As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time sorting my trash into recyclables, compost, and garbage, I always carried a layer of guilt around my affinity for travel. I was far too aware of the ridiculous amount of carbon emissions that came attached to each international ticket I booked. Which is why when I first heard the term “Eco-Tourism” I immediately wanted to know more. Fast forward a few years and no I’m not only an eco-tourism expert, but a passionate believer of integrating the values of eco-tourism into all my travels. And I’m here to share that expertise and passion with you. In this ultimate guide to eco-tourism, I will go over what eco-tourism is, why it matters, and how to practice it in your daily life.
The What: What even is eco-tourism?
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines eco-tourism as “Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact, and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”
Let’s put it in terms that don’t sound like something out of a dull college lecture. Basically, eco-tourism is tourism centered around nature. Visiting nature, appreciating nature, and respecting nature. It means traveling to biodiverse countries and destinations in order to appreciate the natural environment and the communities that have coexisted, and still do coexist, with that environment. Most of all, ecotourism is about respecting nature. This means finding ways to limit the impact your travel has on the natural world and support the local communities that live in these natural areas.
The Why: Why should you care about eco-tourism?
Okay, so now you know what eco-tourism is, but why should you care?
We all have different things that drive us. And if you are already passionate about fighting global warming and engaging in environmentalism, you probably don’t need me to explain why eco-tourism is important. After all, what’s good for the planet is good for us.
But maybe environmentalism isn’t your cause. That’s okay! I have a feeling eco-tourism will still be for you. And here’s why…
Imagine you are setting off for a new adventure. Maybe you’re going to lie on the beaches of Phuket, climb the Swiss Alps, or dance with the whirling dervishes in Turkey. Regardless of where you are headed, one thing is always the same: you are a guest. Eco-tourism is about respecting that guest-host relationship and treating other countries the way you would treat a neighbor’s home. If your neighbor asks you to remove your shoes in the house, you do. So, if a foreign country asks you to honor their land and respect their customs, why should that be any different? When boiled down, eco-tourism is all about respect, and who can’t get behind a cause based on mutual respect??
The How: How can you practice eco-tourism on your travels?
You are now a budding expert on eco-tourism. You know what it is and why you should care about it. But it’s no good memorizing the theory if you don’t know how to put it into practice. So how can you actually live the eco-tourism life on your next trip? Here are a few of my favorite tips:
- Off-set the carbon footprint of your airfare. Carbon Fund allows you to enter the departure and arrival airports for your flight, then make a proportional donation toward carbon reduction projects to help off-set your impact. It’s cheaper than you might think (I only spent an extra $17 last time I went to Europe) and turns a negative impact into a positive one.
- Travel with organizations that embody eco-tourism. Whether you are spending three months volunteering in the Amazon or spending a week on a yoga retreat, make sure the organizations you travel with priorities eco-tourism. True Nature Travels, for example, works hard to make sure we work with eco-friendly retreat centers and offers service projects so you can give back to the local community during your retreat.
- Spend more time visiting natural parks around the world. From Monteverde in Costa Rica to Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, the world is full of breath-taking natural parks. Adding these to your travel itinerary not only adds a few days of stunning travel through some of the world’s most incredible natural wonders, but gives you an opportunity to support local efforts to keep the world a little greener.
However you travel, you can make it eco
Contrary to popular belief, eco-tourism does not mean camping. You can embody the values of eco-tourism in all sorts of travel. From luxury resorts and spas to camping and trekking through the rainforest, you can experience the world your way while still acting as an eco-tourist. So the next time you plan a trip, dig a little deeper into where you are staying and what you are doing, and try to add a little eco to your tourism.