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As travelers reach the far corners of the world, they are faced with the responsibility to preserve the fragile environments they visit. This idea of traveling responsibly is called ecotourism, conscientious travel to protect the environment and nourish its many cultures.
In the spirit of exaggeration, the neglect of eco-conscious travel is akin to filling in the Grand Canyon to build a coffee shop. While we all love a good no-whip, extra-hot mocha, our priorities should be aimed at the preservation of this planet's natural and cultural treasures.
By focusing on the impact of our actions and using a little TravelSense, travelers can make the right decisions to positively affect the world around them. To start eco-traveling, please follow these guidelines compiled by ASTA (American Society of Travel agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know how special our planet is, and why we must take good care of it.
(1) RESPECT OUR FRAGILE PLANET
Sure the planet feels solid beneath our feet, and it can hold its own against the big boys in the solar system. Yet the Earth's ecosystemâ€”the scenic surface features which we stand next to in picturesâ€”is a fragile infrastructure dependent on balanced and cyclical nurturing.
Think of it as the Earth's hair. It looks great now, but the more we tread on it, the messier it becomes, until one day the planet wakes up completely bald. Unless we combine our efforts to help in its preservation, the unique and beautiful destinations we buy expensive cameras to photograph may not be here for future generations to enjoy.
(2) LEAVE ONLY FOOTPRINTS
Take only photographs, leave only footprints. These two simple phrases sum up the heart of eco-tourism. Do not leave litter of any kind, and do not take any souvenirs from historical sites and natural areas. In some instances, like taking a piece of the Great Barrier Reef, it's a crime.
In the wilderness never disturb anything that you can avoid disturbing. Leave all the pretty rocks where they are; your desk will survive without another paperweight. The "it's only one rock" attitude goes out the window when a million people each take one rock from one forest.
(3) THE ROAD MOST TRAVELED
Following the basic rules of ecotourism can be as easy as following a well-marked trail, because on the well-marked trail is where you should be. Always follow designated trails and resist the urge to explore the forest.
Do not disturb animals, plants or their natural habitats, and hopefully they will not disturb you in return. You were told a thousand times as a child to not tap the aquarium's glass, so consider each ecological wonder a special aquarium.
(4) EDUCATION IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE
Increase the size of your brain and educate yourself about the geography, customs and manners of the region you plan to visit. The invasion of foreign values can damage a culture more than a bulldozer in some regards. Get to know the culture before you arrive and know which of your actions or standards may not be accepted smoothly.
Tourism provides a positive boost to local people. Attending local events encourages indigenous pride and cultural heritage, enabling many traditions to be preserved. These traditions present a more lasting, honest perspective of the destination than any postcard ever could.
Respect the privacy of others and always ask before photographing people. Some Australian aborigines believe that photographs steal their souls. Why you may not believe this to be true, respect their beliefs slide the camera back into backpack.
Also be respectful of local people's land by asking permission before entering buildings, shrines or sacred lands. Showing respect will gain you the most treasured of souvenirsâ€”trust.
Souvenirs are a vital part of every trip, special for their uniqueness and direct mental link to a fabulous vacation memory. As a concerned eco-tourist, do not buy products made from endangered plants or animals, such as ivory, tortoise shell, animal skins and feathers. Purchase souvenirs from local artists to keep cultural traditions alive.
Extend this idea and dine in locally owned restaurants, exploring the gastronomic scenery is just as important as visiting the main attractions of a destination. Choose locally owned and operated lodges, hotels, tour guides, and take advantage of local taxis, buses and car rental agencies.
(7) ECO-FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS
The easiest ecologically saving action to undertake is to support conservation-oriented organizations already working to preserve the environment. Select responsible tour operators and guides whose practices are based on sound eco-conscious beliefs.
Maintain an eco-friendly attitude when choosing destinations to visit. Encourage organizations to subscribe to environmental guidelines. TravelSense urges organizations to adopt their own environmental codes to cover special sites and ecosystems.
(8) IT'S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL
Globetrotting with the world in mind provides a more satisfying way to travel; challenging you to learn about the places and people you visit and help sustain their fragile environments, economies and cultures.
Through increased awareness and an earnest desire to help protect natural and cultural resources for the good of the planet and for the generations yet to explore, you can trek to the four corners with a positive impact Travel with purpose.