Why Sustainable Travel is So Much More Than Being Green (Caution: Trigger Warning!)

Why Sustainable Tourism is So Much More Than Being Green #explore #ecotourism #wanderlust || a tipsy gypsy life

Did you know that over 27% of the earth’s reefs are gone— and not coming back? I haven’t even made it to the Great Barrier Reef! Being green while traveling is of the upmost importance, but, like a late-night infomercial, WAIT THERE’S MORE.

Travel is the one thing you buy that makes you richer, gives you insurmountable joy, becomes your anti-drug. If we think we’re going to keep having these surreal adventures, we’re going to have to take sustainable travel seriously. To be sustainable, we have to be able to explore without damaging the local culture, altering livelihoods, fueling inhumane markets, or destroying natural beauty.

There’s been a lot of negative comments regarding the state of Bali, a popular tourist destination. It is true that trash lines the beaches. It is true that no one seems to pick up after themselves.




But is it really fair to get every single thing you can out of a destination, and then claim it’s “not worth visiting”? I think not. 




Would it be so terrible to do a beach clean-up in Bali? My home-town (St. Petersburg, FL) holds them all the time- it’s the only way it would stay clean. There is something inherently wrong with exploiting something then abandoning it, especially a priceless community. 

But even more urgent than cleaning up our messes, we have to be more cautious of the demands we make. There is no way around it, tourism has led to an influx of fake orphanages and more orphans. If travelers hadn’t consistently requested orphanages to “help” (but mostly gawk) at impoverished children in foreign lands, they would not be on the rise. 


I’ve mentioned once or twice that I’m a certified Green Globe Auditor. With U.N. beginnings, Green Globe has been providing sustainable travel certifications for complying tourism companies and their suppliers for 15 years. When a company desires a way to showcase their contribution to the community, we have to go in and evaluate on a 180 point scale. Starting with how the property was obtained, the amount of local employees, and women or minorities in management positions, the evaluation begins tame enough. However, if they continue passing inspection points, I have to ensure the property is sustainable economically, ecologically, and ethically.

One of the things we are to investigate is the likelihood of human trafficking (sex slaves) at the property.


Are there any young girls hanging around? Who stays more than a few nights? What is the relationship between that teen and the group of men she’s with? It never hurts to visit to local police station for information. What do I do if I have a hunch? What happens if I stumble upon something illegal that could put me in danger with local gangs? It’s part of the job. 

That’s why active consumerism matters.

Especially places like Thailand, Amsterdam, or Brazil, it really is a matter of life and death for the most vulnerable populations. When I say vulnerable, please do not confuse with “weak.” These communities were thriving prior to Western intervention and can utilize the global market today, just as fully-developed countries do. The very act of financially supporting hotels who turn a blind eye to child raping and kidnapping helps these criminals continue their activities. 

Last year, in Chiang Mai, I was eating tom yom across the street from a massage parlor. Two girls, probably between 15 and 25 years old, were sitting on the porch. We watched each other for a few minutes, until a white man, at least 60 years old, walks up and sits down with them. I see the girls tense up, and then put on their game faces. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I kept staring. One girl started writing on a piece of paper and handed it to the man. He shook his head, wrote something, and passed it back. While this was going on, my travel buddy suggested that they might just be deciding on a massage price. But all the prices were already posted outside for all to see. It just didn’t seem right. They passed the paper maybe three more times and then went upstairs. The girl who was left behind stared at me with a hollow look in her eyes that I will never forget. 

This is heavy shit, but it’s real life. We can’t use a vacation or holiday as an excuse to ignore human rights atrocities.

One way we can add to the active consumer process is through bringing business to locally-owned accommodation, which can provide 3 times as much income for the local economy as a chain company

This is essential in locations like Haiti, where over 70% of the country lives in poverty. AirBnB is generally an excellent, simple choice for attempting to stay locally. VRBO, Homeaway, and Tripping are alternative booking options when AirBnB is overbooked. You can also try house sitting or WOOFing, depending on how much outdoor activity you enjoy.



Remember the whole human trafficking thing? You can actually help support hotels that fight it by booking through TripAdvisors Green Leaders program or find one through Green Globe here.



Another reason why actively researching your accommodation matters- many properties are obtained unethically and illegally, and then block off ocean access for locals. One of the rights of humans is access to the sea for navigation and food. However, private property signs are popping up in places like Hawaii and Jamaica, where the people still live off of the land when possible. Jamaicans fought for 5 years to regain access to the popular local spot, Winnifrid Beach.  I wonder how many other voiceless communities have lost their rights to foreign hotel developers. 

Overall, being aware is the most important step to becoming an ethical traveler.

This isn’t a prescription, this is an active conversation that EVERYONE can add to.  There are probably some wonderful things you already do without even realizing it, like packing your own shampoo or bringing a reusable water bottle. Every little bit truly helps. Let’s continue staying locally, learning from other’s mistakes, and being active in our consumerism. We got the power.

Have you ever done something unethical while traveling, without realizing it? What’s the hardest part about being an active consumer while traveling?

How to Protect Yourself from Greenwashing

Want to protect the environment without compromising your adventures? Read why #greenwashing is Public Enemy Number One.
If you’re traveling to a destination, you probably care at least a tiny bit about it, right? You make the effort to memorize some key phrases, look up where the locals hang, and try to behave while you’re there. You might even take it a step further by taking time find an eco-friendly hotel that supports the local ecology and economy. You book ahead of time, excited beyond relief. When you arrive, you notice an immaculate fountain flowing with clear water at the entrance. You get to your room to see a little “Please Save Water – Reuse Towels” sign on the door. You take it off, bring it inside, and check what the room service has to offer. Pineapples? In China? Doesn’t sound very local to me… You order it anyway, and hop in the shower only to notice at least 6 mini bottles containing everything from mouthwash to leave-in conditioner. “Pretty sure green hotels are supposed to use bulk supplies,” you think. “Oh well, dinner time.” You answer the door to notice your “Please Save Water- Reuse Towels” sign has been replaced- already! Hmm.. Seems like you are making all the effort while the hotel continues what it normally does- wastes. You realize you’ve been greenwashed! The worst part about greenwashing is it makes the job a helluva lot harder for the people who are honest in their pursuits. There really are companies out there who are connecting visitors with legitimate, eco-friendly activities and properties that protect the natural beauty of the land. There are also plenty of companies who have taken the effort to try to fool unkowning travelers, like me and you! That is why I write to you today, to help protect you for the horrors of greenwashing. Let’s continue exploring how to be a better traveler, shall we?


Ask a million questions.

Then ask some more. The legitimate companies will be ecstatic to explain their mission statement. If you dedicated your life to the pursuit of ecological preservation, wouldn’t you be excited too?!  The companies who are up to no good will get irritated- fast. Some typical questions you should ask are who owns the company, how was the company started, and how do they measure impact?


If a company claims non-profit status, make them verify it.

Ask for their tax info or search them on guidestar, one of the leaders in NPO verification. Generally, it’s illegal to say you are a NPO (non-profit organization) without actually being one. In the states, when an organization claims 501(c)3 status, they must make all tax and financial information available. If they are unable to provide or verify NPO status, you can pretty much assume they are full of shit.


Research any certification claims.

Remember all that time you spent looking into hotels only to find out they were full of shit? What is the point? Try to at least make it difficult for companies to greenwash by taking a few minutes to research. All you have to do is google whatever certification they have. If nothing immediately pops up, on google, you can guess that the certification is illegitimate.


Ask for testimonials.

Especially for long-term trips! If you plan on trying to volunteer with an organization for longer than a day, you really should consider obtaining testimonials. A legitimate company will be able to not only provide you quotes, but connect you with former volunteers/participants.


If there is a fee, compare with similar programs in your country of choice.

Be extremely wary of a costly volunteer trip or ecolodge! To be charged $100 USD for a proper recylcing program is reasonable, but $400 USD a night? Probably trying to cash in on the green business.


If something seems amiss, speak up.

This especially applies to any encounter with children or animals. If an elephant sanctuary claims to be stress-free for the animals, and the workers use bull hooks, cry foul. Scream foul. Let everyone know! Why not? People who work in conservations have to fight for very limited funds and resources- save them for those who actually give a damn. Remember, when it comes to equality, there is no such thing as complaining!



Have you ever been the victim of greenwashing? Did you speak up or not? How do you protect yourself from marketing tactics?

Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali

If there is one place to add to your bucket list, please make it this. Bali in general is exquisite, but the Monkey Forest in Ubud is not only amazing because of the precious animals, but the foliage and temples are like being on another world. It honestly brought me to tears at one point- that doesn’t say much though 😉.

My Friend Was Robbed In Bali || a tipsy gypsy life #travel #bali


People watching was equally as fun, it can be pretty amusing to see someone realize a big mistake, like trying to take a stick from a large monkey. Whatever you do- don’t scream or run if they jump on you! They’ll just establish you are not a food source (bananas, not you personally) and hop off. Anytime a monkey attempted to try me id shake my finger at it and say “no no no” and it actually worked 😂

I was having way too much fun observing all the monkey families interacting. I’ve never been so close to such amazing creatures.

 They would wrap their lil’ fingers around mine like a baby, needless to say, I was smitten.

Titty, not so much.

At one point, a monkey robbed her. He only got the bananas out of her purse instead of taking the whole thing, so I would say she got off lucky, sincerely.
The forest itself is pretty large, I’m not even sure if we saw all of it honestly. The cremation burial grounds are such a beautiful testimony to Balinese Hinduism, and we were lucky enough to speak to one of the families that were allowed to be buried there. I wish I would have understood his name (if I don’t read something, it’s pretty much lost forever in my mind), because he was so informative and helpful. How beautiful is this- people who pass are buried in the cremation grounds and every five years they cremate then take the ashes to the ocean. Water is the beginning and end in Balinese Hinduism and death is a celebration to the next life. I love that so much because it explained even further why everyone is so happy here. One of the biggest things (if not the biggest) that causes pain is the passing of family member because of the unknown- here, death is not feared. Not only did he explain the cremation ceremony, but led us around and answered all of my questions like what precisely are the flower offerings and can I make one?

At one point, you’ll see a concrete path that looks like a dead end. Whatever you do, make it down this path. It’s like stepping into another world! I promise, the pictures are a sliver of how majestic Bali is, especially the Monkey Forest

The Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali || a tipsy gypsy life || #bali #travel