It’s one of the toughest dilemmas for any environmentally-minded, adventurous soul: We all love to travel, but worry about our carbon emissions and the potential impact of tourism on local communities. How, then, can we travel better? We talked to Brian Mullis, President of Sustainable Travel International about exploring with the least environmental impact, and, hopefully, with a net positive impact on the communities you visit.
1. Consider the distance. Think about where you’re going, how far you’ll have to travel to get there, and keep in mind those greenhouse gases. We would never begrudge anyone for flying around the world if it means helping out some folks in need, working to solve some serious problem, or even learning something important about one’s self. You might be able to find those experiences closer to home. Staycations are gaining in popularity for good reason.
2. Transportation matters. Once you get there, consider carefully how you’re getting around. Walk, rent or borrow a bicycle, or use public transportation as much as possible. There’s no better way to get to know a new city, town, or village than by walking or biking it. And there’s no better way to get the real “local” experience and get to know the people than by riding buses, subways, and trains.
3. Respect the locals. Every place is different. How things work in your home town isn’t necessarily how it plays anywhere else. Respect the local customs and social norms.
4. Spend locally. Ensure the local community is benefiting most from your visit. Steer clear of the multinational chains and support locally-owned shops, restaurants, cafes, and markets. Buy locally-produced goods, if you’re fixing for some durable souvenirs. The money you spend will improve the lives of the locals, and won’t be shipped right out of town to some corporate tower.
5. Less is more. It’s impossible to visit a place without using any local resources, but the less energy or water you use and the less waste you produce, the better the local community fairs. Just because you’re not paying for electricity in your hotel or hostel, don’t keep the light on all the time. In most of the world, energy and water supplies barely keep up with demand (if they do at all). Your visit shouldn’t further limit these resources.
6. Honor protected areas. Be attentive to sensitive places—ecosystems, animal habitats, even fragile cultural sites—and be sure to follow all the rules. Pay the fees—even if it’s an honor system!
7. Leave no trace. A wonderfully simple guiding principle. Leave a place in the same condition that you found it. Better yet—leave it in better shape.
8. Keep wildlife wild. Respect wild animals in their natural habitats. Sometimes mere human contact can screw things up for some species. Never, ever, chase, harass or feed wildlife. Keep your distance, bring some binoculars or a telephoto lens and take in the magnificence of wildlife from a good distance.
9. Give back. Wherever you go, find a local cause or project that’s benefiting the community and offer some support. You could volunteer, or donate money or supplies. When you’re back home, follow up to see how things are coming along.
10. Explore. “Your guidebook is just a starting point,” Mullis says. ”Be open to local suggestions and new experiences.” The best of travel happens when you put the guide away, get to know some locals, and follow their lead.
Photo (cc) courtesy of Wikipedia
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