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.
Over the course of a week in Los Angeles, I trekked all over the city, met up with five different friends, and presented them all with the same incredulous question:
Do they LIKE living in LA?
I asked with equal amounts of adoration and exhaustion — because during the time I’ve spent in the City of Angels (7 or 8 trips in the last decade), my impressions have ranged from <heart eye emoji> to <eye roll emoji,> sometimes in the span of a single half hour.
Here in LA, you can get bangin’ egg rolls for $1 but you might have to eat them next to a rabid-eyed crew that has been awake for 37 hours. There are a million cool neighborhoods to explore but it might take you 1.5 hours and 17 sudokus to make it across town. You can walk your dog to year-round soft breezes, mild temps and palm tree views but your pup might also pick up some used sanitary napkins on the stroll.
Last week, the redacted version of the Robert Mueller investigation into possible Trump collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential elections was released, and seemingly all of the U.S. — particularly its media — took the opportunity to find new ways to be aghast, disgusted, horrified by the idea that a foreign government could be involved in dictating our leadership, our way of life.
It’s disturbing, certainly. I’ve been among those enamored with fury, too.
But lately, I’ve instead been thinking back to a conversation I had a few months ago in a bar in Belize.
My Belize City friend, Ian, chuckled then as we shared a glass of wine, talking politics in a small bar in Placencia. At some point the Mueller investigation came up.
“Americans are outraged that Russia helped choose your president,” he mused, “even though it’s what your country has done with leaders of countries all over Central America for decades.”
Despite knowing the history, foggily, the statement hit like a 2×4 block of concrete to the face.
Because, well, let’s face it: as U.S. natives, we don’t like to think of ourselves that way.
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.
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.
Between all the visible parts of my job as a roaming writer and video producer, there is one element constantly in the background:
Planning and booking travel.
Living a life on the move requires me to constantly be thinking about where I came from and where I’m headed in addition to where I am in that moment.
I get a lot of questions about how I decide where to go and where to stay and what to do while I’m there, so I thought I’d share some of my process — that delicate balance of making a plan while staying open to major change — as well as some of what’s in store for me in the months ahead.
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.