How to Travel Light

G Magazine

How do you enjoy seeing the planet without trampling it?

Footprints in sand

Credit: iStockphoto

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The term 'ecotourism' is defined as:

travel that minimises environmental impact and benefits the local community.

Responsible travel grew out of the recognition that ecotourism as a term had lost some of its currency, and that the principles of sustainability should apply to tourism in every situation - not just natural areas.

It takes a triple bottom line approach:

  1. tread lightly on the environment
  2. respect local people and culture
  3. ensure a financial benefit to the local community

While once seen as the bailiwick of the grass-roots adventurer, responsible tourism principles are now taking hold in every sector of the industry, in every price range, from beaches to big cities.

Hotels and resorts are adopting sustainable design, recycling and giving back to the local community through training, aid projects or levies.

Tour operators are opting for smaller groups (less impact); encouraging respectful engagement with local people and providing interpretation and education for their clients.

And volunteering organisations and opportunities are springing up from Azerbaijan to Zululand, where Western travellers can knuckle down, for anything from a day to a year or more, working on environmental or community projects.

You could find yourself on a tropical island, far from the tourist crowds, helping to research endangered turtles; or in the Andes of South America teaching English to descendants of the Incas.

While it might sound very worthy, no self-flagellation is required. In fact, green travel is growing in the UK at 25 per cent a year.

Yes, it's morally the right way to travel, but it's also a lot more fun than lying on the banana lounge in a faceless resort or watching the world pass by a bus window; not to mention more intellectually and emotionally challenging, inspiring and rewarding.

If curiosity is the fuel of travel, then getting off the bus, off the beaten track and immersing yourself in the local culture and landscape - getting under the skin of a place - isn't a bad way to begin to understand and appreciate a world possibly quite different from your own and to cast new perspectives on your own life and values.

But how do you tell the green from the greenwash? How can you, as an individual, travel responsibly?

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