How To: Be an Eco-Tourist
Is eco-tourism just a buzz word from the first decade in the 21st century? Whenever I hear "eco-tourism" I think of fancy tents in Africa where someone else does all the hard work of typical camping and lots of wild animals a safe distance away but close enough to feel scared. What is eco-tourism shaping up to be in the new decade?
Realizing the impact we have on our environment is the first step to embracing eco-tourism. Whether we go on a weekend road trip or travel half way around the world, our choices effect our world. Travel sites like Expedia and Orbitz are joining in with the trend. Eco-friendly hotels are popping up as a way to differentiate themselves from all the rest. For some hotels that means that they have an EPA Energy Star Rating
. Efficiency of lighting, cooling and heating and water heating are among a few of the areas that are considered when given an EPA Energy Star Rating. Some hotels just have the name "eco" in them. These types of hotels often offer yoga and wonderful spa like facilities set in scenic environments. How much they work on protecting the environment or reducing their carbon foot print is questionable. Do a little research to find out how the hotel you pick is working to be truly eco-friendly.
Another way to help the environment, or at least endangered species, is to go on tours that specifically help to protect the animals. Not long ago I watched a show about tourism and gorillas. Gorillas are endangered and were often killed by local people to be sold for large amounts of money. Now these same local people are realizing that their unique animals can bring in more money as tourist attractions. Westerners go to see the gorillas in the wild and spend money on food, souvenirs and services. Finding the balance between an increased human presence due to tourism and saving a fragile ecosystem is something we still need to work on. The Galapagos Islands are a good example where a huge increase in tourism is damaging the environment. The Galapagos were not in danger from habitat reduction due to human expansion until now, because humans never lived on these islands. Go visit lemurs in Madagascar instead of the last Giant Tortoise in Galapagos.
So, you're really into the city life and have no desire to rough it in nature? No worries, you can still be eco-conscious. Choose a hotel that has an EPA Energy Star rating. Then find a city that has great public transportation and use it while visiting. You can't go wrong in New York City with the subway system. Anywhere you want to be, you can get there. And it's probably faster than hailing a taxi and weeding through traffic. Many cities have great public transportation systems that are easy to use. A few of the leading cities for ridership, safety and funding in public transportation are Portland, Oregon, Washington D.C. and Boston. I was pleasantly surprised to see Honolulu, Denver and Salt Lake City to be high on the list.
Making small changes to your travel can have a big impact. Travel closer to home. An airplane flight creates a huge carbon footprint. If you feel like real vacations must include an airplane, then locate truly eco-friendly lodging. Support local communities that are working to protect their wildlife through tourism. Use public transportation as much as possible. And above all, have fun!
Have you made any changes in your travel behavior to reduce your carbon footprint or help threatened habitats? Are you an eco-traveler?