Ecotourism. Planet-friendly travel? That’s what the name implies, but unless you’re an avid traveler, you may have only heard this term in passing. More likely, you’ve heard a popular nickname—ethical vacation, sustainable tourism, or mindful travel. All of these terms encompass the same general idea: travel in a way that’s helpful, not harmful. Whether you’re traveling to a golden beach in Southern Italy or to a dazzling Arctic snowscape, ecotourism entails that you act considerately toward the local environment and culture.
Planning an ecofriendly trip might at first seem daunting, but don’t feel overwhelmed! Remember the two main categories to keep in mind: nature and culture. While planning, select destinations where your visit will respect local wildlife. Check the policies of any companies that you use (hotels, restaurants, travel guides) to be sure that they do not harm wildlife or local culture. Many tour companies profit from treating animals unethically, taking tourists on tours that are damaging to local wildlife, or funneling tourists to a select few local businesses while neglecting the vast majority.
Try to find companies that are actively involved with local communities. Many tour companies partner with local environmentally- or economically-based nonprofits. Working with organizations like these can be an easy way to ensure that simply by visiting, you’re contributing to a place that you love.
Research local culture and customs ahead of time so you don’t offend your hosts. Plan ahead to visit locally owned restaurants and businesses. If you’re going to a less affluent country, rather than planning to give to all those you see, consider researching established communities in the area and donate there instead. “Harmless” monetary donations can often have negative impacts on local communities if not given through proper channels.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many institutions have learned specific keywords to advertise, like ecofriendly, sustainable, or fair-trade. If these companies truly practice what they preach, then they won’t be offended when you ask them what steps they’re taking to actually be ecofriendly (or sustainable, etc.). Asking impact-based questions will allow you to filter out companies that have misleading advertising.
Though these considerations may feel daunting, enjoy the process of planning your trip. The extra time that you spend researching planet-friendly institutions will allow you to enjoy your time knowing that your presence is a blessing, not a burden.