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

By Liz Weslander
January 12, 2022
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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Getaround Makes the Car Rental Experience Personal

It’s happened to the best of us: your flight was delayed, you’re landing in a city you’ve never traveled to before, the kids (and you!) are cranky, and you just want to get to your hotel. But you’re thinking about the last time you rented a car: it took 20 minutes to get to the rental depot and another 40 minutes before you turned the key and pulled out. But you need a car for the weekend. Enter: Getaround (getaround.com). The company provides a nifty service that blends the Airbnb sharing model with the accessibility factor that defines bikeshare program. So grab a cab or the train from the airport, check into your, shower, and figure out the car thing later. How It Works Getaround basically provides a way to rent a car from someone in the vicinity. Like all sharing platforms, it starts with the app. Once you download it, the company vets you, verifying your credit card and Department of Motor Vehicles record. As soon as you’re cleared, you have the capability to unlock and start the vehicle you book, thanks to technology the company developed and patented. The car is fully connected, so you can use the app to identify where it’s parked, unlock the door, and start the car. At the same time, the car owner can use the app to see the precise location of his vehicle. Getaround aims to make errands or day trips a breeze. You can rent a car--the style of your choice--by the day or by the hour, which is the key feature that differentiates the program from traditional car rentals. There’s $1 million in insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance and customer service. How It Started Getaround launched in 2011 and is available in 300 cities in the U.S. and Europe today. Founder and CEO Sam Zaid developed the idea as talk about self-driving cars became more and more of a widespread discussion. “We were looking at the future of transportation and imagining if all the cars on the road today were fully connected and maybe even self-driving or partially self-driving," said Zaid. "Also, think about it: if you owned car, would you park it for 23 hours a day? Or would you let friend or family member use it? If you can imagine a world where your car is connected and it’s easy to move around, the idea of sharing cars isn’t that crazy.” Given how so many other industries are moving towards a sharing model, it makes sense that it was only a matter of time until driving services evolve even beyond ride-hailing apps. “We feel that transportation is moving away from ownership to a shared model. What we have today is not sustainable,” said Zaid, noting that there are 250 million cars in the United States; they sit in parking spaces and garages for a total of six billion hours each day. “If we’re more efficient with cars, it could solve a lot of problems.” A Positive Environmental Impact According to independent studies by the University of California Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center, every shared car removes 10 cars from the road, which translates into 100,000 pounds of carbon pollution. The studies also say that 1,000 shared cars can offset up to 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide. In addition to addressing solutions to pollution, Getaround is proving to be in sync with the lifestyle of millennials. According to studies conducted by the company, 51% of millennials believe car-sharing is better, compared to car renting, at providing opportunities to try something new or different. Of people who car-share, 91% say that the service, along with ride-sharing and public transit, allow them to live completely car-free lives.

Travel Tips

Vacation Budget Blunders: 8 Ways Travelers Throw Money Away

Your vacation budget—like any good financial plan—should reflect your priorities and your aspirations. That said, keeping a lid on your travel expenses can be more easily said than done. The good news is: Planning an affordable trip on a budget doesn't require financial wizardry. The first step is to understand the common pitfalls that can waste your hard-earned (and hard-saved) vacation dollars. Here, the eight biggest mistakes travelers make when planning a trip budget—and, most importantly, how not to make them ever again. Mistake No. 1: Not Establishing Clear Priorities Before you begin building a budget, you need to identify what aspects of your vacation are most important to you and your traveling companions so that you can allocate funds appropriately. To simplify that inherently subjective process into something highly actionable—and, we hope, even fun and inspirational)—start by separating your “must-haves” from your “wants." 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Month after month, incremental savings can add up to money for gelato, restaurant meals, and souvenirs, and maybe even plane fare and hotel rooms. Mistake No. 3: Not Using a Spreadsheet Sure, just hearing the word spreadsheet may slap a great big whomp-whomp on your trip-planning process. But compiling all of your travel costs in one place will help you figure out roughly how much money you’ll have to spend on your vacation—and the best way to do this is, indeed, to use a spreadsheet. There are a number of travel-budgeting spreadsheets that are available online for free. Our favorite is thiseasy-to-use template from Vertex42.com. You simply plug in a quantity and unit cost for each item; for lodging you can enter the number of nights you’ll be staying and the cost per night, and the worksheet will calculate the total costs for you. 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Travel TipsProduct Reviews

5 Carry-On Backpacks for Every Kind of Trip

As professional travelers, we put in lots of hours on the road, and with that much time on our hands, we get to know our gear pretty well. The little quirks that don’t seem like a big deal up front can become full-blown annoyances after a week of travel, and likewise, the nerdy details that might not merit more than a shrug at first glance can easily become an obsession once we realize how handy they can be in practice. We put another round of carry-on backpacks through their paces to find our favorites—all of which will fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you on most jets, and cost less than $200. 1. For the Weekend Road Trip (Courtesy Topo Designs) Topo Designs makes some of our favorite accessory bags and Dopp kits, so it’s not surprising they make one of our favorite backpacks too—the brand’s bags and accessories are designed to work together as part of a modular system, and the 30-liter Travel Bag is no exception. Pack bags, Topo’s answer to packing cubes, cost a little extra, but they nest inside for a tidy fit, and the Dopp kit does too—no cramming necessary. (If you need more room, clip a smaller bag onto the outside of the pack, or go for the 40-liter version.) But enough about the accessories—the backpack itself earns rave reviews. It has organizational pockets galore: On the front, a large zippered compartment with two internal zippered mesh pockets, plus another section with two open pockets for snacks and chargers and a deep zippered one as well. The main compartment holds three or four outfits, with two big mesh pockets for additional storage. At the back of the pack, there’s a padded laptop compartment, and an external pass-through sleeve to stack the bag on top of your rolling suitcase; it also comes with a removable crossbody strap, so the shoulder and hip straps tuck away if you choose to use it. 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One of its savvier highlights is the built-in sunglasses case, lined with fleece and conveniently placed at the top of the pack, but other travel-minded touches include a rain flap that covers the expansion zipper; a zip-away side pocket that hides a water bottle; and padded shoulder straps, reinforced with sternum straps, that tuck into the back panel. Two minor complaints: There isn’t a side handle, and the front pocket is a bit of a head-scratcher, a triangular flap that folds down to reveal pen loops, one strangely shallow pocket, and a row of small slots big enough to hold business cards...and not much else. But for a nice-looking bag with a deceptively generous capacity, we'll allow it.Medium Expandable Knack Pack, $175; knackbags.com. 3. For the Long Haul (Courtesy Rick Steves' Europe) This convertible carry-on from Rick Steves' Europe came on our radar by way of a reader's comment—and we have to say, it was a solid suggestion. At about 40 liters, it’s the roomiest of the bunch (and at 3 pounds, the heaviest too), a no-frills pack that excels in its simplicity. The main compartment is nearly suitcase-size, with compression straps, an elasticized pocket running the length of the lid, two loose mesh bags for laundry or smalls, and a document pouch that clips into place so important papers are always within reach. On the front, there are three pockets of varying sizes: a square one for a cardigan or a neck pillow, a small one for glasses, lip balm, and the like, and a really deep one for magazines, tablets, tech gear, and more. The pack can expand a couple of inches if need be, but beware of overstuffing if you want to use it as a carry-on. Though there isn’t a dedicated compartment for a laptop, the side pocket will accommodate one, albeit without any cushioning; additional features include a mesh water-bottle sleeve, handles on the top and side, outer compression straps, and shoulder and waist straps that tuck away as needed. This is the most old-school model we tried—those shoulder straps are only slightly padded, and the floppy nylon fabric gives it the feel of a classic gym bag—and while we tend to prefer more structure and more organizational components, you won't find many travel packs this size at a comparable cost. Convertible Carry-On, $100; ricksteves.com. 4. For the Outdoorsy Overnight (Courtesy Mammut) If outdoor adventures are on the agenda—with some work on the side—try Mammut’s Seon Transporter X. In something of a reverse mullet, it's business in the back—think: a padded, fleece-lined section for a laptop, tablet, paperwork, and reading materials, plus two orange-zippered mesh compartments and pockets for pens—and a party in the front, with a main compartment housing a ventilated, zippered section for hiking boots, with space leftover for toiletries and a change of clothes or two. (Though the bag technically has a 26-liter capacity, it's definitely for those who travel light—that shoe compartment claims quite a bit of real estate.) As for access points, the big pocket at the front is basically the height and width of the pack itself, with a zippered mesh pocket inside, and the small compartment at the bag's top is good for valuables, with two fleecy open pockets and yet another zippered mesh one. Smart elements include well-padded, ergonomic shoulder straps, top and side handles for ease of carry, and big looped zippers that pull without a hitch, all under the cover of a sturdy, weather-repellent material, in a camouflage print that makes it stand out from the crowd. Seon Transporter X, $190; mammut.com. 5. For a Few Days Away (Courtesy Solo New York) With a spacious main compartment that opens like a suitcase, incorporating a built-in bag for shoes or laundry and four small stash pockets (two mesh and two solid nylon) in the lining around its frame, Solo New York’s 22.6-liter All-Star provides the capacity of a duffel—minus the duffel’s tendency to turn into a black hole, thanks to its organizational touches. On the front, a zippered pocket holds the necessities you'll want to reach on the fly, like sunglasses, tickets, and chargers. The front is padded to protect the laptop section, which also has a sleeve that fits a tablet, so you’ll only have to dig through one pocket for your electronics when you hit the security scanners. Two side handles and one on top make for easy stowing on planes or trains, and the cushy straps tuck away when they're not in use. (It also comes with a long shoulder strap, in case you get tired of hauling it around on your back.) As a whole, the pack is lightweight and inexpensive—in fact, the lightest, least expensive one we tried. At this price point, and considering its five-year limited warranty, it’s a great option for a short trip. All-Star Backpack Duffel, $87; solo-ny.com.

Travel Tips

NYC Pride Parade: 6 Things to Know About WorldPride 2019

Pride in the greatest city the in the world is going big this year. Record-setting big, with LGBTQ WorldPride events across New York City already starting to roll out on the way to a blowout late-June weekend that’s part commemoration, part celebration. Why all the gusto? Because 2019 marks a half-century since the Stonewall uprising, when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer citizens fought against police raids and harassment—and in the process, galvanized the LGBTQ civil-rights movement. The riots ignited late on June 28, 1969 outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village and lasted several days. A year later, the very first “Gay Pride” parade was held, celebrating what was then known as Christopher Street Liberation Day. Commemorations of NYC’s Stonewall protests took root in cities across America and Europe, eventually becoming common in most major cities around the globe. Since 2000, WorldPride has served as a kind of Olympics of Pride. It takes place in different cities around the world every other year, and in June 2019 will streak New York in rainbows with its American debut. For a city that’s already home to the country’s biggest LGBTQ Pride festivities—with around two million attendees and participants—WorldPride NYC and Stonewall 50 promise to potentially double the headcount over the big weekend. Beyond the annual march, which sets off Sunday, June 30th at noon, the city and state are ringing in June Pride month with a bevy of events to jumpstart the gaiety in May. Here’s a rundown of WorldPride highlights across New York. 1. NYC WorldPride Basics New York’s tourism office, NYC & Company, has been a driving force behind WorldPride. Its 2019-worldpride-stonewall50.nycpride.org website—built collaboratively with Heritage of Pride (the city’s Pride organization) and the state’s I Love New York tourism bureau—is an ultimate resource for information about the wide array of events ahead. Plus it’s a great place for visitors to find tips on partner hotels (there are many), transportation and airline info, and an impressive interactive map showing everything from events to historic LGBTQ+ sites. Unmissable events include the Opening Ceremony on June 26; the Stonewall 50 Commemoration and Rally on June 28; Pride Island’s nightly concerts June 29–30; plus many more family and community events throughout the season. June 30 is the mega day that starts with the Pride March, follows with the Pridefest streetfair, and wraps up with the WorldPride Closing Ceremony in Times Square that evening—with Melissa Etheridge and many more luminaries slated to perform. 2. One City, Six Prides The WorldPride NYC extravaganza culminates on June 30, serving as citywide pride in the borough of Manhattan. But don’t miss the chance to catch the outer boroughs’ distinct and amazing celebrations, each with full schedules that include concerts, sports, parties, and more. Here’s a rundown of their march dates: Staten Island PrideFest on May 18; Queens Pride on June 2; Brooklyn Pride (with a fun night parade) on June 8; the 1 Bronx Festival on June 23; and Harlem Pride June 29. 3. America’s LGBTQ Monument The Stonewall National Monument was designated in 2016, and encompasses 7.7 acres of Greenwich Village where the uprising took place in 1969. It stretches from Greenwich Avenue to W. 4th Street, and W. 10th Street to Waverly Place, and will serve as the city’s crossroads for all things LGBTQ throughout Pride month. Be sure to visit little Christopher Park, home to George Segal’s 1980 Gay Liberation sculptures of two same-sex couples—they’re the city’s only public art dedicated to LGBTQ rights. 4. Arts & Culture Expect to easily fill your June visit with a fabulous selection of LGBTQ-centric entertainment and art. Among the brightest are the New York Public Library’s Love and Resistance: Stonewall 50 exhibition; Leslie-Lohman Museum’s Art After Stonewall; the Guggenheim’s Robert Mapplethorpe photography exhibit; and NYC Opera’s Stonewall (The Opera). Official WorldPride events also include Family Movie Night on June 21 and OutCinema screenings. Upstate New York is luring musical-theater fans for the free “Sing Out, New York” music festival (in various locations, May 28–June 9); and the renowned Forestburgh Playhouse’s summer staging of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (July 30–August 11). 5. LGBTQ Local Fun There are staples of LGBTQ community and culture all over the Big Apple, in the Village and beyond. Don’t miss visits to The Center, Bluestockings Bookstore, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the Alice Austen House, as well as legendary piano bars like Marie’s Crisis, Monster, The Duplex, and Townhouse. Of course, iconic (and innumerable) gay and lesbian bars are also well worth grabbing a tipple, from Stonewall Inn and Julius’, to Henrietta Hudson and Cubbyhole; plus the great outer-borough lounges like Ginger’s, Excelsior, Metropolitan, Albatross, Friend’s Tavern, and Harlem’s Alibi Lounge. For drag fans, don’t miss fabulous weekend drag brunches like the weekend shows at La Pulperia HK and Lips (both in Midtown), and the special June weekend shows heading to historic Oscar Wilde restaurant in NoMad. 6. Take a Pride Tour LGBTQ history runs deep in NYC, so consider a tour with the gay professor behind Oscar Wilde Tours, who explores different neighborhoods and queer art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both Walk About New York, and lesbian-owned Local Expeditions lead LGBTQ and other fascinating city tours (walking and biking) in a variety of neighborhoods. There also are a few specialty tours gearing up for June, like Madame Morbid’s Victorian trolley tours, with drag queen Miss Sinister Strawberry guiding guests through Brooklyn’s macabre side on June 20 and 27. Don’t miss the free self-guided tour options of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, where you can customize your preferred themes and neighborhoods with a downloadable map, and discover amazing queer history across all five boroughs. For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.