indeed, my original “itinerary” when I was playing with the idea of doing this was jetting across Asia and Africa, spending only two or three days in every town or even country. (A BIG LOL TO THAT.)
Most of the other travelers I run into are on this kind of track, so much so that some guest houses are shocked when I tell them I plan to stay even a full week.
But of course, what I’m doing is very different now. I’m not on vacation anymore. I’m not even on a work trip. I making my way across the world, full time. To do that, one has to keep moving. Sometimes I’ve relented, staying in a particular spot for two, three weeks, even a month in Panajachel.
Still, it’s never enough.
Last week, after flying to North Carolina, last minute, to vote, I was at home with my family.
For a full work week. In the middle of several projects. With self-imposed deadlines creeping around the corner.
Normally this would have stressed me out far too much — Would I be able to spend time with my family and also Get Things Done In a Timely and Efficient Manner? — but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to feel some of my anxiety and need to maintain a relentless pace melt away.
I am trying to turn off my “work brain” more often and allow time for activities that won’t later be spun into an article, video or photo gallery. Finally, I’m starting to feel some semblance of balance when it comes to my work life and the time previously reserved for teeth brushing and sleeping.
Getting there has been a journey.
You see, everyone dreams about leaving their jobs and working for themselves because they want to be their own boss.
But not many people take time to think about just what kind of boss they would be.
And as it turns out, I’m a nightmare.
The idea that Antigua, Guatemala might be especially “dangerous,” never really occurred to me until after I arrived, and was putting on my jacket to go grab some street food that first night.
“Make sure you don’t walk down dark streets,” my host, Cesar interjected.
Sensible advice, of course, no matter where you travel, but usually people don’t take the time to say it. He continued, off-handedly, as he stirred a pan of sautéing mushrooms.
“Tourists gets robbed a lot. Girls get robbed a lot.” He eyed me. “And you’re a tourist and a girl.”
At his direction, I unloaded half of what was in my bag back into my bedroom before heading out into the evening, including the professional camera I had planned to use to photograph the street cart cuisine.
“One more thing,” he said as I thanked him and told him I’d see him later. “If you do get robbed, just make sure you don’t die.”