What is ecotourism? How does it work? Why does it matter? The term was originally defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990 as “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
Whether you call it ecotourism, green travel, responsible travel, nature travel or ethical travel, the ethos of traveling more sustainably has become an increasingly hot topic in the tourism industry over the past decade.
But if people seem to have a difficult time figuring out which name to call the “take only pictures, leave only footprints” approach, they seem to have an even harder time figuring out practical ways to do it.
The truth is, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to become a more eco-friendly traveler. In fact, becoming more conscious about HOW you travel can actually save you money. Better still, when responsibly applied, the core principle ideals of ecotourism can stimulate financial growth in developing nations, strengthening the global economy.
Individually, one person taking these baby steps to going green might not seem to make much of an impact. But if we all take simple strides towards being more conscious of our impact in the planet, collectively we can make a world of difference.
Here are 10 easy ecotourism tips that will help you travel more responsibly and sustainably, not just for Earth Day but for every day!
1. PACK LIGHT- Lightening up your load saves money on baggage fees and increases plane fuel-efficiency. Pack items that can be washed in the sink and are quick drying so they can be worn multiple times during your trip. We recommend (but do not receive compensation from) the ExOfficio brand, and wear it everywhere we travel.
2. SAVE WATER– Take shorter showers, turn off the faucet while shaving and brushing your teeth, and re-use towels for multiple days. And NEVER use the hotel laundry, as they typically wash each guest’s clothes separately, even if there are only a few items.
3. SAVE ENERGY- When you leave your hotel room, turn off the lights, heat/AC and TV. Consider leaving the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door so that the housekeeping staff won’t clean your room every day, which will save on harsh chemical cleaning supplies and the electricity of vacuuming and washing bed linens.
4. REDUCE/REUSE/RECYCLE- Take a BPA-free water bottle you can refill, use just one bar of soap for both sink and shower, return brochures and maps once you’re finished using them, and hold on to your trash until you find a place to recycle it.
5. BUY LOCAL- Seek out indigenous artisans and learn about their craft. When we were in the Riviera Maya near Coba, we saw tons of assembly line art, but wound up buying from a man who taught local children and tourists the ancient craft of Mayan pottery and distributed profits equally among families in his village.
6. LEAVE ONLY FOOTPRINTS- Stick to marked trails to avoid harming native flora, and consider taking a bag to pick up trash along your journey. Not only is it a great way to help keep the outdoors beautiful, but it also protects wildlife that might eat or get tangled in the garbage.
7. BE A TRAVELER, NOT A TOURIST- Take time to immerse yourself in the local music, art and cuisine. Embrace the cultural differences that make it unique. Get to know the locals and how they view life. You might be surprised at the things you learn when you open your mind to new ideas!
8. HONOR LOCAL TRADITIONS- Some cultures have very different traditions from yours. Women are forbidden to show skin in some Muslim countries. For some, being photographed in like having your soul stolen. Understand and respect these traditions, or risk offending the people whose culture you’re there to experience.
9. GIVE BACK- Developing nations are badly in need of basic necessities most people take for granted. Traveling gives you a unique experience that stays with you for the rest of your life. In return, consider giving something back, such as bringing school supplies on tours in which you know you’ll interact with locals.
10. SHOP SMARTER- Read labels, and ask questions like “What is this item made from?” All over the planet people sell items made from non-sustainable hardwoods, endangered species, and ancient artifacts. It may be alright in their country to sell them, but you can still vote with your wallet by refusing to buy them. –Bret Love
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