Sustainable tourism is the act of limiting travel's harmful impacts on the environment and encouraging positive benefits to the community through job creation or service projects. With eco-consciousness being more of a buzz word than ever, creating a positive impact on the land encourages locals to want more and more visitors to explore their culture. By default, the travel industry is hard on the environment in terms of energy efficiency, recycling and water usage required for airlines and tours to operate. Both industry businesses and individual travelers can do their part to help protect our world so everyone can appreciate it for years to come.

Photo Credit: United Nations Photo

What is sustainable travel?

Sustainable travel means taking responsibility for your actions to any place you visit. Treating the land like it's your own backyard. This is a little different than ecotourism, which is the travel to fragile and protected areas so as not to destroy a natural world wonder. The Galapagos is a prime example, as they only allow a small number of people on the island at a time to preserve unique and endangered species of flora and fauna once made famous by Darwin. Voluntoursim is another subset of this (also called volunteer travel or vacanteerism) which is a trip that involves some type of volunteer or charity work. Popular ones include language tutoring, area cleanups, wildlife conservation and foreign medical assistance.

There are numerous non-profit organizations dedicated to responsible travel. One, the Center for Responsible Travel uses policy-oriented research to improve the social and environmental impacts of travel and to brainstorm ways to alleviate poverty and biodiversity conservation.

How do I lessen my impact?

Be conscientious. Recycle whenever possible. Only work with tour operators who care about their environmental footprint and commit to sustainable development. Appreciate cultures and respect other customs. Basically do your part to be a global citizen, pay it forward.

Sustainable Destinations

China - Play with children and pandas in the historical city of Beijing. After the earthquake, 63 captive pandas in Wolong Nature Reserve have been cared for at the Ya'an Panda Breeding Center. You'll help feed and clean them and participate in behavioral research.

Costa Rica - Participate in a variety of rainforest restoration projects. Take part in a tree-planting project to offset CO2 emissions, work in the greenhouse or work with local families in the town on their farms.

Thailand - Some of the many exciting opportunities include mangrove restoration, teaching English or share your skills or hobbies with villagers.