Travel is undoubtedly an exciting and fun way to change your perspective, expand your mind, and experience a different place. Unfortunately, a lot of travel attitude and practice results in a huge amount of trash and pollution – which ironically ends up destroying the very places that travelers love. But fear not! It is possible to travel with a small footprint and to positively impact the world.
One style of travel – “ecotourism”, which has been gaining popularity in recent years, focuses on tourism rooted in supporting conservation efforts and wildlife observation. I personally find this style of travel to be incredibly enriching and much more authentic and fun than a traditional tourist attraction. By following these tips, you’ll help to preserve those beautiful spots for generations to come.
1. Try to book tours and trips that are “green” or eco-certified.
Don’t be afraid to ask a prospective tour group or hotel’s commitment to responsible tourism. Most are proud to tell you about steps they’ve taken to reduce their environmental footprint. And if they skirt around the topic or don’t provide any solid answers? Step away. Most eco-certified tours and trips prioritize observation of wild animals (rather than personal interaction and photo ops, which can be very damaging), and accommodations that are a bit more rugged than what is traditionally associated with luxury travel (think solar powered rainwater showers!). If you’re interested in further research, good resources include The Nature Conservancy
, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)
, and Green Hotel’s Association
2. Consider carrying a utensil set, reusable bag, and a refillable water bottle.
Being constantly on the go can very quickly lead to lots of ‘one time use’ trash. It’s easy to forget about these items once you throw them away, but in reality, trash from travelers can add up to a big problem. Islands are often hit the hardest, and with limited space and a steady flow of tourists leaving things behind, the local communities end up struggling to deal with it. A prime example of this is Thilafushi
, a man-made garbage island in the Maldives created as a solution for the lack of landfill space. Plastic bags, straws, and utensils are some of the top offenders, so by carrying and reusing your own, you’ll be doing the earth a big favor. I am a big fan of To-Go Ware’s RepEat Bamboo Utensil Set
, SipWell’s Stainless Steel Straws
, and Vapur’s Collapsable Water Bottle
3. Take public transit!
Some of my favorite travel memories come from funny and bizarre experiences I’ve had on public transit around the world. Not only is it a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, but it’s also fun to live like a local (and make some new friends too!). I’ve sampled some local treats on a train in Thailand, got a crash course in Jamaican hospitality on a bus in Kingston, and learned how to get a dog across an international border in Guatemala.
4. Research products before buying souvenirs.
Before you go, research what products are illegally traded or environmentally destructive to ensure you don’t unknowingly purchase them. This can include tortoise shell trinkets in Central America (carved from endangered Hawksbill sea turtle shells), shark fin soup in China, or palm oil products in Malaysia and Indonesia. Every country is different, and it’s not always obvious what is illegal, so do your homework before you go.
5. Don’t put your eco-friendly lifestyle on hold while traveling.
Remember that just because you’re on vacation, it doesn’t mean that you should throw all of your normal habits out the window. Your temporary home is someone else’s permanent home, so any type of water or energy conservation you normally practice in your own home should be carried over to your new location.
Most importantly, have a blast! Travel is one of the best things you can do. The world is a beautiful place, get out there!
Article & Photos by: Marcy Silver
Marcy Silver is an artist from California. She is passionate about wildlife conservation and enjoys traveling with an ecologically responsible mindset. She believes the world is a beautiful place and enjoys urban exploration, creating art, and spending time in nature.
Watercolor Illustrations by: Rosaura Unangst
Rosaura Unangst is the owner/artist behind Pigment & Parchment. She studied American Studies at UC Santa Cruz and now sends handmade wedding stationery around the globe & teaches workshops all over California. She is happy to use her artwork to promote education, environmentalism, & pretty much any cause that tugs at her bleeding liberal heart (just email her if you’ve got a cause in need of art).