Eco-travel is ethical travel. It’s just the right thing to do, especially as more of us are travelling than ever, it is our responsibility to conserve each magical destination we visit for generations to come.
Now, while we all have a basic knowledge of what is right, there is no standard international benchmark on what constitutes green travel.
The good news is many countries offer some sort of certification and Ecotourism Australia for example offers a leading certification program for local operators - although it primarily focuses on the natural environment.
If you want to go further, one of the more rigorous environmental benchmarking schemes created in recent years is the Green Globe International Standard for Sustainable Tourism that has been developed over decades of research and development.
As for getting out there and being a good eco-traveller, your journey begins at home.
For starters, if you’re travelling overseas and you have to fly, consider flying with an airline offering a carbon offset program. A good example is Etihad Airways which in January flew the world’s first commercial flight using locally produced jet fuel derived from plants that grow in salt marshes or beaches.
Ideally, you wouldn’t fly but it’s difficult for Australians looking to satisfy their wanderlust as we live on the world’s smallest continent (not an island) surrounded by water.
Once you’re on the ground at your destination, eco-travel becomes a little more clear-cut. These are the simple rules such as don’t contribute to the world’s monstrous plastic pollution problem by drinking bottled water. Take a BPA-free water bottle which you can refill over and over again.
Many international airports and hotels now have either free water dispensers or water filters fitted so you can not only save money but you’re making a positive contribution to the environment especially in developing countries where plastic pollution is a huge issue.
Walk, cycle or take public transport rather than hiring a car, which again cuts down on costs and also reduces carbon emissions from the fuel you use. Alternatively, hire a hybrid vehicle.
When you’re out hiking and embracing the planet’s natural beauty, stick to the paths. You may feel the urge to bush bash but if you’re on a clearly marked hiking trail, stay on it. It means you’re not trampling over the fragile ecosystem of wherever you are and just for your own sake, you’re less like to upset any local wildlife such as snakes and other creepy-crawlies.
And once you’re out in rural areas or exploring the wilderness, celebrate and support the local culture. Don’t rely on an app you downloaded or a couple of guidebooks. Find your own adventure by supporting local communities whether that be via eating local fare, utilising local guides or buying locally produced (not mass-produced) wares. What you’re doing is helping to sustain a community by reducing food miles on your cuisine and supporting local artisans.
Yet supporting the locals doesn’t mean supporting everything. Put simply: don’t dance with the bears or lie with the tigers. If an attraction is offering up close and personal encounters with wildlife, the chances are the animal in question is being exploited in some way. It’s quite easy to remember - bears don’t dance on contact with humans and tigers aren’t house-trained moggies.
For those keen on an urban eco-adventure, you can visit green cities all over the world. In Canada, Vancouver ranks as one of the world’s most eco-friendly cities offering clean air, hydro-electricity and it’s also the birthplace of Greenpeace. Tech billionaires with a conscience have made San Francisco North America’s most environmentally-aware conurbation and it’s only a hybrid car drive from Vancouver. In Denmark, Copenhagen is Europe’s greenest city while in South Africa, Capetown is arguably the city making the biggest environmental strides in Africa.
And finally, just look for an eco-hotel. They’re being developed all over the world. If you’re unsure if you’re hotel is eco-friendly, ask them about their environmental initiatives and once you’re there, set a good example.