I am captivated by oceans and mountains. Simply being in their presence brings me a deep sense of peace and contentment. And I can easily spend an entire day hiking or snorkeling. Unfortunately, I live in northern Indiana—Lake Michigan and its sand dunes aren’t quite the same as the Caribbean Sea or the Colorado Rockies! As a result, I travel as often as my budget allows.
Through my travels, especially in developing countries and in rural areas of the United States, I’ve realized how greatly tourism can impact the environment and local communities. It can offer a source of income and encourage conservation, but it can also destroy natural and cultural resources. I want my travel to be helpful, not harmful. Over time, I’ve learned how to be a more responsible traveler, and I wanted to share a few practical suggestions with you:
- Research your hotel options. Choose a hotel that is locally owned and/or demonstrates a real commitment to the environment and the community. Usually a review of the hotel’s website can provide you with this information, but don’t hesitate to also call and ask them directly.
- Evaluate your mode of transportation. When possible, avoid flying or driving long distances. When this is not possible, reduce your impact by purchasing carbon offsets, renting a hybrid car, etc. After you’ve reached your destination, rely on public transportation, walking, or bicycling.
- Support the local economy. When you’re spending money on food, souvenirs, or tours, choose companies that are locally owned. For example, during a recent trip to Mexico, I took a tour of a small, family-owned chocolate factory. I learned about the history of chocolate, participated in the production process by grinding some cacao beans, and financially supported a local family. (I also purchased A LOT of chocolate to bring home with me!)
- Be aware of your trash. Don’t stop recycling just because you’re on vacation. If you’re traveling to a place that doesn’t have recycling facilities, consider bringing some of your recyclable trash (e.g., plastic bottles) back home with you.
- Don’t go crazy with the hotel thermostat. I know it’s tempting. It’s hot outside, and you’re not directly paying the energy costs… But you don’t really need to set the air-conditioning to 65 degrees, right? Treat the hotel thermostat as you would the thermostat in your own home.
- Tip generously. Employment in the tourism industry includes an overwhelming number of low-wage service positions. Even if you don’t consider yourself wealthy, you likely make more money than the people serving your food, cleaning your room, and leading your tours. Acknowledge great service with a generous tip.
- Consider “giving back” while you travel. Volunteering during vacation (aka voluntourism) is becoming more popular. Tourists can volunteer for a day or for their entire trip and assist with a variety of projects ranging from building homes to tracking sea turtle nests.
Enjoy your future travels!