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Ways to Reduce Your Environmental Impact When Traveling
“Take nothing but photographs, and leave nothing but footprints,” as the saying goes. It seems that in the interest of saving our planet while sparing room for a little fun, the only option for those stricken with the travel bug is to travel, but travel responsibly. Traveling responsibly will not only make us feel more “green” but will often help us spend less “green” as well. In order to do so, there are some criteria one should follow. Here’s a “How-To” on responsible international travel.
The Philosophical Dilemma
For those interested in tapping into the vibrant world of a less developed land, the first question to ask yourself is, “what are the social and political impacts of my travel on the country?” Reading up at the CIA’s World Factbook and news sources on the country, and asking around at a few online forums should give you a clear idea as to whether a country is fit to travel in or not. Corruption Rankings and Press Freedom Rankings, give a couple good gauges on the fitness of a country for travel.
Once you have confirmed which country to visit, the main legwork in traveling responsibly lies in the preparation stage of the trip. As the saying goes, “Battles are won in the planning room,” or as carpenters say, “measure twice, cut once.” Likewise, the more one studies, prepares, and is clear about what to expect in an international expedition, the smoother the journey and the more conscientious-friendly the trip. Planning out environmentally responsible transportation and sleeping arrangements before setting foot in the country not only prevents last-minute compromises of one’s values but also ensures a more enjoyable and stress-free trip. It also helps to be well-versed in the scamming schemes often artfully employed by some of the locals.
Forums such as Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree, or our very own Travellerspoint are rich with experience from travelers to the region. If there is a particular niche or nuance about a country you haven’t found enough information on, post a question and you’re likely to get very quick responses. Members of travel forums also often suggest regional websites from ex-patriots and others offering an on-the-ground perspective of what to expect.
Little can be done to avoid the high cost of flights, aside from paying attention to seasonal fluctuations in cost or purchasing a ticket early. Compare multiple airline carrier listings at websites such as www.onetime.com.
The main footprint one makes is from one’s air travel, but once on the ground, a traveler can take increasingly light steps. A little bit of effort in getting to know the local transit could go a long way. In a major city like Bangkok, subways, skytrains, and local buses abound, and can take you almost anywhere you want to go. In smaller towns and cities, bike rentals are easily accessible. Traveling in groups when needing to take taxis will also reduce one’s impact.
Food & Living
Take some time to research on the potential hotels or guest houses at your destination. Are they locally owned and operated? Are the staff local? A rating website such as Environmentally Friendly Hotels may give you some good leads, but be sure to check each websites’ criteria for what they mean by “Green.”
Activities & Purchasing Power
There is never a shortage of activities for a traveler to pursue in a foreign country. Whether such activities can contribute to the lives of the people living there is the operative question. It would be good to ask ourselves, are we supporting industries which contribute to the enrichment of that society?
How our behavior and actions affect the society we find ourselves in may have just as much weight as where we decide to spend our dollars. In other words, are we looking to be enriched by the lives of the people we are visiting and enrich their lives in kind? An attitude to contribute to something greater than ourselves may influence the people more than our tourist dollars.
The Final Word
Now, all of this effort to plot out a green vacation may be exciting, but what if you want someone to plan it out for you? In that case, you may want to visit Responsible Travel.
Regardless of how you decide to travel green, it is good to keep a level head when it comes to living true to your green ideals. As the saying goes, “Everything in moderation, especially moderation.” The green wave has hit the shores of many developed cities, but not everywhere in the world. Some of our ideals may be out of synch with the realities of the country we visit, and maintaining a healthy perspective on this will enable us to enjoy ourselves freely when traveling abroad, all the while living our green values to their fullest potential.