As temperatures rise, hurricanes whirl and wildfires burn, the conversation about climate change and our role in it is intensifying. And, with increased documentation about the environmental, economic and social impact of travel, families may be wondering how best to be a responsible traveler.
Here are five ideas to consider:
- 1. Choose wisely
Popular vacation spots like the Machu Picchu, Venice, Italy and many National Parks have begun taking steps to protect their destinations from the effects of overcrowding by managing access, establishing visitor fees and sharing information about responsible practices.
If you still plan to visit tourism hot spots, consider a shoulder or off-season trip when the impact may be less. When researching your next family adventure, review second-tier cities, parks with fewer visitors, uncrowded beaches or other locations not currently experiencing a high profile, as your holiday possibilities. Consider visiting a location that is rebuilding after a natural disaster. For example, Florida beach communities hard hit by hurricanes are grateful for the return of visitors as they recover. While vacation travel to Maui is strongly discouraged in the short term, the other Hawaiian islands like Kauai, Oahu and Hawaii Island, are not affected at this time.
When choosing a tour operator, opt for those that give back to their communities and make a strong effort to tread softly in each destination. Companies like G Adventures, a small group adventure firm that helps develop rural tourism projects, Country Walkers, Lindblad Expeditions and Abercrombie & Kent are among those striving to find a healthy balance in the travel equation.
For more: www.GAdventures.com; www.Expeditions.com; www.CountryWalkers.com; www.GoHawaii.com; www.AbercrombieKent.com
- 2. Opt for outside
A young person’s experiences in the natural world can strongly influence their view of the wider world and instill a desire to preserve and protect it. As you hike, bike and paddle, discuss the environmental changes that might be underway in your location. Share your knowledge and encourage kids to research areas of specific interest on their own.
Explain how small changes can have a big impact when enough people are in the mix. For example, using proper sunscreen can help protect important coral reefs around the world. Skin protection that contains oxybenzone or octinoxate washes off beachgoers, swimmers and divers and has been found to cause bleaching, deformities and potentially death to coral. Palau, Hawaii and other destinations are taking steps to ban these chemicals. Check for products that do not use these harmful substances and consider the use of clothing that blocks harmful rays from the body.
- 3. How will you roll?
Consider exploring close to home or plan trips that don’t require air travel. If you fly, limit emissions by taking direct flights. Travel by train, a boat or other forms of public or human-powered transportation. You might also research buying carbon offsets. In doing so, you would effectively pay others to plant or not cut trees or to embark on other projects that reduce greenhouse gases. Organizations like Cool Effect offer options with more than “90 percent of every dollar going to directly to projects” in Oregon, Tennessee, Indonesia and Guatemala. Combine your adventure with a local volunteer experience. Join a beach clean-up, read to kids at a local school, or assist at a wildlife sanctuary.
For more: www.cooleffect.org; www.volunteeringsolutions.com; www.Beaches.com
- 4. Conserve to preserve
Just as you might at home, keep water usage low, avoid unnecessary packaging, plastics and shopping bags. Recycle and turn the lights out when departing your hotel room or vacation rental. Reuse towels and other linens. Encourage each member of the family to bring their own reusable water bottle and refill from large containers if the local water is not safe to use. Hop on board local transportation, use bikes or walk whenever possible.
Pay attention to local signs and customs. Follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact. When we all do our part, we stand a better chance of protecting our parks, keeping forests healthy and our wildlife strong.
For more: www.LNT.org
- 5. Support locals
Before your trip, research the destination, its culture and discuss the importance of spending your travel dollars in ways that can support sustainable tourism. Hire a resident guide to introduce your family to the local ways and when possible, explore on two wheels or on foot. Choose local outfitters for your adventures. Buy Indigenous crafts, pull up chairs in neighborhood restaurants to sample fare from the region and peruse what’s possible at a farmer’s market. If relevant, encourage everyone in your group to learn a few phrases of the language and to understand local traditions.
For example, in Hawaii, “Aloha” is more than a slogan. It refers to a way of life passed down through generations, according to locals. So greeting others with a sincere “Aloha” is meaningful. Be respectful and ask permission to take photos of people and private spaces. Be thoughtful about how and what you share on social media. The World Tourism Organization encourages travelers to always “be tolerant and respect diversity.”
Anyone who would like to make donations to help communities and families recover on Maui can do so through the Maui Strong Fund established by the Hawaii Community Foundation. The Fund is providing resources that can be deployed quickly, with a focus on rapid response and recovery.