So you're heading off the beaten path? Even though there are fewer people around, it's actually even MORE important to remain careful and respectful of your surroundings. When visiting rural or natural areas, make sure to follow these sustainable tips:
1. Leave No Trace
If you travel anywhere in nature it's important to leave the space better than you found it. This concept is called "Leave No Trace" and is practiced and enforced in hiking, backpacking, and traveling communities. You can find more information about it here, but the name speaks for itself. Practicing Leave No Trace in less-urbanized regions can range from easy tasks like picking up litter and using a BPA-free water bottle to keep plastic waste out of landfills and the environment; to being mindful of your effect on the ecosystems around you and treading lightly. An example of treading lightly can be being conscious of your body while snorkeling/scuba diving to better avoid touching or stepping on the coral or stirring up sediment, which prevents damage to the reef’s fragile ecosystem. While pack-in and pack-out practices, like using a reusable bottle, may be a given to some, they can be less intuitive when looking beyond trash (continued in tip #2).
2. Be a Greener Preener
When traveling in fragile ecosystems, or regions without proper sanitation, it’s important to know that the products you use will most likely be disposed of in that region. Avoid packing products with microbeads, aerosols, and sulfates. Using biodegradable soap, shampoo, and other products can ensure you leave the place you visit just as pristine for locals and future visitors. Taking a backpacking trip can be inexpensive, and if you follow the Leave No Trace principles you can actually accomplish leaving only footprints behind. It's important to always stick to the trail when hiking. Trails may get worn down, but they are established in nature and predictable for wildlife. Going rogue and blazing your own trail can disturb wildlife and habitat security.
3. Give Back to the Community
If you're taking a tour, find out how the tour company gives back to the local community. Do they practice Leave No Trace? Do they hire local guides? Do they take a leading role in preserving the area’s natural resources? Do some research before booking a tour and look for one that keeps environments safe and money in the local community. An example of an unsustainable tour could be one that promises hands-on encounters with wild animals, such as riding elephants or walking with lions, as they often illegally capture, transport, and abuse millions of animals each year (tip #4). While there are some responsible tour companies that allow contact with threatened animals, there are many that are damaging. You can also give back to the community by signing up for voluntourism or working with a non-profit; it doesn’t take a lot of extra effort to make a huge difference in the local community when you travel.
4. Leave the Endangered Species Alone
Conservation is an important aspect of travel, regardless of whether it's domestic or international, and it can be as easy as not buying anything made from endangered plants or animals, unsustainable hardwoods, or ancient artifacts. Sometimes endangered or protected species are sold to tourists as souvenirs, which directly inhibits their recovery and negates all conservation efforts towards saving them. With that said, some endangered or protected species are sold by authorized resellers, which should be researched before a purchase is made. If an authorized storefront sells endangered/protected organisms or paraphernalia of sorts, they will likely tell you and display their permit information. Otherwise you can access a thorough list of all endangered/protected/threatened organisms by searching the IUCN Red List website (operated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources).
Now you're prepared for whatever sustainable summer excursions you may take in the next two months. Stay safe, stay green, stay cool and most importantly enjoy!