What does green travel really mean and how can you be a more responsible traveler?
No doubt, unless you have been lucky enough to travel your way unplugged through the mountains, rainforests and villages of the world throughout this last decade, you have heard the term green travel. But, what does green travel really mean and what's different about it?
For some people, it conjures up images of hotels that advertise an inspiring message of "making a green choice" to reuse your towels and sheets for more than one day, when in reality it means not having to pay a housekeeper for cleaning your hotel room. For other people, images of uncomfortable sleeping arrangements in tents scattered throughout national parks with no bathing (much less hot water) facilities, such as the case in some parks in North America, dissuade people from the idea of green travel.
However, none of those images constitute a reality what true green travel means today. The industry has evolved and developed a variety of travel experiences that are fun, unique, and relatively inexpensive.
True green travel today is about supporting a community's triple bottom line – namely economic viability, social empowerment, and environmental conservation – while also providing a meaningful respite for visitors.
Green Travel is:
- Staying at a locally owned coffee plantation inn just outside of San Jose, Costa Rica where you meet Leo, a former chemist and literary scholar turned coffee plantation manager. Leo proudly explains to you how every process from construction, landscaping, hot water generation, and bamboo linen use was studied to determine the most sustainable operation for the inn. Some methods are new, such as the use of NASA- developed ionization techniques to clean the gorgeous pool, while others are tried and true, such as using solar panels for hot water and building on slants to eliminate the need for irrigation systems. Add to that community and youth education programs, extensive recycling, a composting system, an organic greenhouse and an employee annual energy usage competition, and you have a community working together to do for themselves where government programs and charity handouts do not.
- Experiencing the lazy days of a Swedish summer while keeping an age-old tradition alive with your own unique timber raft adventure – à la Tom Sawyer. Navigating the serene River Klarälven, on a raft you've built yourself, you take in the forested landscape of rural Värmland in Central Sweden, photograph wildlife such as elk and lynx in their natural habitat, fish for pike, and visit the tiny villages of the Klarälven valley for a great meal, conversation or a place to rest your head for the night. These trips support the preservation of the peregrine habitat as well as the development of wind energy plants.
- Learning cultural traditions from the Ese Eja community that live in the Peruvian Amazon. Guided by biologists and community members, you learn about the efforts these native people have put forth to positively affect their livelihood including the Macaw Project, Brazil nut harvesting, and Tambopata Research Center. You kayak and hike alongside naturalists as they explain the fragility of the Amazon and, each evening, you stay in one of the most remote (and comfortable) rainforest lodges in South America surrounded by pristine wilderness – not to mention howler and spider monkeys. These trips support the community socially by including leaders in the decision-making, economically by providing quality employment and distributing profits, and environmentally by measuring the impact on sensitive wildlife species.
In effect, green travel is emblematic of the type of experience most of us want to have whether we are visiting our local region or one halfway around the world.
Through green travel, we can:
- Preserve natural habitats and wildlife
- Support local economic prosperity
- Minimize air and water pollution as well as tourist waste
- Embark on safe and enriching or educational visitor experiences
- Respect the cultural traditions of the community
- Avoid physical or environmental degradation
- Efficiently use scarce or non-renewable energy resources
- Have enjoyable and engaging interactions with communities
Isn't that what travel is all about?
Note: This article was originally written by Irene Lane for publication on theplanetd.com on December 20, 2012.