What unites travelers is our love of place. Most travelers want to help support the destinations they visit, but don’t know where to start.
As tourism developed, emphasis grew around visiting natural sites. By the 1980’s ecotourism as a trend came into the spotlight. Today, a myriad of terms describes a similar approach: travel with the least possible effect on the environment while supporting local communities.
For now, we will focus on Conservation Travel. This tourism practice aims to create economic incentives for communities, enabling them to conserve habitats and species, and support sustainable growth, making the goal of sustainability beneficial for the local community, the environment and guests.
By taking simple steps to create a positive impact, anyone can take an active role in preserving places. Below are tips to help you be a more conservation-minded traveler.
Before you leave
Your choice matters a lot. The hotel, tour company, facilities, and, even location, all benefit financially from your visit. Incentivize places that are making strides in conservation, aiming to educate visitors, and give back locally. Read about the company’s sustainability and philanthropic efforts and look for GSTC certification which signifies that they comply with the global standard for sustainable travel.
Learn about the local culture and memorize a couple phrases in the language of the area. Know what clothing is appropriate, when you should haggle, how much to tip, and be aware of other common practices and social cues. Aim not to contribute to the problem of overtourism by avoiding peak times, supporting local business, and exploring new locations. Understand what is a problematic souvenir and how to support sellers that do not profit off illegal trade. You can find this information online, in guide books, or by asking your tour operator.
Pack lightly and efficiently, it is cheaper and uses less fuel to transport. Don’t bring things you will throw away, as recycling is not always accessible while traveling. Take care of opening new supplies before you leave and pack items you can reuse, like water bottles, cloth bags, and reusable hand warmers.
Don’t be a tourist
Get to know your guides and support local businesses that embellish the unique destination. Enrich your experience by asking questions and learning more from the people who live there.
It is up to you to save energy. Turn off the lights in your hotel room, ask your hotel to only wash towels when needed, use public transportation, and continue conservation practices you use when you are home. Nat Hab trips have been completely carbon-neutral since 2007. They encourage their guests to consider buying carbon offsets on airfare.
When around wildlife, maintain distance and be careful with your camera. These incredible encounters should not be ruined by scaring the animal away with an accidental flash. You should also respect the environment you are in. Leave behind only footsteps and take nothing from the landscape but memories and photos.
When you get home
Tell companies what you liked or didn’t and help them improve. Donate to support the place you visited and the memories you made. This makes a lasting impact of your visit.
Spread the word
Share your pictures and tell stories about the special moments you experienced. Give insight to help others interested in traveling to the same area. Write an online review of restaurants, tour companies, and facilities you enjoyed allowing sustainable practices to grow.
Know that you made a positive impact on a place that made an impact on you.
About the author: Hannah Wagner View all posts by Hannah Wagner
Hannah Wagner interns with WWF’s Travel Program. She helps manage a variety of travel communications and uses her travel writing experience to inspire WWF’s travelers and members. She recently graduated from the University of Virginia, where she earned degrees in Media Studies and Art History. Continuing her passion for art, she works part-time at a local art gallery in Washington, DC. Hannah was born in Alaska, which fueled her love of the outdoors and passion for nature travel. Some of her favorite travel memories include trekking Machu Picchu’s Salkantay route, studying glaciers in Iceland, and meeting elephants in Togo.