As environmentally-conscious travel becomes mainstream, attuned adventurers are focused on finding trips and tour operators that benefit the planet in a tangible way. What is the outfitter actively doing in the realm of sustainability, wildlife conservation, research and carbon equity? Does the business give part of their tourism-derived dollars directly to any causes in the local areas through which they trek?
On the individual level — even within the structure of an already-eco tour — keeping your own footprint in check can be done with reasonable accommodation and just a little extra effort. Toward that end, below are a handful of emerging planetary best practices to strive for as you plan your next getaway.
So where do you check out a travel company to see if they comply with current standards? The International Ecotourism Society is a nonprofit organization aimed at the business of travel. The society was founded in 1990 to promote responsible ecotourism globally, providing guidelines and standards, technical assistance, training, research and publications. More consumer-oriented organizations include the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and Earthdirectory.net, a great resource which provides an exhaustive list of sustainable travel organizations, operators and destinations along with their associated websites.
Dive outfitter Ocean Safari, for example, displays its commitment to planetary stewardship proudly, and markets its Advanced Ecotourism Certification and approval by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. A land-based illustration is Africa’s Yellow Zebra Safaris, which has long supported local wildlife protection and conservation programs through its charity efforts.
Self-propulsion while exploring nature is, after all, how humans got around the planet no problem for eons. Whatever your take — peddling, paddling and bipedal modalities are the obvious — enjoy a low-impact route to recreation. When the main emissions on your trip are breath and sweat, you know you’re doing your part.
Outfitters that will steer your efforts in the right ecological direction include REI Adventures, mynatour.organd the Quicksilver Group. The latter, for example, is an Australian outfitter that guides reef and island adventures, and has become a certified Climate Action Innovator in its efforts to actively reduce emissions and track its carbon footprint.
Staycations, regional and local travel all keep down waste, and you’re putting your travel budget into your own tax base. So don’t write off exploring your own backyard on your free weekends.
When traveling globally this can be accomplished in a similar way for an equally deserving local economy by visiting skilled artisans, family-run businesses, local markets or having an experience in the home of an area local. In doing so you gain invaluable travel experiences that just don’t show up in selfies. At the same time, by paying attention, you can assure your tourist trade is fair. In most instances, hyperlocal economic infusion can go a long way. Choose guides and services carefully for full effect. As an example, tour companies such as Trafalgar, which partners with the TreadRight Foundation of England, assures that a percentage of itinerary intake goes to UNESCO World Heritage sites from trips that feature them.
Simply learning the right way to interact with nature is a step in the right direction. Currently, legislation is being passed to keep tour boats further away from endangered Puget Sound Orca whales in the Pacific Northwest. This was necessary, of course, because in an effort to appreciate them, humans have encroached too closely, disrupting the animals feeding and stressing them out. Similarly, if you are taking a selfie up close with a wild animal, you are part of the overall problem. The same goes for tourists riding animals. For those who want more clarification on these issues, the TreadRight Foundation again is an indispensable resource for education and awareness, providing guidelines on acceptable ways to interact with animals and our environment.
Traveling to areas during their off seasons, or choosing unique, less-trodden paths, is a recipe for serenity and sustainability. In both cases, the crowds will be thin to non existent, which is good for you and the planet. By going to traditional summer spots in fall, winter or spring instead, for instance, we can spread the human load more evenly and lightly on our delicate outdoor shrines. In addition, picking less-travelled destinations to explore, our travel patterns can help prevent overuse of any particular area. The rise of low-cost, regional airlines makes this easier than ever, especially in opening up access to little known parts of Europe.
Your carry-on is critical. It’s the bag that never leaves your side and holds everything you might need during a trip. Plus, on many airlines, it’s the only bag that flies free. So, what exactly are the can’t-go-without essentials? Before you take off, make sure you’ve got these 10 must-have items in your carry-on.
The last thing you want is to turn up at your destination feeling sick. Ward off the germs and viruses by always carrying a mini sanitizer gel bottle in your carry-on. Airport bathrooms sometimes run out of soaps and airplane bathrooms are not always the cleanest. Did you ever spill your drink during a flight or accidentally stick your finger in the butter or jam as you clumsily attempted to eat your inflight meal? Having sanitizer or wet wipe on hand will keep you germ-free and help you out in a sticky situation.
Every time you check a bag, you’re putting your faith in a stranger that your luggage will end up where it’s supposed to. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out. Checked bags sometimes get misplaced or miss the connecting flight, leaving you stranded with hardly anything (except your carry on!) upon arrival. That’s why keeping a clean set of clothes in your carry-on is essential. Clean socks and underwear can work wonders after a long flight, and if you’ve got a fresh shirt and pair of pants — even better.
This carry-on essential is also environmentally-friendly. Keeping a reusable water bottle with you during your travels helps keep you hydrated throughout. More and more airports are installing water fountains or refill stations in departure halls so you can fill your bottle after you pass through security. This is especially useful if you’re flying on a budget airline, most of which charge for all beverages. It’s also great if you have a layover and can fill your bottle for free instead of paying an exorbitant amount for a bottle of water in the airport.
A bulky travel pillow may not seem worth the precious space it takes up, but you’ll be thanking us once you’re on a long-haul or red-eye flight. If you’re worried about room, try the super thin albeit scientifically proven to help you sleep Trtl Travel Pillow. Another one we love (although packing slightly more bulk) is this infinity travel pillow. It allows for a cozy wrap-up anywhere and supports multiple sleeping positions.
You’ll need it to complete a customs form on an international flight, fill out a visa-on-arrival form in your destination, or complete the crossword puzzle in the in-flight magazine. In a world where it seems like everything is digital, you’d actually be surprised how often a pen will come in handy when traveling.
Stay warm in over air-conditioned airplanes, airports, and buses by bringing your own clothing that can double as a blanket. If you’re traveling on the cheap, don’t expect budget airlines to dole out extra perks like pillows and blankets. Even on middle-of-the-road airlines, a blanket is only given upon request. Save yourself the hassle and bring a wide shawl, wrap, or sarong to help you cover up, stay warm and sleep comfortably.
Watch a movie or drift off to sleep in peace while listening to your favorite chill-out playlist without being disturbed by crying babies or conversations going on around you. Noise-cancelling headphones are an absolute must. Sony’s WH1000XM2 are top of the line noise-cancelling headphones with attractive specs like uber-long battery life and smart-listening features. If earbuds are more your style or you’re not ready to drop $300-plus on a pair of headphones, check out Plantronics BackBeat Go 410 wireless earbuds. We love the charging cable that doubles for corded listening (if you want to plug into in-flight entertainment, for example).
Have you ever been on a long-haul flight when your TV set just wasn’t working? I have, and it felt like torture. Many budget airlines don’t even have in-flight entertainment, even on international flights. Avoid feeling like you’ve been flying for eternity and bring your own amusement. Stockpile movies on your tablet or pre-download a season of your favorite series from Netflix. Buy a few of your favorite magazines or bring an old school book. There’s no better time for a page-turner than a 6-hour flight across the Atlantic.
If airplane food doesn’t agree with you then you’re stuck without anything to eat until you touch down. Instead of holding out for a “decent meal” at your destination, pack some snacks to get you through. Unsalted nuts, dried fruit, apples or oranges keep your tummy full without the bloat.
Your phone, tablet, or e-reader does you no good if the battery dies. Some airlines offer in-seat USB ports – others don’t. Nothing’s worse than a long flight with nothing to do, so make sure to keep a slim, light-weight power bank in your carry-on for emergency charge situations. The Anker PowerCore 10000 is one of the lightest, cheapest and fastest power banks on the market.