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11 Conscious and Mindful Travel Experiences for 2018

New year, new you, blah blah blah…. Am I right? Why is January 1st an excuse to overhaul your mediocre life for a temporary script of complete BS.

Who the hell are you kidding? Because by now, the only commitment you’ve proved to uphold, is the commitment of breaking commitments. You’re only lying to yourself because truth be told, no one really cares. I never understood New Year's resolutions. Never will.

We should make a resolution each and every day. A resolution to be a better you today than you were yesterday. To learn something new. To try something new. To help somebody new. To change yourself so you can change the world. But if that’s too much, let’s scale it down. The thing is, the year isn’t promised. Who’s to say you’re going to make it to December 31st? You should make a resolution each and every day that supports your long term monthly, yearly, 5-year, 10-year, however long goal.

Now that it’s nearly the end of February and you’ve already probably broken your resolutions, let’s start over. We all hear how everyone wants to travel more. Every year. But fail in doing so. Whatever the reason may be (finances, no time off work, other obligations, etc), there are some ways you can experience life, make an impact on the world at scale and most importantly, make a pretty big impact on yourself at large.

Although air travel isn’t all too environmentally friendly, there are many other things that aren’t either. Heck, having children contributes to the increasing CO2 footprint but what are we going to do? Stop procreating? No. Of course not.

It’s a matter of balance and mindfulness.

On an individual level, aviation is the top human activity that emits the most damaging emissions because it’s highly energy-intensive. But then again, there are so many other things that harm our environment. Although it may seem like a daunting task, each and every person can take small, mindful acts that change our world.

February - Eat Locally Sourced Food

Last summer I began experiencing life-threatening allergic reactions. Twice I experienced anaphylactic shocks. Was hospitalized a handful of times. Had seen countless of allergists and wasted a significant amount of money trying to figure out what my body began rejecting all of a sudden. Prior to this, I had a stomach of steel. I would eat everything and anything. The onset of these startling allergic reactions infused paranoia to say the least. Every day I lived in fear. Not knowing what was going to trigger an allergic reaction. And having gone nowhere with the allergists, I felt deflated. So I took matters in my own hands and took a completely holistic approach. Since then, I have not had an allergic reaction (knock on wood). But you don’t have to be in the hospital bed with a tube down your throat to realize how important high-quality food is. I already went down that route. I’d highly discourage it :)

I was fortunate to have a bad ass sister who runs a business solely dedicated to eating healthy and especially the best mom in the world who literally has a cure for everything. But there are other sources for you as well. Check out Eat Well Guides. They curate a list of local, sustainable food by city.

Having lived in Hoboken for 3 years, there’s plenty of amazing eats to indulge in. Halifax, located in the iconic W Hotel, is probably one of my favorites as it provides farm-fresh products. And for something a little bit more adventurous, Dark Side of The Moo provides an assortment of exotic food everyone should add to their bucket list.

March - Became One With Nature

Those that know me know I am a die-hard SF Giants (and Golden State Warriors) fan. Although I don’t live in San Francisco anymore, I still make an annual trip to Scottsdale, AZ for Spring Training. Each year is filled with a lot of booze and baseball. And despite having been to AZ countless of times, I have never explored some of its magnificent wonders like:

April - Exercise More Compassion and Kindness

The past 12 months I’ve been on an insatiable journey of personal development. If you want to succeed professionally, whether that’s your own business or within the realms of someone else’s, emotional intelligence is indispensable. Every day, I reflect, asking myself a series of questions:

  • How did you try to be the best you could be?
  • How can you be better tomorrow?
  • Did you do something that would get yourself closer (even in the most miniscule way) to your goals?
  • Did you add something of value?
  • Did you help other people?
  • Did you seek feedback, mentoring and coaching?
  • Did you spend time on your learning?
  • Did you act like a leader?

The value question is pretty important. As cliche as it is, one of my life’s motto is “be the change you want to see in this world”. I truly believe that if everyone did one act of kindness each day, the world would be unrecognizable. The best part, kindness is free! It does not cost a single thing - no upfront investment, no recurring plans, no hidden fees. Just be nice.

May - Go on an Eco-Tour

When I first heard ecotourism, I was pretty unknowledgeable to the subject. By definition, ecotourism is a form of “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education” and “intended as a low-impact and often small scale alternative to standard commercial mass tourism”. But isn’t visiting these areas, counteractive in sustaining and conserving the area? Regardless, I pulled together some eco-tours you should check out, wherever you are in this world:

  • Eco-Africa Climbing - Fredrick and his team are some of the nicest folks you could meet and they’ll make sure your trip to Mount Kilimanjaro is everything you could have hoped for.
  • It’s no surprise I’ve been wanting to move to Argentina for the past 4 years but the connection to why I never realized until now. As a member of the 1% for the Planet and a HUGE Yvon Chouinard fan, Patagonia is a must! And yes, the clothing brand is awesome too! But seriously, check out Eco Camp Patagonia.
  • Think eco-tourism is limited to world’s most fascinating wonders? Think again. You can still visit a city like New York and participate in activities that don’t harm the environment like biking through the city with Get Up And Ride or shedding off the previous nights dinner with On Course Run Tours.

June - Take a Roadtrip

‍Back in my rebel days, I dreamed of riding my two-wheeled beauty “Rosie” across the country.

I first started riding motorcycles in California and had the chance to ride her across the country when I moved to New York. At the time however, I was working in a dead-end corporate soul-sucking job that limited my freedom to weekends and 12 days of the year. So I shipped her instead. Though I don’t have a time machine, and have since gotten rid of her :( I can't go on a long two-wheeled expedition cross country. But regardless, any type of road trip is a blast. There are nearly 4 million miles worth of road for you to discover in the US. Although road trips and vehicles in general aren't really that environmentally friendly, what the hell are we going to do, sit on the porch and twiddle our thumbs? The hard reality is, most places of natural wonderment requires discovery by car. If we don’t discover nature by car, chances are, we will never discover it at all.

Here are a few tips for mitigating the environmental degradation while driving automobiles:

  • Slow it down - accelerating from 40 to 60 mph requires less fuel
  • Pack light - an additional 100 pounds in the car can cut the car’s fuel economy by 2%
  • Rent/Drive a fuel-efficient car or a hybrid - although more expensive, you’ll save cash on gas when driving a hybrid car
  • Rent a white car
  • Be mindful of the AC
  • Turn off the engine when not in use - like turning off the lights when you leave a room, don’t leave the engine running if you’re not driving

July - Unplug from Social Media and Technology

If you haven’t already noticed, everyone is nearly glued to their mobile device. Next time you’re in a social setting, be it the train, the bar, a restaurant or even in meetings, pay close attention to people’s phone usage. It’s astounding.

Pretty much everyone in the US owns a phone, spending on average 2 hrs and 51 minutes on it daily, according to comScore! It’s not necessarily bad to spend so much time on mobile as our devices have evolved so much, many of us can conduct work from our handheld devices. But in reality, that’s not what our mobile devices are predominantly used for. Of the time we already spend on our mobile device, 1 hour and 56 minutes is spent on social media according to MediaKix.

I personally hate social media. And I’m really bad at it. And honestly, I’m kind of happy I am. Whether it was growing my personal Instagram following or that of my startup (which I gave up because it’s not the best use of my time), I just don’t really care. I completely understand how important it is for a business to have a social media presence and following but for the average person, it’s debilitating. Facebook even changed their algorithm to show less of the “ideal - and fake - life” and more of your actual life.

Gary V talks about how great our mobile device usage is all the time. I hate it. Yes, it makes sense for everyone to use technology, become well versed in it and adapt as technology does. But it should not serve as a substitute for people skills.

I work pretty hard every day. But I don’t work from my phone. Honestly, I can’t even find my phone 80% of the time. The main reason is because I'm' able to access my phone and communicate with others from my phone via my computer. But more often than not, I’ll just turn my phone on Airplane mode and go off the grid for a while. If you need me, send me a message via morse code.

August - Treat Water as Finite Resource

Water is so so so incredibly precious. Considering our bodies alone are comprised of 60% of water, it’s pretty clear how crucial it is to survive. Yet many treat it as if we’ll never run out of it. The fashion industry is definitely guilty of such. In fact, by 2030, the industry’s water consumption will grow by 50% to 118 billion cubic meters. Cotton farming alone is responsible for a significant amount of water. To grow enough cotton for a simple t-shirt, 713 gallons of water is required! And improper irrigation techniques have caused extensive damage like the shrinking of the Aral Sea. But is it the industry’s fault when they’re simply responding to a higher demand from consumers? Our insatiable appetite for more clothes is a contributing factor to our wasteful tendencies. Yet many consumers are unaware that a large chunk of their wardrobe is essentially plastic. More than 60% of the global fiber market is polyester, which is a carbon-intensive petroleum product that can be refined to almost anything we want it to. It can look like silk, cotton or faux fur. But it’s also the leading product that ends in the ocean.

Cotton and polyester are not the only materials causing harm to our water. As high as 45,000 tons of indigo dye (used for jeans) is produced every year with much of it making its way to rivers and streams. As the founder of a startup aimed at mitigating the environmental cost this rapacious industry has had, I can go on and on with relatively useless facts and data statistics. The damage has been done but it’s not to say we can’t move forward starting now. Although we can’t change an entire industry at once, as consumers, we can take small incremental steps to mitigate our wasteful habits.

The first, stop buying more clothes

It’s as if your only other option is walking around naked! I bet you already have plenty of clothes to wear without repeating an outfit within a month.

The second step, make more conscious decisions

Shop ethically. Research the clothing brands. Here’s a handful of clothing brands specifically tailored to help our water sources:

September - Take a Solo Trip

Friends and family are great but spending time to yourself is at times better! Most people are afraid of going to the bar or restaurant alone, let alone a whole trip but let me assure you, it’s a game changer. I moved to Italy by myself when I was 19 years old. I lived there for a year. My experience there taught me much more than my 12+ years of schooling. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, stressful and fulfilling all at the same time. A juxtaposition of emotions carved out for the ultimate road of self-discovery.

It doesn’t have to be as crazy as a year in country of pizza, wine and romance. Taking a weekend trip to a nearby city you’ve always wanted to check out will transform your life in many ways. It will give you moments to ponder and self-reflect while also the opportunity to meet amazing people - and trust me, there are awesome people in this world!

If a weekend trip is too aggressive, go to a museum, take a local tour or even just go to the bar by yourself. Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone and in a situation that makes you uncomfortable. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll grow a lot.

October - Drink Better Coffee

After my series of allergic reactions, I had to give up some of my favorite things, including coffee. I’m now able to drink it once in a while but it’s only on special occasions or if I’m beyond exhausted. So when I do drink coffee, you better believe I drink the good sh*t. And that got me thinking, why don’t people drink better coffee all the time?

Or better yet, wear better coffee? No seriously, check out Leze The Label. Their awesome pants are made from coffee and recycled water bottles. I have pre-ordered them on Kickstarter and can’t wait to try them on! I’ll make sure to report back on my thoughts when I get them mid-May!

They're not the only clothing line repurposing coffee for cloth. Singtex Industrial Co is one of the first companies to research and develop eco-friendly techniques for the textile industry. According to the founder, "recycled coffee ground fiber is three times more effective than cotton in absorbing odor and five times better for ultraviolet proteciton".

November - Consider Animal Welfare

I think 2017 was the year everyone went to Thailand and rode an elephant and hugged a tiger. Oh and documented it on Facebook and Instagram because if you didn’t, did it really happen? That drives me NUTS. They’re wild animals for crying out loud. They are not supposed to be around humans.

There is, without a doubt, a lot of corruption and cruelty in the elephant tourism industry. Before an elephant can be ridden, they must be tamed. That includes torture through starvation, beatings and abuse. Don’t take my words for it. If you’re brave enough, watch this video and see for yourself.

Even if that wasn’t true, or wasn’t true for every company, the spine of the elephant is not strong enough to hold human weight. They may look strong enough, but in reality, riding elephants causes spinal injuries and cuts on their skin.

Instead, consider visiting the Elephant Natural Park (ENP) - a sanctuary that protects and cares from mistreated elephants rescued from this industry.

Tigers are wild animals that are not naturally supposed to be around humans. They’re also endangered.

So make sure you conduct your research. One of the top four places you can pet a tiger in Thailand, Tiger Temple, received a lot of condemnation in the past couple of years. After reports indicated tigers were heavily sedated, beaten and abused with sticks, 137 tigers were seized from the Tiger Temple in 2016. The temple was shut down as a result but there are a few other places you can go just make sure to do your research! Clearly, read the reviews. TripAdvisor announced it would no longer sell tickets to attractions that enabled visitors to have direct contact with wild, captured or endangered animals.

If you can’t make it to Thailand this year, consider taking a trip to Florida to Big Cat Rescue - a non-profit dedicated to protect all exotic cats while enabling tourists to visit and take tours of the sanctuary.

December - Slow It Down

Anybody and everybody who knows me, knows what my all time favorite song is Vienna by Billy Joel.

It brings tears to my eyes and a smile in my heart every single time I listen to it. And when I’m feeling down, I listen to it on repeat until I’m re-grounded. As a music fanatic, I often try to interpret the meaning behind certain songs and this one hits me hard. Joel’s inspiration for this song came from a visit to his estranged father in Vienna. He noticed an elderly woman sweeping the streets and told his father how awful it was to see an elderly woman doing work. His father pointed out that she was doing something useful and productive. In America, we push aside the elderly. We put them in nursing homes and discredit their existence. But in other countries, they’re respected, revered and seen as contributing members to society.

As an overly ambitious go-getter with a never-ending to-do list, this song not only resonates with me on every lyrical note but has taught me so much. Life will happen whether I want it to or not. The company I want to launch, the life I envision of living, the goals I wish to accomplish will all come. But I "can’t be everything I want to be before my time" so I gotta slow down and stop rushing to get there.

Enjoy the process and be mindful because Vienna - a metaphor for the rest of your life - will wait for you to achieve success and happiness.

About the Author

Stacy Zolnikov

Stacy is the CEO and Co-Founder of this crazy little mission aimed at solving the fashion industry's “fit problem” and saving the environment at the same time. She reads a lot and when her mind can’t handle any more information, she often spits it out in a sarcastically driven, but research based article.

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