Digital Nomading and the Environment: Why I’ve decided to make some changes

Digital Nomading and the Environment: Why I’ve decided to make some changes

Today I’m writing about my personal experience and some tough decisions I’ve made over the past few months. These are my personal opinions but I want to share them because they were shaped by my amazing nomad friends and I think they might help you make some decisions in the future, too.

I’ve been a digital nomad for over 4 years now, and travelling for 6 years almost non-stop.

Visiting Chichenitza in Mexico (1)

And I’m incredibly grateful for all the amazing sights I have seen, the unique experiences I’ve had and most importantly the wonderful people I’ve met. I mean, if I hadn’t embarked on this journey, I definitely wouldn’t have started DNG, met some of my best friends ever and started my own business. It’s definitely been a ride.

But lately, I’ve been feeling a little tired and jaded. I’ve noticed that this lifestyle has become my routine and that I don’t really appreciate the day to day adventure as much as I used to. I’ve caught myself arriving in a new city and not really feeling excited about exploring or learning about it.

And that sucks.

Because when I first started out I was living and breathing travel. Ask any of my friends from that time, they can tell you I was a right pain in the a**. I wouldn’t shut up about all the places I wanted to see, what I was reading and learning.

And while I might have been a little, let’s say overexcited, I was absolutely loving it and appreciating it fully.

So, my boyfriend and I have sat down and talked. We’ve decided we want a change of pace, to ideally find a homebase, slow down and travel less. I still want to travel a few months of the year, but I really want to have a place to come back home to. And for travel to be special again.

Another big motivation behind this decision is the looming climate crisis and the very limited time we have to combat it if we want to save this planet. I know it sounds a bit panicky, and maybe even hypocritical, after all, I’ve been travelling (and mainly flying) for 6 years now.

That’s a big carbon debt.

But before I became a nomad and founded DNG, I was a volunteer campaigner for Greenpeace and I’ve always been passionate about these issues. I just lost my activism along the way, while travelling, learning and building a business.

In fact, volunteering with Greenpeace is one of the things I missed the most since leaving London in 2013. Being part of such an inspiring community not only gave me hope, but it was also a lot of fun. And one of the things that taught me the power of community.

digital nomad greenpeace climate crisis jennifer lachs

Having fun with our Polar Bear supporter on the Save the Arctic campaign in 2012.

I’ve been following environmental news more and more over the past 6 months or so – very much inspired by a new DNG friend of mine and DNG Inner Circle member Sophia Cheng who has been running monthly Eco Talk events in the Inner Circle.

Suddenly I’m finding myself in the middle of this conversation again, and I realised I’d been avoiding asking some tough questions for the past few years.

Questions like:

  • How can I justify flying from Colombia to Thailand, as we did last year?
  • What aspect of my lifestyle has the biggest impact on my carbon footprint?
  • How can I live this lifestyle long-term without adding a massive carbon debt?
  • And what matters most to me about the digital nomad lifestyle?

Simple questions, right?

But I am finally ready to address them and to learn more, make some changes and also share them with you all. Because another thing I’ve noticed over the past months is that a lot of members in our community are asking similar questions.

Most digital nomads I know are quite introspective and want to know the impact their lifestyle has on local cultures and the environment. But sadly there’s hardly any information out there, so over the next months, I want to invite different members of our community to share their experiences of travelling sustainably and ethically.

girl environment mountain climate earth

In no way do I want to make anyone feel guilty. This is not about shaming or guilt-tripping people, it’s about learning from each other about what matters to us, what changes we can personally make and how we can have a positive impact.

So today I want to share with you a few things I’ve decided I want to change (again very much inspired by my friend Sophia who wrote a blog post about her commitments here, it’s a great read).

I want to also say that I am fully aware that at this stage in the climate crisis individual action is simply not enough. Even if we all used our consumer powers, we still need policies to change and the fundamental systems of our economy to be overhauled.

However, I do think we all have our part to play and I want to know I am doing what I personally can to make a difference and inspire others to make a difference too.

Plus, in a carbon neutral future (fingers crossed) we will all need to make sacrifices to our lifestyles, so why not start now and get used to it.

Here we go:

1. I am committing to 1 year of no flying

Yep, let’s jump right in with the biggest one. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have visited 6 out of 7 continents, and in order to do that I had to fly. I’ve flown a lot over the past years, not every few weeks, but definitely every few months. And often medium or long-haul which have giant carbon footprints.

I recently calculated my own carbon footprint from the previous 12 months and by far the biggest chunk of carbon was down to flying, about 75%. That is massive and means I can dramatically cut down on my personal footprint.

I’ve been considering this for a while and I’ve decided to give it a go. It doesn’t mean I can’t be a nomad anymore, it just means I’ll be staying in Europe for the next year and take trains and coaches. I actually love train travel, so I’m seeing it more as an adventure rather than a sacrifice.

digital nomad environment train travel jennifer lachs

Here I am in December 2014 on our epic train journey aboard the mighty Ghan in Australia. I love trains!

It’ll force me to think outside the box and explore new places closer to home which I’m excited about.

(I’m adding one caveat: In case I win a free trip to Disney World in Florida, I’ll make an exception 😉

Teacups in Disneyland (1)

2. I am saying no to fast fashion for 12 months

The fashion industry is hugely polluting. Did you know that every year we produce up to 100 billion pieces of clothing globally? That is pure insanity.

And worst of all, it’s predicted to grow by 81% by 2030. According to the UN, the fashion industry “contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.”

And it’s also completely unnecessary to produce and buy this many clothes. In the UK alone, we dispose of over 350,000 tonnes of clothes a year. For what? So we can wear the latest shade of aqua which will be out again in a week? It’s insane.

I also have a personal history with fashion as I used to be quite the shopaholic. Not more than most people, but when I lived in London you could find me in H&M or Topshop every payday and I often went to the mall after the lab to roam the aisles aimlessly looking for something or other. After a few years, I realised I was wasting hours in malls, trying to buy happiness.

Buying clothing in Disneyland (1)

It was pretty sad. And it didn’t work.

As a traveller and nomad, I have way fewer clothes of course. I downsized massively, donated around 70% of my clothes to charity before I left the UK and despite not being exactly carry on only I don’t have tonnes of clothes with me. But I still feel like I have those materialistic/shopaholic tendencies. Especially when I’m feeling sad or a bit depressed. I catch myself buying new clothes I don’t really need.

So I have decided to join Extinction Rebellion’s #XR52 challenge to say no to fast fashion for a whole year. gulp

I think this could be really hard for me, especially as this will also be the first year since 2012 that I’ll be experiencing a proper winter. Thankfully I still have all the basics and the UK has amazing charity shops.

So as with the no flying, I’m trying to see this more as an adventure than a hardship and I’m excited what I’ll learn about being more frugal, practical and most importantly, how to fix holes in my socks. Because somehow they all have holes now.

I do love nice clothes, fun accessories and colours, so I think this challenge might make me more creative.

3. I will shift my diet to mainly plant-based

And last but not least, I’m going vegan. Nah, sorry not completely quite yet. But I do want to shift my diet to be much more plant based, so vegan and vegetarian, but I am also allowing some leeway to eat some meat, seafood and fish.

I love vegetarian food and also vegan food, but I also love cheese, eggs and occasionally meat. And I want to make this as achievable for myself as possible, so I am cutting down, but not going cold turkey.

A few months ago, a planetary healthy diet was published by scientists that created guidelines to help the global population eat a healthy diet within our planetary boundaries. One of the biggest problems is of course the way we farm and livestock.

I’ve created my own version of this diet and will slowly increase my vegan meals per month and decrease my cheese, meat and seafood consumption. I actually already eat a lot of vegetarian meals, but I just want to be more aware and actively plan my meals to avoid falling back to fast food, and cheap meat.

So I came up with a diet that I’ll call 60/20/10. Based on 3 meals per day over 30 days, that’s 90 meals. I want 60 of them to be vegan, 20 to be vegetarian and 10 can have meat seafood or fish. I will ease myself into this diet gradually though, in order to make sure I actually stick to it.

vegan plant based environment

In addition I want to continue buying as much local food as possible, avoid beef and try to eat less fast food and processed food. And I’ll also continue to try to avoid plastic as much as I can.

I’m not gonna lie, this will be quite a shift, I am known to eat a cheeky McDonald’s cheeseburger or BigMac once a month at least.

But I am also looking forward to trying out new recipes, cutting down my footprint and eating healthily.

4. I will become active again

We know that we have only about 11 years to turn this thing around if we want to save the planet from catastrophic runaway climate change. It’s terrifying to think about it and learn about it, but once you know it, you can’t unknow it.

And that’s the point where I am at now. I’ve been feeling increasingly depressed about our situation, something that is being called Eco grief now.

It’s too easy to fall into a big downward spiral of despair, and sometimes that’s exactly what I want to do. But ultimately I’m an optimistic person and as long as there’s still hope, I want to at least go down fighting.

If my potential future kids or grandkids ask me where I was when shit was going down, I want to be able to say that I tried. That I fought for their – our – future. That I tried everything I personally could to make change happen.

Right now the most effective movement is Extinction Rebellion (XR) and I plan to join them this summer. If you don’t know them yet:

“Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimise the risk of social collapse.”

Despite being less than a year old, they’ve already stirred up quite a ruckus in the UK and globally. I agree with their main values and core mission and I will try to support them as much as I can. Whether that means I’ll glue myself to a bridge, I am not sure yet, but I will get active again as I used to be when I lived in London.

I will also join Greenpeace actively again once I am settled in the UK. I’ve been a supporter since I was 18 and I want to be surrounded by people who are passionate about the same issues as me.

That’s why I started DNG and I know that community is the only thing that can have a big impact now.

digital nomad environment extinction rebellion jennifer lachs

This was earlier this week when I joined my first XR protest here in Munich. The sign says bye-bye coal in Bavarian 😉

So there you go, 4 big decisions and changes I will make in the coming months. I’m terrified, I’m excited. And everything in between. But at least I feel active.

I’ve been thinking about putting this out for months but have been overthinking it massively.

There’s so much I want to share about this topic because I feel like I have a responsibility towards this planet that I love exploring so much.

We all do. The nomadic lifestyle doesn’t have to be in contradiction to that, if we are willing to make some changes, and take personal responsibility as much as we can.

Will I slip up? For sure. But at least I am trying. And what the world needs right now is not a few people doing things perfectly, but millions of people doing things imperfectly.

I’ll be writing more about how environmental and systemic issues tied in with the digital nomad lifestyle over the next months and I would absolutely love to hear your ideas about these topics too. Share them in the comments and let me know what commitments you’d like to make.

digital nomad environment climate crisis jennifer lachs pin

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