I like to think of myself as fairly environmentally conscious. I recycle religiously, rarely drive and try to buy local where I can, among other things. And while I love so much about traveling, one thing that does bother me is the negative impact it can have on the environment. From the airplane emissions to gallons of water used to keep my hotel clean, it can make me wonder what kind of mark I may leave on the latest destination.
So I decided to look into ecotourism, which has been a bit of a travel buzzword for several years now, but a topic I honestly don’t know much about.
According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), it is ”responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” That’s a pretty broad definition!
Ecotourism is often used to describe different tours or resort experiences available to travelers. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but typically include nature-oriented destinations, often in more remote and less industrialized parts of the world. Common themes for these types of vacations include sustainability, cultural sensitivity and the ever-present “green.”
Many different organizations offer information on ecotourism experiences, including TIES, Sustainable Travel International, The Sierra Club, or Seacology. But based on the definition, I think you could easily incorporate some ecotourism into your travels without having to book an ecotourism-specific vacation.
So, how can I get some of this ecotourism good karma into my next trip?
Do some research. The above websites can provide good resources about various environmental or related issues pertinent to your destination. Check out LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified hotels and restaurants in the area. The easiest way I’ve found is by simply searching “LEED restaurant/hotel in ________.” Also look into environmentally friendly transportation options available during your trip, and if you can incorporate locally owned establishments into your adventures.
If you’re interested in figuring out what your carbon footprint would be for a trip (the amount of carbon dioxide you are emitting in the air through flying, driving, hotel stays, electricity use, etc.), Sustainable Travel International has a “carbon calculator” you can use for some damage control.
Respect. Ask before taking pictures of locals or their property. After you figure out if it’s cool to take pictures, snap away instead of taking some wildlife or archaeological souvenirs with you. Be aware of endangered species in the area and avoid taking or buying any products made with them. When hiking or outdoors in general, stay on marked trails and follow local regulations. The general mindset of “leave it as you found it” seems to apply here.
Get involved with the locals. This can be done in numerous ways- shopping at local stores, eating at non-chain restaurants, learning a bit of the local language and customs (and then using it!), going to local festivals or concerts, or hiring a local guide to show you around.
Consider ways to give back. Investigate local charities that could benefit from financial support to ensure people will be able to travel there for years to come. Or consider volunteering your time to help the local population in some way while you enjoy your vacation.
Share!!! Spread the word about your travels, especially trips to less well-known destinations. Encouraging others to visit and incorporate the ecotourism philosophy can help boost local economies and conservation efforts around the world.
Have you ever taken an ecotourism-type vacation?
Share your stories and tips for earth-friendly travels here!
This post was written by Alisa Jordan. Contact Alisa at firstname.lastname@example.org
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