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Eco-tourism and sustainable travel are the buzzwords of the tourism industry at the moment, but what does it mean to travel sustainably?

If you’re the kind of person who sees travel as a chance to experience other nations, countries and cultures, but worries about the impact your presence has on your destination, then eco-travel could be for you.  Travelling as an eco-tourist can provide ways to experience wanderlust whilst keeping the impact of your presence to a minimum. Here are some actionable tips that could put any worries to rest and see you on your way to a low-impact holiday.

What exactly is eco-tourism?

According to Ecotourism Australia, eco-tourism is “ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.” Rather than focusing on travel purely as a way to indulge our senses, eco-tourism promotes a way of travel as a multi-dimensional enriching experience; not only for yourself, but for the places and people you are visiting.

Eco tourism connects travellers with cultural practice and history, can help fund conservation efforts, and generally fosters low-impact travel. Becoming an eco-tourist is not necessarily always easy as there are lots of things to think about, but even thinking about being more environmentally aware is a great start.

Focus on conservation

There’s little doubt that tourism impacts environments you visit.  Environmental conservation may not be the first words that spring to mind when researching a holiday, but when considering being sensitive to the environments you are visiting it may be necessary to see the world a little differently.

When travelling, conservation often means thinking about the local plants and animals, and some animal practices that would not exist without tourism. An example could be photo opportunities of feeding tiger cubs that perhaps otherwise would be fed by their mothers, or elephant calves that are taken from their herd at a young age, to be trained for riding by tourists. These are not considered natural environments for wild animals, so investing money in these facilities can perpetuate this kind of animal treatment.

An alternative is to visit an animal sanctuary, where mistreated animals are given appropriate care. Investing money this way could send a message to local businesses, encouraging them change their practices based on what tourists want.

Similarly, some landscapes can be dramatically affected by large numbers of tourists, so thinking about how to minimise this, and taking action, all helps to protect natural resources. You could avoid visiting a particular destination that is suffering because of large volumes of tourists, or change the way you will experience the place to have less of an impact.

Quick tips: How to focus on the environment

  • Try to think about a destination as if it was your home country – would you want an animal that is native to your hometown treated this way?
  • Research effectively – if you know about which tourist traps to avoid you will have less impact when you travel abroad.

Related: What can you bring into Australia?

Reduce, re-use, recycle

If do your bit for the environment at home, it’s perhaps not too difficult to also do this on holiday.  If you already reuse and recycle items when you can, it’s likely that all of this could continue when you’re overseas. If the accommodation does not providing recycling facilities, simply asking the question could prompt management to make a change. A little research can go a long way, enabling you to do your bit for the environment when you’re on the go.

Drink responsibly

Water use is an important consideration when thinking about travelling more sustainably. The UN has stated that the average tourist uses as much water in 24 hours as a villager from a poor nation would use to produce rice for 100 days. Making sure that you are limiting water use is a good place to start, but also learning how to make existing water save to drink – there are some great tips from World Nomads.

Local footprints

Energy use also depletes resources in other countries, so considering energy use while you’re away can make a difference. According to Sustainable Tourism Online, choosing to be conservative about energy use while you’re a tourist could have an impact on climate change. Ecotourism.org have ten great tips on energy-saving as a tourist, like trying to use appliances that don’t need batteries, and ensuring that you are unplugging unnecessary items in your room.

Rubbish disposal is also a big problem in some nations, so thinking about what you’re leaving behind can make a difference.  Perhaps try not to throw away things that can be used again, or bring non-essential items that are not biodegradable if you intend to dispose of them after use.

Quick tips: How to avoid using too many local resources

  • Use resources like a local – take on local habits and try to be conservative with water and electricity.
  • Stick with good habits like recycling, reducing and reusing; it’s even more important when you travel.
  • Try not to leave behind anything that will negatively impact the future of the place you are visiting.

Good choices come in many forms

Choosing who to fly with and which companies to engage with on tours can make a big difference. Not only because your individual trip can have less of an impact, but also because it sends a message to less-eco conscious businesses. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, flights in particular have a big impact on the environmentcontributing from 4 to 9% of the total climate change impact from humans. Climate Friendly offer a great tool that allows you to clearly see how your travel might impact on the environment.

Reducing the impact of your flights

When you are looking for flights, perhaps consider using companies that offer a carbon offset scheme. According to this article from the World Wildlife Fund, offsetting contributes to schemes that carry out environmental improvement projects. So, if you choose a company that has this built into the price of the flights, or as an added fee during the checkout process, you can do your bit to reduce the impact of your flights.

Choosing eco-friendly activities

When you are choosing the activities for your holiday, perhaps keep in mind that not all tour companies will put environmentally friendly practices at the forefront. Booking with companies that mention environmental impacts in their ‘About’ sections online and looking into how they deal with local ecology can help you to avoid anything that harms the environment. Looking at websites where people leave reviews of tours can also help you to choose: Tripbase have some great tips on this.

Think local

Your economic status changes as you travel around the world. This can make some people uncomfortable, but it’s possible to use your relative wealth for good. When spending, thinking “local” – local food, locally owned accommodation, local attractions, can ensure money goes where it’s most needed.

Of course, spending your money to help doesn’t mean you have to give money to people begging. It can be confronting to witness poverty, especially when children are involved. However, giving money to beggars is not often a simple charitable act – Linda Heaphy of Kashgar.com.au has some great advice on the important considerations in this issue. Depending on your personal stance, you could consider investing your cash into sustainable local projects while overseas, by finding organisations that are making a difference in the locale you are visiting and reaching out to them.

Quick tips: How to avoid negative environmental impacts

  • Make carbon offset a priority when searching for flights.
  • When booking tours, try to make sure that you are not financially contributing to companies whose practices add to environmental or cultural damage.
  • Think local when you spend your tourist dollar.

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Being culturally sensitive

It’s important to consider the world’s flora and fauna when you travel, but also of importance are the people local to the area you want to visit. Everywhere you go in the world, bar some very remote locations, is someone’s home.

How to be culturally aware

In order to be sensitive to other cultures, there are some easy steps you could take. First up is learning the basics of language. Even in less prominent countries it’s a good idea to never lose sight of your status as a visitor and try to communicate in a country’s own language.

Secondly, considering the cultural and religious practices of the destination is a good way to not cause offense. Perhaps there are culturally sensitive days that align with your travel dates, or religious practices that you should be aware of? Are there ways of dressing or behaving that are likely to make locals uncomfortable? Being aware of these things will go a long way to getting along with your hosts and chosen country.

Quick tips: How to be sensitive to culture

  • Try not to get on the plane with no knowledge of the culture or language of the people you are visiting.
  • Dress and behave in a way that honours the culture of the people you will be interacting with.

Becoming a good global citizen

There are so many ways that you can contribute to local culture and economies that are positive. The key is being aware of cultural differences and planning well.

Some final tips

  • Try to use local transportation and methods that have little environmental impact. For example, if you’re visiting a far off beach, ensure that you won’t be getting there in a vehicle that could damage precarious dunes.
  • When buying souvenirs, think about what you’re purchasing and where your money is going.
  • Don’t inadvertently encourage the trade of wildlife or plants by buying these items.
  • A good general rule to become an eco-friendly tourist is to not expect luxuries in countries where the vast majority of locals do not indulge in these things.
  • Jenna Makowski, a travel writer, urges tourists to think “critically about how their expectations impact the local community and its necessity to meet those expectations in order to generate business.”
  • Leave a place as you would like to find it.
  • Your holiday and experiences are important, but try to also consider the preservation for future generations.

Your intrepid spirit might lead you to want to visit places that are off the beaten track, and if so you might need comprehensive travel insurance. Compare your options for travel insurance here, getting a great deal so you’re covered on your next eco holiday.

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