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Here are some of the things you can do while you are traveling that we believe positively benefit travelers, the environment and the culture of host communities they visit. (And thanks in advance for every time you do these!)
Seek out hotels, lodges and resorts that use environmentally sensitive, renewable energy, water and waste disposal systems as well as recycled building materials or those that are harvested in a sustainable manner. Take the initiative to: reduce your water input by opting out of daily washing of linens and towels; and reduce your energy usage by turning off lights, television and air conditioners when not in use. Look for lodgings that emphasize local traditions, providing rooms and common areas that reflect the local culture and heritage.
Although bargaining is expected in many cultures, don't pinch pennies when negotiating. You may get carried away when trying to find the best deal possible but keep in mind how this affects others. Pennies to you may mean as much as an entire family's meal. Remember that you are probably a lot more well to do than your hosts.
Foster a true understanding of the natural and cultural environments visited, before, during, and after the visit. Choose destinations that are not overcrowded or overdeveloped. Read up on the communities you plan to visit ahead of time, chat with the locals, and try to speak their language. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask before taking photos and respect their wishes if they refuse.
Consider ways to improve the state of the environment as a result of your visit. For example, take into account the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from your air flights. You can plant trees to offset that amount or donate to an organization that will plant them for you. Calculate how much energy your travel consumes and how many trees you might plant to compensate for it. For more information, visit MyClimate Carbon Offsets.
Remember that your guidebook is just that - a guide. It is not your travel bible and it doesn't know everything. If you want to truly experience a place, head off-the-beaten-path a bit. Talk with the locals, visit the places where they spend their leisure time, and explore!
Home away from home.
Understand that our hurried concept of time is not the same in other cultures and that local people's thought patterns differ from your own. Learn to appreciate these differences. And think about sharing some of yourself with the local people you plan to meet. Consider packing small gifts from home for your hosts, but be sure they are of personal and practical manner and aren't sending the wrong message. Your travel provider should know or be in a position to ask the local community what would be of most use to them.
Protected areas and wildlife.
Be sure to familiarize yourself and follow all advisories, rules and regulations when visiting protected areas and wildlife habitats. Whether they're voluntary or required, the fees you pay to enter these areas support local efforts to conserve them. Stay on the trails and leave these areas cleaner than you find them. In viewing wildlife, do not disturb it or its habitats, as animals lose quite a bit of feeding and breeding energy while fleeting from human approach.
Be thoughtful of your purchases. Spending money with community or locally run/owned businesses benefits local people, their families and communities. The money you spend on local artists and performers also encourages the preservation of their cultural heritage.However, take care not to buy souvenirs made from old-growth trees or derived from endangered forests, such as teak. Or items made from endangered species, like ivory or tortoise jewelry. As whether products are made from renewable resources or if local authorities approve the trade.And be sure not to discriminate against small-scale, community-based programs that can't afford some of the newer, energy-efficient technologies, yet may have fewer impacts than their competitors.
Support sustainable tourism.
Remember that your travel choice makes a difference. Provide feedback to travel providers and accommodations as well as government agencies that manage the areas you visit. Fill out their comment cards and suggest steps management might take to integrate sustainable business practices into their operations, providing examples whenever possible. Promote and support conservation from abroad after returning home.
Traveling by your own muscle power where possible has unsurpassed health benefits and reduces already obnoxious levels of Carbon Dioxide that traveling puts into our atmosphere. Otherwise, public transportation is a much better way to interact with the locals and is better for the environment.Good alternatives include traveling by train which only requires half the energy per passenger mile than planes do or renting a low-fuel consuming, hybrid electric/gasoline powered vehicle. When driving, ensure that your rental car is well tuned and tires are fully inflated. This will increase your mileage and cut gas costs up to 15%.
Be conscientious of your waste disposal. Many places don't have recycling programs and few pristine places have adequate waste disposal systems. Try to carry out anything toxic like batteries and/or non-biodegradable waste. Avoid using containers made of Styrofoam or non-recyclable plastic and consider packing a water-filtering bottle.
Worldwide, many animals serve travelers by carrying baggage and serving as transportation. Sadly, some are badly cared for, overworked and/or overloaded. Keeping animals that serve tourism interests in good health is costly. However, travelers can promote animal welfare by rewarding their patronage to tourism providers who take care of their animals.Travelers should always pay a fair price, usually $100 USD/Euro per person per day which may include a meal and outside of the U.S., overnight accommodation. Travelers should also make responsible decisions related to animal-based tourism (e.g. heavy people should not ride on thin horses) and report animal abuse to major animal welfare programs like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).