Eco Friendly Dental Care Alternatives

five bamboo toothbrushes lined up next to each other on a wooden surface

Plastic toothbrushes alone create 50 million pounds of trash in the U.S. every year, all of the other products in your medicine cabinet only contribute to this amount of waste. Try replacing the items you use with the following eco-friendly dental care options!

Bamboo Toothbrush

Bamboo is one of the most sustainable crops and is completely biodegradable. There are a few different versions of bamboo toothbrushes to choose from. Those with nylon bristles are the best vegan option, some are even blended with charcoal. The bristles in these can be removed and recycled, and the bamboo handle can be composted.

Other brushes are made with boar hair bristles and are fully compostable. If using a vegan product is important to you, pay attention to the product you’re buying. Also, please make sure that the product you buy comes in compostable packaging.

Silk Floss

I find that silk floss is the best option when it comes to sustainability. Keep in mind that this isn’t a vegan choice because the process involves boiling silkworm pupae. Some brands make vegan PLA floss, but unfortunately it is not easily biodegradable. Whatever option is best for you, just look for a one that comes in a reusable (preferably glass) container with refills available.

Toothpaste

Tooth tablets are becoming a popular substitute due to plastic-free packaging, order a refill from any brand and store them in your own container. Some companies still use plastic bottles, so be aware of the packaging when buying these products. If you’re like me and still prefer a classic toothpaste, Nelson’s Naturals provides a clean option that is packaged in a reusable glass jar, I also like that I can get refills of this product at my local zero waste shop. Keep in mind that some zero/low waste toothpaste brands don’t include fluoride in their products, this is a necessary ingredient recommended by dentists to protect against cavities and strengthen enamel.

Mouthwash

There are many natural solutions that can be made at home with baking soda, herbs, essential oils, and more. Search the web for a combination you like. Be careful of just throwing any products together as some mixtures could be toxic and dangerous. My safe alternative is to simply boil 1 tbsp of cloves in 1 1/2 cups of water, strain and allow to cool, this solution lasts for a week. Cloves have been used as a breath freshener for centuries and has antimicrobial and medicinal properties, which makes for a powerful mouthwash.

Mouthwash tabs are another alternative. Like tooth tabs, they come in glass or biodegradable paper packaging and are easy to travel with. These work by letting one tablet dissolve in a small amount of water.

All of these eco friendly dental care items can be found at an affordable price on Etsy, Amazon or Package Free Shop.

2 Days in the Medieval Town of Bruges

Straight out of a fairytale, this medieval village in the Northern region of Belgium is full of magic and beauty. The lovely canals weaving through the city give it the title “The Venice of Belgium”. Filled with museums and history, there’s always something to do. Typically crowded with more visitors than locals during summer months, I was glad to explore this town in the off season to truly enjoy it’s charm.

Each day I got up early to wander and take beautiful photos of empty streets and cute buildings before the shops and restaurants opened. It’s easy to spend all day admiring the medieval architecture and pausing at every water way. The historic center itself is listed as a UNESCO site if you still need a reason to visit.

What To Do

Beer

Anyone who enjoys a nice pint can’t miss a tasting in Belgium.  Even those that aren’t fans of beer might enjoy a red ale (similar to mead), which is only produced at a select number of Belgian breweries.  Tastings are offered all over town, and with such a rich history in beer, it’s worth taking a tour at one of the three breweries left in the city.

Halve Maan Brewery€12 -includes free pint

Tours are offered every hour from 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. daily and last approximately 45 minutes, finishing with a Blonde Ale or soft drink in their restaurant.  The guide gave us a very detailed history into the history of Bruges beer, and walked us through the malting, brewing, and fermenting process.  Halfway through the tour we were taken to the roof of the building to get a beautiful view of the city as well as the equipment.  If a tour isn’t for you, you can check the link below for the restaurant’s hours. **Keep in mind that this tour involves a lot walking up and down steep stairs.

The Beer Experience€10 tour/€16 tour with tasting

Technically not a brewery, this is still a really fun and interactive visit!  Take a self-guided tour with a tablet to learn about the history of beer and the brewing process.  Scan QR codes throughout the museum for videos and quiz questions.  They have a lot of cool information available, even a small exhibition on beer goddesses and women’s history in brewing.  The tasting at the end includes 3 beers, I really enjoyed the red ales, but they have a large menu of stouts, amber ales, etc.  It’s cool that you can also get your photo on a beer bottle in the gift shop.

Food Museums

Yes, I said Food Museums!  Since my diet consisted almost solely of fries and chocolate during my visit (both culinary staples of Belgium), the foodie in me just had to share that goodness with the world.

*Get a combination to ticket to both museums for €14.50.

Freitmuseum–  It’s much more interesting than the name let’s on.  The exhibitions take you through the history of potato cultivation & growth, different varieties from around the world, and historical events such as the potato famine in Ireland.  As you go through, you will also discover how fries came about and how cooking methods have evolved. The museum is also filled with tons of fry art and memorabilia that kids will enjoy. A coupon for the fry shop is included with entry, so stop by and get a snack on your way out.

Choco Story– There are actually many locations worldwide, I’ve even visited the one in Antigua, Guatemala. Similar to the concept of the fry museum, the chocolate museum shares a lot of history on the origin of cacao and the significance it had to the Aztecs and the role it played through the centuries. However, the best part is that there are multiple free chocolate dispensers where you can eat as much as you want. Make sure you show up hungry, my friends.

Other sites and information

Museum Pass€28(ages 26+)/€22 (ages 18-25) This can be used at all of the city run exhibits in Bruges, but does not cover entrance to private museums, so take a minute to plan ahead of time and see if it is worth it for you. Click here for to see what museums are included and other combination deals.

Die Markt– Popular square in the middle of the city, surrounded by beautiful architecture and famous sites. *Backpacker tip* Avoid food stands in this area if you’re on a budget.

Torture Museum€8 Not just for the enjoyment of sadists and masochists, take a look inside for bizarre devices and get a cringy history lesson.

Salvador Dali Gallery€10 A wonderful collection of the surreal world of Dali. If your pockets are deep enough, you can actually bid on the pieces on exhibit.

Groeninge Museum12 A small collection of Flemish art from the 18th and 19th century, including pieces from Van Eyck, Bosch, and Magritte.

Minnewater lake and Castle– Also known as the “Lake of Love”. Take a walk through the park, and make sure to see the swans at Begijnhof while in the area.

It’s the little villages that make me fall deeper in love with Europe, quaint cities like Bruges have a charm that pull you in like a warm embrace (even in the middle of winter). The cozy shops, small streets, and friendly people can’t help but make you feel at home.

Guatemala Travel Guide

Guatemala is a magical country full of beauty, adventure, and peace for those who are looking. Learn about the history of colonial Antigua, take in the culture and picturesque views of Lake Atitlan, or laze away on the black sand beaches of El Paredon and Monterrico. Whatever your interests are, this country is a paradise for yogis, hikers, surfers, and anyone looking to get away.

Transportation

There are various ways of getting around, though the easiest way to travel through the country is by shuttle. Chicken buses are the cheapest option, but do run some risks in terms of safety and the possible loss of luggage. Shared Shuttles from Guatemala City Airport (GUA) to Antigua or Panajachel can be booked ahead of time online or you can try to get a seat on one at the airport if arriving early enough. Check out GuateGo for options.

If your flight is arriving at night the best option is to get a taxi to Antigua for around $25 and stay the night, it’s not recommended to stay in Guatemala City, especially when traveling solo. Shuttles can also be booked through hotels/hostels or local tour company offices once you’re in the country.

Antigua

Santa Catalina Arch

One could easily spend all day walking through the cobblestone streets of this UNESCO site, with the right footwear of course. My white chucks looked cute but betrayed my feet by the end of the day, so learn from my mistake. I only had a day in Antigua before going to the lake, so I made it a day of leisure.

My first stop was to see Volcan de Agua through the Santa Catalina Arch before walking to Plaza Mayor to see the Cathedral and Palace. I made sure to see some of the important sites such as the Santa Clara Convent or San José el Viejo. I enjoyed popping into some of the artesanal markets along the way to see local art and goods, and do a little shopping because I can’t help myself.

There are so many ways to make the most of 24 hours in this city and this is a great place to start your trip. If you’re not a planner, there are many tours and excursions that can be booked here.

What to Do

Chocolate Museum- I shouldn’t have to convince you why you should stop in to get some samples, take a workshop, or bring home some sweet souvenirs. The best thing is that entry is free, though there is a fee for workshops which can be booked in store or online.

Centro Iberoamericana- Also known as El Centro de Formación de la Cooperación Española or CFCE, this institution showcases ancient artifacts, history, and modern Guatemalan artists. I highly recommend spending an hour here to learn about the wonders of this country and to take dive into it’s rich art scene and culture.

Santo Domingo Monastery- Dating back to 1538, the convent was eventually destroyed by an earthquake in the late 1700’s, but the ruins can still be viewed today. A portion of the grounds are free to walk around, and the museums charge an entrance fee. Even if you don’t pay, come to enjoy the garden and scenery. The property has also been converted into a lovely hotel and spa for anyone interested in accommodation.

Take a Spanish Lesson- Antigua is a popular place to learn the language, you’ll find many travelers staying in the city for a week or longer to attend Spanish schools. There are plenty of programs to choose from, but Maximo Nivel seems to have some of the cheapest options. Do some research to find the right one for you.

Where I stayed- Maya Papaya Hostel They offer free breakfast in a lovely courtyard plus free use of the kitchen and plenty of space to relax.

Lake Atitlan

Getting around the Lake

The boats, also referred to as lanchas, are the mode of transport between villages. Rides between villages should cost between 10Q-15Q, make sure to settle a price before disembarkation. The Captains in the white and orange polos will have a consistent price, but charge more for tourists so I don’t recommend going with their boats. The non union boats are just as safe and will charge a fairer price.

Where to Practice Yoga

The Yoga Forest- theyogaforest.org Located at the top of the Valley above San Marcos, it houses some of the best views of the lake. There are different options for personal retreats that can be booked directly through their website, keep in mind that there is a three night minimum. Daily meals, yoga/meditation classes, and some ceremonies are included with all stays. They also have spa services for an extra fee. Drop ins for a class or meal are also welcome.

Mystical Yoga Farm- mysticalyogafarm.com This center has it’s own boat dock, which is closest to the village of Santiago. You can get here by taking a lancha from Santiago or Panajachel. Yoga classes, meals, and use of kayak and SUP boards are all included with the stay. They have a volunteer/work exchange program covering multiple areas that you can apply for through their website, the only requirement is a minimum commitment of one month.

Selina Hostel- selina.com Classes are offered every morning at their waterfront bar in Panajachel, their man made beach serves for yet another amazing view of the lake. Sign up at the front desk the day before or the morning of right before class starts. This is a chain hostel, so they have multiple locations worldwide offering similar classes. Anyone can drop in for a class, but if you’re looking for a deeper experience consider one of the yoga resorts mentioned above.

Hiking

San Marco Nature Reserve, Cerro Tzankujil- This is a very easy hike, only taking about an hour in total, though this area is more popular for swimming. After paying the small entrance fee, there is a trail that hugs the water and eventually leads to the trampoline, a dock with an 8 meter jump into the water. Admittedly, I attempted this with a big group of people cheering me on chickened out at the last minute. If you’re scared of heights, just keep walking, there is a walkway that leads down to the lake for those who don’t want to jump.

View from top of Cerro Tzankujil hike -San Marco

Volcan San Pedro- Having an elevation of almost 4,000 feet, the trail is roughly 4 miles and is a rewarding all day activity. Many claim this is one of the best views of the lake when the weather is clear, so be sure to start early as it becomes foggy later in the day. Entry to the trail includes a guide which is recommended to deter any pesky bandits, they are known to scam tourists who choose to do the hike on their own. This isn’t meant to scare anyone, just to inform of the risks and necessary safety precautions.

Other Activities

Shopping- Panajachel will more than likely be the first town you arrive to on the lake and is the place to get all your souvenirs. Walk down Calle Santander to find jewelry, clothing, and other locally made goods. When you’re done shopping, stop at one of the restaurants nearby for pupusas or some refreshments.

Water Sports- For those who are interested in more than enjoying the view of the lake, there is the option to rent kayaks, SUP boards or even visit ADI Divers to explore the depths of the lake. If you just want a nice swim, ask locals or your hotel about a place to get in away from the boat docks.