Our “Sustainable Travel” series is sponsored by Global Basecamps. Global Basecamps is specialty travel company that helps independent travelers research and book locally owned boutique hotels, off-the-beaten path lodges and multi-day excursions all over the world. Whether hiking the Inca Trail, experiencing a traditional Japanese Ryokan, or relaxing on the beaches of Thailand, Global Basecamps specializes in designing completely customized itineraries to meet each travelers specific priorities and match their travel style.
The many challenges of traveling responsibly and sustainably can sometimes be a minefield for the conscientious traveler and the task only gets harder when you have a limited timeframe. Sustainable travel is about ensuring that tourism is both beneficial to and preserving of native cultures and environments and whilst it may seem an impossible task on a shorter vacation, remind yourself that every little helps.
From short-term volunteer projects and community-focused tours, to offsetting your carbon emissions, these six tips will guide you on the road to a sustainable and eco-friendly vacation.
1. Give a little back
Whether building houses in Guatemala or teaching English to Cambodian schoolchildren, volunteering overseas has never been more popular, but until recently the options were confined to those able to commit to long-term projects. Thankfully there are now plenty of options for those with little time to spare, and while its true that little impact can be made in a week or two, many schemes offer worthwhile projects where contributions by short-term volunteers are not only welcome, but very much appreciated.
Habitat for Humanity runs programs that combine travel with the opportunity to be part of short-term house building projects in host communities around the world and i-to-i Volunteers offer a wide range of volunteer opportunities with a minimum of 1-week commitment. Or you could opt for a tour that blends volunteer work with sightseeing; spend a few days mountain biking and elephant riding around Thailand combined before helping out at a rural mountain school, or assist Green Sea Turtle research in Costa Rica alongside an adrenaline-fuelled itinerary of mountain biking, rafting and zip-lining.
>> Learn about how to travel guilt-free in developing countries
2. Reduce your carbon footprint
Carbon offsetting is simple in theory: in order to balance out your personal carbon emissions (for example, for taking a flight), you donate to a scheme devoted to carbon-reducing practices like reforestation, environmental development and renewable energy. Of course, the reality is that paying a few bucks in carbon offsets is not going to let you off the hook for clocking up the long-haul air miles, but for short-term international trips where there is little option but to fly, there are some worthwhile options to consider.
These days there are plenty of schemes that do a whole lot more than just planting a few trees with organizations like Carbonfund, World Land Trust and Climate Care all offer a range of options for offsetting your carbon emissions, and many airlines run their own services – Virgin, British Airways and Delta Airlines all have economical and effective carbon offset ventures in place.
If you’re concerned about your carbon output, make sure you consider your flight paths too – the highest proportion of carbon emissions are used during take-off and landing, so booking a direct flight and cutting out that stopover can make a big difference.
3. Travel in eco-style
Even discounting the flights, vacations can weigh heavy on your carbon footprint – taxis, tour buses and large hotels are all major culprits when it comes to carbon emissions. Instead, contemplate fuel-free ways to get around – utilize public transport systems like buses and trams rather than flagging a taxi or get back to basics by cycling your way around town – electric bikes and bicycle rental stations are already springing up in cities all over the world and many of them offer free rentals for the first hour.
If you must drive, several rental companies like Hertz, Avis-Budget and Enterprise Rent-a-car all rent hybrid cars and camper vans, but be sure to book ahead as options can sometimes be limited.
Finally, why not ditch the transport all together and opt for a walking tour? Book one with a guide, or ask for information and maps at the local visitor information centre and plan your own.
>> Discover the best ways to experience sustainable travel
4. Take an environmentally-friendly tour
While the long-term traveler may prefer to go-it-alone when it comes to planning their travel itinerary, a short vacation lends itself to the simplicity of a pre-booked tour. Whether it’s a day tour around the city or a full 2-week cross-country itinerary, choosing your tour company based on its environmental and social principles is the number one consideration for those with a mind for sustainable tourism.
Do your research and quiz your tour company before booking – those with on-going sustainable and environmentally friendly practices will be happy to discuss these with potential clients. Ask how much of your money is filtered back into the local community; how natural resources are utilized and recycled; what kind of transportation is used and what the company does to preserve and maintain the local environment.
Finally, think carefully about the activities offered on the tour and question their impact on the environment – quad-biking through the Sahara desert or mountain biking over the soft volcanic rock of Cappadocia in Turkey might sound like fun but both practices are bemoaned by locals and environmentalists for weakening and eroding the natural environment. If in doubt, opt for fuel-free, nature-friendly activities, like hiking, swimming or horse riding.
>> Get tips for trekking responsibly
5. Lend your support
There are numerous ways to make contributions to your host country, even on a two-week vacation. Concerned travelers can support global organizations like Stuff Your Rucksack where travelers can take with them items that are needed by villages or schools and deliver them on their travels, or Kiva, a micro-finance website that allows participants to lend small amounts of money to low-income entrepreneurs across the world.
While traveling, avoid giving gifts or money to children and street beggars and opt instead to support locally run organizations that offer long-term support and resources. Look for location-specific organizations like Big Brother Mouse in Laos who distribute Lao-English storybooks to local children and allow tourists to purchase books to take into rural areas whilst on tours or the Friends restaurant and shop in Cambodia, providing rehabilitation, training and employment to street kids. Do your research before you go and ask around other travelers for organizations doing good work in the area.
6. Support the local economy
Tourism is big business in much of the developing world, particularly within low-income villages and townships positioned on popular tour routes, and although the need can sometimes be overwhelming, even short-term travelers can make a difference by choosing how they spend their holiday funds.
The trick to supporting sustainable tourism is to buy local and support locally run businesses wherever possible. Can you hire a local guide or use a local tour company instead of using an international one? Can you buy souvenirs from the local market and bed down in a guesthouse run by a local family? Similarly, eating from street stalls or at smaller, locally-owned restaurants will not only grant your taste buds a gastronomical education, but you’ll be directly funding local businesses – much better than eating at an upmarket foreign-run hotel or heading for take-out at McDonalds
Spending the majority of your travel budget locally is by far the best way to help your tourist dollars reach those who need it most, but if you feel inspired to donate on a larger scale, why not ask your tour guides how best to make donations of money or supplies to schools and villages that you visit on tour.
Planning an eco friendly trip, whether short-term or long-term, doesn’t need to be difficult. There are many ways to make a positive impact on the local communities visited, even with a limited amount of time. You can start by choosing a tour company that specializes in ecotourism, such as Global Basecamps. Global Basecamps makes it easy for travelers to incorporate eco tours, eco lodges, and voluntourism into their itineraries. Whether you want a completely customized itinerary or simply to find accommodations and excursions to ensure your trip priorities are met, Global Basecamps simplifies the process of sustainable travel giving you maximum flexibility on the road. All Global Basecamps custom tours help minimize the negative impact of travel on the environment, support the local economy, and assist in a variety of community outreach programs.
Read more about sustainable travel: