7 simple ways to practice ecotourism when travelling
Ecotourism is a new way of travelling that began in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but has become very popular in recent years. However, many people have never heard of this form of sustainable tourism and have no idea what it is. So here’s what ecotourism is and how to do it on your next trip.
What is ecotourism? Also known as “green tourism”, ecotourism represents a tourism based on the discovery of nature that aims to reduce its environmental impact while becoming beneficial for the host accommodating the travellers. In 2015, the International Ecotourism Society updated the official definition of ecotourism by describing it as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. This modern way of travelling aims to unite conservation, communities and sustainable travel. If ecotourism appeals to you because of its ecological and social values, here are some habits to adopt on your future trips to do your part:
Travel light and non-stop
People don’t always realize it, but the heavier an aircraft – or a car, or a bus, or a train – is, the more fuel it uses. The weight of an aircraft is determined by the passengers, of course, but also by their luggage. So, the more you pack, the heavier it is and the more fuel it impacts the amount of fuel that will be needed for the flight. To minimize your luggage, consider bringing clothes that you could easily wash during your stay and that you could wear more than once.
In addition, an aircraft’s carbon emissions are at their highest during takeoff and landing. Flights with stopovers are therefore more polluting than long-haul flights, which is why it is preferable to always choose a non-stop flight even if it means having to stay on board for 14 hours straight. Basically, 14 hours on a plane is nothing when you know how to take good care of yourself!
Be a traveller, not a tourist
For some, it may be difficult to perceive the difference between a traveller and a tourist, but it is a big one. Tourist will visit the most touristic places and look for the big chains they know, like Starbucks, Subway or McDonald’s, to eat, for example. The travellers, on the other hand, will try to immerse themselves in the local culture, both artistically and culinarily. They will want to know the great cultural differences between their country of origin and the one they visit, but they will also be interested in the more human side. A traveller is someone who seeks to know the people and their way of seeing the world. Inevitably, if you act as a traveller rather than a tourist, you will learn a lot and come back from your trip with more knowledge.
Responsible behaviour also means saving energy. Just as when you leave home for the day, you should turn off the lights, television and heating or air conditioning in your hotel room. All these devices consume energy for nothing if you leave them running while you are away. Similarly, you should leave the “Do not disturb” door hanger when you leave. Of course, one of the benefits of hotels is that you don’t have to pick up and clean up after yourself, but certainly your room doesn’t require daily cleaning. This will help save on the unnecessary use of chemical cleaners and the energy required for vacuuming and washing sheets and towels, for example, which you can easily use more than once. In fact, hotels generally assume that when you hang your towel instead of leaving it on the floor, it means you want to reuse it, so don’t forget to hang it!
Apply the principle of the 3 “Rs”
The 3 R’s principle (Reduce/Reuse/Recycle) should apply to your daily life, but also to your travels. First, instead of buying water bottles, take a reusable bottle without BPA that you can carry with you at all times and fill at will in fountains or restaurants. Then, when you look at a map or brochure, for example, put it back in place instead of throwing it away so that someone else can use it too. Finally, try to never throw your paper, cardboard or plastic items in a garbage can; try to keep them with you until you find a recycling bin.
Water waste is also a huge problem in general. To remedy this, make sure to turn off the tap when shaving or brushing your teeth, for example. In addition, you should never use a hotel laundry service as they tend to wash each traveller’s clothes separately, even if you only have a few articles of clothing. Finally, reduce your water use by taking a shower instead of immersing yourself in a good hot bath; it is pleasant and relaxing, but requires up to 70 gallons of water, while a shower uses between 20 and 25 gallons. The difference is considerable!
Protect the environment that surrounds you
The environment has been at the heart of many debates for several years. It obviously includes everything that surrounds us, both on land and in the air, which is why it is so important to preserve it. When travelling, many travellers like to rent a car once they get to their destination in order to be able to move freely and over longer distances. If this is your case, an ecotourism reflex would be to opt for an electric or hybrid car in order to minimize your use of gasoline, and therefore, your carbon emissions. It would also be better to choose the smallest car possible, according to your needs; the smaller it is, the less fuel it consumes.
If you trade a car for walking, be sure to use designated roads and trails at all times to avoid damaging the flora in any way. Also, if you are going away from the city for the day, plan to bring a bag with you to put your garbage on it; you should not throw anything on the ground because there are no garbage cans. The flora, but also the fauna, will thank you.
Buy smartly and locally
Ecotourism is also interested in smart and local purchases. Just because an item is for sale does not mean that it has been made in an environmentally responsible way. No matter where you travel, you may encounter objects made from unsustainable hardwood, endangered species or ancient artifacts. Not all countries are governed by the same laws and it may be common for them to sell such items, but as an informed and environmentally responsible consumer, you can choose not to encourage such practices.
It is also very enriching to take an interest in local craftsmen. Go meet them, talk to them and encourage them by buying their products. You never really know where the items you buy in more tourist shops come from but when you encourage a local craftsman who contributes positively in different ways to the life and well-being of his village, you know you are doing good.
Immerse yourself in the culture
All countries have different traditions and customs. Not being interested or involved in these during your trip will certainly make you miss the point of travelling and may even be offensive to the locals. For example, in some Muslim countries, women should not show skin. For others, having their picture taken is like having a part of their soul stolen. It is therefore essential to know the traditions that prevail in the country you are travelling to before you even leave in order to be prepared for all eventualities and, above all, to respect the culture of the place.
In addition, knowing that you are going to visit a country that is in need and lacks resources that, for you, represent basic items, do not hesitate to bring some with you. For example, why not bring some school supplies – which will have cost you only a few dollars, let’s be honest – if you know that you will be working with people who need them? For some poor people, these are truly scarce commodities.
Ecotourism is the perfect opportunity to explore and discover new places, cultures and people while easily doing your part to preserve the environment. As you may have noticed, most of the above tips are applicable even in your daily life at home. So there is no reason not to do your part for the planet, both at home and on your expeditions!
Cover photo: Unsplash | @michaelbaronr