Girls Can Leave Responsible Footprints

Nicole Joseph-Chin
Posted May 10, 2019
Dr. Jeri - The Founder of Global Girls Global Women

It was a bright Saturday in Washington DC and I was invited to have an intimate conversation with girls of the Global Girls Global Women Hummingbird Project, led by Dr. Jeri Dyson - a dynamic woman, medical doctor, face of the Walgreens Battle Beautifully Campaign, my soul sister, a super faithful friend and most of all a woman whose passion for inspiring young women is truly admirable. She calls me her Mentor - I call her my SHEro!

With such an exciting headline of “The Influence of Global Travel on Women of Color" mine was probably not the most conventional way to start the conversation.

Passport ownership was actually such a luxury for so many girls and it was important to let these young women know what the true value of a passport was, way beyond the access of borders. It was important to let them know that some women’s passports were stained by the pain of asylum, refugee status and in some instances human trafficking. 

This eye opening conversation was to engage their thoughts and change the notions about travel as a luxury. It was now the time to associate travel not only for the value of the experience and cultural sharing, but to instill how respecting the many lands and soils of other cultures was critically important no matter how much we had already known from our geography and history classes.

Their eyes were lit and and I wasn’t going to fumble on the opportunity, by falsifying the imperfections of a ‘perfect’ travel experience as a woman. It was also not my intention to convince them that travel was only for exchanging cultural and culinary experiences, but in a nutshell it was to invite a sense of responsibility within the discourse around travel and especially travel for impact and change. The subject header was about to endure some radical transformation and the travel gods would allow my absurdity to reign as I committed to transforming lives in my own uncanny little way. Of course asking forgiveness from my host Dr. Jeri - who by her commitment to developing and shaping global citizens, was completely understanding of my passion to share the real experience of travel through a completely different set of lenses. 

As a passport holder, one has a sense of wonder but beyond that sense of wonder - one has such a massive  responsibility to the journey and the many stops along the way.

How else could I leave an impression on such an important group of emerging leaders if I painted the glamorous sides of travel without speaking of the truths of the dangers of traversing one’s territories without leaving a responsible footprint.

In these days of global warming, climate change, cyclones, melting icebergs and the many volcanic eruptions, who really wants to go anywhere?  After all, some can suppose that the further ventured from home the least sense of comfort can be derived.  

Here I was, being expected to give a fancy account of my travels and myriad of global experiences - instead I was constructing a lecture on how to embrace the lands of others and how to cope with the environment in the process. Why was this so urgent for me? Because I had the duty as a global citizen, to remind young women that it was important to understand our footprint’s impact in the bigger scheme of finding new frontiers. 

In fact, it was more than a responsibility, it was a necessity and so I was able to share with them that I had the occasion of running a bath until it got warm, but instead, jumped in head first into the cold shower - to save water. In a world of scarce water resources, I was doing my tiny part to consciously respond to an urgent global need.

I have also adopted an approach avoiding the purchase of drinking water, and have instead now resorted to carrying a personal water filtration system - which can filter any fresh water; rendering it safe to drink for up to 100,000 gallons of water on my travels - a habit that I got into after becoming ultra conscious about the damage that single use plastic bottles had made - I myself having validly contributed historically and very unconsciously. 

I was also no longer prepared to travel as a tourist and make the mistakes that could be avoided. Instead, my role as a global citizen was to accumulate less, save more, store less, travel lighter and take my waste with me to reuse, repurpose and recycle in some tangible way. 

 Through these lenses this was not the traditional way to begin to inspire impressionable emerging leaders who were excited to learn about my global travel as a Woman Leader working in Social Impact - but hopefully their expectations were fulfilled, as I was now encouraging them to see the world but keep it as pristine as possible and leave less of a footprint of disharmony.

I could see their keen interest as we discussed socially responsible global travel - the way air travel adds to emissions and pollutions and how much one flight could harm our ecology. How much a one night hotel stay contributed to pollution and waste and how many wash cycles it took to launder the daily change of linens from one hotel room - the multiplier effect of full occupancy and most of all the effect on energy use of washing dishes. 

It was also remarkable to discuss my relationship with ground transportation - once I got into a country; walking as much as possible, catching share rides, using scooters on some occasions - all in my personal quest to promote less wear and tear on the environment as a passer by. Now please don’t think that I got there overnight and with ease. After all, I drive myself in my own country and am quite used to having reliable transportation for most of the activities that I have to do. But what would be the chances of taking shared public transportation and making new friends? it’s quite a great experience to meet folks from diverse cultures whilst sharing rides - for example, the UBER drive in DC who shared not one, but two quotes from his father Cooper Dodd during my shared ride - quote #1 “belief is what a person thinks perhaps is true, whilst faith is lost in fruition and fruition is truth itself” and quote #2 “It will be best to pray not knowing that there was a God, than not to pray and find out later that there is”

Not only were his stories filled with proud moments of a strong family ethic, but it also allowed new thoughts to swoon in my head for a moment - what if and what if not......why if I had not shared a ride and gone on my merry way only to consume lots of fuel on a singe ride in the same direction as some of the follow passengers and still not have any provoking thoughts for the day. 

So what will I tell a room full of young and impressionable Global Girls who will become Global Women and have a chance to leave responsible footprints? 

I’d say leave all the extra load behind - most of my luggage load includes traditional candy or condiments that are gifts for my hosts or friends. Travel with one reliable pair of walking shoes, one pair of dress shoes, a formal dress, two pairs of slacks/trousers, a few coloured tee shirts, one jacket/blazer, a few fashion accessories (recycled materials are better) and scarves, pack your reusable hot/cold cup or water bottle, pack a reliable supply of underwear and socks, fill up your refillable lotion bottle, a block of soap, a sarong that can be doubly used as a bath towel and hung to dry after each use, a pillow case, minimum toiletries, your prescribed medication and any over the counter meds you usually use, a miniature key ring flashlight, a supply of thank you cards (recycled paper please), a small bottle of home made insect repellent (olive oil or coconut oil based and essential oils of rosemary, geranium and lavender) and of course the smallest and lightest travel blanket that you own, which can be rolled up as a pillow or a foot rest from the tired and swollen traveling feet!

Whilst my travel photos somehow look super exciting and glamorous, I can tell many stories of courage and of learning to adapt and blend. I can also tell of how my social engagement in communities changed my perspectives of how I treat the planet and most of all, how some of the experiences brought out the girl-guide in me. Not out of fancy but out of necessity and not wanting to have it any other ways. In india, I only got ice in my drink once in almost a month - in sweltering heat of Hyderabad in March/April. In Cuba I discovered the take-out food did not necessarily mean take out cutlery and had to buy and eat two extremely sweet popsicles to make my own pair of chopsticks. In Swaziland, whilst camping in the sugarcane fields during winter, I had to sleep in a crouching posture and double layers of clothing inside of my very humble and basic tent in order to keep warm. Mornings were extremely lovely and the entire experience will be repeated no matter how cold it felt. 

I reflect and unpack from any travels, its always a matter of putting the same practices into the daily actions that I do in my home and paying attention to how we consume whether we are at home or abroad - understanding that we are in fact contributing to the waste and we should be mindful of the footprints we leave in our quest to see the world. 

Thank you Dr. Jeri for inviting me to be part of your community and for meeting your mother and the girls that you are making such an important impact on.  

This story was submitted in response to Supporting Our Girls.

Comments 16

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Dawn Arteaga
May 10
May 10

What beautiful reflections on your travels - Cuba is high on my wish list, what a fun adventure making chopsticks out of popsicles! I also love your reflections on the privilege of a passport and the need for great humanity worldwide. Big hugs to you!!

Nicole Joseph-Chin
May 11
May 11

Thank you Dawn! We have to travel more responsibly if we wish to truly make impact. My chopsticks meant having “dessert” first - the sweetest way to enjoy a meal!
You must visit Cuba - I will be happy to share some tips with you and some really cool contacts.
Thank you!

May 13
May 13
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Jill Langhus
May 11
May 11

Wow, Nicole! I'm in awe of how responsible and aware you are of the planet's needs and taking so much personal responsibility on yourself to be careful of your footprint. I thought I was doing well, but you gave me some more ideas, especially about the travel mug. I know cruises are super harmful to the environment, and that's why I won't take one, no matter how enticing they sound. I rarely hear anything about how harmful they are, though. Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring story, for inspiring and educating those future leaders, and for being part of the change.

Hope you're doing well and having a great weekend!

Nicole Joseph-Chin
May 11
May 11

Thank you Jill, it is really a work in progress. Each time I travel there is something else to learn and to put into practice - so I am always doing an evaluation of my surroundings to see what I am not doing totally right. Small steps. Thank you!!!

Jill Langhus
May 11
May 11

You're welcome:-) That's a good way at approaching it, though. I don't think the majority of people give it much thought.

Nicole Joseph-Chin
May 11
May 11

And like you, I have never been on a cruise and have no interest - it just appears to be so wasteful. But that is of course a very personal opinion.

Jill Langhus
May 11
May 11

Yes on food waste, and other waste for that matter. And, the amount of trash they put in the ocean and the fuel into the precious waters:-( Unless it's improved?!

Nicole Joseph-Chin
May 11
May 11

Yes the waste is on so many levels. Sadly it's a massive industry and it's not leaving anytime soon.

Jill Langhus
May 12
May 12

Hmm:-(

Sis. Salifu
May 12
May 12

This is so clean, we as passport holders must figuratively keep it away from staining. Also teach the new holders to make sure theirs is not stain. Thanks for sharing your story

Nicole Joseph-Chin
May 13
May 13

Thank you for your kind words. We have lots of responsibility as passport holders.

Kay Link
May 14
May 14

Nicole, I always love reading your wisdom! It is so important that shared the complex truth with your audience and even more so that you brought your environmentally conscious methods of travel into your message as well. So often passport status is taken for granted by those who have privileged papers. It is time for many cultures, especially in my country, to take a deeper look at how travel is seen. Global citizens must be aware of the social, cultural, political, and environmental elements of their voyage!

Nicole Joseph-Chin
May 16
May 16

Thank you Kay. It took me a while to acknowledge how much of a responsibility I had as part of my benefit as a candidate for travel and visa access. It dawned on me that I had to use it wisely or the entire world's environment could pay the price. Collectively if we adapt our behaviors, there's a chance of restoring some quality of life. Every little counts. Thank you!

Christine Francois
May 18
May 18

Wow Nicole, Thank you for inspiring me to make some critical changes in the way I perceive my privilege to hold a passport and ...and it is a privilege.
Onward to the changes I will continue to make to leave a smaller footprint as I make my way across the globe. For years I have managed to "travel light" but you have given me great tips that I will implement.
Thank you for inviting me into this space of thought and action leaders !

Chriss

Karyn
May 23
May 23

WOW!!! In all the travelling I do and plan to do, I have NEVER thought of any of these factors or given a second thought to how I impact on the destination. You have given me so much food for thought here....I may need a relaxing trip to a cool, tropical island to mull over the possibilities and how I can adjust in the future. Thank you.

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