The Conscious Traveler

Exploring responsible tourism


| February 2, 2006


How does the thought of an 'Abu Ghraib Bus Tour' strike you? Sickening? Far-fetched? How about totally consistent with precedent? Today's grievous atrocity can easily turn into tomorrow's tourist attraction. Auschwitz, the Nazi extermination camp, has long been reopened as a museum. The British newspaper The Independent recently published an article billing war-scarred Sierra Leone as a 'holiday paradise.' And Travel + Leisure recently ran an article entitled 'Rwanda (After),' in which the author traveled the genocide-ravaged country watching gorillas and paying for children's educations.

As the obvious tourist spots get ditched in favor of roads less traveled, more and more travelers are faced with the question of how to be a responsible tourist in places beset by conflict, economic distress, or environmental degradation. A few organizations have surfaced to provide answers. The International Centre for Responsible Tourism was created as a 'post-graduate training and research centre' to study and promote ideas surrounding responsible tourism. The centre serves as a kind of clearing house for ethical travel proposals and guidelines for tourism businesses. Other groups, such as Global Exchange, offer 'Reality Tours' -- trips that educate people about the countries they visit, rather than glossing over cultures with souvenirs and nice hotels. Another option is World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Willing workers, or WWOOFers, travel the globe working on organic farms in exchange for room, board, and the pleasure of contributing to an eco-friendly endeavor.

There are, of course, some environmental obstacles that can't be overcome when it comes to traveling. Unless you swim or walk to your destination, a long-distance trip -- especially one via a plane -- devours fossil fuels. The Union of Concerned Scientists doesn't resolve that conundrum, but it offers some helpful tips on how to reduce the environmental impact of your next vacation. Among them: use public transportation in your destination, bring your own toiletries (rather than relying on the heavily packaged soaps and shampoos that hotels provide), and contribute to eco-friendly organizations to offset potential environmental damage.

Go there >>International Centre for Responsible Tourism

Go there too >>Rwanda (After)

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