One of the positives to come out of the global pandemic is the international decline in carbon emissions. We are FINALLY giving Mother Earth a much-needed and much-deserved mini-break from the havoc we’ve forced upon her for hundreds of years. However, carbon emissions will increase and the world will go right back to normal if we allow it. This is our chance to educate ourselves, implement environmentally friendly practices and heal the only home we have. Travelers – it’s time to travel green and travel sustainably. Read on to learn how to become a responsible traveler and ecotourist!
Historically, the tourism industry has contributed greatly to global warming and the steady decline of our planet’s natural resources. One study finds that the tourism industry makes up for 8% of ALL greenhouse gas emissions from 2009-2013, and that number is rising (with the exception of 2020 since COVID-19 has us all at home and in our pajamas).
So as ecotourists, what are we supposed to do? Since so many individuals and economies depend on income from the tourism industry, simply not traveling is not the answer. The only solution is to educate ourselves, change our harmful practices and TRAVEL GREEN!
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how to be an ecotourist
If you have the means to be picky with airfare, select a eco-friendly airline like KLM, United or Qantas that uses sustainable aviation biofuel.
If an eco-fuel airline is not available, consider flying with one of the 30+ airlines that are a member of the IATA and “neutralize” their aircraft carbon emissions through carbon offsetting.
Besides the obvious convenience factor, there’s another reason to fly direct. A plane gives off the most carbon emissions during take-off and landing, so eliminate the layovers whenever possible.
INVEST IN A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE
Ecotourists carry a reusable water bottle! There’s no excuse for buying plastic water bottles in countries like Switzerland or Norway where the water is so clean you can drink it directly from the lake. (If you need another deterrent, I once paid a whopping $11 for two bottles of water in Interlaken).
Unfortunately, not every country’s tap water is so clean. Travel blogger, Shivya Nath, has some great insights about traveling plastic-free in countries where the tap water is undrinkable. She suggests asking for refills at restaurants with clean, filtered water and requesting a filtered water jug in your hotel room to fill up your own bottle every day.
If you plan on utilizing these plastic-free alternatives, I would suggest investing in a high-quality filtered water bottle, such as LifeStraw Go.
SAY “NO” TO PLASTIC BAGS
The best ecotourists will bring a pocket-sized reusable bag with them on the road! For me, hitting the local grocery store is always the first stop in a new destination (especially if we’re staying in an Airbnb or somewhere with a kitchen). And, if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a handful of plastic bags as souvenirs.
I purchased my collapsable shopping bags from the local Conad in Florence. But if you’re shopping for one in the States, Amazon offers lots of great options like this 10-pack from Kaxich.
If you’re looking for a cuter, Insta-worthy alternative, check out one of my favorite shops, DKnitsetc, and grab one of Delaney’s handmade Farmers Market Bags!
LEAVE EACH DESTINATION BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT
The best way you can respect and honor the countries and cities you’re visiting is to do adequate research on popular tourist activities before you arrive. Travel green, travel responsibly and do 👏🏻 your 👏🏻 research.
Before we arrived in Thailand, I spent hours online researching the harms vs. the benefits of elephant sanctuaries, how to spot a true sanctuary vs. tourist-trap and the best sanctuaries to support and donate to. Without research, it’s very likely that your money will go towards supporting an industry that abuses, tortures and exploits millions of exotic animals every year for tourist entertainment. For more information, check out this article by Green Global Travel: 15 Harmful Traditions & Cultural Practices Tourists Should Never Support and my blog post Your Complete Chiang Mai Bucket List.
In addition to doing your research, being an ecotourist means respecting every country like you would your own. This means cleaning up after yourself, learning and respecting the customs of the people who live there and not contributing to harmful over-tourism.
Do your best to support locally-run restaurants. Focus your money and attention on sustainable activities and locally-made souvenirs that support and give back to the country’s economy.
BOOK TOURS & ACTIVITIES THROUGH SMALL GROUP AGENCIES
Smaller tour operators tend to have less of a harmful environmental impact. Before booking a day-trip or tour, check to see if the company is registered with The International Ecotourism Society.
The TIES global network includes members from over 190 countries around the world and sets the standard for sustainable travel & tourism. Members adhere to guidelines and undergo training to turn tourism into a viable tool for conservation all over the world.
INVEST IN A REUSABLE STRAW
Owning a reusable straw is the first step to becoming a responsible ecotourist. A staggering 500 million plastic straws and are used and disposed of in the United States EVERY DAY. They aren’t recyclable and many end up as litter or find their way into our oceans where they can choke or harm marine life.
All of this harm because we don’t want to simply pick up and sip our drinks?
When dining out, make it a habit to remind your server to leave out the straw. Or, if you are a drink-picker-upper-hater, invest in a reusable version! Jungle Culture makes my favorite reusable straws made from ethically sourced bamboo. They sell tons of other reusable products including bags, razors, cutlery sets and bamboo bowls.
TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Be an ecotourist and opt for public transportation or bike rentals instead of renting a car or Ubering. Many European cities have bike share services such as Mobike or Vélib. These services allow you to download an app and pick up a bicycle to ride anywhere you need to go!
If you’re traveling a further distance around a region or country, taking trains is a much more eco-friendly option than a domestic flight. In certain countries, like Italy, the view from the train is almost as stunning as the destination itself.
CHOOSE A “GREEN” HOTEL
Choosing to stay in a “green” hotel is a great way to travel sustainably! When traveling in the Unites States, do your best to choose hotels that have an LEED Certification. This means the hotel uses less energy and water, avoids waste and lessens their environmental impact on their community. You can find a list of LEED Certified hotels here.
When traveling internationally, trust certifications from organizations such as Green Globe, Trip Advisor’s Green Leaders and EarthCheck. These hotels are certified sustainable and environmentally friendly. They implement practices such as recycling, towel/linen reuse, energy efficient lighting, waste minimization and educating both employees and guests on “green” practices.
More “green” tips for hotels:
- Avoid using the hotel laundry service whenever possible. They tend to wash each guest’s clothes separately, even if there are only a few items.
- Always hang up your towels! This signifies to the cleaning staff that you’ll be using them again and they don’t need to be washed.
- Take unused shampoos, conditioners, soaps and lotions with you when you leave. They’re often thrown away if not used by guests.
- Every time you leave the hotel, don’t forget to turn off lights, A/C and unplug any chargers or devices.
SWITCH TO REEF-SAFE SUNSCREEN
Harmful chemicals in generic sunscreens are a huge contributor to the destruction of reefs around the world, including the Great Barrier Reef. To become a true ecotourist, look for labels that read Oxybenzone-free when purchasing sunscreen. Oxybenzone is the chemical that damages or kills adult coral and hinders the growth of new coral in its place.
My favorite reef-safe sunscreen is made by a small, family-run business in Hawaii called Kōkua Sun Care. The sunscreen is SPF 50, non-greasy, long-lasting, made with all natural, Hawaii-grown ingredients and smells like vanilla almond milk!
BE GREEN WHILE YOU’RE GONE
Before leaving home, make it a habit to unplug any unnecessary appliances like your microwave, toaster, television, chargers and turn off all lights and air conditioning/heating units.
Have any tips of your own on how to travel as an ecotourist? Comment below or send me a DM on Instagram and I’ll share your tips on my story!
If you enjoyed my guide to becoming an ecotourist, check out my other travel tips from my posts…
Don’t forget to download my free PDF Guide, “How to Plan Epic Trips!” And don’t forget to follow the adventure on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps!