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What Is Eco Tourism, Anyway? 20 Green Travel Tips

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Your eco-friendly lifestyle doesn’t stop when you travel, even if traveling makes maintaining your green routine difficult.

What with the complexity of finding organic and sustainably grown food, the lack of recycling options when traveling and the environmental impact of just getting from point A to point B, keeping up with your commitments to living green can be darn hard away from home. When you want to see the sights on your next getaway, go the complete eco-route. Green your travels by committing to ecotourism.

More than just eco-travel

Ecotourism is about so much more than just finding ways to offset carbon emissions from your air travel or choosing “green” destinations. It also includes traveling that helps enhance local communities and promote greater understanding and appreciation for nature, local society, and culture. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people."

Increased tourism can harm sensitive habitats and negatively affect local people. Ecotourism works to offset this by creating opportunities for local communities and supporting conservation—all while enabling you to travel to the destinations of your dreams!

A vacation doesn’t “count” as ecotourism unless it benefits and improves the local environment and the people who live there. Choose a walking tour through the rainforest arranged by an organization that supports social or environmental projects in the community, for example. Always pay entrance fees (even if they’re just donations) to help support national parks and monuments on your next trip. Go on a volunteer vacation where you get to see a new culture and also help improve it by building a school or volunteering on an organic farm.

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From the Organic Authority Files

Low impact on the planet

Even though ecotourism includes more than just green travel, making sustainable housing, food, and transportation choices when traveling is a large part of ecotourism. Consider these tips for sustainable travel:

Where you stay

1. Look for sustainably-certified hotels, B&Bs and lodges. Check out TIES’ online directory for easy searching.
2. Reuse towels and bed sheets at your hotel instead of switching them out every day.
3. Unplug all unnecessary appliances when you leave your hotel room.
4. Bring your own toiletries and cup for drinking instead of using the disposable options provided by the hotel.

What you eat

5. Choose local cuisine at local restaurants over anything imported from overseas.
6. Check out a farmers market or shop at a locally-owned grocery store.
7. Avoid eating at locations with disposable plates, cups and napkins.
8. Search out restaurants that provide organic and sustainably-sourced food before you leave for your trip.

Getting around

9. Contribute to a carbon offset program to help offset an unavoidable carbon footprint because of air travel.
10. Fly as little as possible. If you plan to travel between short destinations, use other transportation options.
11. Hire local guides for sightseeing.
12. Use public transportation and walk whenever you can.
13. If you have to rent a car, choose a hybrid.

Responsible sightseeing

14. Respect the local culture. Read up on sensitive issues, like behaviors and clothing, before your trip.
15. Learn a few words in the native language. Saying a “hello” in the native language can do wonders, even if you fumble through the rest of your coffee order.
16. Buy souvenirs from local artisans.
17. Attend local festivals and events. You’ll get a more authentic experience and support the local economy!
18. Pay a fair price. Don’t get overly aggressive in bargaining over that $1 bracelet.
19. Look up the local customs on tipping.
20. Don’t touch or damage wildlife, habitats, monuments or other relics. Take only photographs and leave only your footprints.

Often, companies use buzz words like "eco", "sustainable" and "green" to promote their programs and services that couldn't be farther from environmentally friendly. For more information on certifications and standards for distinguishing genuinely responsible companies, products and services from those that use “eco” as a marketing ploy, check out TIES’ certification and standards handbooks.

Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson, Google+ and Pinterest.

image: joiseyshowaa

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