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Being an Ecotourist
Ecotourism is increasingly popular, as people flock to view the great environmental wonders of the world – maybe before they are gone forever. You can see the rain forest of the Amazon, the whales of the northern oceans, the savannahs of Africa. But you certainly don't want your travel to these pristine spots -- or anywhere else -- to add to the environmental pressure the world is already under.
You can book your trip with a well-known environmental organization, of course. The Nature Conservancy offers trips to see wolves in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, whales in the Sea of Cortez and macaws in Machu Picchu, Peru, among others. Other similar groups, as well as universities, also sponsor tours all over the world.
If you want to book your own tour, there are many organizations that can help you identify responsible travel operators. Among the most prestigious is The International Ecotourism Society, which was founded in 1990 and has members in more than 70 countries. At its Web site, TIES provides a list of travel operators that have signed the TIES Code of Contact for environmental responsibility.
In signing the code, these businesses have promised they will minimize the impact of travel on the environment, try to build environmental and cultural awareness of the areas they serve, contribute directly to conservation efforts and to the local economy, and support international efforts for human rights. Many of these operators offer adventure tours, but many also have options that are a little less Indiana Jones, such as cruises to Alaska.
Maybe the glaciers or the rain forests are not on your travel agenda. Well, no matter where you travel, you can take responsibility for the environment and work with hotels and groups that are also committed to taking care of the earth.
If you are staying in a hotel, choose one that minimizes its impact on the environment. GreenSeal, which works to promote environmentally friendly products and services, provides a list of U.S. properties that are environmentally responsible at the GreenSeal Web site. If this conjures up visions of hostels and yurts, don't worry; most of these lodgings range from comfortable hotels to luxury resorts. You can also find a list of environmentally friendly hotels and inns around the globe at ecotourism.net.
And no matter where you stay, you can practice environmental responsibility. The WWF, fomerly the World Wildlife Fund, offers the following suggestions:
- Learn about the culture and customs of the area you are visiting before you go, and be respectful of those customs while you are visiting. This applies to travel to exotic and far-away places, of course, but it may also apply when you are traveling to any new place.
- Go to parks and nature preserves. Money tourists spend at these places is critical to their survival. But be sure that you follow all the rules while you are in a park or preserve: Stay on approved paths, don't camp or hike without permission, etc. And if you are viewing wildlife, be careful not to get close enough to frighten or disturb them – or put yourself in danger.
- Choose hotels that recycle, are energy-efficient and use effective wastewater treatment systems. It is even better if the hotel uses an alternative energy source such as solar power.
- Conserve water and energy when you travel, just as you should be doing at home. Take quick showers rather than baths, don't run the water while you brush your teeth, turn off the lights when you leave a room, and don't run the air conditioning or heat full-blast, especially while you are not in the room.
- Save water and detergent use by reusing hotel towels and not asking for clean linen daily. And dispose of all garbage properly.
- Recycle your newspapers and plastic. Check for recycling containers and, if you don't find any, ask the hotel to recycle for you.
- Don't drive more than you have to. Take public transportation or walk whenever possible. When you are renting a car, look for the best possible mileage.
- Don't buy souvenirs that represent environmental damage, such as animal hides or parts, ivory, coral or tortoise shell. Not only are these and similar environmentally unsound, they also may be illegal. You can find more information about this at the WWF site.
- If you think your hotel or tour operator could make improvements in their environmental awareness, tell them that. And if you think they were respectful of the environment, tell your friends about them.