Travel is one of the most sought-after pastimes around the world. To experience different terrains and cultures enhances you mentally, physically, and emotionally. And countless studies have exposed the benefits. But before you pack your bag and take off on a big jet plane, you should be aware of ecotourism.
The term ecotourism 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.”
Traveling responsibly is necessary, and has become a pressing topic in the tourism industry as of late. In fact, the United Nations designated 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development as a means for raising global awareness about how responsible tourism can provide positive change.
Sustainable tourism is based on three specific pillars:
- Appointing environmentally friendly practices — reduce, reuse, recycle
- Protecting cultural and natural heritage — like saving endangered species, restoring historic buildings
- Supplying real social and economic benefits for local communities — like supporting fair wages for employees
As a traveler, it doesn’t take a lot to become more eco-friendly. Here are five ways you can easily become a more sustainable traveler while also sticking to the core principles of ecotourism:
Do your research!
While it would be nice to not have to do any pre-planning, the reality is you likely carve out a lot of time doing research on the coolest hotel or hole-in-the-wall restaurant, so why not do research on sustainable practices, too? Countries are known by certain experiences that tourists are enticed to try, like elephant rides in Thailand, and safaris in Africa. But beware: Elephant rides, for instance, are cruel and offer no benefit whatsoever to the continuously shrinking population of these endangered animals.
Put your purchases toward local goods.
You may be enticed to buy something with the lowest price tag, but remember that, while locally made crafts and souvenirs aren’t always cheaper, doing so over opting for the imported items both supports needed jobs for the locals who make them, and honors cultural heritage.
Become a part of the “slow travel” trend.
Squeezing in as much as you can in one trip often requires a lot of travel. Rather than flying from one region or country to the next, choose fewer places, spending more time in each, and opting for the train over the plane to lower your carbon footprint.
Stick to marked trails.
The idea of getting off the beaten path sounds nice, but for the most part, marked trails ensure native flora is not harmed. Sticking to the marked trails protects wildlife.
Traveling means you don’t have the comforts of home surrounding you at all times. You need to keep it simple! But that doesn’t have to mean buying a plastic water bottle every time you’re thirsty. Grab a reusable water bottle from home. You may also find yourself racking up tiny toiletries that go half unused between locations. Bring your own, using the same soap for the shower as you do for washing your hands at the sink, for instance. And don’t let yourself accumulate countless brochures! Choose to return them, as well as maps, when you’re finished.
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