Memorial day has come and gone. For many, this means the opening of local pools and the unofficial start of summer(summer officially starts on June 21) and perhaps a vacation. When you’re planning your summer getaways, there are many ways to keep the environment in mind or make it the focus of your experience, with ecotourism.
According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary the official definition of ecotourism is “the practice of touring natural habitats in a manner meant to minimize ecological impact.” You have multiple options when it comes to being an eco-tourist.
Many travelers today use the internet and discount travel sites to make their plans. One way to be more eco-friendly is to make your travel’s carbon neutral. The concept is simple: calculate the amount of CO2 your travel will generate and buy that amount in carbon offsets, for a net impact of zero. Some of the major discount travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity give you the option of buying carbon offsets when you book your travel with them. If the site you’re booking through doesn’t offer an offset option or if you’re arranging your journey through other means, you can buy offsets independently. However, the value of purchasing carbon offsets is debatable. The fact that you paid someone to plant a certain number of trees for you doesn’t change the fact that your travels emitted CO2. Also, the effectiveness of carbon offsetting is unverified. Others argue that buying offsets is better than doing nothing. The price of the carbon offset depends on your travel distance and ranges with each offset provider. TerraPass, a popular provider, has options not just for travel but for your daily life as well. The value of carbon offsetting is a personal decision. Also you can take a Sierra Club’s quiz to see how “green” your destination is.
While offsets allow you to use your wallet to help the environment, eco-tourism fosters a focus on sustainability while you travel. A great resource for planning vacations are some major conservation related organizations: Sierra Club, National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and the International Ecotourism Society. Most of these organizations lead various types of trips overseas and have a range of prices that vary by institution and location. Although these trips may be a little more expensive, you can be assured that you’re being as eco-friendly as possible while enjoying yourself. These groups also provide resources for planning individual journeys as well as tips on being eco-friendly when traveling or choosing an “ecodestination.”
The International Ecotourism Society in particular offers free and paid memberships (1 year=$15, lifetime=$100) that give you access to a wealth of information. The free membership is definitely worth a try and if you’re happy with your experience, the paid memberships give you access to job boards and travel discounts.
An additional type of eco-tourism involves volunteering while you’re on vacation. The institutions mentioned above offer resources for 1 week to 1 year long opportunities. You also have the option of going overseas or staying within the US. Projects range from working with sea turtles to staying in the US and helping a wild life sanctuary in Florida. The costs of projects have a vast range. You may find undertakings that cost you about $300/week overseas. Some experiences are fully funded and only require you to pay for your transportation to and from the location, while you may even find some that offer a small stipend in addition to providing food and lodging. People who have been ec0-volunteers say they come back re-energized and with a sense of accomplishment.
Whether you choose to buy carbon offsets, go on a organized trip through various conservation associations, or take a volunteer vacation, safe travels this summer!