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5 Big "Don'ts" for Nature-Loving Travelers

By Liz Weslander
June 6, 2019
Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona
Courtesy woobiecat1/myBudgetTravel
Think you're following the best "leave no trace" practices when you visit the great outdoors? Even the most conscientious nature-lover can have a negative impact on the environment. Here are five mistakes to avoid.

While "leave no trace" is a familiar refrain to most people who enjoy time outdoors, the truth is that many, even nature lovers with good intentions, sometimes leave their mark in ways that can damage the natural surrounds.

There are many more ways to impact the environment than just neglecting to pick up your trash. To provide guidance, the Boulder-based Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, has developed the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace (lnt.org/why/7-principles/) to help people minimize their footprints while enjoying the outdoors. As the following five important "don'ts" illustrate, even the most idealistic travelers can run afoul of the center’s principles and leave an unwanted impact in ways that are not as immediately noticeable as a pile of trash.

1. Don't Geotag Photos on Social Media

These days, an excursion into nature hardly feels complete until you take some pictures and post them on social media. While snapping shots of beautiful natural settings is harmless, pictures that include a geotag indicating the exact locations create what some call a “digital trace,” which can cause increased foot traffic to areas not equipped to handle it. Arizona’s Horseshoe Bend is a classic example of a once moderately trafficked spot that exploded in popularity due to geotagging on Instagram. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area recently implemented visitor fees and restricted visitation numbers to curb the problem.

In response to the growing over-trafficking issue, Leave No Trace created a set of social media guidelines (lnt.org/new-social-media-guidance/) that suggest, for instance, tagging photos with a state or region rather than a specific location. And better yet: post images that demonstrate good Leave No Trace principles.

2. Don't Stack Rocks in the Name of Art

The temptation to create an artful tower of carefully balanced rocks is strong when you’re sitting next to a river full of smooth, flat stones. Resist this temptation. Rock stacks, also called cairns, have long been used by land managers to mark trails, but over the past several decades, hikers’ random rock towers near rivers and streams have piled up. Not only can creating your own rock art cause confusion and get people lost, but moving rocks around can disrupt the surrounding ecology.

Every river rock contains a mini eco-system of plant life and micro-organisms on its surface, and a variety of insects, fish, salamanders, crawfish, and macroinvertbrae live and lay their eggs under and among these rocks. Moving them exposes the wildlife to predators and the sun, and causes sand and silt around the displaced rocks to erode.

The simplest solution to this issue is to savor time spent next to water in other ways – sketching, journaling, and just relaxing. If you simply can’t fight the urge to stack rocks, Leave No Trace suggests using only stones that are already loose of sand, silt, or soil. Also, only build on hard, durable surfaces. Once your stack is complete, snap a picture, and then return the rocks to their original spot.

3. Don't Feed Wild Animals

When you love animals, it’s hard to resist the urge to toss a few food scraps to a cute chipmunk, a gentle deer, or a charming bird. But feeding human food to animals is never a good idea, and actually harms those critters we claim to love. Human food does not contain the nutrients that wild animals need, and eating it not only damages their health but also alters their natural behavior. Instead of hunting and foraging for food in the wild, human-fed animals will show up in places where humans gather, increasing their risk of being killed by a car, and becoming a hazard to humans and pets.

While intentionally feeding wild animals is a big no-no, it’s important to remember that food scraps unintentionally left in the wild are also harmful. Always store food securely and collect and remove all trash--even those biodegradable apple cores and baby carrots. Also, try to eat over a plastic bag or bandana to catch crumbs so they don’t scatter around the area.

4. Don't Forget to Help Your Dog Leave No Trace

Dogs make great outdoor companions, but it’s important to remember that they can damage protected outdoor spaces just as easily humans. Off-leash dogs can disturb sensitive wildlife habitats like nesting areas and they’re more likely to chase and harm wild animals. In fact, a 2009 Australian study found that the only thing that caused more disruption than off-leash dogs was low-flying jet aircrafts. Dog owners can help their furry friends be good outdoor citizens by respecting dog restrictions in conservation areas and following leash regulations in places that allow dogs. The good news is that there are plenty public lands in the U.S. that allow dogs.

And while this should go without saying, always pick up after your dog. Dog waste doesn’t just smell bad and potentially carry diseases, it also contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that create favorable conditions for harmful algae to bloom and invasive weeds to grow. Putting dog poop into a plastic bag and leaving it beside the trail to collect on the way back is not a viable solution. Leave No Trace suggests investing in a dog backpack to transport the waste. Or try to bring a canister to carry bags away for proper disposal.

5. Don't Improperly Dispose of Human Waste

When you gotta go, you gotta go, even if there’s no latrine in sight. There is a right and wrong way to poop in the woods, and unfortunately improperly placed human feces is a growing problem in outdoor recreational areas. To avoid pollution of water sources and decrease the likelihood of others stumbling upon your waste in the wild, Leave No Trace suggests hikers and campers create a “cat hole” in a spot that is at least 200 feet--about 70 steps--away from water, trails, and campsites. The hole should be at least six inches deep and four inches wide. (Packing a small trowel can help with this task). When finished, cover the hole with the original soil and then disguise it with some leaves or rocks. Using natural materials such as leaves or snow for wiping is ideal, but a small amount of plain, white non-perfumed toilet paper is okay if buried in the cat hole.

Of course, the human waste option with the least impact is to pack it out. Some popular high-elevation and backcountry sites such as Denali and the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park already require visitors to pack out their own waste, but it is worth considering any time you are hiking in freezing conditions or canyon environment or whenever you are near a body of water. Many people choose a handy W.A.G bag, a double-bag kit which includes waste treatment powder and an outer zip-closing bag.

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Travel Tips

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One of the easiest ways to score free flights is to take advantage of an airline’s frequent flyer program. Indeed, roughly 7 percent of flights are paid for with points or miles, according to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers. But not all frequent flyer programs are created equal—and comparing these programs can be tricky for everyday travelers. All major U.S. airlines offer loyalty programs. Some programs let you rack up miles, while others programs let you accumulate “points” that you can redeem for things like discounted flights, seat upgrades, access to private airport lounges, and other cool perks. Frequent flyer programs are free and easy to sign up for. And, don’t be fooled by the term “frequent flyer”—these programs can be beneficial even for occasional travelers. So, what loyalty programs have the richest rewards? Here are the six best programs among U.S.-based airlines, including some benefits that make each program unique in its own way. 1. DELTA Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles program is unique in that allows members to rack up miles that never expire. (JetBlue Airways is the only other major airline with a frequent flier program where miles don’t expire because of inactivity.) Members earn 5 to 11 miles per dollar spent, depending on elite status, and can earn additional miles from hotel stays, car rentals, and dining. One caveat: most airlines publish an awards chart that shows the number of points or miles needed for a given flight. Delta doesn’t. So, you’ll have to search for the flight you want to see how many reward miles are required to redeem a seat on that flight. 2. ALASKA AIRLINES With flights to more than 900 destinations worldwide, Alaska Airlines offers top-notch rewards through its Mileage Plan program. 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And mileage credit is forfeited after 18 months of inactivity. (The airline allows you to pay to reactivate your mileage credit, but reactivation fees can be high depending on how many miles have expired). 4. UNITED AIRLINES With 4,500 daily flights to more than 300 cities across five continents, United is among the largest airlines in the world—and has one of the best loyalty programs. Members of its MileagePlus program earn 5 to 11 miles per dollar spent, and 1 to 3 miles per mile flown, based on fare class. Transparency is also a plus, since the airline publishes a flight award chart that shows you the maximum number of miles you’ll need for a given flight. There are two noticeable flaws though: the number of seats available on United for award travel is limited, and miles expire after 18 months of inactivity. 5. SOUTHWEST Easy points redemption, generous earnings, and zero blackout dates make Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program a winner. Members earn six to 12 points per dollar spent, based on fare class, and can accrue additional points through hotel stays, car rentals, dining, and shopping. While values vary, Rapid Rewards points can be redeemed at an average of 1 cent apiece, according to a Nerdwallet analysis. And travelers that fly 100 qualifying one-way flights, or accumulate 110,000 Rapid Rewards points, get a coveted Companion Pass, good for free flights for a travel companion. The worst aspect of the Rapid Rewards program? Points can only be redeemed for Southwest flights; many other frequent flyer programs let you redeem rewards for flights on other airlines. 6. JETBLUE Points never expire and there are no blackout dates on JetBlue’s solid TrueBlue rewards program. Members earn 3 points per dollar spent and 6 points per every dollar spent when booking a flight on jetblue.com. Even better, points are worth, on average, a handsome 1.3 cents each, according to The Points Guy’s May 2018 Valuations report. 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Travel Tips

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Located in the Transportation Mall between Concourses B and C, the multimedia installation uses video, audio, murals, and photographs to take you through key periods in Atlanta’s development. Have time to enjoy a fine dining meal? Hit up One Flew South in Concourse E. This critically acclaimed restaurant specializes in cuisine inspired by world travels, and it has a cocktail list that pays tribute to the flying boats (‘Floatplanes’) that carried wealthy passengers from Miami to Nassau and Havana so they could drink legally during the Prohibition era. Art lovers will enjoy the airport’s permanent exhibit, “Zimbabwe Sculpture: a Tradition in Stone,” which features 20 stone sculptures from the South African country. Find it in the transportation mall between concourses A and T. 2. Los Angeles International Airport Over 84 million people visited LAX in 2017. The second largest airport in the U.S., Los Angeles's main airport has an array of food and entertainment options for travelers. The size of three football fields, the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) serves as the "Rodeo Drive" of LAX. It boasts tons of shops, including Fred Segal, which sells trendy clothing, accessories, and grooming products, and Sunset Strip's famous bookstore Book Soup. The caveat: it's not connected to any other terminal, so to visit from another terminal you'll have to go through security again. Wine aficionados will enjoy Vino Volo, a wine bar that offers vintages from around the world and a food menu of locally sourced cheeses, smoked salmon rolls, and other light bites. Find it in the TBIT. Need to pick up a snack for your flight? Los Angeles’ Original Farmers Market has a store in Terminal 5 where you can choose from a broad selection of meals, snacks, wine, and coffee from local vendors. 3. Chicago O'Hare International Airport This is a major connecting airport for destinations in the Midwest. It’s also not a bad airport to be stuck in. Parents traveling with children should take them to the Kids on the Fly interactive play area, which features child-sized model airplanes and a control tower. Find it in Terminal 2. Enjoy the stunning display of 466 squiggly neon tubes above a moving walkway in "The Sky's the Limit,” a mile-long neon light sculpture that connects concourses B and C in Terminal 1. Don’t depart without stopping by one of the airport’s Garrett Popcorn shops, located in Terminals 2 and 3. Go for the Chicago staple’s Garrett Mix, a combination of handcrafted cheddar and caramel popcorn. 4. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Spanning more than 17,000 acres, the busiest airport in Texas is also the fourth most-visited airport in the country. In fact, because of its size, it has its own postal code. Find your happy place before you board a plane for a long trip by doing some pre-flight stretches in the free 24-hour yoga studio, tucked between Terminals B and D. View works from more than 30 local, national and international artists in the International Terminal D. Also, check out the sculpture garden just outside the Terminal D parking garage on the arrivals level. Let your kids burn off energy in Terminal B’s Junior Flyer Club, a 685 square-foot aviation themed play area. 5. Denver International Airport A hub for Frontier Airlines and United, this Colorado airport handled more than 61 million passengers in 2017. Eat like a local at the popular Colorado burger chain Smashburger in Concourse C, Elway’s steakhouse Concourse B, or Root Down, a veggie-centric restaurant in Concourse C that serves up tasty dishes like thai carrot curry and roasted beets with seed pesto and basil vinaigrette. Take in a gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains at the west end of Terminal C. While you’re there, grab some reading material for your flight at Denver’s famous Tattered Cover Book Store outpost. Sip a glass of wine Lounge 5280 in Concourse B. Rated one of the best airport bars in the U.S., the establishment offers hand-picked wine selections from around the world and a beer list highlighting Colorado's craft brewers.

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