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Travel Lightly
Micki Krimmel, 8 Aug 07
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Having just returned from an amazing month traveling in Thailand, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role travel has to play in a sustainable world. Of course, if you consider the amount of energy consumed (and carbon emitted) getting there and the inevitable damage tourism wreaks on delicate natural environments, you might be tempted to just stay home.

Travel, though, has obviously positive social implications as well. World travelers are some of the most humanistic and environmentally conscious people on the planet. After experiencing the natural beauty of Thailand’s coral reefs how could you not be concerned with their conservation? World travel breeds intercultural understanding and respect for our global environment -- planetary thinking, at a time when we need a lot more of it.

So don’t stay home. Just be sure to travel lightly. I’ve rounded up some tips and resources for responsible travel below. If you have more suggestions, let us know in the comments!

So what is responsible travel?

Lonely Planet puts forth a great definition:

Responsible tourism can be more-or-less defined as travel that takes into consideration the 'triple bottom line' issues of:

Environment: travel that minimizes negative environmental impacts and, where possible, makes positive contributions to the conservation of biodiversity, wilderness, natural and human heritage.

travel that respects culture and traditions and fosters authentic interaction and greater understanding between travelers and hosts.

Economic: travel that has financial benefits for the host community and operates on the principles of fair trade.

Traveling by the responsible travel ethos is one of the most direct and personal ways you can make a difference to some of the biggest issues affecting our world: poverty and peace. Be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem - and have the time of your life doing it.

With that in mind, it’s time to choose a destination. Whether you want to travel with a group ecotourism tour, volunteer abroad or just find a nice beach to relax on your own, the following websites can help you find the perfect place and book your trip through a company you can trust. was founded in 2001 with an investment from Anita Roddick (founder of The Body Shop). The site features thousands of eco-holidays run by 160 tour operators and hundreds of accommodations. All companies listed must meet’s criteria for responsible travel. offers an easily searchable directory of tour operators, accommodations, and other services to help you plan your trip. All companies in the directory must be approved by and travelers can view their eco-practices directly on the site.

Sustainable Travel International is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education and outreach services that help travelers, travel providers and related organizations support environmental conservation and protect cultural heritage while promoting cross-cultural understanding and economic development. The Eco-directory is searchable by country and activity. Sustainable Travel International is also working to institute a voluntary Certification Program for Eco-travel companies. The travel providers in the Eco-directory have been chosen for their commitment to sustainable tourism and listings indicate eco-certification status.

If you’re looking to have more of a learning experience and perhaps some hands-on volunteer work, Global Exchange offers "reality tours” to over 30 developing countries:

Travelers are linked with activists and organizations from around the globe who are working toward positive change. We also hope to prompt participants to examine related issues in their own communities.

For a more comprehensive list of online resources, visit the online portals list at Transitions Abroad.

Lonely Planet’s travel tips page
provides a list of questions you can ask before selecting a travel provider:

Is your holiday green or just greenwash? • How are they dealing with the main environmental issues facing them? • Do they employ local guides, leaders and staff and provide training opportunities? • Do they limit the size of their groups to minimize environmental and social impact? • Do they have a 'green' purchasing policy? • Do they work with the local community? If so, what proportion of their revenue is redirected to that community? • What information do they offer their clients on responsible travel?

The Miami Herald recently published an article with tips for finding green accommodations. The article includes a list of questions to ask at your hotel and a list of websites offering eco-friendly accommodations. Some things to look for:

• A towel and linens reuse program. • A 100 percent nonsmoking policy. • A recycling program for guests. • The use of compact fluorescent lights instead of incandescent bulbs. • The use of nontoxic cleaning products by housekeepers.

You can find more information on choosing accommodation at

If you’re planning to visit several destinations, try to plan your trip ahead of time to avoid backtracking. Minimizing your travel time means you have more time to enjoy your vacation and less energy spent to transport you.

Where possible, take public transportation. This will save you money on taxis or rental cars, get your more in touch with the local culture and minimize energy/emissions.

If you must fly, consider purchasing carbon offsets. There are many options for this and our previous coverage may help you choose a provider.

Leave no trace. This one is obvious but at the risk of sounding trite, it’s important that whenever visiting natural environments, you take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints. This principle can be helpful for travel to urban environments as well. When packing for your trip, leave all the packaging at home. Try not to bring anything disposable. Carry your own eating utensils/water bottle and refuse plastic bags and straws when shopping abroad.

Get local. While traveling, purchase locally grown foods. Hire a local guide to help you get the most out of your trip. You will learn about the culture first-hand and your money supports the local economy. If you’re looking for souvenirs, buy local crafts. Avoid products made from endangered species, hard woods or ancient artifacts.

Talk with the locals about sustainability. How do they view issues facing the environment? What do they think about most travelers who visit their community? Talk about what conservation looks like to them and share your own views.

When you return, share your stories and photos. Help others learn through your newfound understanding of a foreign culture.

For more information on responsible travel, check out the Responsible Travel Handbook (PDF) by Ron Mader ( and Sherry Schwarz (Transitions Abroad).

Enjoy your trip!

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thanks Micki for a great compilation of useful info. in particular i've been looking for ways to offset my frequent air trips. ciao!

Posted by: Gianfranco Chicco on 8 Aug 07

That kind of article is what we need in these days were we have to be concerned in our environment. Those like us who loves to travel can help very much in this kind of issue.

Posted by: Norma on 9 Aug 07

I love this entry! I found the information on Lonely Planet as well, and one thing I learned was about the issue of trash, and how we should try not to bring anything disposable. Anyway, a great program that I am now deeply involved in [that DOES travel but "travels for purpose"] is Global Medical Brigades. Please check it out! []

Posted by: Christine on 12 Aug 07

You say, "try not to bring anything disposable," which, of course, makes sense.

In my own case, I think about batteries a lot since I use a lot of them for audio and photo gear. In Los Angeles I try to use mostly rechargeables (which have their own issues, but they must be better than disposables)

However on a recent media-tensive trip to Atlanta I chose to use all disposables rather than risk partial/faulty charges at the critical moment. (I did at least leave all my partially-depleted alkalines for housekeeping with a note that they could "probably still use them")

I guess this is turning into a tech-question, but since I do use a lot of batteries and since I cause my students to also use a lot of batteries, I do worry about what havoc we're wreaking... but again, to fly across the country, have a rechargeable fail, and not get the interview, in some ways is an even less efficient scenario... oh my!...

Posted by: Glenn Zucman on 15 Aug 07

Hi Glenn, nice to see you around these parts! That's a good point and I guess it's impossible to be perfect. Maybe next time you can bring your rechargable batteries and some disposables as back-up. And of course, take care to dispose of your batteries properly at a recycling center. You may have to bring them back home with you to do that.

Posted by: Micki on 15 Aug 07

National Geographic's Center for Sustainable Tourism offers a select list of eco-friendly tour operators and travel organizations like Backroads, Earthwatch and the Green Tourism Organization:

Posted by: Marilyn Terrell on 17 Aug 07



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