Like the idea of ecotourism, but not exactly sure what that means? Most of my trips meet three criteria: they’re fun; affordable; and make an environmental difference in some concrete way.
The fun part is simple to define. I’m the “active adventurer with a cultural twist” type, so for me, a trip is really fun if it gives me a chance to hike, snorkel, scuba, mountain bike or otherwise get my adrenaline pumping, preferably in a place with gorgeous scenery that connects me to Mother Nature. But I also love exploring new cultures, enjoying the local art and restaurant scene, and meeting people who actually live where I’m just visiting.
WHAT MAKES A TRIP FUN FOR YOU?
Expense is always a factor, especially in this economy. Fortunately, there are more affordable options available than ever before. From couch surfing to camping to hostels and the budget hotels you can find through companies like Accor, our sponsors for this post, it should be possible to locate accommodations within your price range almost anywhere you want to go.
WHAT CONSTITUTES ECOTOURISM?
As for making a difference, the International Ecotourism Society has identified a set of principles to guide travelers in making decisions about their destinations. Those principles include:
* Minimize impact (look for accommodations and activities that minimize energy and water consumption, recycle waste, reuse products, and serve locally grown organic food when possible)
* Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect between visitors and hosts
* Provide direct financial benefits for local conservation and the benefit of local people (for example, does a portion of a fee you pay get returned to the local community for education or to support a local tree planting project or water purification plant or organic farm?)
* Raise sensitivity about the host country’s political, environmental and social issues
The picture above was taken during my trip rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. We also visited Native American communities, and archeological sites where we learned about the ancient history of Arizona. We used reusable food containers and water bottles, purified water right out of the river to avoid plastic water bottles, and camped in tents or slept under the stars. When the trip was over, we stopped at stores owned by local entrepreneurs to buy snacks, drinks and souvenirs, helping support their local economy.
HOW TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
When it comes to making a difference, many eco-tourism trips today are specifically designed to help maintain trails, replant forests, or conduct research into the status of endangered species.
The EarthWatch Institute organizes expeditions ranging from archeological digs to protecting chimpanzees to exploring the Amazon. Their motto? “Travel the world while saving the planet.”
The venerable Sierra Club offers “Adventures with a Cause.” You can help restore critical bird habitat on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, improve hiking trails along California’s spectacular Big Sur Coast, control invasive plant species on Maine’s beautiful and remote Monhegan Island, or develop small organic food gardens at the Genesis Farm in New Jersey (yes, New Jersey!) There are many more options to choose from, all of which are reasonably priced, fun, and high impact.
Maple Leaf Adventures offers sailing cruises along the coast of British Columbia and up through Alaska’s Inside Passage, as well as around the Galapagos Islands. In addition to providing tourists a first-hand opportunity to explore and observe Nature, the company supports research organizations working to protect the coastlines they sail along. They also volunteer the time of their own staff to promote conservation, education and sound ecotourism in British Columbia.
You’ll find many more opportunities for eco-tourism by searching “ecotourism adventures” on the Internet. Before you choose an outfitter, compare what they offer to the principles identified above. Do their expeditions really make a difference? Ask for specific examples, both about how the outfitter gives back and about the contribution you’ll make by being part of the trip.
Note: The support of companies like Accor help us bring you expertise and insights at no cost to you. Our editorial opinions are our own. Thanks.