Sustainable Living & Sustainable Lifestyle

Become a responsible traveler and learn how to navigate eco-tourism like a pro!

How to Navigate the ins and outs of Ecotourism

You bring your own cloth bags when shopping and support the local farmers market as often as possible. You buy in bulk to avoid excess plastic packaging and have a reusable water bottle. You might even drive a hybrid vehicle or bike to work. You do all that you can to reduce your carbon footprint and improve the overall well-being of your community.

So why should it be different when you travel? Eco-tourism, or responsible travel, commits to environmental responsibility, conservation and sustainability of the natural area as well as the welfare of the local people. By making informed choices, you have the power to travel with minimum impact on the environment and the local community and with maximum benefits in terms of cultural awareness, education and appreciation. Below are considerations to help you navigate the ins and outs of this young and still impressionable industry of eco-tourism.

Research Before You Go

Learn about eco-tourism todayDo a lot of research before you go. Research the different airline and travel providers to learn about their environmental principles and practices. For example, does the airline have a carbon offset program? If they don’t, consider using a service company like the CarbonNeutral Company to offset your carbon footprint.

Then, research your destination. Learn about the flora and fauna as well as the local people. Educate yourself on the local history, culture and customs before arriving. Knowledge is power, even in a foreign country.

Go Local

Use local transportation, guides and accommodations, and eat at local restaurants, markets and cafes to benefit the local economy. When done right, eco-tourism empowers local communities to achieve sustainability and protect their resources. Your visit has a direct financial benefit toward conservation. For example, when you choose to go on an eco-tour of the Amazon forest, the money you spend on your adventure is used for conserving the habitat for the indigenous people and the wildlife that calls the Amazon home.

Give Back

Volunteering while traveling is a great way to make a physical difference to the environment or community you are visiting. As an eco-tourist, you can plant trees in Malawi or eradicate pests on the Galapagos Islands. A volunteer holiday abroad allows you to explore the natural area while contributing to the conservation and care of the local wildlife.

Eco-tourism and volunteer holidays are not limited to international experiences, either. You can be an eco-tourist in the U.S. doing invasive species control work in Hawaii or a project for the Forest Service. A volunteer eco-tour is also light on the wallet since most volunteer opportunities provide you with room and board in return for your services.

Beware of Greenwashing

I cannot stress this point enough. Beware of companies that use greenwashing techniques to sell themselves as an eco-tour, but are only marketing hype and buzzwords. Do your own research to avoid these traps.

Greenwashing is most commonly seen in the hotel industry with eco-lodges claiming to be “green” and “low-waste” when in fact they don’t meet the requirements and are environmentally damaging, economically exploitive and culturally insensitive. Instead of supporting the local community through conservation efforts or by providing employment opportunities, certain “eco-lodges” just reap the benefits of actual eco-lodges that are investing in their communities.

Reflect on Your Adventure

The final, and arguably the most important consideration, is to reflect on your eco-adventure upon your return. Reflect on how you will continue to commit to environmentally-responsible living. Reflect on the new culture you were exposed to, and ask yourself how you will continue to assist them. This can be through another eco-tour in the future or through sharing your amazing experience with your friends and family and possibly inspiring them to consider responsible travel for their next vacation.

Natalie Posdaljian: Natalie’s inquisitive mind leads her to explore the world in many different ways. She feels most alive and inspired when she’s on the move but struggles between the urge to pack up and go and her commitment to shrink her carbon footprint.

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