7 Simple Steps for Sustainable Travel

With the population of our planet hurtling towards 8 billion people, with no sign of slowing down, sustainable travel and responsible tourism are more important than ever. I’m not here to tell you to stop eating meat, stop flying on airplanes and buy a Prius. I believe all big changes start small. I want everyday travelers like me to see that small changes can make a big difference, and most of them are incredibly easy to implement. Of course, the earth needs our help as much as possible, so go ahead and join that wind & solar ashram you’ve been eyeing and let me know how it is! In the meantime, here are 8 easy ways you can become a more earth-friendly traveler.

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Responsible Tourism Tip #1: Plastic Bottle Ban

More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our ocean every year. – PlasticOceans.org

We’ve all seen images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is largely made up of plastic debris that eventually disintegrates and does horrible things to the animals that consume it. Worldwide, over 500 million plastic bottles are used every year. When traveling, it’s so easy to grab a bottled water where ever you are, and stay hydrated throughout the day. But you know what is just as easy? Carrying your own refillable water bottle! You’ll save money, too!

Most airports now have refilling stations, and you can usually fill up at the soda fountain, too! I love my S’well Insulated Stainless Steel water bottle, which keeps water cold for a crazy long time. Nalgene water bottles are also a good option, with a wide mouth that allows you to put ice in your water.

“But, Leigh, I’m going to Mexico/Thailand/India, I have to drink bottled water!”

Wrong! There are so many filtered water bottles on the market, and just as many sketchy stories about tampered water bottles in third world countries. I’ve used my LifeStraw bottle in Mexico and Thailand, and just last weekend a hiking partner took water right out of the Zion Narrows and drank it through her filtered water bottle. Clearly Filtered and Sawyer are other brands offering a filtered water bottle for sustainable travel.

Drank tap-water the whole time, using my LifeStraw bottle!

Responsible Tourism Tip #2: Ditch the Drinking Straws

Have you seen that video of the turtle with a plastic drinking straw wedged up his nostril? It’s horrifying and pretty much made me never want to use a plastic drinking straw again. Besides, ladies, drinking through a straw will give you wrinkles! Of course, this one isn’t always easy, as your drinks often come with a straw already in them. You can always ask your server to leave the straw out, or look for places like the Sheraton Maui that uses paper drinking straws! You can also buy reusable drinking straws!

colorful paper straws

Photo Credit: Marco Verch, Flickr Creative Commons

Responsible Tourism Tip #3: Cut Out Disposable Utensils

Along the same line as plastic bottles and drinking straws, cutting out plastic disposable utensils is a great way to promote sustainable travel. 6 million tons of non-durable plastics are discarded every year. Think about how many plastic spoons and forks you’ve used in the past week – I’m guilty, too – eating out, eating at the office, etc. It adds up so quickly! Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting we all start eating with our hands! I bet if you are a camper or a backpacker, you already have durable re-usable utensils in your camping kit! I started packing my Light My Fire spork when traveling. It’s so easy to tuck into my handbag, wipe it off with a napkin after use, and do a quick wash once I’m back in my hotel room. I’m not perfect, and sometimes forget, but even a handful fewer plastic forks in the landfill is a good start!

Responsible Tourism Tip #4: BYOB (bag)

Most of us are now bringing our own bags to the grocery store back home, either on our own volition, or through gentle prodding of new laws in places like Chicago. But how many of us do that while traveling? For a lot of us, myself included, shopping is often a part of travel, whether it’s souvenirs, snacks or groceries. And in countries where recycling isn’t common, where do all those bags go? I now bring a foldable shopping bag on all my travels and use it as often as possible when shopping. If you shop at Lululemon or Athleta, both stores have great re-usable bags that come with your purchase. They fold down to nothing, and come in handy when you’re out and about shopping. I love these bags that stuff into their own pouch when not in use, too!

Responsible Tourism Tip #5: Quality over Quantity

Shopping Chicago Chinatown

On the topic of shopping, let’s talk about quality. This is a big one for me, both at home and on the road. When you’re considering souvenirs for yourself or loved ones back home, think about how long this item is going to last. Do you think a $5 t-shirt is going to still be in your closet one year from now? How about that $2 straw beach mat? Same goes for those cheap luggage shops you see everywhere in hot tourist spots. (Seriously, who is buying them?! Did you come empty-handed, or buy so much crap you need a huge suitcase to haul it all home?) I won’t even get into the social impact of incredibly cheap goods, but it’s safe to assume whoever made your $3 shoes was not paid very well. When looking for ways to remember your trip, think about quality over quantity. Most often, my photos are the most memorable part of any trip, and they’re all digital!

Responsible Tourism Tip #6: Hotel Housekeeping – Just Say No!

Do you change your sheets every day at home? How about your bathroom towels? If not, then why have them changed every day while you’re traveling? I know, clean, crisp sheets feel awesome, especially on sunburned skin, but think about how much water is used to wash sheets and towels every day. I’m not suggesting you live in filth for weeks on end, but consider skipping the housekeeping service every other day or so. Usually, 3 nights is my threshold at which point, I’ll take down the “do not disturb” sign. Many hotels, including the W and Holiday Inn Express, will reward you with additional loyalty points for declining housekeeping services, and you know I’m all about the points! (This goes for pool towels, too – how many do you need? Do you really need to swap them out every time they get wet?)

Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa

Responsible Tourism Tip #7: Hotel Research

I’ve always been a good little recycler, but often when I’m on vacation, my good habits go out the window (this goes for diet, exercise and spending, too!) I never gave much thought to recycling on the road, or whether my hotels offered recycling. I spent 75 nights in hotels last year, and very late in the game, it dawned on me that the hotel chain I was most loyal to (International Hotels Group) did not offer recycling. The enormity of this realization nearly made me nauseous. 1000’s of guests, 365 nights per year, not to mention kitchen and recreation facilities, all going into a landfill. I made a vow to be better in 2018 about researching the hotel chains I frequent, and promptly switched my credit card to the Starwood Brand. In my experience, Starwood properties (Westin, Sheraton, W, etc) most often have recycling options right in the guest room, making it easy to participate in responsible tourism. These may be a little more expensive than our usual digs, but they also usually have the most lenient pet policies. I was thrilled when I arrived at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas to find recycling bins scattered throughout the property.

Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas

Tell me in the comments – what are more easy ways we can all promote responsible tourism?

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The Best of Tucson Bakeries

Despite all the cool places I’ve visited on my travels, Chicago Donut Shops is still my most popular post! So, when I moved to Tucson, I fully intended to replicate that post and tell you all the hot spots for donuts in Tucson. But guess what? Tucson donuts aren’t really a thing. Sure, we have donut shops in Tucson, but for the most part, they are all pretty much the same. I tried King Donut, Queen Donut, Donut Wheel, Alvernon Donuts, and they all reminded me of the 1980’s donut shops my dad would take me to before school. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not post-worthy. Aside from the few that I list below, if you’re craving donuts in Tucson, just pick the closest one, which might even be a Dunkin’ Donuts.

Amy's DonutsVanilla Coconut and Glazed Cake Donut

In lieu of the best donuts in Tucson, I had to take it up a notch and expand my search to find the best Tucson bakeries. Tough job, I know! Got your stretchy pants ready? Here we go!

Batch Cafe and Bar

The one exception to all my donut comments above! Batch Cafe is primarily a whiskey bar (they don’t even open until 11 am, noon on the weekends!) but they offer a small selection of donuts made daily, in addition to a sandwich menu with a whole bunch of grilled cheese options. Their signature donut is called “The Stud” and has chocolate frosting, bacon bits and bourbon maple bavarian cream filling! I went with “The Homer” a classic donut with white chocolate frosting and sprinkles, plus a churro donut.

Batch Cafe & Bar, Tucson

Batch Cafe and Bar, 118 E Congress, $4 for two donuts

La Estrella Bakery

If you’re looking for a classic Mexican bakery in Tucson, La Estrella is it! They have a huge assortment of baked goods, from classic donuts to Mexican specialties like concha and cookies. (I’ve heard their donuts are pretty amazing, but I could not bring myself to choose a donut over a concha.) They also sell fresh tortillas and other items like tamales and menudo. My concha, even in later afternoon, was still super fresh and delicious! This is Arizona, though, so be careful about stocking up on too much – things dry out in the desert air super quick! The original location is south of the city, and there is a new location in the Mercado San Agustin just west of downtown. (I hear the Mercado location also serves Mexican Hot Chocolate…you know, for when it drops below 70 degrees!)

La Estrella Bakery, Tucson

(I “accidentally” ate the concha in my car and forgot to take a picture…oops!)

La Estrella Bakery – 2 locations – $1.60 for 2 pastries

Honorable Mention, Mexican Bakery in Tucson: La Palma Tortilla Factory – a good alternative if you’re on the north side and don’t have time to get down to La Estrella! Good breakfast menu, from sweet to savory!

Barrio Bread

You won’t be in Tucson long before you start hearing about Barrio Bread. Many local restaurants are proud to serve Barrio Bread, so you’ll see their name on many menus. If you visit the bakery on the East side of town, you will have some pretty delicious bread to choose from. This isn’t a cafe, it’s not a donut shop, it’s a bakery. You come in, you buy bread, you take it home. Then you eat the whole loaf. Just kidding. Maybe. Barrio Bread is the kind of place that sells out when they sell out, so if you have a specific thing you want, come in early! I sampled a mini-loaf of the pain au levain – it was delicious!

Barrio Bread, Tucson

You can also check out Barrio Sandwiches weekdays at lunchtime, outside the Temple of Music and Art.

Barrio Bread – 18 S. Eastbourne Avenue – $3 for a mini-loaf, ~$6 for regular loaves

Nadine’s Bakery

Located just east of downtown, not far from Barrio Bread, Nadine’s is the place to go for cakes, cupcakes and a million other kinds of baked deliciousness. Petit fours, pastries, cookies, bread, something called “European slices” that looks like a slice of fluffy frozen heaven, in several flavors. Nadine’s has been baking for Tucson for over 30 years and is fully kosher to boot – there aren’t many kosher bakeries in Tucson! Let’s just say it’s a good thing I don’t live closer, or this would be a regular stop for me and my sweet tooth. The prices are really good, too – so it’s easy to go a little crazy! I’ll take one of everything, please?

Nadine's Bakery - Tucson

Nadine’s, Broadway and Swan, $3.00 for two single items

Amy’s Donuts

I did find one other unique place for Tucson donuts. Amy’s Donuts has a great mural on the outside and a bit of a divey feel to it – this is no fancy, hipster donut joint. They have a huge selection of funky flavors like Nutty Bar, Andes Mint, Banana Fudge and pretty much any kind of candy crunched on top of a donut. Amy’s is the place to come for fun flavors – and they are open 24/7 so anytime you get a craving, you can pop in!

Amy's Donuts - Tucson

Amy’s Donuts – Ft Lowell and Stone, $3-$5 for 2 donuts

Is there a Tucson bakery I need to add to my list? Tell me in the comments!

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What to Do in Brussels for 1 Week

Part of my reason for settling in Tucson was to have a home base which would actually make travel easier. Before I even moved in to my new apartment, Black Friday airfare deals were too good to ignore! With cheap flights to Europe, I ended up in Belgium for 6 nights in January. While planning a trip to Belgium, I soon realized that the country is small enough to make day trips to other cities, and staying in the same hotel for the whole week is always preferred! I found that Brussels gets a bad rap for some reason – a lot of people say it’s boring, and to spend as little time there as possible. Well, I loved it and am glad I stayed the whole week in Brussels! One week doesn’t make me an expert, so I won’t claim these are the TOP things to do in Brussels, or 7 things you MUST do in Brussels. These are just my suggestions of what to do in Brussels, based on my own 1-week itinerary in Belgium.

What to Do in Brussels

Belgium Day 5 / Brussels

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Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour with City Sightseeing

Yes, this is as touristy as you can get, but I always enjoy a hop-on-hop-off tour when arriving in a new city. It’s a good way to get your bearings and note some areas you’d like to return to. In my case, I arrived from the US at 8:30 am, and couldn’t check into my hotel until 2pm, so what else was I to do? (Full confession: I did snooze a bit along the way!) There are two bus routes (red and blue) included in your 25Euro ticket and if you take them back to back, it will take about 3 hours. You can jump on or off at several stops, but I joined them right outside the Central train station.

Book Brussels Hop-On Hop-Off tour with Viator

Belgium Day 5 / Brussels

Day Trip from Brussels – Bruges and Ghent

For my first day in Brussels, I took a bus trip to Ghent and Bruges. I considered individual day trips to each city, as they’re no more than 1 hour from Brussels by train, but ultimately, I decided the combo bus trip was the best way to go. For about $58, we got round-trip transportation from Brussels and commentary from our guide, who spoke 7 languages! We left Brussels around 9am and first arrived in Ghent.

Belgium Day 2/Ghent and BrugesGhent

Belgium Day 2/Ghent and BrugesGhent

After 2 hours in Ghent, we re-boarded the coach bus and drove on to Bruges. Our first stop was for lunch, where we all dined (at our own expense) together – you can also wander off on your own to choose a lunch spot. In total, we had 4 hours in Bruges. 3 were with the guide and 1 was off on our own, but of course, you can leave the group at any time. Bruges, like Brussels, has a maze of streets, alleys and squares so I wasn’t too comfortable wandering away on my own, especially when I had a bus to catch back home!

Belgium Day 2/Ghent and BrugesBruges

Belgium Day 2/Ghent and BrugesBruges

Belgium Day 2/Ghent and BrugesBruges

When I posted about this trip on Facebook, my friends seemed to have strong opinions for Ghent or Bruges, but not both! I suspect Bruges is more touristy and probably really crowded in the summer, so that could turn people off. However, it did seem a bit more lively to me, although I didn’t have enough time in either city to form a solid opinion one way or the other!

Book Ghent and Bruges Day Trip with Viator

Chocolate and Beer Tour with Brussels Journey

You know by now how much I love food tours when I’m traveling! I didn’t find a typical food tour in Brussels, but I did find the Chocolate and Beer Tour from The Brussels Journey. For 75 euros, you get a guided walking tour of Brussels, with four stops at local chocolatiers, then 3 stops at local pubs. Our guide, Daniel, did a great job telling us about each chocolate we were sampling, and also chose a well-rounded assortment of chocolates to try. He also gave us tips on buying chocolate (two stores offered a 10% discount upon our return) and explained how prices vary so much.

We tried a chili pepper chocolate at Chocopolis:

Belgium Day 3 / Chocolate & Beer Tour

Several options at Frederic Blondeel (my favorite was the Rose & Peppercorn)

Belgium Day 3 / Chocolate & Beer Tour

My favorite at Pierre Marcolini was the Earl Gray Tea chocolate:

Belgium Day 3 / Chocolate & Beer Tour

After a final stop at Meert in the Royal Galleries, it was time to move on to the beer portion of our evening. I’m not a huge beer drinker, definitely not a connoisseur of craft beers, but I asked for smaller portions and gave each one a taste. It was interesting to hear about the Trappist monks and Abbey beers, and we visited some pretty old establishments. My favorite was the Lambic beer, which reminded me of cherry beer I used to buy from New Glarus.

Belgium Day 3 / Chocolate & Beer TourA L'Image de Notre Dame

I only wish I had taken this tour on my first day, as I really got a better feel for my surroundings (it was my first glimpse at the Grand Place, even though it was maybe two blocks from my hotel!) In addition to eating and drinking, we got to see a lot of Brussels, including the infamous Mannekin Pis.

Belgium Day 5 / Brussels

I was a guest of The Brussels Journey for this tour, however these are solely my personal and honest opinions – it’s a great tour!

Antwerp Food Tour with Belgium Food Tours

Antwerp is just an hour from Brussels on the train and makes an excellent day trip from Brussels. If I return to Belgium, I would definitely like to spend more time in Antwerp. It’s a beautiful, bustling city full of great food, which I discovered on a food tour, of course!

Belgium Day 4 / Antwerp

I joined Cornelis from Belgium Food Tours for a walking and eating tour of Antwerp’s best restaurants. I wrote about the food tour last week, click here to read about it!

Belgium Day 4 / AntwerpChips Frites

Where to Eat in Brussels

These are a few suggestions of places that I ate and enjoyed, all near the area of Grand Place. Some I found on my own, while others were recommended to me. The local’s tip is not to eat at any place where the guy stands in the alley trying to get you to come inside, or any place with picture menus outside. Seems like legit advice to me, although when you are hungry and in a tourist area full of these places, it’s hard to keep searching. I nearly ate at the Hard Rock Cafe one night because I was craving a salad after so many days of waffles and frites!

Belgium Day 5 / Brussels

Peck 47 – Daniel, our guide on the Beer & Chocolate tour, recommended Peck 47 for savory waffles. Just a short stroll from my hotel, I popped in around 11 on a Monday and got the only open table. This place is busy, and very hip. I loved the 00’s hip-hop (Ja Rule, Ashanti) playing over the speakers. I enjoyed a chorizo waffle with goat cheese and poached eggs. It was delicious and the waffles were much smaller than the giant sweet ones sold on the street. Bonus points for paper straws!!!

Belgium Day 5 / BrusselsChorizo waffles at Peck 47

Chez Leon – also recommended by Daniel, apparently an exception to the ‘picture menu’ rule. Chez Leon is known for mussels, but since I’m not a sea otter prone to cracking open shells for dinner, I had the traditional Flemish beef stew. It was pretty good – I’m not usually a stew or soup person, but this is basically beef stewed in beer. It’s served on a plate, not in a bowl, so it’s not particularly stew-y, although the broth is nice for dipping your fries!

Belgium Day 5 / BrusselsFlemish Beef Stew at Chez Leon

Le Pain Quotidien – I realize this is probably like the Panera of Brussels, but they have a good selection of pastries to go, or breakfasts which you can sit down to eat. I had a delicious avocado toast breakfast here one morning.

Belgium Day 3Avocado toast at Le Pain Quotidien

Where to Stay in Brussels

On the recommendation of a fellow travel blogger, I stayed at B-Aparthotel Brussels Grand Place. The B-Aparthotel is in a great location (walking distance from Central train station was key for me!) and within reach of Grand Place and so many places to eat! For an average nightly rate of 103 Euros, I got an apartment, complete with kitchenette, full bath and bedroom, all in a very modern, minimalist style (think IKEA furnishings.) Because I don’t travel with an international cell phone plan, I would prefer to stay at a hotel with a front desk. I was constantly worried about needing to reach the office during my visit. Aside from getting locked in the parking garage on the first day when trying to store my luggage, I didn’t need to reach anyone, but for peace of mind, I would consider a more traditional hotel. For families or those less paranoid than me, this is a great choice!

How Much to Budget for Brussels

Making a budget recommendation is difficult, as everyone has different budgets and spending habits, so I can only tell you what I spent. I’m not a budget traveler, and I will splurge on occasion, although I’m generally frugal as I don’t spend a lot of money shopping or on wild attractions like theme parks. So my largest expenses are flight, hotel and dog boarding! In total, I was able to spend under $2000 for a week in Belgium.

  • Flight – $400 – killer Black Friday deal with cheap flights to Europe! Off-season FTW!
  • Hotel – $750
  • Tours & Transportation – $200
  • Food – $220
  • Souvenirs – $110
  • Dog Boarding – $300 (it was actually the same amount to pay for my mom’s flight as it would be to board Bailey for a week, so my mom got to enjoy a week in the sun!)

Are you ready to visit Brussels?

For a Belgium Travel Guide, check out the Trusted Travelers Quick Facts and Travel Tips!

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