How To Travel Responsibly & Sustainably

Sunrise Over Phu Ruea's Peak in Loei, Thailand

If you’re anything like us, you travel for something bigger than social media validation. You travel for something intagible, something that fuels your inner desire to explore the unknown. 

You travel to discover the last untamed corners of the planet as much as to discover the last untamed corners of yourself.

Your travel isn’t glamorous – you struggle and you consistently embrace discomfort. Phrases like “too cold,” “too tired,” and “too far” are just self-limiting beliefs that stop you from achieving your objectives.

You want to prove to yourself that you can unearth new experiences, make personal discoveries, and expand your perspective on the road. And when your travels become tough, when times call for self-sufficiency, you rely on and adhere to your set of principles. Why? Because your principles guide you, they keep you grounded and focused in the face of uncertainty.

While not perfect, your principles are a basic gut-punch guidance system that tells it like it is. Nothing more, nothing less.  

Principle #1

Set Objectives

Adventure is an orientation, rather than specific actions.

And in order to maintain an ‘orientation’ during your travels, you must design a series of objectives that influence the arc of your experiences.

Why? Because adventure isn’t something you just stumble upon, it’s something you must work for. True adventure is earned. Therefore, when designing your series of objectives, you must make them around clarified purpose.

What sort of trip you’re going on, what you want to get out of it, and what your reasons for going are the epicenter of clarified purpose.  It may be an objective to see a far-flung village that’s rarely visited, to photograph a natural phenomena, or an expedition-style feat in one of the last untamed corners of the planet.   

By clarifying your purpose, your objectives will align to help create the experiences you’re seeking. Additionally, objectives force you into a different modus operandi and help you deal with new (likely uncomfortable) circumstances, for the delayed gratification of a specific reward. Regardless of the circumstances, you’ll need to hold yourself accountable for the small steps it’ll take to reach each objective.

On a completely different note… you must leave room for failure. Accept that some objectives will be achieved and other’s won’t. During your travels, things will inevitably go wrong no matter how well you prepared.    

And it’s your responsibility to be okay with these failures – to let it invigorate you. It’s your responsibility to become detached from the outcome. How you ask? It’s simple: focus on the process… the process is the goal, and the goal is the process.

Let’s face it, not all adventures are worth the risk. In fact, what makes an adventure real, is the lack of guarantees. Adventure is as much an acceptance of failure as it is an appreciation of success. 

And whether you fail or succeed, there’s always tomorrow. There’s always a chance to improve – to be more vigilant and capable, both mentally and physically. 

Objectives are a never-ending pursuit… there’s always more work to do. 

Principle #2

Rigid Flexibility

Rigid flexibility is a concept based on non-axiomatic reasoning – it’s your capability to adapt to an environment while working with insufficient knowledge and resources.  

When preparing for your trip, you have objectives (a beginning and an end), but everything in between is unknown to you. The adventure lies in working your way through unknown environments, dealing with daily motion and the challenges of unforeseen obstacles… as they unfold before you.

Adventure travel is a mental and physical ‘dynamic game’ that forces you to be vigilant in your decision-making amongst the unknown.

Therefore, it’s important to incorporate flexibility into your trip preparation. You do this by being fully prepared with relevant intel, so you have the ability to make somewhat informed decisions when on-the-ground. Think of it this way: you can’t be flexible if you don’t know your options and the potential consequences. In-depth trip preparation should cover: (1) Intelligence Support, (2) Logistical Planning, and (3) Task Resources. 

When on-the-ground, it’s important to continually size up each new situation you’re in and adapt accordingly. You’ll need to develop an ability to quickly uncover insights and assimilate relevant data from any available source – whether its the people around you, other travelers, or even wildlife. 

It’s solely your responsibility to stay vigilant with a wide-eyed perception and a finely-tuned bullshit detector – it might just save your life. 

Principle #3

Clear Your Mind

When traveling, it’s easy to become a victim of ‘too many minds.’ High levels of external stimuli, internal stress, and culture shock can overwhelm even the most seasoned explorers. Nevertheless, it’s important to quickly quiet your mind and look your fears directly in their face.

Why? Fears and anxiety are often just irrational emotions – learn to control them.

Always remember: your quality of mindset determines your quality of behavior and ultimately the quality of your travel experience.

When you harness the power of your emotions to work for you, rather than against you, extraneous clutter and noise dissipates – helping you stay focused on your objectives and immediate tasks at hand.

Reaching your travel objectives requires focus, determination, competence, consistency, and persistence – all of which are prefaced by a clear mind. 

And to clear your mind is to callous your mind – you must be mentally strong to deal with the uncertainties of travel. Learn to change your train of thought and dominate your fears through sheer will – neutralize all self-chatter that doesn’t serve you in the moment. 

Control your emotions, otherwise they’ll control you.

Principle #4

Embrace Essentialism

Due to finite time and resources, travel forces you to optimize… to clarify what is essential and that which is redundant – to reduce, to simplify. 

Optimization starts by rethinking the speed at which you travel and by identifying the superficialities in your objectives. Make an effort to reduce clutter and increase efficiency, as well as downtime – so you don’t over-extend yourself.

Start by discerning what experiences really matter, calculating the tradeoffs, and then carefully choosing how you will allocate your finite resources of time, money, and joy.

Over time, you’ll become comfortable with the idea that you’ll never be able to see it all. Instead, you’ll actively seek quality over quantity – to slowly immerse yourself into new cultures, places, and experiences, rather than succumb to self-inflicted wounds of drive-by tourism.

This notion of ‘less, but better’ isn’t about creating an experience deficit, it’s about implementing a thoughtful and intentional approach to creating highly resonant travel experiences.

‘Less, but better’ also applies to the psychology of packing: instead of taking gear based on “fear” and “what-ifs,” take only what you need while prioritizing fast and light travel. When you pack with a minimalist mindset, you increase your mobility and shape your journey for the better (provided you follow a well thought-out system).

Overall, push yourself to embrace a disciplined and thoughtful pursuit of ‘less’ – you’ll be surprised by the newfound quality of your experiences.

Principle #5

Live Like a Local

The easiest way to have more resonant travel experiences is to immerse yourself in a new culture, community, or environment.

You do this by:

  1. Participating in hands-on experiences (learning a new craft, etc.).
  2. Visiting and purchasing from local markets.
  3. Eating at mom n’ pop shops, cafes, and street carts.
  4. Staying at village homestays or with local families.
  5. Curiously wandering around neighborhoods or villages.
  6. Engaging in religious or celebratory festivals.
  7. Chatting with locals, asking questions, and making new friends.
  8. Respecting cultural norms and practices.

When living like a local, make an effort to leave a positive impact on the community and people you’ve engaged with. Most importantly, keep the money you’re spending within the community, rather than on some surface-level tour or eating at a multi-national food chain. Spend your money and time where it counts.

Realize that your experiences are primarily influenced by the places you visit and the people you interact with. And while you may just visit a place for one particular attractor (a beach, a landmark, or wildlife), the totality of your experience is the interwoven elements of communal ecosystems, cultural assets, traditions, and natural resources. That means the majority of your holistic enjoyment is correlated to the vitality and diversity of your local interactions.  

To have more “local interactions,” consider staying in less well-known, smaller cities or villages near more popular destinations. They may offer you a similar experience, but at a lower cost with fewer crowds – and a chance at authenticity.

Principle #6

Connect With Nature

Travel is a continual exercise in cooperation with others, and over time that can lead to a burn out of emotional and cognitive stress. To mitigate this, routinely seek out nature to help restore your physical health, well-being, and cognitive function.

Whether its island hopping, multi-day trekking, or day hikes… normalize nature into your travel objectives. 

Traveling through and/or staying in beautiful landscapes does more than just foster peace – it helps you gather a different perspective of the country. If possible, try to incorporate wildlife viewing (safari, snorkeling, etc.) or conservation efforts into your itinerary. Experiencing nature and wildlife together, can be visceral and captivating.  

There’s nothing quite as beautiful as nature – it’s hard not be awestruck when walking through a snow-filled alpine meadow in the Himalayas or swimming in a marine-rich coral reef of the Maldives. There’s just something that’s primordially invigorating about being in nature – it makes you feel connected to something that’s much grander and infinitely more significant than yourself.   

In the most remote places on earth, people still rely on nature and animals for survival. They’re steadfast on a balance of values that call for reverence, respect, and humility towards their symbiotic relationship with the environment. It’s an ancient tradition that modern societies have lost hold of… make an effort to seek out moments that give you a glimpse of the past and insights on how to better connect with nature’s ecosystem.  

Principle #7

Leave No Trace

As much as we hate to admit it, traveling will always produce waste and leave an impact. Outside of the well-established outdoor ethics, you can still make an effort to be a more sustainable and responsible traveler, no matter where you are. 

Make a concerted effort to:

  1. Patronize businesses that source locally for day-to-day items.
  2. Clean after yourself and dispose of waste properly. 
  3. Invest in quality gear with longevity (long-term durability).
  4. Minimize your use of single-use plastics by investing in a reusable water bottle, a packable tote, a reusable coffee mug, and a titanium spork
  5. Consider using a water purifier such as Grayl or Aquamira
  6. Opt to use USB rechargeable batteries and power banks
  7. Use eco-friendly and biodegradable cleansing products.
  8. Respect the boundaries of wild animals, conservation zones, and fragile land. 
  9. Walk, rent a bike, or use public transport as much as possible – when feasible. 
  10. Leave natural artifacts in their place – respect the ecosystem. 
  11. When possible, stay in eco-friendly lodging or go camping.  

While there’s no such thing as zero-waste travel, you can choose to minimize your impact as much as realistically possible. Be responsible and do your part.

Principle #8

Prepare Your Body

Travel is no excuse to become lackadaisical in regards to your health and performance. Why? Adventure demands a certain level of fitness that requires progressive training.

Maintaining an exercise routine (prior to and during travel) is important – whether it’s resistance training or yoga. Whatever your training method is, consistency is key – just be prepared and disciplined.

For individuals that prefer resistance training, you can bring lightweight and portable gear that enables you to workout in your hotel room – resistance bands, a door anchor, gloves, a hip band, and a speed rope. For individuals that prefer yoga, you can bring an ultralight foam pad that weighs 70 g and compresses well for efficient packing.

Regardless of your training style, foundational elements of your routine should include:

  • Strengthening of your posterior chain & core.
  • Enhancement of your hip & shoulder mobility.
  • Strengthening of your feet, ankles, and calves.
  • Gradual transition to minimal footwear (think VivoBarefoot & Earth Runners).
  • Stretch routines for postural health.
  • HIIT circuits for cardio.

In addition to training, you’ll need to primarily stick to eating whole foods. However, don’t fully restrict yourself to a “diet” while traveling, just do your best to not overeat while still consume healthy foods regularly.

Principle #9

Restore Your Body

The most important element to restoring your body is sleep. According to neuroscientists, your body needs 7-8 hours of sleep per night. While this may not be doable “every night,” strive to get an adequate amount of sleep on “most nights.”

Secondly, optimize your breathing. Quality of breath is often overlooked and underappreciated for the positive impact it can have on your life. When you discipline yourself to breathe solely through your nose with long and deep breaths (think diaphragmatic), you’ll improve blood flow, increase immunity, and reduce inflammation.

Third, start your day (every day) with a morning routine. After waking up, do a breathing exercise such as the Wim Hof Method or another Ujjayi breathing technique. In addition, perform a stretch routine such as the Tibetan Five Rites for increased vitality and strength. Doing this will destress and reinvigorate you for the day – it’ll also bring some sense of normalcy to your travels.

Fourth, incorporate daily hermetic stressors such as cold or heat exposure. This is simple: just go take a cold shower or visit a sauna / onsen. Hermetic stressors are a great way to elicit a sympathetic nervous system response that’ll help you build stress-resistance for travel as well everyday life. 

While some of this stuff may seem “foofy foofoo,” trust us it isn’t. Take the time and do your research – make an informed decision, rather than a gut-based pass. 

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Alan & May

Welcome to North of Known! We’re Alan and May, a married couple who have embraced digital nomadism while calling Bangkok, Thailand, our current home base. Over the past 7 years, our shared passion for exploration and adventure has fueled our journey across the globe. Join us as we continue to embark on our nomadic adventures, sharing our insights, discoveries, and travel tales along the way.

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