With increased research and conversation 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:
Popular vacation spots such as Venice, Italy; the Galapagos Islands; Barcelona, Spain; and Machu Picchu have begun taking steps to protect their destinations from the effects of overcrowding by managing access and visitor fees. If you still plan to visit tourism hot spots, consider a shoulder or off-season trip. Review second-tier cities, national parks with fewer visitors, uncrowded beaches or other low-profile locations as possibilities. Consider a tour operator that gives back to the community and makes a strong effort to tread softly in each destination. Companies such as Intrepid, one of the first carbon-neutral tour operators, and G Adventures, a firm that helps develop rural tourism projects, are among those striving to find a healthy balance in the travel equation.
Just as you might at home, keep water use low, avoid unnecessary packaging and plastics, and turn the lights out when departing your hotel room or vacation rental. Encourage each member of the family to bring a 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. Staying in a single destination longer, rather than hopping to multiple destinations, can reduce your carbon footprint.
Whether camping in the backcountry or day-hiking in a nearby state park, practice Leave No Trace principles to minimize impact and to avoid trail erosion, invasive species, polluting water and other unintended consequences. Be sure to plan ahead, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors.
Save the reefs
Among the ways we can help protect important coral reefs around the world is to use proper sunscreen. 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.
Before your trip, research the local culture and discuss the information and your initial impressions with the family. If relevant, encourage everyone in your group to learn a few phrases of the language. Hire a resident guide to show your family how locals live. Buy indigenous crafts, pull up chairs in neighborhood restaurants to sample fare from the region and peruse what’s possible at a farmers market. Be respectful and ask permission to take and share photos of people and private spaces. The World Tourism Organization encourages travelers to “be tolerant and respect diversity.”