Delicate butterfly in the Amazon

10 Simple Green Travel Tips

Delicate butterfly in the Amazon

Once upon a time, responsible travel essentially boiled down to the old adage, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”

But as the science of conservation and studies on the effects of mass tourism on destinations around the world have become increasingly advanced, a clearer picture has begun to emerge. New definitions of sustainable 
ecotourism emphasize the benefits to both the ecology and the economy of a place.

The idea is that responsible travel should do more than merely “leave no trace.” These days, the ideal is that we travel in a way that makes a positive impact on indigenous nature, wildlife and culture. By making smarter choices on where we travel, how we travel and how we engage with local communities, we can leave places just a little better off than they were before we arrived.

Here are 10 simple tips that can help you minimize your negative impact when you travel:

ecotravel-suitcase
Lighten Your Load

These days, overpacking has become an expensive habit. Airlines are charging more than ever for baggage fees, and heavy bags also reduce the plane’s fuel economy. Pack lighter by focusing on moisture-wicking safari-style clothes that can be washed in the sink and line-dried in a matter of hours. On International Expeditions' Amazon cruise, laundry service is free of charge!

Conserve Water

Water shortages are becoming increasingly big problems, both in the U.S. and around the world. So reducing our usage should be a goal both at home and abroad. Simple ways to do this include taking “Navy showers,” re-using your towels for several days (as you presumably do at home), and turning off the water while shaving and brushing your teeth.
 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

It’s amazing to consider the amount of waste we create when we’re not conscious of our consumption. Plastic water bottles are bad for the environment, so take a refillable BPA-free bottle with you (which also saves lots of money in airports). Hotels throw out all soap shards when you leave, so try to use just one bar and take leftovers home to use later. After you finish using maps or brochures, put them back where you got them. And though it can prove difficult in certain countries, try to recycle whenever possible.

Green travel buy local products
Buy Locally Made Products

One of the great things about responsible tour operators is that they can help you connect with local indigenous communities. If you see identical assembly line-style souvenirs at similar shops, chances are they weren’t locally made. It’s worth taking the time to seek out local artisans and craftsmen from whom you can buy directly. It also gives you an opportunity to ask them about their craft, learn about their culture, and engage on a deeper personal level.

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Shop Responsibly

There are unscrupulous people who have no problem selling ancient artifacts or products made from endangered species and precious hardwoods. When you shop, make sure you read labels and ask questions, such as “What is this item made of?” and “Do I need special documents to take this home?” For more information, take time to familiarize yourself with WWF’s Buyer Beware Guide. It may not be against the law in their country to sell these items, but you can vote with your wallet by refusing to buy them.


Conserve Energy

Most of us don’t vacuum our bedrooms or clean our bathrooms every day at home. So why do we waste energy (and harsh chemical cleansers) letting others do so when we travel? We typically leave a “Do Not Disturb” sign on our hotel room door for the duration of our stay, or simply ask Housekeeping to do anything but refill soaps/shampoos/etc. Also, never leave the lights, AC/heat or television on when you’re out of the room.

Green Travel watch where you step

Be Conscious Where You Step

In places such as the Galapagos Islands, there are well-marked trails and naturalist guides ensure that visitors stick to them. But national parks all around the world are reporting more and more damage caused by careless tourists. If you go hiking, it’s crucial to adhere to the established trails to avoid harming native flora. Also, consider taking an empty bag and picking up any trash you spot along the way.

ecotravel-east-africa
Embrace Indigenous Cultures

Some people travel regularly, but never leave their all-inclusive hotel to explore the local area. Be a traveler, not a tourist: Take time to immerse yourself in the music, art and cuisine of the native culture. Accept and embrace the 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 up your mind to new ideas!

Green Travel Embrace local customs
Respect Local Customs

Different cultures around the world have very different traditions, some of which may be quite different from yours. In many Muslim countries, women are forbidden to show more than a sliver of skin. In other cultures, being photographed is akin to having your soul stolen. Take time to learn and respect these traditions, or you may risk offending the very people whose culture you’re there to explore. Also feel free to talk to your IE guides about their native cultures, as these knowledgeable locals can provide layers of deep understanding and insight.

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Give Something Back

Whenever we travel to a new destination, we take a piece of that experience with us for the rest of our lives. Why not make an effort to give something back in return? Many of the world’s developing nations have people desperately in need of basic necessities that we often take for granted. Non-profit organizations such as Pack For A Purpose can help you make a big difference simply by packing school or medical supplies, which can go right to organizations like Adopt-A-School (a long-time IE partner in conservation). 

 

International Expeditions also makes it easy to give back when you travel, with conservation and community projects in Peru, Ecuador, Africa and beyond. Just by traveling with IE, you are raising awareness for the protection of Bengal tigers in India, providing clean water in the Amazon and so much more. 

 

Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 21 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution to Rolling Stone. He is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.