Heard of the term Eco-tourist? Well, that may be a self described word that is turning out to be one of the ways to really travel, view the world and return home to tell your friends and family transformative stories. Let’s start from the beginning with what eco-tourism really is?
Eco-tourism is a term becoming ubiquitous to today’s traveler itinerary more than ever but this term has been around for quite some time creating prime opportunity to make it super inclusive and impactful. According to Center for Responsible Travel at Stanford University in Washington D.C, “Eco-tourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improved the welfare of the local people.” And the travel industry is indicating it to become a very important reason to travel. Travel weekly is citing the sustainable travel industry has increased to 25% worldwide in 2012 which is taking the market value to $473 billion a year.
So what are the many ways you can travel with the planet in mind? Here is the list where you can find some inspiring ways to travel the world and bring back memories not just for you but for others to remember you.
1. Volunteer: There are many programs out there that can give you an up close and personal experience of the local life while traveling your most interested country and wildlife. Conservation VIP has an international volunteer groups going to volunteer from the Scottish Highlands to the Torres del Paine, Patagonia and other cities. Restrictions include: age minimums of 18 years old to participate. Other volunteer groups include Go Overseas and Conservation Volunteers. Open Mind Projects presents another opportunity to check out volunteerism in Asia. It’s a non-profit organization that is located in Thailand including projects in Laos, Cambodia and Nepal. Open Minds Projects have been helping people with volunteer opportunities for 10 years and they were recently awarded “The Little Project” for their initiatives in eco-tourism. Their projects include teaching English to local tour guides and national park members, scuba dive opportunities to save local marine life, improving local resources for tourism such as trekking info, accommodations, eco-surveys, and helping with local wildlife such as the elephant population. There’s a plethora of ways to travel and volunteer in your country of choice and with your favorite topic of eco-tourism.
2. Support Local Shops: It’s important to always consider the origin and where your purchases are going at the end of the day. If you want your keepsake to last, ask the merchant to give the source of origin of the product. You can simply ask, is this made here or see the inside tags which would indicate otherwise. Purchasing something more authentic created by a local artisan directly impacts the local economy and merchant as well. This is especially important for clothes because women are 80-90% of the labor force in the textile industry. A thread caravan offers weaving tours for the gifted artisans in Guatemala. There’s nothing better than asking tourist guides and hotel concierge where to shop locally to find one of the better artisan products to remember your travels forever.
3. Stay informed: While there can be a many number of entities that jump on board to the sustainable bandwagon, there can be some “green washing” for products and services that may not be true to the mission of the sustainable traveler. Asking questions like mentioned above for products can be a first starting point of the conversation but it’s more important to do your homework PRIOR to travel and ask for quality assurance for example with hotels. It’s important to review a five star sustainable or AAA rating systems. Often there are entities such as hotels that align with independent rating parties have certifications like the Green Globe Certification, Green Hotel World, to name a few. Doing your homework and travel responsibly before you go to check your travel accommodations here in the TIES membership directory and know before you travel.
4. Eat local or organic: This is probably one of the best parts of traveling or perhaps can turn into a not so good part but eating fresh and local is key to making your next travel culinary experience a delicious one. Make a list of the top local restaurants or asking the hotel for tips on local dining with local ingredients or simply call place. Or you can go a step further and research the top foods that are in season according to your culinary liking or taste buds. By eating healthy you can travel far with this tip because it is your best investment on your travels. You want to fuel your trip with wonderful culinary experiences to last you a lifetime of memories. Of course, they also make wonderful photo subjects!
5. Eco-tours: This type of tour can be versatile and can fit your lifestyle. You can go on a bike tour in Cancun, Mexico Coffee tours in Oaxaca are popular southern part of Mexico or in Costa Rica known for their crop to cup coffee tours also know as “Grano de Oro” or the golden grain of Costa Rica. After your culinary taste buds are enlivened, you can always seek out the textile mecca of Oaxaca or seek a safari adventure in Botswana wildlife and walk along with rhinos and ranger in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. The possibilities are endless whether you want to see the serenity of Iceland or the Galapagos Island, also has eco-tours to keep you busy with more wanderlust.
6. Pack Light: Keep it simple and have a carry on that will give you all that you need for that particular trip and within that bag no more than 3 smaller bags. For example, if you have a small carry on luggage, add the carry on tote with you and you will save on additional airline baggage fees as well as off-setting your part of green house gas emissions. Keep it simple. Challenge yourself whether you are off traveling to Iceland or in the Canary Islands, how can your carry on bag include what you need within the next 24-48 hours? Think small such as packing a toiletry bag that includes necessary items and a heavier bag with your clothes. Then place two bags into a small carry on luggage or mid size handbag.
7. Transportation: This by far is the easiest way to be an eco-traveler especially in bigger cities. The best way to travel is to conserve your carbon footprint so it’s best to seek out the local transportation, sharing car modes, cycling options, and of course, wide scale mass transportation such as trains if possible. All in all, it’s always important to do your research before you go so you are aware of the local social expectations in terms of payment before and after transportation systems. Doing your homework pays off a lot long term because you can stay on budget, too.
In this busy world of the hustle and bustle of getting to your destination, it’s important to know how to slow down and be in tune of cultural nuances. Besides, after you have planned out your travels and itinerary you look forward to becoming that eco-traveler you have always wanted to become and revel in your adventure one moment at time while you conserve the planet and give back to its people.
About the Author
Cindy Rangel is an entrepreneur and founder of Nomada Co, a sustainable travel handbag company in pre-launch phase. She loves all things sustainable fashion, writing, and photography. Join her on her journey for news, interviews, travel stories and the launch of NOMADACO in June 2017.