Why Teva Explorer Tara Rock is reconsidering how she travels to have a lighter footprint. Words and Photos by Tara Rock.
I used to travel nearly every month and now it has been over a year since we left the islands of Hawai‘i. I never thought we would leave our Big Island bubble during the pandemic. But since our state has implemented strict guidelines for travel, tourism has increased and been widely encouraged.
From left, Hurricane Drift in Sunflower and Hawaiian Sunset.
In anticipation of our second child, we decided to island hop to Kauaʻi (sans our firstborn) to enjoy some downtime together as a couple. I always thought trends like babymoons were silly but since becoming a parent, I totally get it. I am open to any excuse to go on vacation from our normal routine now.
So we took the COVID tests, took extra precautions (yes, I am a double masker and use hand sanitizer religiously), and hopped on a plane. We figured this would be the last time we would travel for a very long time once our family swelled to four. And a short flight to Kauaʻi seemed to ease whatever travel bug we had left in us.
It felt so good to be somewhere different (but familiar), connect with old friends, and have a change of scenery. More importantly, it was nice to enjoy one another’s company without our priorities centering around a child. We’ve never been able to do that—since having our first —until this trip.
But more recently, I’ve had reservations about traveling. As someone who was born and raised on the islands, I have seen the negative impacts of tourism on our environment and culture over the years. While I love traveling, I can’t help but wonder: Are there better ways to travel? Less frequently, closer to home, more conscious of the environmental footprint, that will have less impact on natural spaces, unique cultures, and Indigenous people?
An injection-molded adventure sandal that loves water, the Hurricane Drift was designed to be ultra-comfy, nearly indestructible, and gravity defying.
Part of the reason we chose Kauaʻi as our destination has a lot to do with proximity to our home on the Big Island. By choosing a close location, we greatly reduced our carbon emissions and overall waste. We used a carbon emissions calculator like this one to calculate that our flight was responsible for producing 473.8 tons of CO2. If we flew to Los Angeles, we would have produced 742.2 tons of CO2. We also knew we wouldn’t need to rent a car or stay at a hotel by staying with friends.
I think being conscious of your environmental footprint is the future of travel. According to Airlines for America, the organization that represents major U.S. airlines, they plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But we can’t wait several decades for change and I can’t say I’m willing to give up traveling all together. How can we balance out 473.8 CO2 from our trip?
With a bit of research, I found it is easy to cancel out a carbon footprint. Simple acts, like donating to non-profit organizations, like Running Tide or Carbon Fund, is a start. Hopefully someday, these types of actions will be an industry standard for airlines.
Another part of being a conscious traveler means prioritizing respect for the local culture. Hawaiʻi has a particularly unique and sensitive history. It is important for visitors to educate themselves about Hawaiian culture before and while they are traveling to Hawaiʻi—and luckily, it doesn’t take much effort to Google any destination you’re going to.
Personally, it is important for me to leave a minimal environmental trace and give back to the local community. So I did my research. I decided the best way to reduce my impact on the environment and a culturally sensitive place is to first, educate myself and then, give back. I donated to two non-profit organizations whose work I admire—Hawaiian Legacy and Waipā Foundation. These donations are one example of how to offset my carbon footprint and give back to the local community.
It was also really important for us to support the local community on Kauaʻi. We have friends who own small businesses who were negatively affected by the pandemic and we wanted to use our dollars wisely. We chose to shop at locally-owned grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, and shops while we were there. Making conscious purchases while you travel means you are directly putting money back into the community. Instead of staying at a hotel, find vacation rentals being rented out by individuals. You can even rent out personal vehicles directly from local people using apps like Turo.
With that, here a few of my favorite locally-owned businesses that I thoroughly enjoyed in Kauaʻi.
Aloha Exchange: Best place to get the gear for your next adventures.
Kalaheo Café: Great place for breakfast. I love their cinnamon rolls.
Dark Horse Coffee: A newer coffee shop in Koloa. You gotta try the haupia cream.
Aloha Roastery: Artisanal coffee, great to grab on-the-go.
Nourish Hanalei: Delicious bowls with a beautiful view of Hanalei Bay.
Java Kai: Another spot to fuel up on caffeine with amazing baked goods.
Shipwrecked: Some of my favorite swim, accessory, and clothing brands were at this shop.
Wishing Well Shave Ice: Best organic shave ice on the North Shore.
After spending a year at home, in my bubble, it has really made me reconsider my priorities not only as a traveler, but someone who cares about the environment. It’s not going to be enough to reduce my plastic use and make more conscious purchases as a consumer. I know I have to push myself to go further and do better—and that includes the difficult decision to wholistically reframe my thinking, even around things I love, like travel.
I used to feel that traveling was necessary for my own personal growth. This past year has been a huge year of change and personal growth for myself and I didn’t need to hop on a plane to do it. I’m not saying we all need to stop traveling. But I think we need to start being more honest with ourselves, considering our impact, and make more thoughtful, conscious decisions.
For now, I’m going to continue to tread lightly. And if I may offer a tip to tourists: when you visit the Hawaiian Islands (or anywhere for that matter) please be mindful of local people, respect their space, consider the amount of waste you’re producing, spend your money wisely, and always support small, local businesses.
Maybe we all can start reconsidering our place in the natural world. We are part of the earth’s ecosystem and we are the reason it is not balanced. Let’s try to change that.