Adventure travel vacations are as popular as ever with no shortage of tour companies and world to explore. Ensuring that your vacation is eco-friendly is especially important so that these destinations are around for the next generation of travelers to enjoy.
With that in mind, there are a number of red flags to keep an eye out for when considering your next eco-adventure travel experience. Ask yourself if you’re helping or hurting the destination, whose benefiting, and just how transparent the company hosting you is.
We hope you’re scuba certified, because we are about to dive in further into the world of ethical travel.
1. What’s the environmental impact?
First, you need to look at the potential environmental impact of your trip. You need to ask yourself: How am I going to get there? If air travel is in the equation, then you’re starting your trip with a substantial net loss as far as environmental impact is concerned. Consider looking more locally for an eco-adventure or embrace slow travel.
If flying is unavoidable in your mind, then there are things you can do to try and offset your traveling carbon footprint. Start by limiting the number of flights you’re taking and fly as directly as possible to your destination. Also, some airlines have taken to calculating the carbon footprint of your flight so that you can contribute the monetary equivalent to a program that will theoretically offset your damage. However, said programs are admittedly not widely promoted and often criticized for not being 100 percent transparent.
As you can see, you’re ultimately better off scratching air travel from the beginning, if you’re truly concerned about the environmental impact of your eco-tourism adventure.
2. Am I helping or hurting?
This question is closely related to the previous one, because with every decision you make, you need to ask yourself if you’re helping or hurting the environment.
Remember: Don’t be a fool, keep the environment cool! (Seriously, keep it cool. We’re heating it at an alarming rate).
We’ve already covered the importance of considering your carbon footprint before arrival, but what about once you’re there? Will you be driving everywhere and chugging bottled water? If so, you just might be doing more harm than good. Try your best to cycle or use public transport to reach your destinations to truly limit your carbon footprint while abroad.
What about the local economy? Are you contributing, or sending your money off to a chain hotel that doesn’t employ locally? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg of what you need to consider before signing up for an eco-adventure abroad. Additional questions and concerns will naturally come up, depending on the tour company you’re considering and the destination.
3. Is this company helping me travel responsibly and ethically?
Let’s go ahead and beat a dead horse. What is the transportation plan with this company? Make sure you think about the fossil fuels you’ll be burning for your eco-adventure travel. We can all agree that the environment shouldn’t suffer for your enjoyment.
After selecting the company, you have to take a moment and consider their employment policies. Not every country in the world protects its workers to the degree they ought to. So, it’s your responsibility to do your due diligence to ensure workers are being paid and treated properly.
There are a wealth of resources out there that make it easier than ever to find out what the average income is in any nation. Don’t be shy to ask the tour company about their employee policies. You probably won’t get exact numbers out of them, but the more questions you ask, the more likely you are to get a better sense of how ethical the company is with respect to their employees.
Most people have a decent barometer of what traveling responsibly and ethically is. In general, we’d all agree that locals should be benefiting, the environment shouldn’t be damaged for our benefit, and that the company needs to be hiring locally as well as paying fairly. Use those ideas as your moral compass to ensure that the company helping you travel is both responsible and ethical.
4. Is it supporting the local economy?
Eco-adventure travel destinations are often in corners of the globe that have been historically less wealthy than North American, European, and some Asian nations for a number of (terrible) reasons that could fill a novel. Due to said lack of wealth, these nations have not been able to deduce the natural landscape to the same horrific degree as some wealthier nations.
Once more, some travel outfitters do hold colonial and outright racist attitudes toward the destinations that they cover, preferring to hire their expatriate brethren over local nationals.
If you’re looking to travel ethically, then do your research ahead of time. Ask the trip provider who comprises their staff and what role the company plays in the local economy. You may leave disappointed, but you might also be pleasantly surprised as many trip providers do make an effort to hire locals and give back to the local economy through, for example, offering microloans to poor communities.
Ultimately, tourism outfitters are always proud to share if they’ve hired locally. Any company that shies away from the question is likely hiding something they aren’t so proud of.
5. How transparent is the tour company?
You know how food and dairy producers have taken to slapping that “organic” label on just about everything? Tour operators have been known to do the equivalent in the travel industry. That is, they promise their customers that they’re working with the best interest of the environment and people when reality tells a different story.
The reason why food and dairy producers can get that coveted, conscience-comforting label on their products is because it’s not highly regulated. In some respects, the same can be said about eco-tourism operators. Case in point, there’s nothing stopping a company from making all sorts of claims to sooth any apprehensions you may have as a customer.
What you can (and should) do is look for veritable certifications. The International Ecotourism Society and Rainforest Alliance come to mind. Still, it’s perfectly plausible that a tour operator is certified by a veritable organization whose name you simply don’t recognize. If that’s the case, ask about the certification and call them up yourself. Sure, it’s extra work on your part, but it’s worthwhile to ensure that the tour company is transparent and that you are indeed traveling ethically.
Helpful Hint: You can also select your program from top verified provider on GoAbroad, the higher their verification status, the more vetting GoAbroad has done for you!
6. What are other travelers saying?
Obviously not all eco-adventure tours are created equal. So go beyond “About the Organization” pages when conducting research on your eco-adventure tour. Another great way to make sure your tour company makes good on all its promises is to get in contact with past participants and read their reviews. Every company has best friends and worst enemies leaving reviews, so take each with a grain of salt, but check each review for those red flags.
Reading this elaborated checklist should not have left you feeling distraught. If so, then eco-adventure probably isn’t for you, unless you plan on cutting corners. In that case, it’s your conscience. In reality, this should have left you feeling empowered. You likely started reading this with some ideas on the topic. Hopefully this filled some of the gaps with friends and family serving as additional buffers to run ideas by.
You have the tools to ensure that you’re taking every possible step to have an ethical and responsible eco-adventure travel experience.
Now, why is this all important?
The answer is rather obvious when you think about it. If you’re considering an eco-adventure trip, then you’re coming from an inherently privileged position. There are billions of people on this planet who will never be able to realistically have the conversation you’re having now. So it’s on you to make sure your eco-adventure travel experience is both ethical and responsible to the environment, the destination, and local populations you’ll be visiting. You want to take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints (minus your carbon footprint, of course), and kill nothing but time à la John Kay.