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Six Ways to be a More Conscientious Traveler

We’ve all endured a long year and a half at home, dreaming about the trips we might take when it’s safe to travel again. And whether you're still adding trips to your someday bucket list or getting ready to start some actual planning, it's never too early to start thinking about ways to be a more sustainable, conscientious traveler!

Here at EPI, we love to travel and get outside our comfort zones. We also love seeing our students open up to new cultures, new ways of being and thinking, and new ecosystems that are dramatically different from what we might find at home. We know that personal growth and travel go hand-in-hand—especially when we participate in activities that help conserve the natural environment and respect host communities.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization, the UN agency responsible for the promotion of sustainable tourism, is focused on encouraging sustainable tourism in the following areas:

1. Inclusive and sustainable economic growth

2. Social inclusiveness, employment, and poverty reduction

3. Resource efficiency, environmental protection, and climate change

4. Cultural values, diversity, and heritage

5. Mutual understanding, peace, and security

These are all great values, but what does this actually look like in practice? As we timidly (or excitedly!) look ahead to planning our next adventures in 2021 or 2022, here are just a few ways to ensure we’re being more conscientious travelers.

Pack Thoughtfully and Avoid Plastic

We all know that trash, especially plastic waste, is a global problem right now. Considering that more than half the world’s population does not have access to regular trash collection or management, it’s become ever more important to pack smart and avoid plastic whenever we travel.

How can you help?

  • Most of us already know to pack several reusable water bottles when we travel, but you can take it a step further by packing your own water filtration devices, cutlery, and reusable straws.

  • Try to avoid getting takeout from restaurants that don’t use compostable carry-out containers, or better yet, pack your own reusable container.

  • Pack and carry reusable canvas bags to have handy when you’re shopping for souvenirs or stopping by the grocery store. They also make great beach bags!

Choose Eco-Friendly Transportation Options

In an ideal world, we’d take more domestic trips and avoid air travel altogether. But we also know that that exploring places outside our home country is beneficial for our mental health—and makes us more emphatic, open-minded humans. That being said, there are a few things we can do to choose more responsible transportation options when avoiding flights isn’t an option.

How can you help?

  • Consider spending more time in one area rather than cramming too much in. Not only is this a more relaxing way to travel, but you’ll also cut down on transportation impacts and ensure more money flows into the local community.

  • Avoid cruise ships altogether. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, a large cruise ship is estimated to generate 210,000 gallons of sewage and 8 tons of solid waste during a typical one-week voyage.

  • While traveling in-country, take the bus, train, or shuttle to your next destination. Better yet, consider renting a bike or staying in lodging that offers bikes to their guests. This will also allow you to take in the sights and sounds of your destination at a slower pace.

Students travel by boat on EPI's Costa Rica Sea Turtle Ecology Program.

Respect the Natural Environment

For many of us, we travel for a chance to immerse ourselves in the incredible beauty of the natural world. Both for the sake of the ecosystem and for the travelers who come after us, it’s important to minimize our environmental impacts when we travel.

How can you help?

  • Follow Leave No Trace Principles while you travel. This includes respecting wildlife, leaving what you find, and properly disposing of waste.

  • Conserve water and energy whenever possible. Take showers over baths, keep that reusable water bottle with you, and use a water filter if needed.

  • View animals in their natural habitats and give them plenty of space. Watch out for wildlife attractions that may exploit the animals in their care.

  • Consider volunteering or participating in hands-on conservation work that benefits wildlife or restores ecosystems.

Students collect data on marine life as part of EPI's Baja Marine Science Ecology Program.

Support Local Economies

Part of being a responsible traveler means behaving in a way that financially benefits the host destination. While it may be comforting that an iced Americano from Starbucks tastes the same overseas as it does back in the U.S., choosing to support local businesses provides more stability for the host community in the long run.

How can you help?

  • Enjoy local food and drinks, and avoid packaged and imported foods. After all, getting to taste the local cuisine is essential to the travel experience!

  • Purchase locally made crafts and souvenirs, checking to make sure they aren’t actually imported.

  • Look for locally-owned lodging facilities and book your stay directly on the business’ website whenever possible.

Respect the Culture of Host Communities

We all have something we can learn from each other! Exposing yourself to local cultures is a wonderful way to have a meaningful travel experience while expanding your own worldview. It’s also a great way to show your gratitude to the local community members who are hosting you.

How can you help?

  • Spend your time and money at businesses owned by local residents.

  • Engage with community members in a way that’s respectful and gracious. Making an effort to speak the native language – even simple, polite responses and greetings – can go a long way!

  • Try taking a cooking class or participate in a community service project that enriches your cultural understanding of the host community.

In the Field: All of EPI’s Travel Programs give participants a chance to meet and interact with local students, whether it’s joining in on hands-on conservation project or a spontaneous game of soccer.

Do Your Part at Home

2021 may be the year we can finally release ourselves back into the wild and rediscover the things that keep our lives full and rich – travel, human interaction, and time spent in the great outdoors. But if you aren’t ready to travel just yet, you can aim to be a more conscientious traveler without leaving your home.

How can you help?

  • Try to integrate some of these sustainable practices into your everyday life at home! Buy local, minimize plastic waste, respect wildlife, and opt for more sustainable modes of transportation.

  • Support legislation, nonprofits, and other organizations that promote and follow responsible travel practices.

  • Spread the word! Don’t be afraid to spread awareness about the importance of sustainable travel, and engage in dialogue with others about ways they can be more responsible travelers themselves.

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