With eco tourism on the rise, you might be asking yourself how you can travel more responsibly, thereby leaving less of a footprint behind in your wake of adventure. What is ecotourism, you might be asking? It’s tourism that’s specifically directed towards exotic and often threatened natural environments, intending to support conservation efforts and bear witness to wildlife. Sustainable travel is achievable, and you can be a responsible adventurer by using just a few of these tips.
Research Where to Go
Researching sustainable and responsible travel could be on your list of research topics as you plan your next trip. There are several organizations dedicated to helping travelers make the most of their trips without leaving behind ecological damage – one includes Sustainable Travel International. You can also look at The International Ecotourism Society, which has several articles dedicated to why ecotourism matters and how it’s impactful on the planet in positive ways.
Recommendations for engaging in responsible and sustainable travel can include getting away from standard tourist cities, destinations, and “traps” as they’re called. This means not engaging in more common visit itineraries, like staying away from Taj Mahal if you’re visiting Agra, India. While this is a popular destination, the popularity factor makes it a crowded and often chaotic experience to visit. Looking for something smaller and more local – like a state preserve if you’re in the U.S. rather than just a national park – can help support the local economy and help you stay away from crowded hotspots.
You can also travel a bit more sustainably by avoiding major traveling seasons, opting for one longer vacation rather than smaller ones throughout the year. Saving up your vacation days for an epic three-week vacation versus taking small three-day weekends may not seem helpful, but traveling during winter or fall months instead of spring and summer can go a long way to reducing the stress of your travel on the planet. Focus on supporting local businesses during your trip, and look for eco-friendly options where you can. Maybe walk instead of taking a car around town, or rent a local bike or scooter if you’re traveling in a larger city and want to take in the sights.
There are thousands upon thousands of “Top 10” or “Top 5” lists on the internet for your perusal – perhaps stay away from them, and look for something better recommended by the locals. Keeping away from popular sites can often help local communities get more recognition. Finding a good spot to eat, sleep, and play is never a bad thing, it just might require a bit more digging.
Contribute to Local Conservation
It may seem silly to consider, but bringing a trash bag along with you when you visit a river, lake, or beach can hugely contribute to responsible travel. Beaches, rivers, and other waterfront destinations are often littered with trash, so taking along a bag with you to collect trash and recyclables can be a great way to pass the time, take in the sights, and save the planet just a little bit more. Reducing your own single-use plastic usage can also contribute significantly to eco-friendly tourism, like bringing along your own water bottles, Tupperware containers, and other storage vessels for things you may want to bring home. Ensure you’re properly disposing of trash and making the difference by recycling what you can.
Support Local Economies
We touched on this briefly already, but it’s critical that you keep your money local. If you’re visiting a smaller town, this is especially critical. Look for the best foodie stops where you’re going, and try to find smaller “mom and pop” or family-owned entrepreneurial businesses rather than stopping for your favorite fast food order. Keeping your money local can help support the local economy and promote visitors to do the same as they watch you engage with the community you’re visiting in a way that supports them.
Looking for local souvenir shops that sell handmade items is a great way to get a unique, one-of-a-kind memory object as you travel. Especially if you’re crossing state or country lines, there is a wild variety of art, knickknacks, and other souvenirs you can bring home with you and put on a shelf, forever commemorating your eco-friendly trip.
Attending community-led events to engage with locals and participate in nightlife if you’re interested is also a great way to promote the local economy wherever you’re visiting. There are often museums, art galleries, parks, or walking trails in every city, from large to small. If you’re staying somewhere more rural, you can look around for local horseback riding, monster truck riding, etc. if you’re looking to jazz up your trip with a special memory. There is an endless assortment of vendors and activities almost anywhere you visit, you just have to look!
Respect Local Wildlife
Respecting local wildlife should come as no shock as a contributing factor to sustainable and responsible travel. If you choose to visit national parks, state preserves, or other nature spots, please keep in mind that the animals in those places were here long before us. If you want to engage in activities like bird-feeding, please research the local wildlife and ensure the feed you’re providing them is safe for them. For example, bread isn’t great for ducks, but you can mix seeds and nuts to feed them as they lazily drift on the water.
National parks and state preserves sometimes have guided or ranger-led activities, including hikes, wildlife watching, or walking trails. If you decide to camp at one of these places, ask around and see how other travelers responsibly handle camping in order to minimize ecological impact.
Why travel sustainably?
You might be wondering why it’s worth all the effort to travel more sustainably. Here are some quick statistics:
- According to the Transport & Environment website, emissions from aviation are growing faster than any other mode of transportation. CO2 emissions from Europe have increased 28% from 2013.
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency has some great information related to carbon pollution from transportation, including breaking it down by type of vehicle if you’d like to see how cars, trucks, and other motor vehicles affect the environment.
Generally, we need to consider our impact on the environment. Earth is the only place sustainable for us to live, and we all need to work collectively to be better for the planet. Reducing your carbon footprint, supporting local communities, reducing your use of single-use plastics, respecting the local habitats, and having a hands-off approach with local wildlife all contribute strongly to supporting and helping heal the planet. It may seem like it won’t have a huge impact to take a bike instead of an Uber to your next bite to eat, but it can have a strong effect on that bike renter vendor you used, and it helps restrict how much of a footprint you’re leaving behind.
Keeping in mind that we are trying to leave the planet better than we found it, you can take all these tips into consideration and travel more sustainably and responsibly as you engage in ecotourism.
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