Combining the worlds of travel and environmental awareness usually conjures up the topic of ecotourism. Making environmentally conscious choices while on vacation is very important, being informed about the way everyday travel impacts the environment is also critical. Many of us make trips for work more often then we do for pleasure. What principals can we apply to shorter, less glamorous treks? Also, the various guidelines around ecotourism tend to apply to travel to natural areas. What choices can we make for travel to urban areas that reduce impacts to the natural world?
To begin with, transportation should be a major consideration. Air travel is highly fuel consumptive in addition to having a great deal of packaging and solid waste such as discarded headsets and tiny bottles of water. Visit Green Seat (www.greenseat.com/) to learn more about the impacts of air travel. We all know driving consumes quite a bit of fuel. Both air and car travel emit carbon dioxide into the air. An excess of carbon dioxide is the major contributor to global warming (see www.fightglobalwarming.com). So, what to do? Start by evaluating your travel schedule. Is there a way to combine trips, perhaps add a day or two, so that next month or next quarter another trip is not required? Second, figure out if public transportation is a viable option for you once you have reached your destination. Third, if you are driving, try to track down a hybrid car to rent from a traditional rental car agency or perhaps a car share organization (something to consider if you travel to the same place often.) If a hybrid were not available, select the most fuel-efficient car that will suit your needs and tell the rental company you would like the option of reserving a hybrid in the future.
There is an emerging practice called carbon offsets (also called carbon credits). The non-profit Carbon Fund www.carbonfund.org offers a great deal of information and explains: Carbon offsets are the process of reducing a ton of carbon dioxide emissions in another location for the emissions you cause in either your home, office, commute, travel or other activities that use energy and cause emissions.
If your company or lifestyle requires frequent travel, consider offsetting some of your carbon dioxide output. Read more at: www.ecobusinesslinks.com/
Pick your accommodations based on the company’s environmental practices. Many hotels now claim to be going greener by not washing towels unless specified. While washing fewer towels and sheets is a start, there are other things hotel can offer. Do they source toiletry products which are organic and in recyclable containers? Do they recycle onsite? Do they have compact fluorescent bulbs in lamps? Low flow toilets and showerheads? Have they minimized toxic cleaning products? Visit the hotel’s website. If you cannot easily find some information about environmental practices there is a good chance none have been established. Ideally, you should not have to remember each question to ask of a hotel, the hotel should be offering answers. For more information on greening hotels see www.globalstewards.org/hotel.htm
One final thing to consider under general travel is utilizing local businesses (try to do this all the time, not just when traveling). Skipping the chains in favor of the locally owned businesses helps to maintain the integrity of local culture. A huge reason to travel is to experience the ways different people live and places feel. What is the point of using up so many resources to reach a location only to eat at a restaurant you have down the street from your home?
Conservation International (www.ecotour.org/xp/ecotour/) defines Ecotourism as, "responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people."
Conservation International’s Ecotour site continues that:
"Within the world’s biodiversity hotspots, poverty is driving people to pursue livelihoods that often destroy the very natural resources on which they rely. Increasingly, governments, local communities, and NGOs are pursuing ecotourism as part of the solution. [Conservation International] actively supports these efforts by building their capacities to design and implement ecotourism programs that truly address conservation issues and create needed jobs and income opportunities."
In addition to writing wonderful travel guides, Lonely Planet also has an abundance of travel related information online. Visit the site to learn more:
The Responsible Travel Forum created this Responsible Travel Handbook.