Treading lightly

Traveling leaves footprints — even if you fly.

Going on a trip is pretty much a surefire way to increase your carbon footprint and use up natural resources.

I love to travel. I love the environment. And I'm having trouble figuring out a way to marry my two loves. I'd like to be able to travel without worrying that I'm trampling the environment.

I'm going on a trip to Bend this week, so I've been thinking about how to bring my sustainable lifestyle on the road. I've been wondering how I can tread lightly, without being lame.

I'm happy being an eco-nerd at home, but when I travel, it gets harder. And it doesn't help that I don't like to plan anything. I never have proper lists or maps showing hotels that are environmentally aware or restaurants that serve local, organic food. I'm lucky if I have a map at all.

I've been lost in almost every city I've traveled to. I remember wandering around New York City in a snowstorm, trying to read street signs. I remember getting off at the wrong subway stop about 5,000 times in Boston. I remember running across London's West End with college friends, trying to find a theater where a play we had tickets to was starting in five minutes. (We made it, barely.)

I remember being lost. But what I'm always forgetting is, just about every time I've been hopelessly lost — I've been saved by strangers. Somehow everywhere I go, there are nice people who point me in the right direction.

So I'm sure, if I want to find a restaurant that serves local, vegetarian food in Bend, all I'll have to do is ask.

That's what a friend of mine did when she traveled in Ecuador for two months this spring.

She's vegetarian and had a difficult time finding enough to eat when she first arrived. But she learned enough Spanish to be able ask the locals if there was a vegetarian restaurant in Quito, and they led her to one.

When she returned to Ashland this month, I asked her whether she was fluent in Spanish.

"No," she said. "But I know how to say every word about meat."

Although I'm not sure I would have been as committed to remaining vegetarian as she was, her story shows what traveling is all about: learning. You learn about different food, cultures and people — and by learning, you come to understand.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness," said Mark Twain, who based his first successful story on a trip to the West Coast.

When I travel, I also try to pack lightly and to use public transportation within a city, when I can't walk or bicycle. I also try to avoid buying tourist trinkets, which are usually made in some faraway country anyway.

Although I enjoy visiting cities, camping is probably my favorite way to vacation. Ever since I tagged along on Boy Scout trips to the Colorado River with my brothers as a young teen, my motto has been "leave no trace." What I bring in, I bring out.

I still have some qualms about traveling. I'm going to use this trip to Bend to think about what I could do in the future to leave a smaller carbon footprint as I trot the globe. Because there are a lot of places I'd still like to go.

As I write this, my co-worker at the Daily Tidings is telling us about the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.

"If you ever get to Toronto, one of the most fascinating things you can do is visit the shoe museum," he just said.

I do like shoes. But I also like to tread lightly. What to do?

Forget the big stick: Walk softly and carry an open mind.

Reach reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or For past columns see

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