On Traveling: Travelers Are the New Student Activists

by Beth Whitman (January 28th, 2013)

Garbage on BeachIt was abundantly clear to me last week at the Outdoor Retailer Show that travelers today are to the planet what students have been to civil rights movements in the past.

First, let me tell you a bit about the Outdoor Retailer Show.

OR is a trade show. It’s a gathering of outdoor gear manufacturers who display clothes/accessories/products/outdoor gear/shoes to retail buyers and the media in hopes of large orders and media mentions. It’s a preview of what will likely hit stores eight months later (yes, the manufacturing and ordering process necessitates a long view).

Over 2.5 days, I had more than 35 scheduled meetings and about another 10 impromptu ones with the PR reps of manufacturers showing off their fall line of luggage, travel clothes, water bottles, travel-friendly shoes, watches and more. I’m looking for appropriate items to write about in my weekly WanderGear Wednesday posts. They’re looking for a bit of publicity both for their company and for specific items that are available now and those that will be in the fall.

I’ve often thought that companies that put too much emphasis on eco-friendly, sustainable production were just blowing smoke. I’ve had a healthy dose of skepticism that they are simply following a trend and that, perhaps, they weren’t really putting their money where there mouth is. I still have some skepticism around this but I was impressed when I heard about a few things during OR.

I ran into Stiv Wilson (if you don’t know Stiv, read this article he wrote a couple of years ago and you’ll get a sense of what he’s about) when I was meeting with my PR gal at the Klean Kanteen booth. Klean Kanteen, as you must know, produces a variety of stainless steel water bottles. They were the first to produce BPA-free metal bottles back in the early 90’s. In other words, they’re pretty tuned in.

Anyway, Stiv. I’ve met Stiv a couple of times over the years and we’re Facebook friends. I knew him first when he was writing for Wend Magazine. I knew at the time that he had a thing for oceans – he was an activist trying to protect them and he was raising awareness about the amount of pollution piling up on the ocean floor and circling around the globe.

I knew that he left Wend and as I watched his Facebook stream, I also knew that he was heavily advocating for clean oceans by eliminating the accumulation of plastic waste. Stiv, as I saw it, was walkin’ the walk.

GyresWhen I saw Stiv at OR, he was at the Klean Kanteen booth preparing for a happy hour – no, not to simply drink the beer. The organization for which he serves as the Communications Director is The 5 Gyres Institute. At the KK booth, he was raising money for the organization and awareness about plastic issues in the oceans.

A gyre, in case you didn’t know (hey I had to look it up), is a system of rotating ocean currents (see picture). Sadly, marine litter – especially plastic – gets caught in these gyres, and has become a growing problem. There are five major garbage patch gyres currently on the planet.

The mission of The 5 Gyres Institute is to eliminate these garbage patches. It’s a huge undertaking but it has support from Pangaea Explorations and Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Together these orgs raise money, get themselves out on the water and research the state of the gyres and their impact of these garbage “dumps” on the marine life.

Stiv spends about half his time on the water with The 5 Gyres team and then writes and speaks about what he sees. Stiv was so moved by what he saw was happening in the oceans during an expedition trip that, as he told me, “I immediately quit my job to work on this issue.”

Gotta love the power of travel and seeing things first-hand!

Also while at OR, I was told about Travelers Against Plastic. They don’t have a website yet and their Facebook page doesn’t provide too much info, but it appears that these folks are attempting to stop the plastic issue before it even hits the ocean by encouraging travelers not to purchase water in plastic bottles in the first place.

Of course, I’m all for this. I travel with a SteriPEN so that I can sterilize water. I Sigg Cuipo water bottleused it during a month-long trip in India when I mostly drank tap water flavored with Emergen-C packets. But I’m also lazy. When a cold bottle of water in a tropical country is offered to me, I will often accept it rather than opt for room temperature tap water.

But that’s gotta stop. One cannot spend time on The 5 Gyres website and not be moved into action.

Another bottle manufacturer, SIGG, stood out for me. They currently have a campaign where, for every bottle purchased from their special line, actually saves a meter of rainforest in Panama. In short, they are partnering with Cuipo, a social enterprise (as opposed to a non-profit), who’s mission is to preserve endangered rainforests, one meter at a time.

CuipoI purchase a SIGG water bottle from the Cuipo collection, register my activation code, and I receive a confirmation that a meter of rainforest has been saved in my name.

By the way, you can purchase one of these yourself on Amazon for about $20.

So, this all comes back around to my point about how travelers are the new student activists. It’s usually young students who are at the forefront of movements, often (but not always) having to do with issues in their own backyard: politics, social change, the environment, the economy.

On a global scale, increasingly it’s travelers who are raising questions and forcing similar changes. We can no longer ignore the effects of our choices while we travel nor the far-reaching consequences of every product and travel purchase we make.

Are you going to buy those made-in-China shoes when there are other options? Will you purchase bottled water for your road trip when you could easily carry a reusable bottle of filtered water from home?

The choice is yours but there’s increasing peer pressure from people like Stiv who are going to make you feel like crap about those decisions that are bad for the planet. Yeah. I feel like crap about some of my choices. But I’m glad I do. I’ll make better future choices as a result.

Travel Well,


Related links:
On Traveling: With Resilience
On Traveling: Solo Safety Issues

Photo credits:
Garbage on Beach – epsos.de
5 Gyres – The 5 Gyers Institute website
SIGG bottle – SIGG
Cuipo screenshot – Cuipo


On January 30th, 2013 at 7:36 pm, wandering educators said:

This is so important, and good to hear the story behind it, too. It’s easy to be lazy – but more important to be careful. Thanks for the ideas, tips!

On January 31st, 2013 at 9:35 am, Larissa said:

One of the things that really impacted us on our RTW was seeing rampant pollution in other parts of the world, particularly Asia. We had always tried to make smart and “green” choices in the past, but walking on a beach in Bali that was literally covered with trash really opened our eyes.

Now that we’re back in the US, we’re determined to be more conscious of the impact of our actions on the planet, and the people. Thanks for highlighting some smart choices.

If your interested in our “Paradise Lost” experience on a Bali beach, you can find it here: http://wp.me/p1DSu5-yS

Also thought I would share a link to a FB page of a 13-year old girl who’s been having success changing laws about use of plastic bags. Her name is “Activist Abby” https://www.facebook.com/ActivistAbby?ref=ts&fref=ts

Thanks for making us more aware, Beth, and reminding us that we all can do something.

On January 31st, 2013 at 9:44 am, Beth Whitman said:

Thanks for the additional information, Larissa!

On February 3rd, 2013 at 9:43 pm, Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com said:

When you travel, you will really see a lot of things that you wish you can help out on. With my work background, I would like to help out more on the advocacy against child sexual abuse and exploitation. I think travelers can really do more if they want to.

On February 4th, 2013 at 6:56 am, Beth Whitman said:

That’s awesome about your work and interest in helping stop child sexual abuse and exploitation, Aleah. That is a cause that I’ve become more aware of and more concerned about recently.

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