Ecotourism and green travel involve travelling with the objectives of avoiding any environmental or social impact both to the areas visited and to the global environment.
- "We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth." – Rachel Carson, from Silent Spring
Protecting this planet we live on is everybody's responsibility. Future travellers should be able to enjoy it as much as today's travellers. Many of the things that can be done to reduce environmental impact are the same at home as they are when travelling.
You can save considerable power by turning off electricity before you go. If you are going away for an extended vacation, reduce your supplies of refrigerated and frozen food, this will enable you to ensure no food is wasted when you leave home, and may also save you money on refrigeration costs.
- Turn off furnaces and water heaters. (If there is a risk of pipes freezing, turn the water heater to its lowest setting rather than off.)
- Turn off the mains water supply and drain the pipes. This will ensure no flooding in the event of a water pipe failure while no one is home.
- Switch off all lights.
- Unplug TVs, video recorders and other devices that continue to draw power in their standby mode. This will also protect them against spikes in the electricity network (e.g. during thunderstorms).
As a rule: don't fly, if you don't really, really need to. In most cases, flying is the least environmentally-friendly way of getting to wherever. Also, just flying from A to B is the surest way to miss every interesting thing between A and B.
And do you really need to get that far away to experience something new? Exploring the places close to home can be quite interesting, too.
- Walking, cycling, rail travel (including urban rail) and bus travel minimize emissions per distance and passenger. Electric trains are almost always less loud and emit less pollution. When you must ride a car, consider ride-sharing, or low-emission vehicles. While most populated regions in Europe and East Asia have great public transportation, travelling the United States without a car is more of a challenge.
- Cycling is the most efficient form of transportation in terms of energy use per passenger kilometer (yes this includes walking). If you are comfortable on a bike and the local environment allows it, a bike is a superb way to see urban and rural areas. One big benefit of a bike is that it is slow enough to let you see landscapes you are driving through, but fast enough to enable you to go large distances. If something interests you, finding "parking" for a bike is rarely a huge problem.
- Inner-city car traffic is one of the most inefficient (and often unpleasant) ways to get around. The fuel consumption of all cars (including hybrids and electric cars that minimize the effect through regenerative braking) goes up in city-environments as a lot of energy is wasted in repeated brake-acceleration cycles. Other modes of transport might not only save the environment, but also time and money.
- Also when driving on the road, the engine is most efficient when working steadily. Avoid unnecessary overtaking and driving near the vehicle in front. Choose days and times of day when the traffic is reasonably light and take a break when other traffic gets on your nerves.
- Use air transport only for long distance travel where there is no rail or boat transport available. General aviation has an enormous environmental footprint. Occasionally aircraft may actually consume less fuel per person than a car with only one person in it, but both are highly inefficient.
- When boating, efficient vessels are to be preferred. Slow, "hull speed" boats usually consume much less fuel than speedboats, at least when not driving near full speed (watch the waves: causing waves is what draws power) – and of course nothing beats sailing or rowing in terms of "green" motive power.
- Ecotour operators design tours that minimize environmental impact over a standard tour. Often these tours have an educational component, learning about the environment of the area you are visiting. Ecotours may educate travellers through leaflets, interpretation and advice from tour operators or guides about the culture, customs and etiquette of locals. This may prevent conflict between locals and travellers that might have been caused through misunderstanding or ignorance.
- When good infrastructure is not available, consider leave-no-trace camping principles. The principles about not causing erosion are valid also when the infrastructure is good.
- Avoid taxis if there is public transport. Most European and many Asian cities have night-lines as well. Look for the way back to your hotel/hostel before heading out to avoid having to figure it out in the night (or having to find a taxi). If your mobile device works in the local network or you are sure to have Wifi, download the local public transit App to check connections. Many of those Apps even offer updates in real time.
- Don't use disposable cameras. They are wasteful and generally of low quality. Read Travel photography for some tips on selecting a camera that will fit your needs – or to get by without one.
- Some places (both natural sites and human structures) cannot cope with the current stress of the number of visitors, making for crumbling steps or trampled flora. Consider avoiding a visit to such places. There are often equally nice less known alternatives.
- The use of live animals as tourist entertainment can be harmful, as performing animals are sometimes held in captivity in unhealthy or miserable conditions. Even in their natural habitat, whales and dolphins may flee boatloads of sightseers in the same manner they flee predators, disrupting feeding or normal activity. Wildlife in the wild is best viewed at a respectful distance.
- This should go without saying, but seeing means just that: seeing. Don't take anything from a place that you shouldn't. "What's the harm in taking one small stone/flower?", you might ask; multiply by a couple of thousand or even million and you have your answer. This is especially true for vulnerable ecosystems such as Arctic and subarctic regions where plants can take centuries to grow a couple of centimeters or coral reefs where the stroke of a swim fin can cause harm.
- Leave all areas you visit clean. If no bins are provided, take your trash with you and dispose of it responsibly. This includes cigarette butts.
- If you take maps or brochures of an attraction, keep them in good condition so you can return them on your way out. Keep them only if you really have use for them later. You can take a digital photo if you need to keep some specific information.
- Skiing in some areas can damage trees which in turn exposes the soil to (often catastrophic) erosion. If skiing is not permitted somewhere, there are usually very good reasons for that.
- Eat locally produced foods. Try to find a local alternative to brands you are used to, which may be transported over a distance.
- Avoid food served in disposable containers or wrapping. Often it doesn't cost much more to eat at a local restaurant where the dishes are washed. Have your own containers (and cups, spoons, etc.) for food you eat on the road, allowing you to buy it unwrapped (but be careful about hygiene).
- In some countries "novelty" foods are offered that often include endangered species. Avoid those foods. (examples include turtles and their eggs, shark fins, whale meat and various types of monkeys)
- Take reusable water bottles to refill, where the water is safe, rather than purchasing water bottles.
- If the tap water is unsafe to drink, try buying bottled water in larger quantities. Not only will you (usually) save money, but there will also be less damage to the environment through packaging and transportation
- Despite what advertising may have led you to believe, in most high income countries tap water is actually safer to drink than bottled water. The Wikivoyage article on water spells out the details.
- Plastic bottles (even if they are recycled) are less often reused than glass bottles, making them more ecologically damaging
- Try to avoid breaking glass bottles
- If there is a deposit on your can/bottle, return it. Chances are it will be recycled that way. When there is no deposit, the material may still be reused if you use waste bins specifically for glass or metal.
- On leaving a hotel room, switch all lights off.
- Dry and reuse towels, rather than leaving them or returning them to the hotel to be washed.
- Consider what standard is necessary for you. Five star hotels in an otherwise less developed environment usually need much resources and may have a big impact on local nature.
- Find hotels and resorts that encourage Eco-friendly practices.
- When out in the wilderness try to stick to the rules of leave-no-trace camping
Flora and fauna
Did you know?
- Don't kill anything that is not a common pest. Not all insects are pests, some insect species are even protected and you may face a stiff fine if you kill them.
- Clean your hiking boots before moving from on area to another. Seeds often get stuck to the soles of boots or attached themselves to the upper portions or laces. These seeds can easily become transported to an area where they do not naturally occur and become an invasive species there. Rinsing the soles of your boots also reduces the risk of spreading disease.
- Fire poses a serious risk to many areas around the world, such as Australia, Portugal and California. Though fires do occur naturally and are even required in some ecosystems, human activities can increase the rate at which they occur and cause substantial ecological damage. When making a campfire, ensure that it is in an area clear of vegetation and do not leave it unattended while burning. Cigarette butts are a common cause of wildfires, also matches thrown away too early are a risk. Under certain circumstances even a piece of glass can become a lens and thus cause wildfires. In short: Don't litter.
- Many species are under threat because they are killed specifically for the tourist trade. Starfish in coastal regions is one such species. Do not buy any animal products where the animals have been killed simply to serve as a tourist memento.
By employing local people whenever possible and paying fair wages, ecotourism seeks to prevent exploitation. This benefits the local economy by preventing leakages of the revenue acquired through tourism.
Paying a fair price for services can boost the local economy. However, in some cases it can distort the local economic market, with tourists paying many times what the locals could afford or what the person would earn in his normal professional role.
- Do not print all your photos.
Traveling, or transport in general, is one of the biggest sources of global carbon emissions (26% of global CO2 in 2004), the cause of climate change.
|Fuel consumption per 100 km/person|
|Source: WWF and Deutsche Bahn. Emissions vary greatly depending on details of the travel.|
By choosing a different mode of transport, you can alter your CO2 contribution significantly. According to a Union of Concerned Scientists [dead link] analysis, buses and trains are almost always less environmentally damaging than planes or cars. The amount of greenhouse gases emitted depends on how great a distance is travelled and how many people are travelling in the same vehicle, as well as the fuel used with the way electricity is generated — an important factor for electric vehicles.
The Union of Concerned Scientists developed a set of tips for travelers in the United States based on their analysis.
- Motor coaches [the bus] often are the greenest option. A couple traveling on a motor coach will generate nearly 50 percent less global warming pollution than they would driving a fuel-efficient hybrid car.
- Big SUVs and first-class flights, especially general aviation, generally pollute the most. A passenger occupying a first-class seat is responsible for twice as much carbon dioxide pollution as one in a standard coach seat.
- For couples and solo travelers, a nonstop coach flight almost always beats an average car. Air travel is often assumed to be the worst option for vacation travel, but auto pollution can add up, especially when vacationers drive long distances or travel with few passengers. If traveling alone or with one other person, vacationers are usually better off flying direct in coach than getting behind the wheel. This is especially true for trips of more than 500 miles.
- A large, inefficient SUV emits nearly four times the global warming pollution of a highly efficient hybrid such as a Toyota Prius. If hybrids are not available, travelers should consider an efficient conventional car, which will cut pollution and fuel costs. Many car rental agencies now offer both efficient conventional vehicles and low-polluting hybrids. Consider the type of trip you are taking, as hybrids have little advantage where you can keep a steady speed, but can minimize the losses of constant braking and accelerating in an urban area.
- Vacationers should schedule their trip wisely. Sitting in traffic eats up gas, which means more global warming pollution. Altering vacation schedules to avoid peak travel periods can save consumers time and money—and cut pollution. The sweet-spot for a modern sedan car, is usually around 90km/h, which gives the greatest number of kilometers per liter of fuel. It is often lower for a SUV. Allowing extra time for your trip can reduce fuel costs and carbon emissions.
Of course this study fails to mention Amtrak, which is comparable in efficiency to buses on most routes. On other continents there are different low-emission options available, like extensive rail links, coastal ferries, etc.
Besides energy consumption and CO2 emission, transport results in other pollutants. Here is an overview:
|Amount of emitted pollutants per person per 1000 km travelled|
|Passenger car with catalytic converter||183 kg|