Responsible, sustainable travel is built on a fairly simple principle:
Try to leave every place you visit a little bit better than it was when you got there. But aside from the old adage, “take only pictures, leave only footprints,” what steps can you take to have a positive impact? Here are a few of our favorite tips:
10. Pack light - Lightening up your load saves money on baggage fees and increases plane fuel-efficiency. Pack items that can be washed in the sink and that are quick drying so they can be worn multiple times during your trip.
9. Save water- In developing countries water shortages are a major problem, but there are easy ways to reduce personal usage. Try not to use the hotel laundry since each guest’s clothes are washed separately, even if there are only a couple of articles. Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth and shaving, take quicker showers, and re-use towels for several days, just as you would at home.
8. Save energy- Consider leaving the “Do Not Disturb” sign outside your door so that the housekeeping staff won’t clean your room, reducing harmful chemical cleaning supplies and the electricity used when vacuuming and washing bed linens. Simple actions like turning off the lights, air conditioner, heat and television when you leave your hotel room can also save energy.
7. Reduce, reuse, recycle- A little eco-consciousness goes a long way when we travel. For instance, return brochures and maps once you’re finished using them, take a BPA-free water bottle you can refill, use just one bar of soap for both the sink and shower, and hold on to glass/plastics/cans until you find a place to recycle them. Some hotels have recycling programs, but if the one you’re staying in doesn’t, then encourage them to start one.
6. Shop local- Seek out local artisans from whom you can buy directly, and enrich your travel experience by asking them about their craft and listening to their stories. I saw tons of assembly line art at various stalls when I was in the Riviera Maya near Coba, Mexico, but wound upbuying from a gentleman who taught local children and tourists how to make traditional Mayan pottery and distributed profits equally among families in his village.
5. Tread lightly- Avoid damaging native flora by sticking to established trails when hiking. Whenever my family and I visit the ocean, lake or mountains, we always try to pick up at least one full bag of garbage left by previous travelers. It’s a great way to help maintain our environment and preserve the beautiful scenery as well as protect wildlife that might accidentally consume or get caught up in the trash.
4. Leave the resort- We were shocked to meet a family in the Dominican Republic that stayed at the same hotel every year, but never left to explore the local area. Don’t be a tourist, be a traveler! Make it a point to immerse yourself in the local art, music and cuisine. Welcome the differences that make it special. It might surprise you when you open your mind to new ideas.
3. Respect local traditions- Some cultures may have very different traditions from yours. Women are forbidden to show more than a sliver of skin in many Muslim countries. And being photographed in many cultures is akin to having your soul taken away. Spend some time to understand and honor these traditions, or you may risk offending the people whose culture you’re there to experience.
2. Be kind- When you travel to a new destination, you take a piece of that experience with you for the rest of your life. Consider giving something back. Many developing nations have people desperately in need of basic necessities you may take for granted. Consider bringing school supplies on tours in which you know you’ll interact with locals, or perhaps some clothes for the local orphanage.
1. Shop smarter- Read labels on the products you buy. Ask questions like “What animal is this item made of?” and “Are special documents required to bring it home?” All over the planet you’ll find people hocking wares made from precious hardwoods, endangered species, and ancient artifacts. It may be all right to sell those items in their country, but you can still express your views with your wallet by refusing to buy them.
Remember, going green doesn't have to be about grand gestures. Collectively, every little action towards responsible, sustainable travel eventually adds up!