My wife and I have taken our son on all the typical American family vacations. We have done Disney World, Mexico, San Diego, Colorado and now it is time to give back, even if only in a small way. Our son is now getting to the point where we are about as uncool as possible. Knowing that our days of vacationing as a family are short-lived, we have decided that our next family vacation will be more than tourist traps and over indulgence. We have decided that we want to further instill the values we preach to our son by means of an ecotourism vacation. When deciding that we wanted our next family getaway to be meaningful, we thought about the options that are available to us. My son is very interested in nature and the environment. Knowing that doing something that we believe in and he is interested in would make for a great trip, we began to explore ecotourism. Here is what we found:
Ecotourism is defined as a form of tourism that strives to minimize ecological or other damage to areas visited for their natural or cultural interest. In every day terms that basically means that you spend your time working to help or save animals or ecosystems that have been damaged or are in danger of being lost forever. There are many options available for ecotourism and a great site to get you started on your research is The International Ecotourism Society.
Since we are a fan of warm weather destinations we were immediately drawn to the opportunities available in Costa Rica. The tropical Central American destination offers examples of both the best in sustainable tourism and what could replace it. “Costa Rica is not all eco,” says Martha Honey, co-founder of the Center for Responsible Travel and former executive director of The International Ecotourism Society. “But the ecotourism revolution in Costa Rica has been really profound. It … still remains the best example in the world of successful ecotourism.” Today, though, that record is threatened by the growth of international hotel chains and plans for another international airport, which could transform the Osa Peninsula and push out its eco-lodges.
According to Yale’s Alice Henly; “Despite covering 0.01 percent of the world’s landmass, Costa Rica’s rainforests and coral reefs are home to close to 5 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. The country boasts 500,000 (and counting) different plant and animal species. Roughly a third of the size of New York state, this small country has coasts on two oceans and six active volcanoes, creating many different microclimates, variable weather (sun and showers seem to swap places every few minutes), and a wide range of ecosystems.”
The following is a short excerpt from Henly’s experience in Costa Rica. This particular story put my family and me on edge to experience this amazing country as soon as possible. ” During the four days I stayed at Lapa Rios, I began to appreciate first-hand the rich, diverse beauty of our surroundings. I swam underneath a waterfall. I surfed at a volcanic black sand beach. I hiked through the rainforest, watched howler monkeys swing through the trees, and held a baby green iguana, thanks to one of Lapa Rios’ wildlife guides. But I had the most fun walking hand in hand with Sweetie, the matriarch spider monkey, meeting and feeding animals at the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary.”
It is my hope that we all can take part in these amazing and important travel destinations. However, if you are not looking to go this far there are other ways that you can travel responsibly. Conserving energy is perhaps the easiest way that we can have a positive impact on our planet while traveling. Here are a few tips taken from The International Ecotourism Society to help ensure that when you travel you are doing so while leaving the smallest carbon footprint possible.
Energy-Saving Tips for Travelers
1. Fly Wisely:
Air travel is often the most energy consuming aspect of your travel. Plan your trip so that you minimize air travel, and choose, whenever possible, to stay longer in a destination instead of making many short trips.
2. Travel Light:
Pack only what you need, and don’t bring things that will become waste. By reducing the weight of luggage travelers can significantly cut green house gas emissions.
3. Book Responsibly:
When choosing your hotel, tour operator, or other service providers, select ones that have good sustainability practices. Look for information on the company’s environmental initiatives; strategies, save energy and minimize waste; involvement in sustainable tourism certification program. A good place to start your search is Ecotourism Explorer.
4. Unplug Before You Leave:
Turn off lights and unplug household appliances that can be left unplugged while you are away.
5. Unplug While You Are There:
Turn off all the lights and air conditioner/heater when you leave your room, and unplug unnecessary appliances.
6. Choose Greener Ways To Get Around:
Utilize public transportation (bus, train, city car, etc.) and alternative modes of transportation (walking, bicycle, non-motorized vehicles, horse, camel) as much as possible. It’s a more sustainable way to get around, and also a healthier and more enjoyable way to get to know the place you are visiting.
7. Eat Local:
Reduce your ‘food miles’ by choosing local. Visit a local farmer’s market, shop at a locally owned grocery store and choose locally owned restaurants that buy local. Locally produced foods are a tastier and more sustainable option.
8. Save Water:
Use the minimum amount of water needed for a shower/bath, don’t let water run while shaving, brushing or washing, and check if the hotel has a linen reuse program – if so, reuse your towels and bed sheets by placing the card to indicate you don’t wish to have them washed every day, if not, request hospitality staff not to change them every day.
9. Charge Your Trip Sustainably:
Whenever possible, utilize options that do not require batteries. Buy rechargeable batteries for your essential travel items such as cameras, razors, and flash lights.
10. Offset the Unavoidable Footprint:
Contribute to a credible carbon offsetting program to support conservation, renewable energy, and other energy saving projects.