Inspiring. Educational. Enriching. Relaxing.
Travel is all of these things and more, which would explain why so many people want to get in on the action. In 2012, 1.035 billion (yes, billion with a “b”) people traveled abroad, according to The United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and that number is expected to grow to 1.8 billion by 2030 (for point of comparison, the current population of the United States is about 314 million).
And we’re not just talking about a bump in wide-eyed, camera-clad tourists in Times Square or at the Eiffel Tower; growth is expected by 4.4 percent per year in emerging destinations (versus 2.2 percent in developed economies).
So all this growth is great, right? It will create jobs, boost the local economy and bring about a more connected world, no?
Not necessarily. Mass tourism, when not controlled properly, can put a strain on the environment, increase pollution and threaten the ways of life of populations around the globe.
Case in point: In Jamaica, the development of an ever-expanding number of beachfront hotels has meant that the locals have been kicked off of their own public coastline, hurting the welfare of fisherman who once made a living there. Think that your vacation dollars make up for it by helping to create local jobs? If you book through a travel agency, most of your money never leaves your home country. What does usually stays with the hotel (which are often international chains), with very little trickling down to the staff, who typically earn rock-bottom wages.
But let’s not go on a guilt trip. There is an alternative to modern big-money tourism that doesn’t require sacrificing any fun or luxury for the sake of caring for the planet and its people. That alternative is called eco-tourism.
This form of sustainable travel is focused on nature-oriented, low-impact excursions that not only minimize the negative effects on the local community and environment, but also contribute to the preservation of the area. The industry has flourished over the last decade or so, and it is now possible to have amazing trips all over the world without leaving a destructive footprint (of the figurative variety — no offense to your big feet).
Interested? Get inspired for your next trip by these amazing eco-friendly adventures:
Go on an epic Kenyan safari
According to research by Tourism Concern, a UK-based charity, of every dollar you spend on a traditional safari vacation package, 20 cents goes to the travel agent, 40 to the airline, 23 to the hotel chain, 8 to the safari company and 9 to the Kenyan government (who uses the cash primarily for imports to bring in more goods for tourists). Notice anyone missing from that list? How about the Maasai and Samburu, whose land you are most likely touring? In a traditional safari, they get nothing.
But Kenya has become a trailblazer for sustainable tourism. Over the last couple of decades, local tribes have been encouraged to turn their land into conservancies to protect the wildlife that live there and supplement their income with money from tourism. The country is also working to adapt international standards to rate its eco-lodges in an effort to ensure that your hotel isn’t simply telling you it’s eco-friendly because it only washes towels once a week (for the record, that does not in itself make a hotel environmentally sound!).
What does this mean for you? It means spending a day gazing upon majestic elephants, zebras and giraffes, taking National Geographic-worthy photos; watching the sun set over the savannah with the mountains in the background turning beautiful shades of purple and orange; and relaxing after a long day of adventure in a world-class lodge, enjoying a dinner of the finest organic, responsibly-raised meat and produce. All of this without an ounce of guilt.
Hike and bike through the fjords of Norway
The Norwegian Fjords have been called (without even a touch of hyperbole) the most beautiful place on earth by many an awestruck visitor. The steep, green cliffs plunging into deep blue waters are fantastically gorgeous, and the area is perfect for scenic, nature-oriented adventures, including hiking, biking and kayaking. There are also wildlife spotting opportunities aplenty, with white-tailed eagles, killer whales, seals and porpoises all calling the region home.
And because Norway has been a pioneer in pushing for strict environmental regulations for everything from fishing to the petroleum industry to hotel development, the fjords rank high on a list for sustainable ecosystems. This also means that a visit will get you anything but the “typical” European holiday experience.
Think: Sleeping in a wooden pod, perched in a tree, with an amazing view of snowcapped peaks to greet you when you wake up. Or exploring tiny fishing villages along the coast that have maintained their culture and traditions for hundreds of years. Or taking a “tractor safari” through mountainous farms where even the roads don’t reach. The fjords are, truly, the perfect escape for those who want to both appreciate and help preserve one of the planet’s great natural wonders.
Explore the shores and lush jungles of Dominica
The beautiful island of Dominica is one of the least visited in the Caribbean, in part because it doesn’t have as much of the idyllic white-sand coastline of its neighbors. But that doesn’t mean that Dominica doesn’t have anything to offer its visitors. On the contrary — the “Nature Island of the Caribbean” (as it’s billed) has cascading waterfalls, dense tropical forests, the world’s second-biggest boiling lake, and plenty of wildlife to observe, including whales and nesting sea turtles.
And the best part? Because there isn’t a market for large-scale tourism (and the rows of mega-resorts that come with it), most of the tours and hotels are operated by locals. This means that the vast majority of the money you spend during your trip will stay in the hands of those with a vested interest in keeping their land beautiful.
Even as word about this magnificent island has slowly begun to diffuse among travel fanatics, the Dominicans have made a point to keep development small-scale and eco-friendly, so the feeling of having an untouched paradise all to yourself is not going to go away anytime soon.
For help getting started on your next eco-tourism adventure, check out some of the Green Travelers Tribe guides. To learn more about sustainable travel and to vet your next tour provider, visit the websites of the International Ecotourism Society and then Global Sustainable Tourism Council.