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Staff Blog: Zero Waste Travel

One of my favorite pastimes is birding. I took up the hobby shortly after moving to Austin, when I learned about all the migratory birds that pass through Central Texas. In particular, I love to see the colorful warblers that can be found in the spring and fall. I also try to take one international birding trip a year and this year I chose to visit Costa Rica, which is a mecca to birders for its variety of bird species and scenic beauty. The tour that I joined was particularly appealing as one of the target birds was the Resplendent Quetzal—a bird that I have long wanted to see. Stunningly colorful, the male's sport tail streamers can be up to three feet long.

A Resplendent Quetzal seen by Suzanne in Costa Rica
A Resplendent Quetzal seen by Suzanne in Costa Rica

I have traveled to many countries where tourists are advised to avoid drinking the tap water. At the same time, I always feel a little guilty about the plastic bottles of water that I consume and dispose of, especially if recycling is not available. I did some internet research about Costa Rica before I left home, and learned that in most areas of the country, the tap water is potable. So, I brought along a refillable water bottle and planned to drink tap water wherever I felt comfortable doing so. 

When I arrived at my hotel outside San Jose, it had signs posted to reassure guests that the tap water was safe to drink. I admit that I was a bit nervous with my first sip, but since I did not suffer any ill effects, I continued to drink water from the tap and refilled my water bottle to carry throughout the day. As we moved to other parts of the country, I drank the tap water in both restaurants and other hotels.

Before I knew it, I reached my goal and I was glad to have minimized my environmental footprint in such a beautiful country.

After a few days, I realized that I had not used one disposable plastic bottle and made it a goal to see if I could keep it up for the entire week and in the airport on the way home. Before I knew it, I reached my goal and I was glad to have minimized my environmental footprint in such a beautiful country. (And soon everyone who visits Costa Rica will have a similar experience, as they move towards banning single-use plastics by 2021.) I also achieved my goal of seeing a Resplendent Quetzal!  For my future travels, I will continue to limit my use of disposable plastic bottles and will work to implement other environmentally friendly practices. I invite you to join me to challenge yourself to minimize your travel footprint.

Written by KTB Executive Director, Suzanne Kho


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