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aroundtheworldinkatydays

Life Update: We’re Moving!

That’s right! We are moving! After 11 years in Texas, we are going to be calling another state our home next month!

The past few months have been a real rollercoaster for us, so let me just try to share the “short” version of what’s been going on in our lives…

Matthew and I made the decision to move away from Houston and started applying for jobs in May of this year. We’ve been unhappy for Houston for a while. We moved here knowing that it wasn’t long-term and told ourselves we would stay for five years and then make the move to the next place. But we found ourselves unhappy at work as well as with our location around the start of our second year living here. We found ourselves craving so much more than what Houston has to offer us. We missed  culture, greenspaces, and access to the great outdoors, neither of which we felt our area has much to offer. After a lot of thought and reflection, we made the decision to start looking for our next step.

At first, we were set on moving to Washington DC and applied to quite a few positions there over the next two months. In July, I was referred by an acquaintance to a position in Denver, Colorado, so I applied. And because I had applied for a job in Denver, Matt also started applying, so I started applying for more in the area. In mid-July, the interviews started rolling in for both of us. In total, Matt interviewed for four positions in the Denver area, and I interviewed for two in Denver and one in DC. It started to get a little stressful being pulled in two directions, but we knew we had time to figure it out. But circumstances changed at the end of July and put us into a higher stress situation with an actual deadline by which we needed to figure our lives out.

 

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I don’t have any photos of North Carolina because I’ve never been there, so bear with me and allow me to take you down a Texas-themed memory lane! This is a photo from our roadtrip across the Southwest in 2015, we were so excited to take a photo with the Texas state sign on our way home!

 

Because of this change in our situation, Matt started applying for jobs in North Carolina. He had a former colleague who offered to connect him with and refer him for positions at a prestigious uni there.

I was not thrilled about this, at all.

Washington DC is the #1 place I want to live in the US, so I was really excited about the possibility of us making the move there. Denver is a very close second. They both appealed to us for very different reasons. DC is the best place for me careerwise and we love all the museums, culture, and history in the area. And Colorado, need I say more? Hiking galore, National Parks, mountains, everything. While I have never been to Colorado, I knew I would absolutely love it. North Carolina, on the other hand, I have never been to or really considered moving to. Matt grew up on the Georgia-South Carolina border and would go camping, hiking, and whitewater rafting in North Carolina for Boy Scouts. We stood on opposite sides of the opinion spectrum regarding the possibility of moving to North Carolina.

Matt and I didn’t get any of the positions in Denver or Boulder. But Matt started getting interviews in North Carolina and at his request, I started applying for jobs in North Carolina as well.  I was still interviewing for a position with my dream organization in DC, but with no bites for Matt we knew the possibility of us moving there was slim to none. I quickly received an interview with an environmental nonprofit in North Carolina, but that didn’t pan out.

 

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Visiting Matt in Fort Worth in 2014. We were doing long distance while he was in grad school there and I was in grad school in San Marcos.

 

At the beginning of September, our circumstances changed once more when I had to leave my job. I was heartbroken, but this just made it even more obvious that we were not meant to be in Houston, not at this time of our lives or ever. It became certain that we needed to leave.

So here we were, split between Colorado and North Carolina, both of us leaning in opposite directions and having frequent arguments about the situation. It felt like our best opportunities were in different places and one of us would have to make a sacrifice. Frankly, it sucked. I cried several times a day, my anxiety was at an all-time high, and it could feel the toll it was taking on my body. I was resisting North Carolina so hard. I refused to research it and was so discouraged because there were no job opportunities in my field in the area where we were looking. Matt received a job offer in Chapel Hill, North Carolina one day,  so I finally decided to do my homework on North Carolina.

 

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We adopted Gracie from Texas GSP Rescue in 2016, shortly after we moved to Houston-Galveston area. She completed us and made us a family!

 

I searched on Pinterest for any travel blogs about things to do in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Looked at the Instagram geotags. Watched YouTube videos. Researched farmer’s markets and zero waste store options. Admired many a rental home. Drooled over the fall foliage and realized that North Carolina has actual seasons. SEASONS Y’ALL. I haven’t experienced real seasons (other than while traveling obviously) in over a decade! I realized there would be so many cool trips we could do in a three-hour radius, from the Outerbanks to the Appalachians, even up to DC! Plus it would put us much closer to Matt’s brothers, their families, and our nieces and nephew. Very quickly the pros starting stacking up.

After more debating, we decided to make a great leap of faith and yesterday Matt accepted the job offer in Chapel Hill. We will be flying out very soon to visit the area for the first time and look for a place to live. I’m also going to applying for lots of jobs in the area, so here’s hoping I can find something that’s a good fit for me soon.

We are so excited to start fresh in a new state and for this opportunity for new adventures!

 

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Obligatory car selfie after we picked up our marriage license at the county courthouse in 2016.

 

We’ll definitely miss Texas. We moved here a little over 11 years ago, him from Georgia and me from Germany. We graduated from high school, college, and grad school here in Texas. We got engaged and married here. Bought our first home and started our careers here. We’ll miss H-E-B, Whataburger, being close-ish to our parents (we thought a 4-hour drive to them was bad when we lived in Houston, we really took that for granted…), the Texan state spirit, and so much more. But I can’t wait to experience a new place!

A sincere thank you to everyone who has prayed for us and kept us in your thoughts during this process. It has not been easy on my mental health or our relationship, but we’ve been thankful for the support and kindness of our friends and families throughout the past few months.

See ya soon North Carolina!

Must Have Sustainable Travel Accessories

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In the past year, I’ve gotten serious about reducing my waste not only while traveling but in my everyday life. In this post, I’d like to talk about some of my favorite sustainable swaps: bottles, coffee cups, utensils, straws, toiletries, bags, sunscreen, feminine hygiene products, and snack storage bags.

But first one of the things I most want to stress is that if you feel the desire to make one of these swaps, first use what you already own! Many people have this preconceived notion that to reduce your waste and be eco-friendly, you have to spend a bunch of money and get super cute gear. I have cute water bottles and stuff, but honestly most of the time you’ll find me carrying a mason jar around for my iced coffee and juice. And I do have fancy packable bags to keep in my purse, but the majority of the time when I go grocery shopping I use free reusable bags I got at events or as promos. Use what ya got! Save that money, put it towards a plane ticket! But if you do want to buy cute gear, I’ve provided a few options as inspiration for y’all below.

So here we go. Let’s talk about my must have sustainable travel accessories!

Reusable Water Bottle

1. Klean Kanteen Single Wall Stainless Steel Water Bottle | 2. Contigo Thermalock Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle | 3. Tree Tribe Stainless Steel Water Bottle | 4. S’well Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle | 5. Elemental Double Wall Stainless Steel Water Bottle

I always have a reusable water bottle with me. I have quite a few that I will switch out and carry. I used to use Nalgene bottles, but I’ve made the switch to stainless steel bottles instead. Reusable bottles are so much cuter than single-use plastic bottles, and with how much water I drink, they prevent me from putting 5+ bottles in the trash every single day. Plus, bottled water is not any cleaner or healthier than tap water, despite what that industry may claim. And single-use bottled water can cost up to 500 times the cost of tap water even though most companies just bottle tap water and sell that.

Worldwide over a million single-use plastic water bottles are used every single minute. Replacing this bad habit with a reusable bottle is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your plastic waste footprint!

Use what you already have: Obviously, you can use whichever reusable bottles you already own, it doesn’t have to be cute or trendy in design like the ones shown above. To be honest, any reusable is cute and trendy in my book! Alternatively, if you don’t own a reusable bottle already, you can use a jar if you have one sitting around at home. I use my mason jar for water all the time!

Reusable Coffee Cups

1. KeepCup 12oz Reusable Coffee Cup | 2. Silicone Collapsible Coffee Mug | 3. YETI Stainless Steel Rambler

Starbucks alone creates waste in the staggering amount of 4 billion cups per year. While the cups for cold drinks are recyclable, the cups for warm drinks are not. If you’re a coffee shop regular, you can reduce your waste AND save money, since many stores (including Starbucks) offer BYO container discounts!

Use what you already have: If you have a mason jar at home, these also make nice sealable coffee or juice cups!

Reusable Utensils

1. Bamboo Travel Utensil Set with Carrying Case | 2. Stainless Steel 3-Piece Reusable Utensil Set | 3. NUMU Wooden Travel Utensil Set

If you’re ordering to-go, eating street food, or at a restaurant that only offers plastic utensils, you can use these to eliminate potential waste! I have the first pair and always keep a reusable straw in my case as well. They have come in handy so many times, and are an effective way to eliminate some unnecessary plastic waste from your life.

Use what you already have: Before I got my bamboo utensils from my monthly MightyFix, I just used a pair of utensils from home and would keep them wrapped in a cloth napkin!

Reusable Straws

1. Set of 4 Reusable Silicone Straws w/ Straw Squeegee | 2. Set of 4 Glass Straws w/ Cleaning Brush | 3. Set of 8 Stainless Steel Straws w/ Cleaning Brushes | 4. Set of 8 Bamboo Straws w/ Cleaning Brush

More than 500 million straws are thrown away each day in the US. That’s enough to circle the Earth 2.5 times! Every. Day. So when I go out to restaurants, I always make sure to say “water, no straw” when the server asks what I’d like to drink. Most of the time straws are pretty unnecessary. We don’t use them at home, why do we magically forget to drink without straws when we’re out at restaurants? If you absolutely need a straw, there are plenty of alternatives! I have both silicone, stainless steel, and bamboo straws that I absolutely love and swear by.

Or just refuse the straw: Honestly, 95% of the time I just don’t use a straw! When I go out to eat, I always make sure to say “Water, no straw please.” when I order my drink. Easy and effective. I reserve the straws for smoothies, milkshakes, iced coffee, and the like.

Solid/Packaging Free Toiletries

1. Seanik Solid Shampoo | 2. Jungle Solid Conditioner | 3. Outback Soap Bar | 4. Coalface Solid Facial Wash | 5. T’eo Solid Deodorant | 6. Limelight Toothy Tabs

It’s such a pain to pack all your necessities in a carry-on. Mainly because of that liquid rule. But by using solid shampoo, conditioner, face wash, and even toothpaste you can avoid that annoying situation of measuring out your liquids, putting them in a ziptop bag, and praying TSA doesn’t have it in for you when you’re running late for your flight and get caught in security. My personal favorite brand for all these goodies is Lush, they’re amazing because they put an enormous amount of love into every single product. They source the best, safest, and most sustainable ingredients possible. They have been fighting animal testing for decades, and all their products are 100% vegetarian and cruelty-free. They are increasingly moving towards “naked” products, meaning they are ditching the plastic packaging in favor of solid shampoos and such.

Use what you already have: Use the products you already own before going and purchasing more in order to reduce waste.

Reusable Bags

1. Set of 5 Folding Reusable Grocery Bags | 2. leecoo Foldable Reusable Grocery Bag | 3. BAGGU Foldable Reusable Shopping Bag

Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags each year. On average, the plastic grocery bag has a usefulness of 7 minutes, but an eternal lifespan since they don’t biodegrade. I always keep reusable shopping bags in my car, then at least one more packable one (as pictured above) in my purse. When I check out at the store I tell the cashier that I don’t need a bag, especially when I’m buying one item (I usually just put that one item straight in my purse after I pay). When traveling it’s always nifty to have at least one of these with you.

Use what you already have: Of course it’s really nice to have these packable bags since they take up less space in your purse, but you can definitely still just cram a reusable bag you already own into your purse! It may not pack down as small, but it will do the job just as well!

Reef Safe Sunscreen

1. Stream 2 Sea SPF 30 Sunscreen | 2. Totlogic SPF 30 Sunscreen | 3. Badger SPF 35 Sunscreen | 4. Banana Boat Kids SPF 50 Sunscreen

If you’re planning a beach getaway, make sure you have sunscreen that is reef safe! An easy way to tell is by checking the active ingredients. Reef safe sunscreen’s only active ingredients listed should be Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. Other “O ingredients” like Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Octisalate, etc. are red flags when choosing reef safe sunscreens. Sunscreen is one of my plastic exceptions since it is nearly impossible not only to find a good product that’s reef safe but also packaging free. You can actually find reef safe sunscreen at any drug store or grocer! I know for sure Banana Boat Kids is reef safe, and there may be more brands that are as well. Just look at those active ingredients!

Use what you already have: Check the sunscreen you already own before you go out and buy products. You may already own a reef safe sunscreen!

Menstrual Cup

1. Lena Cup | 2. Lunette Cup | 3. Pixie Cup

Tampons and pads create so much waste. But you can use one of these cups for up to 10 years if you take proper care of it! Plus they give you leak-proof protection for up to 12 hours! This is by far one of my favorite sustainable swaps I’ve made in the past few years. Cups don’t contain latex, BPA, dye, or any other creepy additives. Almost all tampons contain bleached rayon—a material that can create the possibly carcinogenic byproduct dioxin. The cup saves you space in your bag, saves you money, and eliminates waste from going to the landfill.

I know this may not be for everyone. I totally get that because I almost gave up on it the first time I tried it. There is a very short learning curve with the cup. But just stick with it! Don’t give up! This thing is amazing and so worth it!

Reusable Snack Bags

1. rePETe ChicoBags | 2. Stasher Silicone Food Bag | 3. Lunchskins Set

These are great to pack your travel snacks in! Whether they’re sandwiches, fruit, veggies, trail mix, chips, or anything else you may have a craving for. They’re sturdier and longer lasting than regular, single-use bags. I regularly throw these in my purse or backpack when I’m on the go and I never have to worry about them ripping and spilling all over my bag.

Happy sustainable wanderlusting, friends! I hope these goodies help and empower you to reduce your waste footprint while traveling!

Katy’s Guide to Galveston

Galveston, oh, Galveston.

(If you don’t get that reference, listen to this song to prepare yourself for this post)

Many Texans see Galveston as nothing more than a beach destination, but it is so much more! Galveston will always have a very special place in my heart. It was where Matt and I spent the first year of our marriage. We loved living and adventuring on this little island. Over six million people visit Galveston every year, and many of them visit purely for the beaches, never knowing what a historical treasure this city truly is! So I’d like to share with you a little about why I love this place and a few of my favorite spots around the island city. But first, let’s set the scene…

A Crash Course in Galveston’s History

Galveston Island was originally inhabited by the Karankawa and Akokisa people. The first colonizer contact with this area was when Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked on/nearby the island in late 1528. In 1785, José de Evia named the island Gálveztown in honor of Bernardo de Gálvez. It wasn’t until 1816 that the island got its first permanent European settlements when the pirate, Louis-Michel Aury, came to support Mexico’s rebellion against Spain. But when he returned from a raid against Spain in 1817, he found the island had been taken over by pirate Jean Lafitte, who had turned it into a “pirate kingdom.” Lafitte remained in Galveston as the self-anointed head of government until 1821, when the US Navy forced him out. Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, Galveston grew as a hub of commerce with the establishment of the port and a customs house. In 1836, Galveston actually became the capital of Texas!

In the 1840s, with the influx of immigrants coming through Galveston, it was like the original Ellis Island. This brought a period of immense expansion, both developmentally and technologically.  The city had many of the “firsts” in the state: post office (1836), naval base (1836), cotton compress (1842), Catholic parochial school (1847), insurance company (1854), gas lights (1856), opera house (1870), orphanage (1876), installation of telephone lines (1878), and electric lights (1883).

By the end of the 19th century, Galveston was a cosmopolitan location. It was one of the nation’s largest cotton ports, the region’s primary business center, and was even known as the “Wall Street of the South.”

But then, on September 8, 1900, the island was struck by a devastating hurricane, which still holds the record as the nation’s deadliest natural disaster to this day. Most of the city was destroyed, and somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 people perished in the storm. In the aftermath, a 10-mile long, 17 foot-tall seawall was built to protect the city from future storms and flooding. (I’m glazing over the Great Storm for brevity’s sake, but if you’re interested in reading more about it, I highly recommend reading Isaac’s Storm) Much of the existing city was also raised to be 6-8 feet above sea level. Which is why you’ll see many weird mid-shin height fences in the historic district today. The storm stalled economic development, and many businesses and industries moved further inland to Houston, which then became the region’s main metropolis.

The city re-emerged as a tourist destination in the 1920s and 1930s, becoming known as the sin city of the Gulf. This reputation ended in the 1950s, when the Texas Attorney General put an end to the vice businesses in the city. After that, the island’s economy stagnated, but with the growth of family-friendly tourism, higher education, and real estate, the city has become the friendly beach town it is today.

So, what is there to do in Galveston?

So obviously, there’s…

The Beach

In recent years, Galveston has received over six million visitors per year! I’m pretty confident in guessing that 80% of those people only visited the beach. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but y’all… leave the Seawall! Venture out a bit! There are better, less crowded beaches out there! I’m also not about paying to get into the beach (lookin’ at you, Stewart Beach). When we go to the beach, we drive down to the west end and go to the beaches behind the super nice vacation houses. Most of the beaches down past the seawall are mostly used by the people who own/rent those houses, so they’re significantly lower on traffic.

Places to Eat

Since Galveston is a tourist destination, the island obviously has a ton of restaurants. It’s impossible to cover all of them, so I’m just going to cover some of my favorite spots.

And if you want the best ice cream on the island, go to Hey Mikey’s! It’s locally owned, (as are many of the aforementioned restaurants) yay small local businesses!

Places to Drink

Just a few of my favorite places to grab a beer or cocktail:

Things to Do

  • Seawolf Park: Located on Pelican Island, it’s the former immigration station site. Here you can find a local favorite fishing pier and…
  • American Undersea Warfare Center: Here you can explore a WWII submarine and a destroyer escort.
  • Pleasure Pier: An amusement park on a pier over the Gulf, complete with roller coaster, rides, games, and restaurants

Saturday adventuring/working on my Chaco tan. #LoveOurBay #GalvestonBay #kayaking

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  • Galveston Railroad Museum: Home to one of the largest restored railroad collections in the nation
  • Bishop’s Palace: A museum of Galveston’s grandest and best-known home
  • Galveston Historic Tour: Leaves from Ashton Villa’s visitor center, you must call to reserve spots ahead of time. I highly recommend this tour, I’ve done it four times! They teach you so much about the city, its history, and the people who have called the island home.

  • The Bryan Museum: A huge collection of historical items housed in the historic Galveston Orphans Home
  • Moody Gardens: A zoo, aquarium, IMAX theater and adventure center all in one
  • Schlitterbahn Waterpark: If giant waterslides are your thing, Galveston has them

  • Murdochs: If you’re looking for a place to shop for souvenirs and gifts, or a place to hang your hammock, this place has both!
  • Jean Lafitte’s Maison Rouge: A quick photo opp stop, this was once home to Galveston’s most famous pirate resident
  • Ghost Tours: Galveston is super haunted, learn about the ghosts of this island town on a top rated tour
  • Evergreen Cemetery: If you’re a cemetery lover like me, check this place out as a little spot when you’re driving down Broadway. I love the glimpses into history that cemeteries can provide. At this cemetery you can see the traces of the yellow fever epidemic that struck in 1867, as well as that of the Great Storm.

Places to Stay

  • Hotel Galvez: Matt and I stayed here while we were househunting for our move down to the island. It’s a beautiful historic (and haunted!) hotel right next to the sea.
  • Tremont House: Historic, European-style hotel in the heart of the Strand district
  • San Luis Resort: Upscale beachside resort
  • Moody Gardens Hotel: Perfect place to stay if you have kids and are planning to go to the zoo and aquarium at Moody and/or Schlitterbahn

    Know Before You Go

  • There isn’t a real “off-season” in Galveston. Obviously late spring/summer/early fall are peak times, but there’s still quite a bit of tourism on the island even throughout the winter. So hotel rooms may be hard to come across and they may be pricey,
  • Be aware of weekend events before planning your trip. There’s always something big going on every weekend in Galveston. So it’s good to check the calendar on galveston.com before planning a trip. It would be unfortunate if you’re planning a trip around certain attractions only to realize that something like Lone Star Rally, Dickens on the Strand, or Mardi Gras may force you to change those plans.
  • Be on the lookout for lots of water line markers and placards on buildings. Especially on the Strand you’ll see lots of these marking how high the water rose during different hurricanes throughout Galveston’s history. You’ll also see “1900 Storm Survivor” placards on houses and buildings. These were miraculously left standing after the Great Storm!

The first time I saw one of these markers, just imagining the extent of the flooding

  • Yes, the water is brown. No, it’s not gross and polluted. Many people knock Galveston because “the water’s dirty.” So let me tell you right now, as someone who works on water quality in the area: the water is not brown because it’s gross and polluted, we just have fine sediments that get churned up by the waves and currents, which make the water appear brown. On calm, windless mornings, you can admire the blue water on the beach. That being said…
  • Do not swim after it rains. If you’re swimming anywhere that’s in close proximity to the city, you should probably follow this rule. Fecal bacteria levels spike in the water after it rains because that water is picking up all the pollutants on land and bringing it to those waterbodies. The seawall beaches always have high bacteria advisories after it rains, but if you go down to the west end, where it’s just the vacation houses here and there, the water is usually fine. Check this website to get the most up to date conditions.
  • Galveston is a little “rough around the edges.” Some of the areas may be a little run down and the streets may have a lot of potholes in places. It’s not the nicest beach town, but it has so much character, and honestly, because of that it has become my favorite beach town. To me, it’s a diamond in the rough.

I hope you enjoy your trip to Galveston! It’s truly a special place with so much to see and experience. Happy planning!

Know Before You Go: Yosemite National Park

I spent a long weekend in Yosemite and it quickly became one of my favorite National Parks! Everywhere you look there are the most breathtaking views and dramatic landscapes. It’s a wonderful little corner of the earth. For anyone who is a first-time visitor, there are a few things to be aware of. Here is what you need to know before you go: Yosemite National Park edition.

1. This is the land of the Ahwahnechee people.

It’s so important to acknowledge and honor the native people who once called our National Park areas home. In the cases of many of treasured icons, indigenous people were forcibly relocated from their sacred lands in order to establish National Parks. Yosemite was originally the home of the Ahwahneechee people. For them, the story of Yosemite’s development since the mid-1800s is tragedy and tears, yet a number of resilient Ahwahnechee people have survived and still live here. I encourage y’all to research, acknowledge, and honor the Native history of the places you visit. As allies, it’s so important for us to do this.

I love our National Parks, and I love how they connect us with the most beautiful landscapes our country has to offer. But I think we need to be more honest about aware of the history behind our lands.

2. Yosemite is the third American national park.

I mention this because it the history of the park is very closely tied to John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. You’ll see their fingerprints on so many aspects of the region. It was cool to know to know that, at times, I’d be standing on the spot where these trailblazing conservationists had once stood.

3. Try to stay as close to the valley as possible.

We stayed at a lodge in Fish Camp, which was a 30-minute drive from the visitor gate and an hour drive from the valley. So we did a lot of driving…

We booked our accommodations less than a month out from our trip because the trip was as spur of the moment as it gets for us. I would have preferred to stay in the valley, which is essentially the heart of the park. By staying in that area we would have been better able to maximize our time. There’s plenty of camping space, but we didn’t really want to travel with all of our gear. And the lodges and hotels closer in to the valley book up at least 6 months in advance, so the earlier you can reserve, do it!

4. The roads can be steep, make sure you are engine braking.

If you’re driving, don’t rely on riding your brakes all the way down those mountain switchbacks. Downshifting allows “engine braking” to control the vehicle’s top speed,  and it is the best way to drive on steep terrain. Engine braking uses the engine’s compression to apply resistance to the drivetrain to slow the car. So when going downhill, shift the car into a lower gear instead of just having it in drive, and then supplement with regular braking.

5. Tunnel view is the best view in the park!

Stop here for sure. This is the best photo opp in the park because you get such a great view of some of the most iconic features!

6. Yosemite is one of the most “commercialized” parks.

It was interesting going from my most recent National Park experience, in Big Bend, to Yosemite. There were so many different restaurants and stores in Yosemite. There’s not really much you can’t get in the valley. It’s its own little city. And I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just different from what some of us may be used to.

7. Traffic and parking may an issue.

During peak months (June-August) the monthly visitation of the park can range from 500,000-600,000 people. And in its least busy month (January) it still averages a little over 100,000 people. So you can imagine how crowded it gets in the park. Lines to enter the park get backed up quite commonly, there are traffic jams on the few roads around the valley, and the parking spots fill up fast! Be aware of this. Make plans to arrive early, take the shuttle around, or rent and ride bikes.

8. Don’t miss the hotel and interpretive nature walk tours.

These tours are led from the Majestic Yosemite Hotel once a day. The interpretive nature walk starts shortly after the hotel tour finishes, so it’s convenient to do them both when you’re in that neck of the woods. I highly recommend doing both since they give you some valuable knowledge of the park, its history, and the biodiversity of nature.

9. Half Dome requires a permit.

The world-famous Half Dome is a 14-17 mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of nearly 5,000 feet/1500 meters. The final leg of 400 feet/120 meters to the summit is done using cables. A permit is needed only for the cable portion at the very end. A daily lottery drawing is held 48 hours in advance for these permits, you can find more info on that here.

10. Don’t expect peace and quiet.

Because this is one of the most famous parks in the United States it is very heavily visited. There were tons of people everywhere we looked when we visited. It’s hard to find a spot all to yourself to get that “alone in nature” feeling. But that brings me to my next point…

11. Get off the beaten trail and into the backcountry.

The valley takes up barely 7 square miles out of Yosemite’s 1,200 square mile area. And while it is the location of some of the park’s most iconic sights, including Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, and El Capitan, there is much more to be seen beyond this small area. The Sequoia groves, Hetch Hetchy, Mirror Lake, Merced Lake, Glacier Point, and much more. 95% of visitors stay in the valley, so take the opportunity to venture out! Especially if you crave that “path less traveled” vibe.

12. Gas up before entering the park.

As you come into the park, take the opportunity to fill up in the towns before entering the park. Gas in the park is very expensive! And you will be doing lots of driving into, out of, and around the park!

13. Stay. On. The. Trails.

Trails serve a purpose. And that’s for you to walk. on. them. Surprise, right? Nothing angers me more than seeing people knowingly venturing off the marked trail to take a shortcut or to go find a photo opp. When you venture off a marked trail you could be trampling plants, delicate root systems, and wildlife habitats.

I saw so many people taking reckless shortcuts on hikes in Yosemite. And Glacier Point was infuriating to me because I saw so many people climbing the short divider fence and walking straight past the DANGER DO NOT ENTER sign, chuckling as they said “I’m a rulebreaker!” All for the prefect ‘gram, right?

Don’t do it. Don’t endanger yourself. Don’t disrespect the nature. Stay on the trails. Obey the rules. When a sign says “Do Not Enter” then do not enter!

Don’t be like these people.

14. There is extremely sparse phone signal and wifi in the park.

Expect to have no service for most of your Yosemite adventures. Enjoy it! Being free of technological distractions and out in the gorgeous scenery of this National Park is amazing!

15. Check for any closures before your visit.

If you visit during the summer this will be less of an issue. Many roads are closed seasonally due to winter conditions, so if you’re visiting around the end of spring or fall, you may have to be more mindful here. Certain areas may be closed as well. For example, the Mariposa grove of giant seqouias has been closed for years to undergo restoration efforts and will reopen in the summer of 2018.

16. The majority of the most famous sights are easily accessible.

And what I mean by this is you can access them by car and/or a short paved “hike.” It’s nice to be able to easily experience the best of the best and most beautiful.

17. Don’t forget your reusable water bottle! 

Yosemite is pretty serious about their sustainability (which I love!) and they have plenty of water bottle refilling stations around the park. Some of the hikes can be exhausting, and the weather can get hot, so it’s always a good idea to make sure you have water with you. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Good luck with your planning! Happy wanderlusting, friends!

Know Before You Go: Mexico City

I spent the long Memorial Day weekend in Mexico City this year, and in four short days I fell in love with the place. I was lucky because I visited with my parents, who had both visited CDMX before and knew what was up with the area, getting around, attractions to visit, etc. My mom is also Mexican and lived in the country for a while when she was younger, so she was able to lend much of her own experiences and knowledge to our trip. Plus she was the best translator! Overall, this city is very tourist friendly and easy to navigate in all aspects. But there are a few things to be aware of, so here is my Know Before You Go: Mexico City edition!

1. Yes, Mexico is safe.

Don’t listen to the people who advise you to steer clear of the entire country “because the cartels!” or whatever. Mexico City has a lower crime rate than Washington DC. I felt completely safe during our trip, and as long as you exercise common precautions (such as not flaunting the amount of cash you have on your person, not keeping your cell phone in your back pocket when walking around, etc.), you’ll be just fine.

2. Steer clear of tap water and Montezuma’s Revenge…

Mexico suffers from a myriad of water quality problems. The most notable of which are the inadequate water treatment facilities and outdated water delivery infrastructure. This means most of the potable water delivered to Mexican households carries unspecified impurities, including bacteria that can make you sick. Along with this, the problem is also in the old, rusty pipes, which introduce impurities into the water that can make it unsafe for drinking.

As much as I, one of the biggest anti single-use plastic people you’ll ever meet, hate the idea of relying on bottled water, I do not want to get sick. When I visited Guadalajara in 2015 on family business/a trip to buy my wedding dress, I opened my mouth in the shower and drank some of the water. I developed a full-on case of Montezuma’s Revenge that night. [Yes, just like in the Sex and the City movie, IT ACTUALLY HAPPENS, Y’ALL.] I’ve learned my lesson and I exercise more caution. During this trip to CDMX, my family and I bought large bottles (like 2-3 gallons) of water and filled reusable bottles with that water. That way we were able to cut down on plastic, but still stay hydrated and healthy.

As for the ice… Most restaurants and resorts serve purified ice, so it’s totally safe to drink your cocktail or soda with ease. A quick way to tell if the ice is purified is to look for a cylinder shape with a hole in the middle.

3. The weather is very pleasant!

We visited at the end of May, so basically the beginning of the summer season. The temperatures were in the mid to high 80s, but so pleasant! There was virtually no humidity, which made this Houston transplant so happy! The sun can be pretty brutal, but in the city where there’s plenty of shade and we were very comfortable. The warmest we got was at the pyramids in Teotihuacan. There were no trees or buildings to provide shade and not a cloud in the sky, and with the climbing we were doing we got hot very fast.

Bonus tip: Since the weather is so temperate many buildings do not have air conditioning. Our Airbnb did not have AC, but when we booked we made sure they would provide tower fans for tour rooms, which kept our rooms at comfortable temperatures through the night. I absolutely hate the heat, but I was fine with the fans running. If you don’t think you can handle the lack of AC, just be sure to check the details and book a place that does have it!

Sweatin’ it up at the pyramids

4. Do not rent a car.

I thought Houston drivers were bad, but I have never in my travels through 32 different countries experienced crazy driving like in CDMX. We Ubered everywhere since it was so cheap, and just seeing how people zoomed across ten lanes of traffic with no signal and turned right/left from whichever lanes they desired on the regular was enough to make me feel thankful I don’t have to drive there. I also noticed that many four-way intersections have no stop or yield signs, so I’m honestly not sure if right of way is a thing. I was amazed at how cars just seemed to know when it was their turn. Thinking about driving in that city gives me real anxiety, so due to the availability of public transportation and the affordability of Uber, I’d advise you skip out on the rental car for sure.

5. Cash is king.

Self-explanatory. At the beginning of the trip, I withdrew a couple thousand pesos and used that to pay for everything. Food, souvenirs, tips for the Uber drivers, etc. The only time I swiped my card during this entire trip was when I took money out of the ATM.

Bonus tip: The $ sign denotes pesos in Mexico. When you see a dish on the menu that’s $200, that means 200 pesos (about $10), so don’t freak out when you see those prices!

At the Mercado De Artesanias La Ciudadela, my favorite place to buy souvenirs and Mexican goods.

6. It’s super affordable!

As I mentioned before Uber rides ran us about $5-7USD for a 20-30 minute ride across town. We ate breakfast at a really cute and trendy cafe in Condesa that charged us approximately $20 for breakfast for four people plus coffees and a fruit plate. And you can get nice Airbnbs in the trendiest colonias (neighborhoods) for less than $60USD per night. This is one of the most affordable places we have traveled to yet!

7. Exercise caution with street food.

My abuela never ever let my mom and her siblings eat street food, so that sentiment was passed down to my mom, and then to me. And I can proudly say I’ve never had food poisoning from any of my trips to Mexico! I have a few friends who have tried tacos from street vendors and suffered the consequences, so while I used to think that this precaution was a little much, I’m a firm believer now. There are exceptions of course. Sprinkled around the city, there are reputable vendors who won’t make you sick, but just be sure to do your research before you eat. One street food vendor I highly recommend (and can vouch for) is La Esquina del Chilaquil!

A trustworthy street food vendor with a line down the street block

8. Foreign tourists are everywhere.

When I went to Guadalajara a few years ago, I never saw one tourist. Or at least, any obvious ones. It’s much less so a tourist city. So I was kind of surprised when I saw how many Americans there were in CDMX, especially in the colonias of Condesa and Roma. This is nice because more museums and restaurants have bilingual staff to assist people who don’t speak Spanish. And if you’re a safety in numbers person, it may make you feel safe and reassured that you are walking the streets of the city with other foreign tourists.

But don’t let that turn you off to the city if you’re travel hipster and prefer off the beaten path destinations. The city is so large you can definitely escape the tourist hotspots in favor of the more local spots for the authentic experience. In my opinion, CDMX is the right amount of touristy. Somewhere between the all-inclusive resorts that are their own islands in absence of Mexican culture and the tiny little rural villages that never see tourists in their lives, and in all the right ways.

9. Tips are customary, with a few exceptions.

A 10% tip on food and drinks is customary in Mexico, with the exception of street food vendors. You can leave the coins on the table or bar just as you would in the US. The cost of the metered taxis is all-inclusive, so you do not have to tip. And of course, you can tip your Uber drivers in cash or via the app.

At the Soumaya, the best museum open on Mondays.

10. Basically everything is closed on Monday.

If a part of your trip falls on a Monday, just be aware that many attractions are closed. Save attractions like the Pyramids at Teotihuacan or the Museo Soumaya for a Monday, since they will be open. Just be aware! I was planning on visiting the Museo Nacional de Antropología on the Monday of our trip, but irresponsibly did not check the operating days and hours. So I ended up missing out on it completely.

11. Don’t flush your toilet paper.

A good rule of thumb is if you see a wastebasket next to the toilet, you’re expected to place your used toilet paper in it. Due to the infrastructure of their pipes and such, this is the norm in Mexico. So don’t be like me and clog the toilet in your Airbnb on the first day of your trip.

12. Brush up on your Spanish.

Learn some phrases that will actually come in handy. Such as: con permiso (excuse me), la cuenta por favor (the check please), or ¿cuánto cuesta? (how much does this cost?)

Vendors and such who speak English can be few and far between. And it’s always nice to know enough of the local language to be polite.

Smog over the city from a distance.

13. Pollution is a big issue.

Air pollution in Mexico City was so bad at one point that children were coloring pictures of a grey sky, and not a blue one. Because of its geographic location in a valley surrounded by mountains compiled with the large number of cars traveling its streets, smog is a big problem the region faces. But with government programs that encourage bike-riding and limit the number of days motorists can take to the streets, longtime residents say the pollution problem is much better than it used to be. If you have asthma or any other condition that may be worsened by high amounts of air pollution, take the proper precautions to keep yourself healthy during your stay.
Along with air pollution, I noticed that litter is a big issue as well. When you visit, please do your part and help make the city a little cleaner by properly disposing of your waste instead of tossing it on the ground.

14. There are so many green spaces in the city!

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of parks and tree-lined walking trails in the city. There were so many people out walking their dogs in the parks and children playing on their playgrounds, it just made me so happy to see people utilizing and enjoying their green spaces. One must-do park in the city is the Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest urban parks in the western hemisphere. At 1,695 acres, it dwarfs Central Park (which is only 843 acres). One of my favorite places in the city was Avenida Amsterdam. In the early 20th century in Condesa, there was a horseracing track called the Hipódromo. Its oval shape where horses used to run is still defined, but in the form of a walking trail lined with trees and other greenery.

Love this beautiful city!

I hope y’all get the chance to visit Mexico City soon! It’s a breathtaking and vibrant place that is, in my opinion, so underrated. Good luck planning, and happy wanderlusting!

To view more of my content on Mexico, visit my Mexico index page.

Japan: 7 Things I’d Do Differently

While our trip to Japan was wonderful, it was definitely far from perfect. We do have some small regrets, and we know we missed out on a few experiences we would’ve enjoyed. But hey, it’s not like we can’t visit again, right? In fact, ever since we returned Matt has talked about how he misses Japan and wants to plan another trip there. When we do eventually make it back, there are definitely things I would do differently. Hopefully this helps some of y’all first-time visitors in your travels!

1. I would not visit over Christmas/New Year’s.

The weather was nice and cool, with the temperatures in the 40s most days. And it is considered to be “off-season,” but honestly is it ever really off-season in a destination like Japan? Really, there was so much stuff we missed out on because of the holidays. Pretty much everything was open on Christmas day in Tokyo, but being in Kyoto on New Year’s we were not as lucky. Many of the attractions we wanted to visit, such as Nijō Castle, the Imperial Palace, and Nishiki Market, were closed. There were a few museums, like the Toyota Museum, we wanted to visit that were closed for a block of about two weeks around the holidays.

Beyond that, traveling was just more expensive and complicated. The shinkansen lines were also packed and we had a hard time getting tickets when we were going from Tokyo to Kyoto and back. Airfare was also significantly more expensive to fly out on 22 December and back on 5 January. I tracked flight prices for months, and I saw them hovering around $600-800 in October and November, but the lowest they sat for the holiday weeks was around $1,000.

Along with all that, visiting shrines on/around New Year’s is customary in Japan. So if you’re planning on visiting some of the more famous shrines around that time, be prepared to battle the crowds. Sights like the photo to the left of Fushimi Inari were pretty commonplace, and there were many times where we just felt like we were being herded along a route and weren’t able to experience the shrines and temples at many of the popular destinations (Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, and so on).

I think I would prefer to visit in the fall, when the temperatures are cooling down but not in the swing of the holiday season yet. Here is a list of the stations where the JR

2. I would redeem my JR Pass at a less busy station.

When you order your JR Pass, you must do it a few weeks (at the least) in advance of your trip, before you enter the country of Japan. They’ll send a voucher to your home address and then you have to take that voucher with you to one the select JR stations that have an office which will allow you to redeem it for your pass.

We wasted a good few hours in a long line of other tourists trying to redeem their passes at Tokyo Station on our way out of town heading to Hakone and Kyoto. And after waiting in line for a frustrating amount of time, just trying to redeem the pass, we had to get in another equally long line just to purchase our tickets for our train out of the city. As a result of this delay, our whole day was off and we had to alter our plans quite a bit.

Next time we go, I’ll definitely redeem our passes at a station that’s not basically the busiest shinkansen station in the city. Here’s a list of the stations where you can redeem your pass. Heed my warning and spend your time more effectively!

3. I would splurge on a ryokan.

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns, and they offer a very unique experience for travelers. We had originally planned to stay a night or two in ryokan, but by the time we got around to booking our accommodations most of them were completely booked. And the ones that remained were so far out of our price range. On our next trip to Japan, I will be absolutely sure to book a ryokan early. I definitely don’t want to miss out on that experience again. Watch the video below to get an idea of what staying in a ryokan entails.

4. I would spend more time in the countryside.

I think me and Matt’s biggest regret from the trip was not spending more time in Hakone. We were enchanted by the Japanese countryside and felt like we had been a little overambitious in our itinerary. If we had known how much we’d love little towns like Hakone, we would have spent more time in them instead of in Tokyo and Kyoto. It was such a nice break from the hustle, bustle, and crowds in the city.

5. I would bring back more souvenirs.

We packed light and brought an extra, packable bag (like this one) with us in preparation for buying and bringing back a bunch of souvenirs. But for the whole trip, I kept seeing things I wanted and I kept saying “oh, I’ll buy it later” or “I’m sure I’ll see more of these, I should shop around for options.” If I could do it all over again, I’d probably buy more stuff that I liked on the spot instead of waiting and then forgetting.

And I would definitely buy more of the flavored Kit Kats! They made nice little gifts for our friends and family back home, we made cute goodie bags with an assortment of different flavors and also stuffed some small things like Buddhist charms and gashapon trinkets inside.

6. I would take a dip in an onsen.

This one is a little trickier since Japan has some very strict rules about tattoos and onsen use. While tattoos are becoming more widely accepted in the country, their onsen establishments are very much steeped in traditional rules and do not allow people with body ink to use them. I was a pretty scared I would get caught and/or in trouble for having a tattoo while trying to visit the more popular onsens. While there are tattoo friendly onsens scattered throughout Japan, we just didn’t put much effort into seeking them out, which I now regret. I would really recommend prioritizing this experience for those traveling to Japan, and I hope to return one day so I can cross this item off my bucket list.

7. I would [try to] not get sick.

We lost an entire day while we were in Kyoto because we both sick. Matt was sick for most of our trip after arriving in Japan. We think he picked something up on the plane. There were so many people coughing and sneezing during that 15-hour flight that it wouldn’t be surprising if he did. Meanwhile, I was struck by a particularly bad case of vestibular neuritis, which gave me the worst vertigo of my life. Like, had to lay flat on my back all day or else I’d get so dizzy and nauseous I’d hurl type of vertigo. Luckily (I use this term very loosely here) Matt’s worst sick day was the day I was hit with my vertigo, so we just sat in our Airbnb being miserable and sick together all day and didn’t have to feel bad for ruining each other’s day.

I would definitely advise pre-gaming your trip with some immune system boosting. Take some Emergen-C every day in the week leading up to your flight, maybe even take some on the trip with you. Load up on hand sanitizer, too! I’m sure traveling on public transportation played its own part in the illness.

Happy planning, friends!

Our Yosemite Trip in Photos

Our trip to Yosemite was a short one, but we packed quite a bit into our three-ish days there! I’ve been dying to visit for as long as I can remember, but for some reason my parents never took me. We’re native Californians who have never been to Yosemite. How shameful is that? I was so glad to finally visit and experience one of the first and most iconic National Parks.

Here’s a little peek into our trip!

Welcome to Yosemite! 

Our first view of the Valley

And of course we had to an Aggie Ring photo

Yosemite Chacos in Yosemite!

Chasin’ waterfalls

Getting sprayed and soaked by the mist

Following rivers

Finding rainbows

Gawking at Half Dome

And El Capitan

Admiring the scenery in the meadows

Strolling amongst the giants

Stopping for the roadside views

Enjoying the views from Glacier Point

Channeling my inner mountain goat

Celebrating our second anniversary!

Happy wanderlusting, friends!

We Should All Be Environmentalists

Before I really begin this post, I want to start off by saying that this is a post I’ve been wanting to write for ages now. Since today, April 16th, we are kicking off Earth Week, I decided to finally share these thoughts. If they inspire just one person to take action, I will be happy and proud. Happy Earth Week, y’all.

 

Representing my local Surfrider chapter at the Climate March in April 2017

There seems to be a negative connotation surrounding the word “environmentalist” nowadays. Call yourself an environmentalist and many people will assume you’re a “tree huggin’ liberal.”

Living in Texas and working for an environmental nonprofit, I almost have to brace myself when a stranger asks what I do for a living. I never know the reaction people will have. I’ve heard everything from Wow! Thanks so much for all you do! to Oh, you’re one of those. to Damn libs. as the man walked away muttering under his breath (sadly I’m not making this up).

I felt called to this field of work starting in high school and went on to earn a B.S. in Environmental Biology and my M.S. in Sustainability. After graduating, I started working in the nonprofit field. Currently, I do marketing and outreach for several programs that aim to reduce bacteria pollution and improve water quality. This cause is what I was born for. But being in this field, it’s easy to become hyperaware of the many ways we are royally screwing over our planet.

I take pride in calling myself an environmentalist. Even if it does earn me some judgmental looks here and there.

Nowadays environmentalism is so politicized. For some reason, in American political culture, the words “environment” and “environmentalist” are associated with liberal elitism, economic stagnation, and an overreaching government. And don’t even get me started on the climate change thing…

Our politicians and a certain portion of the media have created this narrative that the EPA is killing jobs with its regulations. Because hey, who needs the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or the Safe Drinking Water Act, right? Politically, we are polarized beyond belief, but the truth of the matter is…

Protecting the environment should not be a political stance.
We should all be environmentalists.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an environmentalist is “a person who is concerned about protecting the environment.” Therefore, to be anything other than an environmentalist is to be a person who lacks concern for protecting and preserving the environment. To lack this concern equates with being indifferent to the fact that a healthy environment is necessary for our survival. Every single person in this world should be concerned with the state of our environment. No matter what you believe or how you vote, you need clean water. You need clean air. You don’t want a toxic waste dump in your background.

Without clean air, water, and soil, humans can not live healthy lives.

For some reason, the mascot of the environmental struggle and global climate change has become the drowning polar bear. Not the billions of people who will suffer from the effects of climate change.

Environmentalism is more than saving the trees and saving the polar bears, it’s about saving people by protecting public health, safety, and wellbeing.

I want to let you in on a quick secret. Coastal conservation organizations like mine don’t do what they do simply because these areas are pretty. Coastal wetlands provide nurseries for fish and feeding grounds for migratory birds. Protecting them means protecting local economies and tourism. Coastal wetlands also provide a first line of defense against storm surges and floodwaters, and act as natural filtration systems that boost water quality and recharge aquifers. They can store five times as much carbon as tropical forests over the long term, mostly in deep wetland soils. Our coastal wetlands face a myriad of threats, but it’s vital to human safety and wellbeing to preserve and protect them.

There are so many benefits to protecting our natural resources and areas beyond the fact that they are aesthetically pleasing.

Manhattan skyline enveloped in heavy smog, May 1973. Photo: Chester Higgins/NARA

With the attempted repeal of many environmental rules and regulations, our (the Americans’) administration is waging war on our natural resources. And if you don’t think this affects you, I’m sorry to be so blunt, but you are wrong.

This war against the EPA will have dangerous impacts on the amount of toxic pollution emitted into the air and dumped in our waters. The regulations we have in place are working. Since 1970, the EPA has implemented the Clean Air Act to successfully cut emissions of six dangerous air pollutants by an average of 70%, and in that time the economy more than tripled. So don’t let anyone tell you that environmental regulations harm the economy. These air pollution reductions prevent 22 million lost school and work days due to illness annually, as well as 2.4 million asthma attacks and 230,000 annual deaths, by 2020. And by implementing the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act, EPA has helped provide safer drinking water to families in thousands of communities around the nation.

The Cuyahoga River was so polluted it literally caught fire in 1969, spurring the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. Photo: Cleveland State University Library

It’s obvious how our lives and our health have benefitted in so many ways thanks to these regulations. Why would we want to get rid of them?

And the job is by no means done when it comes to the regulations we do have. Even today, up to ten million homes still get their drinking water through lead pipes. Half of all Americans live in counties with unhealthy air quality. The solution to this problem is to reduce pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes. The oil lobby and other special interests, however, are hoping that a weaker standard will be issued for smog-forming ozone, declaring unhealthy air “clean” by lowering the bar and putting the bottom line of oil companies ahead of science and children’s health.

This is unacceptable.

Some of you may be going Yeah, alright Katy, that’s the government and industry’s fault. What does this have to do with me? I’m not doing anything like that to harm our environment. Well all of us have ecological footprints. Everything we do affects the earth and our environment, from our water usage to our consumer choices.

It’s time to sit up and take notice of what we’re doing to our common home, Earth. And it’s time we all start advocating for the environment. No matter which side of the political spectrum you identify with, where you’re from, or how old you are, start caring. We all have a responsibility to take care of the precious natural resources and planet that we have been given.

Here are some impactful ways, big and small, you can make a difference.
10 ways to live every day like it’s Earth Day!

1. Live with less. Focus on reducing, not recycling.

Recycling has really given our society a false sense of security in their rampant resource use. It has led people to believe that it’s ok to use disposable items such as plastic (which I’ll go into more detail with the next point), because *it all gets recycled* right? The truth is, recycling is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s an expensive and very inefficient process. I won’t go into a rant about the complexities of recycling right here, but I will say this: We need to focus more on reducing than on recycling.

Reduce the waste you are creating. As Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home says, free yourself from the fictitious needs that marketers say you need.

2. Say no to single-use (disposable) plastics and go reusable.

A few of my must-have reusables that help me phase single-use plastic out of my life.

It’s as easy as making it a habit to bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store, opting for a reusable water bottle, or asking for no straw in your drink at restaurants. Here are a few quick stats to put our society’s plastic problem in perspective:

  • Over the last 10 years, we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
  • 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.
  • Globally, humans use one million single-use plastic water bottles per minute.
  • We currently only recover (recycle) 5% of the plastics we produce.
  • Plastics account for approximately 10% of the waste we generate.
  • Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).
  • Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags and wraps each year. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce this many bags. And since plastic bags are petroleum based, they do not biodegrade. On average, the plastic grocery bag has a usefulness of 7 minutes, but an eternal lifespan.
  • More than 500 million straws are thrown away each day in the U.S. That’s enough to circle the Earth 2.5 times.

I won’t go into the details of the health risks single-use plastics pose to humans, but if you are interested here is a good overview.

Waylon, of the Elephant Journal, made a great video talking about how easy and meaningful making the swap to reusables can be.

I challenge you to swap one single-use plastic product in your life for a reusable one. Check out my post on the beginning steps to living plastic-free for a few ideas.

 3. Plant a tree.

“The best time to plant a tree is yesterday, the second best time is now.”

According to Earth Day Network, deforestation contributes to species extinction, poverty and is responsible for up to 15% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. One mature tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and can provide enough oxygen for two people. Trees planted near buildings can also reduce the need for air conditioning by 30% and the need for heating by 20-50%.

Planting or donating a tree can make a huge difference.

4. Shop local.

Not only does this support local farmers and merchants, but it means you’re eating food grown in your area, which means it is dramatically reducing emissions in your area because produce and goods not being imported or shipped in.

5. Support ethical companies when/where you spend money.

In grad school I worked for a professor in the fashion department at my university. She worked specifically on fair trade and ethical consumerism. Working for her really opened my eyes to issues of fast fashion. I’ll never forget the time she told me that you can predict the season’s “it” color by looking at the rivers in China. In fact, in China, it is estimated that 70% of the waterways are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by their textile industry. You can read more about that issue here. Along with this, she was very concerned with the aspects of a company’s social responsibility, meaning that they provide equitable opportunities and wages to the employees, ensures basic needs are met, fosters a good quality of life, etc.

When you shop, give a little thought to what your money is supporting. Recently I have started to only shop from companies I know are committed to environmental and social sustainability (such as Patagonia and Prana), or who give back in a meaningful capacity (like the Yosemite edition Chacos I purchased, which support the National Parks Foundation).

If you have the time, I highly recommend giving this video a watch. It does a great job in highlighting why choosing Fair Trade Certified clothing is an important first step toward changing the garment industry.

 6. Eat less meat.

According to Earth Day Network, the meat industry generates nearly 1/5 of manmade greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. By reducing your meat intake, you can help decrease greenhouse gas emissions. You can also help to conserve water. A single pound of beef uses 1,800 pounds of water to make, primarily due to the tremendous amount of water needed to grow the grass, forage, and feed that a beef steer eats over its lifetime, plus water for drinking, cleaning, and processing.

You don’t need to cut meat out altogether unless you feel so inclined, but start participating in Meatless Monday. Here are some amazing vegetarian recipes you can try out.

 7. Donate to environmental nonprofits, help to fund the good work they are doing.

Organizations like mine wouldn’t be able to do the work we’re doing without the support of people like you. If you’re passionate about this cause and in the position to be able to give, even if it’s just $5, I strongly encourage you to do so. With your help, we can help implement programs that will work to preserve, conserve, and protect for future generations. A few of my favorite organizations are the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Surfrider Foundation, Oceana, the National Parks Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, and the Ocean Conservancy. These are nationally recognized organizations who do truly amazing work. And if you’re looking to make more of a local impact, just try googling “environmental nonprofits in ____________” to find organizations in your area. You’ll be surprised at how many there are!

8. Pick up litter when you see it.

Some of the most infuriating pieces of litter I found during a shoreline clean-up at work last week.

Doing something as small as picking up that stray plastic water bottle rolling down the street can have a big impact. When I walk my dog around the neighborhood I always bring a trash bag with me for the litter I pick up. I do the same on the beach. By picking up litter, you’re keeping it out of our waterways and out of the bellies of fish and wildlife.

 9. Help to dispel the negative connotation of being an environmentalist.

Change the narrative. Wear the label proudly. Prove to people it’s not about politics. It’s about clean water, clean air, safe communities, and improving public health. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to have that conversation.

10. Encourage others to be good environmental stewards.

The most amazing things that have come out of this blog have been the people who have told me that I helped them move towards a more sustainable lifestyle by sharing my story with them. I’ve had friends message me on Facebook asking for recommendations for everything from reusable bamboo utensils to reusable produce bags to Diva cups. I never want to be preachy about this stuff, I simply aim to encourage because these issues and habits are not common knowledge for many. If you learn something from this post, share that tidbit with a friend. Encourage others to make small sustainable changes, because they sure do add up.

Change doesn’t have to be big, but it can start with you and your voice.

And when the time comes, VOTE.

Use your vote to elect politicians who will prioritize the environment, public health, and the people, instead of their profit and corporations.

Speak up for Mother Earth, she’s worth protecting.

Our Big Bend Adventure in Photos

When I moved to Texas from Germany ten years ago I had a very particular idea of what the Lonestar State would be like. In my head, I saw miles and miles of desert, cacti, and tumbleweeds. So so many tumbleweeds. I was so wrong. In reality, the landscapes of Texas vary as much as the people who live here; from the swamps of the east, to the sleepy beach towns on the Gulf, up to Hill Country, and over to west Texas, which honestly is the truest to my original idea of what the state is like.

Driving out to Big Bend was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had since moving to Texas. The region is unlike any other place I’ve been, yet it fit exactly with the picture of Texas I originally had.

Big Bend is one the largest national parks in the United States. At over 800,000 acres, it’s roughly the size of Rhode Island! It’s also one of the least visited national parks, averaging only 300,000 visitors per year. By comparison, Great Smoky Mountains National Park averages 11 million visitors per year, and the Grand Canyon has 5.9 million. In addition to the national park, the Big Bend region has many beautiful and interesting places to stop and visit.

Here’s a little about our trip in photos.

Our first stop along the way was Marfa, a desert oasis for artists and hipsters.

After a day in Marfa, we made our way down to the national park.

I was overjoyed to finally see MOUNTAINS again!

Our first few nights in Big Bend, we camped in the Chisos basin.

We woke up to views like this every day.

We did a sunset hike down to “the Window” (which ended up being my favorite trail of all)

We hiked the Grapevine Hills trail up to the Balanced Rock.

We hiked down to the hot springs on the Rio Grande.

We stopped off to look some amazing fossils and dinosaur bones.

We took some time to enjoy the views from the road.

We crossed the border into Mexico to have a little lunch in Boquillas.

We hiked the Santa Elena Canyon at sunset.

We took a little trip over to the Big Bend Ranch State Park. The views from the road were breathtaking! (In my opinion, they were better than the scenic drive in the national park)

We hiked the Closed Canyon trail.

We explored Terlingua Ghost Town.

And we ended our adventure with a refreshing stay in a tiny house in the middle of the desert.

I enjoyed our little jaunt out to west Texas. Trips like this make me realize more and more how underrated domestic travel is, and how underrated the Big Bend region is! It may be a little far, but I really recommend a visit out there if you ever get the chance!

To read more about Big Bend, you can find my series on the region here.

Happy wanderlusting, friends!