Scene along the Cape Breton Highlands National Park Cabot Trail.
While ecotourism is generally considered to include travel to endangered natural areas, you can apply its principles—conscientious, low impact, environmentally-friendly travel that benefits local people and their environment—to any travel destination. Green tourism, ethical tourism, and sustainable tourism are other applicable terms. Simply put, travel responsibly. Anyone can do it.
How to Be a Responsible Traveler
Skip the traditional, kitschy tourist venues in favor of natural ones. Take the back roads; spend an afternoon in a public garden; visit a local, state, or national park; get the kinks out by walking or jogging on a greenway trail or taking a hike on a local path; pick up a brochure and do a walking tour of the area.
Visit a farmers’ market. You might find breakfast goodies, snacks for your travel, or fixings for a picnic lunch. Chances are you’ll discover some nifty items for your holiday shopping list, too. While you’re at it, stop at roadside farm stands. My husband and I came by some delicious and healthy wild blueberries that way.
Founded in 1785,, the Saint John, New Brunswick, City Market is the oldest farmer's market in Canada.
Support local artisans and craftspeople. You’ll find products indigenous to the area, a great way to shop for the special people in your life. You’ll probably even get to meet and chat with the maker. Not only will your gifts be unique, but there will be a story behind them.
Eat local—organically if you can. Chains are so boringly predictable, but a good local restaurant will feature locally grown foods put together in interesting combinations. Strike up a conversation with your waitstaff or the folks sitting in the next booth to enjoy even more local culture.
Consider staying at an Airbnb, another way to support the local economy. It’s an easy way to get to know local people, local culture, and local lore. I recently got a personal tour of a real-life New England village by my Airbnb host, learning lots of village history in the process. Sometimes you can get a whole house to yourself for less than even a low-end hotel chain. That way, you can prepare your own meals from food you bought at the farmers’ market earlier in the day.
Discover local events. Is a local 4-H fair taking place during your visit? What about a volunteer fire department supper or a community hall bingo game? Take them in. Could there be a better way to become part of the place you find appealing and help the local economy at the same time?
Being a Better Tourist
Do your homework: learn about an area before you start your travels so you’ll know what to look for and what makes it special.
Meet locals: show an interest in their little corner of the world.
Embrace the local culture: visit local sites, like a local history museum; appreciate the uniqueness of the area you’re visiting.
We found names of my husband's ancestors on the Founders' Monument at the Ancient Burying Ground in Hartford, Connecticut. Photo by Ron Wynn
Leave a good impression: don’t complain when things aren’t exactly the way they are back home—you might as well stay put if you’re not looking for something new and different.
Cherish, Don’t Destroy
By following these tips, you can make your next trip one that’s fun for you and that benefits the planet at the same time. Just keep the following concepts in mind: low-impact, environmentally friendly, cultural awareness, and supporting local well-being.
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