Since the "eco-friendly" label debuted in the 1990s, environmentally-minded travel options have exploded exponentially (see References 1). Today, an eco-friendly tour means one mindful of conservation, with meaningful community participation and profitable enough to sustain itself, notes the Responsible Travel Guide published by Transitions Abroad (see References 2, page 8). Budget travelers often find themselves of necessity on an eco-friendly tour, visiting affordable, low-key, highly sustainable destinations, but an eco-friendly tour can be right for you whether your budget is large or small and your destination urban or remote (see Resources 1).
Match the range of eco-friendly tour options to your activity level and required level of luxury. Pick an active tour with elements of adventure travel or a contemplative one focused on scenery and animal observation. You can watch wildlife from a dormitory-style bunkhouse if that matches your comfort level or stay in a luxury villa with private spa baths and a gourmet kitchen. Either may strive for minimal impact on the environment within their marketing framework, notes Ralf Buckley in "Ecotourism: Principles and Practices." (See References 5, page 50)
Check that your tour provider offers eco-friendly transport, such as bicycling, canoeing or sailing, at your destination. Confirm that the tour includes transfers, accommodations, food, equipment, guides and any mandatory permits or access rights, even if you are headed to a humble backcountry area (see References 5, page 50).
Travel with a company that participates in the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria and offers an outdoor element to their tours, recommends Byron Williams, owner of Grand Cru Wine Tours in Monmouth, Oregon. Williams' company, for example, offers an option to hike between wineries instead of driving, "offering a way to experience some of Oregon's natural beauty on your trip," he says. "And as part of this, we now require all of our guides to have "Leave No Trace" training as one step to make sure we minimize the impact on the areas we visit." (See References 3)
Throw yourself into the swing of daily life in your destination. Sheryl Kayne, author of "Immersion Travel USA: The Best and Most Meaningful Volunteering, Living And Learning Excursions," recommends stopping first at the public bulletin boards in the library, post office or town hall to see where volunteers are needed or what's happening. Or, book a trip that throws you into an eco-friendly activity, such as those suggested by World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. "WWOOF has organic farming programs where individuals, couples or extended families can learn what it's like to live and work on a farm together," Kayne notes. "Different farms accept children of different ages." (See References 4)
Learn greetings and basic terms of the local language as well as customs, Christina Cavaliere of The International Ecotourism Society recommends. Respect local conventions and ask permission if you wish to enter a holy place or join a ceremony; support local artisans and pay entrance fees to parks to support conservation. (See References 6)
- Even if you can't manage a glamorous international trip, you can put together a pocket tour, simply visiting a local park or taking an excursion to a farmers' market, Cavaliere advises. (See References 6)
- The New York Times; "Ecotourism: Can It Protect the Planet?"; Eric Weiner; May 19, 1991
- Responsible Travel Guide; Transitions Abroad; 2006
- Byron Williams; Owner, Grand Cru Wine Tours
- Sheryl Kayne; Volunteer Vacation Expert
- "Ecotourism: Principles and Practices"; Ralf Buckley; 2009
- The Washington Post; "See the Planet, Save the Planet"; Eviana Hartman; February 10, 2008
Rogue Parrish is a writer and editor with Demand Media Studios.
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