We’ve interviewed some top bloggers about their own eco-travel experiences—the good, the bad, and the wacky. We’ve asked them about their tricks of the trade for sustainable travelling, what they look for in a city before they travel there, and any funny stories of eco-friendly travelling they’ve collected.
Here are their stories and the lessons they’ve learned along the way as they’ve criss-crossed this big planet we call Earth.
Irene Lane is a green travel expert who has written and spoken extensively about eco-certifications and how travelers can choose vacations that support communities socially, economically and environmentally. She is a featured writer for the Huffington Post and her blog articles and short pieces also have been published in other media outlets.
Ms. Lane is the only person in the United States who can certify a green travel destination under the internationally-accredited Biosphere certification and she is the founder of Greenloons, which provides sustainable travel tips as well as a carefully curated collection of green travel experiences. Her Twitter Handle is @GreenloonsEco and you can find the Greenloons Facebook page here.
Q: When did you first hear about sustainable tourism and why is it important to you to travel sustainably?
Irene Lane: I first heard about sustainable tourism in 2010 and immediately saw the potential for authentic sustainable tourism efforts to alleviate poverty, conserve wildlife and habitats, bring greater cultural understanding, and of course affect climate change. However, when I dug deeper, I began to understand that there was a lot of misinformation about sustainable tourism and very little transparency about the “green travel” industry.
For example, the mass media at the time was incorrectly equating sustainable tourism to other types of tourism including green, eco, cultural, adventure, responsible, and nature tourism. They are all distinctly different, but these terms were being used interchangeably, which was causing consumer confusion. Secondly, I saw that the industry itself had created an intricate web of green awards, certifications, and rankings that in some cases were just self-assessments performed by the tourism company itself and other cases, very rigorous independent audits of a company’s entire operations.
Again, the message was getting muddled because consumers were hinting that they were willing to pay more for “green travel”. So, I decided to start an online resource that would make it easy for eco-conscious travelers to figure out how to choose authentic sustainable vacations in which companies were not just talking the talk, but walking the walk when it came to exemplifying the foundational components of sustainability.
Q: What’s the biggest thing someone can do to travel in a sustainable way?
Irene Lane: Sustainable travel is much more than thinking about the environmental aspects of travel (i.e. recycling plastic, reusing towels), it is about considering the social and economic benefits of your travel choices. My top 4 tips are:
1. To choose lodgings/accommodations/hotels that are eco-certified, which means there has been an independent verification of “green” or “eco” claims. If there isn’t a certification, consider asking the following questions:
a. Is the hotel consistently balancing ecological, cultural, social and economic considerations?
b. Is the hotel contributing positively in the local community? For example, are they creating local employment opportunities or creating local partnerships?
c. Is the hotel offering memorable experiences that give guests insight into the local culture, community and environment?
2. To use trains or efficient boats over automobiles and planes, if possible, to get to your destination. If that is not possible, consider carbon offsetting with a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Gold Standard project.
3. To choose activities that are light on the planet and are led by a professional, licensed guide who can reach you about the local ecosystem, history, culture, etc.
4. To support local food providers. In many cases, local food is cleaner, tastier, and certainly did not travel as far to get to your plate.
Q: What is your favourite means of transportation when travelling?
Irene Lane: I love taking the train! It’s a comfortable, safe, scenic – and in some cases faster – way to see a region. You can also meet some very interesting people! But, the biggest benefit is the carbon emissions you save by traveling by train. Recently, I was traveling through Italy, where my family and I took a few Trenitalia journeys. Clearly printed on our tickets was not only the carbon emissions we were contributing due to our trip, but also a comparison to the carbon emissions we would have expended had we flown or driven to our destination. Also, in its monthly magazine, Trenitalia clearly defined its carbon emissions goals and targets. As a customer, I felt that it was a great way to inform passengers about the company’s efforts while also educating them on the subject of carbon emissions.
Q: What things do you look for before you pick a place to travel to?
Irene Lane: Authenticity! I look for unique experiences that feature a destination’s true culture – not what they think a typical American tourist wants to see and do. Specifically, I enjoy hiking, biking, or kayaking with local naturalist guides; visiting historical sites with archeologists, cooking with small restaurateurs where I can learn some recipes for local delicacies, staying in guest houses, and attending music or art festivals. As for supporting specific local businesses, I look for the travel company to have a legitimate eco-certification label, and where absent, directly ask them questions about their social, economic and environmental policies.
Q: What is your favourite destination? And Why?
Irene Lane: In my opinion, traveling sustainably means finding the best of each destination and seeking out authentic cultural experiences. My trips to Alaska, Australia, Peru, and Namibia spotlighted conservation programs and cultural heritage interactions. For example, in Alaska, we learned about indigenous wildlife and why it is so important to curb environmental degradation (i.e. soil erosion, air and water pollution and waste) while in Australia, we participated in conservation efforts and studied the destructive role of invasive plant species in the wilderness.
In other countries, like Peru and Namibia, in addition to learning about conservation efforts, we were introduced to alternative energy concepts that prevent the depletion of natural resources, such as an eco-lodge harnessing wind or solar power for their operations. With sustainable tourism, I think that travelers come away from experiences understanding the soul of a country – something that I think missing in today’s mass / homogenous tourism offerings.
Q: What is your most memorable travel story?
Irene Lane: That is a difficult question as there are so many to choose from! Do I tell you about the time I reached Machu Picchu and felt an overwhelming sense of peace? Or, do I talk about the first time I saw the all the stars of the southern hemisphere from the Southern Cross to Venus from a beautiful lagoon in Ecuador? It’s a feeling more than a story that for that moment, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be – enjoying the scenery, the history and the people all around me.
Q: What is your next destination?
Irene Lane: My next set of destinations this summer will be Cyprus and Greece (to meet with family members), Croatia (to discover a new-for-us adventure and culinary destination) and Scotland (for the Highland Games). The intention is to continue my “from the eyes of a child” series of articles about how travel helps to develop a child’s sense of ecological and social responsibility. The series is based on my personal experiences traveling with our almost 9-year-old son to Africa and Europe.