Eco-tourism is a rapidly expanding niche in the travel industry, and if you have any interest in environmental issues, you’ll want to make sure that you’re not doing anything that could harm the world around you. Eco-tourism is often touted as an answer to some of the problems facing developing countries, such as reducing the effect of poaching on wildlife by encouraging local people to make a living from being guides. This can be very effective if managed correctly, but inevitably there will be unscrupulous people around who just want to make money without contributing to the social and environmental situation.
Also, it’s not always easy to be truly green when you travel, for instance, the form of transport you use is going to contribute to emissions to some degree. There’s the risk of affecting wildlife behavior and habitats from too much human activity, and the effect of building accommodation and facilities for visitors to take into account as well. However, you can take steps to ensure that your travels are as low-impact as possible.
Choosing your destination
Certain places have become highly fashionable, to the extent that they are in danger of suffering from the effects of unsustainable levels of tourism. The Galapagos Islands is a good example. Famous for its unique wildlife and the historical significance it has, it’s become a magnet for people interested in natural history. Unfortunately, it’s only a small place, and the overburdening of the islands with an excess of visitor numbers is having an effect on its ecosystems.
If you’re interested in taking an eco-vacation, have you considered all the places in your own country that you haven’t explored yet? You don’t have to go abroad to find spectacular scenery and wildlife, so before you assume that you need to go overseas, have a look at some of the amazing places in the North American continent.
The greenest way to travel is simply to walk or cycle to your destination. A walking or cycling vacation could easily be arranged from your home because wherever you live, you’ll be within reach of somewhere interesting. If you do want to travel further afield, you could still base your vacation around walking or cycling, or maybe kayaking if you enjoy being on the water.
If you’re using transport to reach your destination, trains, ferries and coaches are greener options than driving or flying. If you have a choice, try and opt for the more environmentally friendly choice. Traveling by train may take longer than flying, but it’s also a very relaxing way to travel and can be a genuinely enjoyable part of your vacation.
Research your destination
Before you decide where to go, find out as much as you can about your preferred location. That means not just the glossy sales information in the brochure or on the website, but the real facts about the area. Are you likely to have a negative effect by traveling to this place? How should you plan your activities to make as low an impact as possible on the environment while you’re there? What forms of public transport are available, and how well-operated are they? If you can safely walk or cycle or use public transport where you hope to stay, that will be less impactful than hiring a car. It’s also a better way to take in the landscape around you and spot wildlife as you travel. Plus, it’s better for your health to be physically active!
Since eco-tourism became popular, large companies have tried to get a share of the market by building hotels and holiday villages in or near wildlife destinations. The construction process may be harmful to the local ecosystems, and staying in a large hotel does remove you from the back to nature feel of a more modest living arrangement. Look for smaller, eco-friendly places to stay, for example, local farms or reserves, and existing buildings that have been repurposed. Camping is another greener option, and you’ll certainly feel more at one with nature if you’re sleeping under the stars.
Paying for your eco-vacation
Eco-tourism tends to be more expensive than standard types of travel, and in many cases, this is reasonable given the extra costs involved in creating sustainable facilities for tourists. Make sure you book with a reputable travel agent or independent provider, and if the price seems low, question whether the trip is genuinely eco-friendly.
If you are having trouble finding the money for an eco-trip, you can save up or share the cost with like-minded friends, or you could consider bad credit loans to help you if your credit rating is low. Another option is finding a work party, where you provide labor in return for a stay in a wilderness location. This can be a cost-effective alternative but look for projects that offer free or low-cost accommodation if you want to save money.
Remember that everything you purchase has an effect on the environment through its manufacture and disposal. Follow all the good habits you would at home, so avoid plastic waste, reuse and recycle everything you can, and don’t waste water or power. Spend your money on locally-made products and locally grown food where possible, and always be prepared to pay a reasonable price for what you buy. Your financial contribution to the place you’re visiting is a vital factor in boosting local economies and encouraging responsible eco-tourism, so help it to flourish by being a genuinely green eco-tourist.
Interacting with wildlife
If you’re on an eco-themed trip, you’re probably going to be spending a great deal of time exploring the flora and fauna of the area. If you book on a guided safari or wildlife tour, make sure the organizers have a good reputation and ecologically sound credentials before signing up. A well-run tour will give you the opportunity to observe wildlife without disturbing it, an essential requirement for genuine eco-tourism.
You should also avoid any form of animal abuse masquerading as entertainment. Unfortunately, wild animals are still used in some parts of the world to perform for tourists, and the only way to discourage these activities is to show people are no longer interested.