Eco-travel seeks to benefit local communities and cultures while minimizing the impact on the environment. Eco-travelers try to minimize the carbon footprint of their travel by making wise and conscientious choices. Eco-tourism can educate tourists, protect natural habitats, and boost the employment and financial opportunities for local people.
Follow the following tips to become an eco-friendly traveler!
Transportation and Packing:
- A large portion of a plane’s carbon emissions occur during takeoff and landing, so try to book non-stop flights.
- Consider flying with one of the 30+ International Air Transport Association (IATA) member airlines that offer carbon offset programs.
- After arriving at your international destination, avoid taking domestic flights and travel by bus, train, or bike instead.
- If you must rent a car, choose the smallest or hybrid vehicle that will meet your needs.
- Pack lightly because the more that a plane weighs, the more carbon emissions it produces.
- Bring shampoo, conditioner, and soap bars. They do not come in plastic packaging and are generally made from natural materials. They also take up less room in your suitcase.
- If you cannot drink a beverage without a straw, bring a reusable straw. Plastic straws are destructive to the environment and often end up in the ocean, causing harm to wildlife.
- If possible, stay at a working farm that also functions as a hotel or inn. Travelers can stay connected with the area’s agricultural heritage and save money as they generally cost less than hotels.
- Check if your chosen hotel is affiliated with organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, EarthCheck, Green Globe, or Rainforest Alliance. They may also be certified by the Center or Responsible Travel, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, or the U.S. Green Building Council which proves they have met minimum standards of sustainability.
- Responsible eco-travel businesses will have the details concerning their sustainability and corporate social responsibility clearly explained on their websites.
- Take a shower – uses only 10-25 gallons of water – rather than a bath that can use up to 70 gallons of water.
- For short stays, re-use your towels and ask housekeeping not to clean your room. This will reduce the amount of chemical cleaning supplies used, electricity consumed during vacuuming, and laundering the bed linens.
- If you absolutely need your room cleaned, hang your towels – it’s the universal signal for the staff to not take them for washing.
- Take all the free amenities like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. home with you. Unused portions are often disposed of without recycling.
- Ask the hotel about their recycling program and sort your trash. If the hotel does not recycle, consider finding somewhere local to recycle empty bottles or take them home.
- Be sure to turn off all the lights, heat, air conditioning, and television before leaving your room.
- Close the curtains when you leave the room – this helps keep the heat out during the summer and the heat in during the winter.
Tours and Local Culture:
- Research your tour company to determine how they give back to the local community. Be aware of “greenwashing” – where a company tries to sound “green” but actually does not practice any sustainable policies. Use companies that hire local guides and contribute to preserving the area’s natural resources. If possible, find a tour company that is both run and operated by the local community.
- Smaller tour groups have less of an environmental impact so seek out small group tours.
- Immerse yourself in the local culture and honor local customs. Research before you go and learn a little about the local cultural traditions and some key vocabulary words and phrases in the local language.
- Buy local products when possible rather than products that have been shipped in from overseas.
- Buy souvenirs directly from local, indigenous artisans. This helps them feed their family and preserve their culture.
- Always ask for permission before taking a photo of someone – it’s common courtesy.
- Do not buy souvenirs or products made from endangered plants or animals or souvenir photos that exploit wildlife.
- Don’t take any tours that promote hands-on encounters with wild animals. These animals are often illegally captured, drugged, abused, and slaughtered.
- Bring your own, reusable, cloth bag for shopping. Plastic bags can take up to 500 years to biodegrade and are banned in many places.
- Use refillable water bottles and avoid contributing to the plastic bottle waste that litters the ocean. Most tourist areas have potable water that is safe to drink.
- Eat local foods and help support the community. Shop at farmers’ markets and eat at restaurants with locally-sourced ingredients.
- Drink locally-brewed beers and other beverages. This reduces the carbon emissions of shipping non-local beverages and is carbon-friendly.
Hiking and Water Sports
- Always stay on marked trails when hiking. Going off of the marked trail could lead to destruction of endangered plants or encounters with dangerous species.
- Deposit your trash in trash receptacles or take it with you when you are done hiking. You can even pick up other, less eco-friendly tourists’ trash and dispose of it properly.
- Do not feed or touch wildlife as this makes them reliant on humans and can lead to attacks.
- Don’t touch or step on the coral reefs when snorkeling or scuba diving. This can stir up sediment and damage the reef’s ecosystem.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen when snorkeling and scuba diving, but make sure the sunscreen you use is reef-safe for marine life and coral.
- When your travel or tour is completed, look into ways to help offset your travel carbon footprint:
- Donate to an organization that plants trees
- Volunteer to plant trees
- Pay into a carbon offset organization
The world is ours to improve or ruin – let’s make it a better world for those who inherit it from us