How to Become a Green Globetrotter

Not only is traveling great fun — it’s also big business: According to the World Tourism Organization, the annual number of international tourists rose to a staggering 1.186 billion in 2016; that’s one-sixth of the world population! The tourism industry creates 10% of the global GDP and supports one in eleven jobs worldwide.

In short: tourism has a lot of economic clout. And, to quote one of my favorite superhero comics, with great power comes great responsibility. That’s what the UN celebrations of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism aim to highlight.

Just imagine: on your next vacation, you will not only get some much-needed relaxation, but you might contribute towards saving the world. (At least a little.) The Green Globetrotter — an everyday superhero on the move!

No matter whether you are an expat ready to explore your new country of residence or simply passionate about travel, here are some tips on how to maximize the benefits of tourism and minimize any negative impact.

Travel responsibly.

In the age of cheap flights and no-frills airlines, it’s never been that easy to give in to wanderlust and set out for destinations unknown. As tempting and comfortable those possibilities are, slow and steady does sometimes win the race — at least when it comes to environmental impact.

One long-stay trip beats several mini-breaks per year while travel by train, boat, or bus is more environmentally friendly than hopping on board the next plane. Of course, it will not always be possible to honor such good intentions.

True story: a friend of mine once looked into organizing a business trip to Hong Kong by train. After plotting the route Munich — Warsaw — Grodno — Moscow — Novosibirsk — Beijing — Shanghai — Hong Kong, even the most die-hard environmentalist would have given up in despair.

Fortunately, you can look up carbon-efficient airlines instead, or donate to climate change mitigation projects. You don’t even have to plant a single tree yourself!

Buy local.

The most people will benefit from the spending power of international visitors if you opt for local companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, or family-owned businesses. Just by choosing a specific accommodation, tour guide, or souvenir, you’ll help someone feed their children or create more training and job opportunities. And you might discover some hidden gems and make some wonderful memories.

Take Luang Prabang Night Market in Laos, for example. Established about a dozen years ago, it has become one of the major tourist attractions in the country’s mountainous north.

Though it’s definitely geared towards visitors from abroad, it still focuses traditional handicrafts from local vendors to a certain extent. Just avoid the Luang Prabang t-shirts and look for some gorgeous silk scarves or Hmong quilts, and you could find the perfect giveaway for your loved ones back home.

Behave respectfully.

Enjoying your long-awaited vacation is the easiest thing in the world: you are far from home, feeling like you’re floating in a little bubble of your own, safe from the concerns and worries of everyday life. But what is one person’s vacation highlight is another person’s everyday life.

Most residents will be grateful if you make the effort to learn a few polite phrases in the local language or even try a bit of small talk. To avoid any cultural misunderstandings or embarrassing faux-pas, take a bit of time to find out more about the local culture, customs and traditions of your destination.

That’s especially important if you are planning to visit any heritage sites or places of worship — or if you love travel photography. Before you take that perfect snapshot for your Instagram account, remember to ask the people in the picture for permission. Your newly acquired language skills will definitely come in handy!

Think green.

It might not feel very heroic to lug around a stainless steel bottle, a cutlery kit, and a couple of plastic bags — but they are indispensable items in the Green Globetrotter’s luggage.

In regions where tap water is safe to drink, a reusable container avoids a lot of unnecessary waste from plastic bottles and canned soda. And when you go camping, hiking, or merely admiring an archaeological site, carrying your own trash bag is the simplest way to cut down on littering, especially if there’s no convenient garbage container for miles.

Animal lovers should also make sure that their tour organizers are knowledgeable about environmental protection and local wildlife. For instance, some areas might be off limits when certain birds are nesting, or there might be a cap on the number of visitors in nature reserves.

In ideal conditions, wildlife tourism can be a great asset: the popularity of animal-watching safaris in several African regions, for instance, has led to more employment for local residents and a crackdown on poaching.

Give wisely.

Perhaps you’d like to support your favorite destination — especially one in an impoverished region or a developing market — even further. The easiest way to do is to find a way of traveling that combines both: economic benefits and local non-profits. There are numerous such projects, and they cover all kinds of tourism.

An upmarket resort in Fiji might give its guests the option to donate to a healthcare facility for low-income residents; a small adventure tourism company in the Himalayas can empower Nepali women by training them as tour guides and assistants for female trekkers; former turtle hunters in Gambia find new jobs in an ecotourism project for protected species — there are thousands of similar stories all over the world.

A trustworthy non-profit will inform visitors clearly about its purpose, be transparent about its finances, and avoid aggressively soliciting for donations. That way, you can be sure your generosity won’t be in vain.

Have a safe journey and enjoy your next trip!

Is there anything you’d like to add to this list? Which tips would you like to share?

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

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