The convenience of tourism, complete with tiny non-recyclable toiletries, gas-guzzling airplanes and over-packaged fast food, leads to an accumulation of waste. In order to revamp travel into a more sustainable practice, we must abandon the traditional idea of tourism and adopt a new goal to become an ecotourist. As ecotravelers, we must strive to explore with a higher consciousness of our surroundings and the environmental impact of our decisions instead of purchasing waste generating fast food and supporting big business over the local economy. Unfortunately, now with the high environmental and monetary cost of fossil fuels and transportation, we must work even harder to make our travel lighter on the environment and our pocketbooks. Thankfully there are some easy ways to reduce our environmental impact while still enjoying travel both locally and worldwide.
Tips on becoming an ecotraveler:
- If driving, consider renting or borrowing a hybrid or more fuel-efficient car, which will use significantly less fossil fuels. If traveling in a group, carpool instead of taking separate cars. Check out greenroutes.org to find a non-highway route to your destination in Minnesota or Wisconsin.
- It may take longer to travel somewhere on the train, but the emission reduction is significant. If you can spare the added hours (or days), take the scenic route on a train.
- Calculate your total transportation emissions on carbonfund.org and buy carbon offsets to counteract the emissions.
- Instead of buying disposable drink and snack options, pack reusable containers, water bottles and coffee mugs and refill them at rest stops or gas stations. If flying, make sure to empty water bottles prior to arriving at the airport in order to comply with liquid restrictions. You can refill them after the security check.
- Search ahead of time for restaurants, cafes or natural food stores that serve local, sustainable or organic foods.
- Meet the locals in the area and learn about what they do for fun. Visit parks and destinations that are important to the area.
- Support the local economy by buying souvenirs and other products that are made in the region.
- Consider staying at a campground, bed and breakfast, or a locally owned hotel at your destination instead of a chain hotel. Several resources exist to help find an environmentally superior place to stay. Environmentallyfriendlyhotels.com helps viewers find hotels, bed and breakfasts, resorts, motels and lodges worldwide that are “committed to the environment and greening of the hospitality industry.” Greenhotels.com and allstays.com/green-hotels/green-hotels.htm have sustainable choices listed by location for easy search ability.v
- Some travel agencies or organizations book national and international ecotourism trips with itineraries created specifically to reduce negative environmental impacts. Conservation International at ecotour.org has ecotourist trips to Bolivia, Brazil, Ghana, Guatemala, Panama and Venezuela. Ecotravel Magazine and their website directory (which requires registration to view) provide regular examples and itineraries on destinations too.
While traveling, try to absorb as much of the local history, customs, and food as possible. By remaining open-minded and earth-conscious, we can reduce waste, support local economies, and become worldwide ecotravelers.
Green Travel: The World’s Best Eco-Lodges & Earth-friendly hotels, Fodor’s Travel Publications, 2008.
The Eco-Travel Guide, Alastair Fuad-Luke, Thames and Hudson, 2008.