When I hear the word “vacation” I experience excitement and breathe a sigh of relief. Automatically, I daydream of adventures exploring a new city and relaxing days at a beach or pool. Work has vanished from my thoughts and my hectic, day-to-day life is on hold. But what we can sometimes forget is that the people around us, also have day-to-day lives and may not have the luxury of escaping for a break. No matter how disconnected we may feel from our own personal worlds, we must remember that we all share this planet. Leaving our own communities doesn’t mean that we are free to do as we wish in other communities or that we carry less responsibility.

Living “green” is not a trend, its survival. The preservation of the world’s natural resources and communities is the only way our vacation dreams of beautiful beaches and friendly locals will continue to be available to us.

Traveling doesn’t mean saving up money just so you can spend it on extravagant experiences and purchases. In fact, traveling responsibly often saves you money and provides unique and enriching experiences. More and more mainstream consumers are catching on to this new way to travel and vacation.

The growing alternative travel industry is a true testament to how the public is steadily changing the way they travel. The alternative travel industry is a $52 billion dollar industry in just the top three markets of the world: North America, Latin America and Europe, and that’s just outbound adventure tourism, according to Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, a global membership organization dedicated to promoting and growing the adventure travel market.

For those just jumping on the bandwagon, here are some green, alternative ways to travel.

Sustainable/Responsible tourism

This type of tourism is committed to making a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate income and employment for the locals. It tries to ensure that development is a positive experience for everyone.

Tours often involve grassroots work within the community like building houses or helping locals build their economy. This is often called “voluntourism”, where tourists get hands on cultural experience by meeting and learning from the locals.

Ecotourism

Ecotours cater to the ecologically and socially conscious individuals. The nature-based tours travel to fragile, unspoiled locations that are usually protected and receive less of the everyday tourism traffic. The goal of ecotourism is to foster a greater appreciation of our natural habitats Most destinations are to protected areas.

Everything in between

Sustainable travel and ecotours are great in giving travelers access to places and people they would never be able to find themselves. The tours facilitate and guide your experience but for those less concerned with this type of structure, there are many ways to travel responsibly on your own.

Skip the Seattle Duck Tour and move your feet! A good example of keeping it local but unique is Seattle Bites, a guided walking tour in Seattle focused exclusively on the heart of Seattle’s culinary scene, the Pike Place Market. Seattle Bites Food Tours offers a two and a half hour walking tour of Pike Place Market led by local culinary and history enthusiasts.

Also based in Seattle is Shutter Tours, a unique and fun Seattle sightseeing tour where groups are taken all over the city and taught how to take the best photos during photography “mini lessons” along the way.

Regardless if you choose to attend a tour or just wing it by yourself, there are a few key tips that will help you travel responsibly.

Travel less and stay longer. Air travel leaves an enormous carbon footprint. If you must fly, do it less by combining trips or staying longer. You’ll also absorb a lot more about the place you’re visiting the longer you stay.

Take the public ground transportation. Traveling by bus or train is your best bet. It’s cheaper, more environmentally friendly and you get to see parts of the town or countryside you otherwise would have missed while on a plane.

Learn before you get there. Learn about the place you are going to before you get there and be culturally sensitive.

Shop local. Find local markets where you can buy fresh food from local vendors. This benefits the local people and their economy. Happy Travels!

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