What is Eco-Friendly Tourism?
Trends come and go, but here’s one we hope will stay: eco-friendly travel!
What does this actually mean? Well, the terms “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” are often used interchangeably, although it’s possible to be eco-friendly without being sustainable. However, for the purpose of this article, we’ll be using both terms to mean a form of travel that does not negatively impact the natural environment or culture.
Why Should I Do It?
Choosing an eco-friendly vacation means you’re in for a unique adventure, experiencing a place through an authentic lens. You’ll enjoy places without the slick tourist spiel, and learn what really goes on in a community. What’s more, you’re helping locals. For example, you can show your support by shopping locally and choosing activities that won’t harm the environment.
How Should I Do It?
Planning an eco-friendly vacation requires some research and preparation. Here are 8 tips to get you on your way…
1. If You Travel by Air
Obviously, taking a plane isn’t “green” but if it’s your only option, search for direct flights that require less fuel than ones with stopovers. Once you reach your destination, you can walk, ride a bike, or rely on public transportation to get you where you need to go.
2. If You Travel by Car
Choosing an energy-efficient vehicle can reduce emissions by up to 50%. Make sure the car is in good shape and as efficient as possible (for example, clean the air filter, fill the tires). Pack only what you’ll need (lighter cars are more fuel efficient!) and plan your route before you go so there’s less of a chance you’ll get lost and waste both fuel and time.
3. If You Camp
Camping is probably the “greenest” option and also may be the most cost-efficient. That said, it does require some careful packing. You’ll want to be as self-sufficient as possible and carry the essentials with you: your own water bottle, snacks, toiletries, and utensils (disposable cups and utensils are wasteful). If you’re traveling with kids and plan to hike or bike, assume you need to bring your own gear (bikes, strollers etc…)
4. If You Prefer a Hotel
Sustainable hotels are popping up in major cities and towns. What to look for: low-energy light bulbs, non-toxic fabrics, non-toxic cleaning supplies, recycling programs, bikes for guests, locally sourced menus and a green certification from a bonafide agency. If possible, green hotels should be built and furnished with reclaimed or renewable resources and they should definitely employ locals. Another tip: ask if the hotel has a volunteer program that allows you to get directly involved in the community (for example, plant trees or work in a garden).
5. If You Hire a Guide
Rather than joining an exclusive tour group, hire a local guide. Certainly, a guide who lives in the area has more invested in the surroundings than a company that’s only interested in making a profit off of your trip. The best guides promote ethical practices, explain how to support the community, respect the natural habitat, plus show off the most authentic and “behind the scene” spots!
6. If You Book an Experience
There’s so much to get excited about when travelling to a new place that it’s easy to overlook stuff. Overall, you never want to be disruptive or disrespectful when playing the role of tourist in any community. What’s more, if you want to get up close and personal with the wildlife, make sure you aren’t in any way harming or disturbing the creatures or their habitats.
7. If You Buy a Souvenir
Double check that your souvenir of choice is 100% ethical. For example, you don’t want to take home anything that may have come from an endangered species or was made with enforced labour.
8. If You Want to Make an Impression
Be mindful of what you leave behind! Don’t mess with your surroundings and pick up your trash wherever you go. The goal of eco-travel is to make only a positive impact on the area; in other words, leaving behind nothing but some dollars for the local businesses and a tremendous amount of good will!
The Evolution of Travel
Eco travel has been a hot vacation option for some time now and it’s growing in popularity. It’s easy to see why. Traveling responsibly is as good for the tourist as it is for the host.
It offers an authentic, educational, and inspiring look at an unfamiliar territory while supporting and promoting local resources. By booking a sustainable vacation, you’ll be doing your part to ensure that vacation areas will be protected for the next generation of travellers.
Samara Kamenecka is a New York-born freelance writer and translator living in Madrid. When she’s not busy trying to mold her two kids into functional, contributing members of society, she can usually be found enjoying a glass of wine (or three), or eating ice cream straight out of the container. You can find her blogging over at Tiny Fry.