Spring Cleaning: 'Tourist' Doesn't Have to Be a Dirty Word

How does one see the world without contributing to problems of pollution and global warming?

This challenge is in partnership with Levi's ®

According to the National Resources Defense Council, average temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as elsewhere in the world, resulting in the cracking and melting of ice caps that have been around for thousands of years. Scientists predict sea level will rise three feet by 2100, an increase that would put about 22,000 miles of U.S. land along the coast underwater. The planet is undergoing rapid change, and precious corners of the earth are being irreversibly environmentally altered. It’s a good time to ask, how does one see the world without contributing to problems of pollution and global warming?

The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." This means making a commitment to conserve resources and act respectfully to the local humans and animals while still having a blast on your vacation.

Plot your adventure. Start at National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations, where you can find a resource list to educate yourself on green travel, and a page dedicated to travelers looking for other helpful web resources, ecotours, and green transportation options. National Geographic Adventure Magazine lists Brazil, Dubai, Canada, Belize, and Kenya as the top five eco-tourism destinations. For more ideas, browse through the New York Times’ eco-tourism series, featuring destinations like the Galapagos, Antarctica, and Quebec, or read up on eco-trends of popular travel industries like cruise ships. If you’re an animal-lover, there are trips you can take to get up close and personal with wildlife, while actually working on a conservation project, like doing research with the Orangutan Foundation or whale-watching on an eco-cruise with the Pacific Whale Foundation.

Ditch the hotel. It’s time to break the cycle of big suitcases, fancy hotels, guidebook restaurant recommendations, and avoidance of locals. All you need is an open mind and a serious spirit of adventure. Ever thought about staying at a stranger’s home in a foreign country? With millions of users in 250 countries, CouchSurfing provides a couch to crash on all over the world. After you create a profile, you can request to stay in people’s homes at no charge. All hosts ask is that you share your culture with them, and in turn they’ll show you the town through a local’s eyes. There’s also a great system of verification, feedback, and trust in place to make sure you aren’t about to stay with a total creep. Other types of websites to try this out are Global Freeloaders and The Hospitality Club. Or stick up your green thumb and hitch on over to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, which gives you a chance to follow your passion for earth-conscious living by working on organic farms for several hours a day in exchange for room and board.

Leave only (small) footprints. Want to know just how much your daily existence over the last year has affected the earth? The answer might shock you. Use the carbon footprint calculator to add up your energy and transportation use, plus eating habits, to find out if you’re a globe-friendly globetrotter.

No matter where you’re going, keep these two golden rules in mind: Do no harm, and stay focused not on the quantity of landmarks you see, souvenirs you buy, or photos you snap, but the quality of your experience.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user chantal forster.

To learn more about how you can save water every day, click here and take the Water<Less Challenge.

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