Sustainable Tourism: Interviews with Top Eco Travellers

Travelling is a beautiful thing, whether you’re venturing into the green unknown or are visiting your favourite eco-friendly cities again and again. No doubt you’ve run into more than a few adventures along the way.

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. If you’re looking for ideas on the best ways to travel while keeping the planet healthy, these bloggers will be your top resource. Whether they’re participating in eco-travel and exploring a city’s natural landscape or using sustainable travel habits like recycling and riding public transportation, they are doing their part to help the environment while seeing everything the world has to offer.

Here are their stories and the lessons they’ve learned along the way as they’ve criss-crossed this big planet we call Earth.

Antonis Petropoulos – Ecoclub.com

Antonis Petropoulus of Ecoclub.comAntonis Petropoulos is the Editor of ECOCLUB.com – International Ecotourism Club, a mutual aid network and award-winning website that promotes ecological & equitable tourism, which he founded in 1999. He looks forward to the creation of free, stateless & classless communities where mutual aid prevails and believes that genuine ecotourism can play a pivotal role. His alma mater is the London School of Economics.

For more details please visit ECOCLUB.com

Q: When did you first hear about sustainable tourism and why is it important to you to travel sustainably?

Antonis: I believe I must have first heard about sustainable tourism at high school in the early 1980s, tourism being a key industry in my country (Greece) and at that time there was a tourism boom with the first charter flights which prompted a quick and rather haphazard development. I gradually grasped the bigger picture in later years through my travels and finally through my work at ECOCLUB.com – International Ecotourism Club.

Today travelling and living sustainably is embedded in my personal code of ethics. At the same time I realise that there cannot be any fully sustainable travel in the context of an unsustainable and ecocidal, global neoliberal system. But as an optimist, I believe that ecological and equitable travel can contribute to peaceful, radical change from below.

Q: What’s the biggest thing someone can do to travel in a sustainable way?

Antonis: The biggest thing? To avoid big things! Keep it small and beautiful. Avoid big hotel chains and luxury. Travel light and slowly, use public transport as much as possible and do your research so as to ensure your money goes directly to the community.

Q: What is your favourite means of transportation when travelling?

Antonis: On a daily basis I prefer to walk everywhere or take the subway. When travelling I try to use public transport but it is not always available which is a grave mistake for destinations. You can learn so much more by NOT renting a car, even though you may get to see fewer sites.

Q: What things do you look for before you pick a place to travel to?

Antonis: If that place, meaning the local community – rather than their government or powerful corporate interests, really want me to be there. This is not straightforward, it takes reading, asking and thinking. The second thing is ‘which good and interesting people do I already know there’ or do I want to know? Cultural and natural attractions come third.

Q: What is your favourite destination? And Why?

Antonis: I have many but I will list them by order of distance: first, my roof-top vegetable garden, further afield, a local urban walking tour in the historic centre of my hometown Athens – new things to observe each time. Even further Arcadia, where we have an old family home in a mountain village and Ikaria island which has largely escaped tourism development and maintained a communal and progressive spirit.Outside Greece, Kerala in India for being (or seeming to me at least) an egalitarian, multicultural, happy and attractive place.

Q: What is your most memorable travel story?

Antonis: Like many people I remember the most details from my first major international travel, at age 13, in 1982 I visited Moscow on a standard package tour along with my parents. The architectural, economic & cultural accomplishments showcased to us along with the general tidiness and law & order – compared to my anarchic hometown – made a strong impression on me, as did people approaching us on the street asking to buy our blue-jeans, hotel staff trying to sell us caviar and offering rubles at 5 times the official rate, a tasty borcscht at a rather grim state restaurant, an equally austere guard insisting I had to zip my jacket as I was about to enter the inner chamber of Lenin’s mausoleum; the palatial, ad-free, clean & silent subway system (granted there were no mobile phones back then); that everyone silently smiled when a rather smart alecky group member told us the police had confiscated his film.

Last but not least, the savvy and enchanting Intourist guide that surprisingly spoke my own language, Greek, better than me.

Q: What is your next destination?

Antonis: In terms of international travel, the Pyramids, already considered ancient monuments in classical antiquity and eternal Egypt in general has been my ‘next destination’ for some time, but due to the rather violent situation I keep postponing. For similar reasons, along with its pro-environment credentials and ecotourism priorities, I will probably visit Costa Rica first, a country that permanently abolished its army in 1949.

Irene Lane – Greenloons.com

Irene Lane of Greenloons.comIrene 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 four (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.

Irene Butler – Globetrekkers.ca

Irene & Rick of Globetrekkers.caIrene Butler and her husband Rick explore the world for six or more months of each year. Letting the journey unfold is their modus operandi; the rewards of minimal pre-planning outweighing the challenges. Learning to see the world from the perspective of other cultures is a continual quest. Extended travel has fine- tuned their budgeting skills, balanced with an occasional luxury resort. Follow Rick and Irene’s travels at globaltrekkers.ca.

Q: When did you first hear about sustainable tourism and why is it important to you to travel sustainably?

Irene Butler: I first heard the term “sustainable tourism” a few years ago at an international travel writers convention, and it fit with my long-time motto of “trekking the globe with gentle footsteps”.

Q: What’s the biggest thing someone can do to travel in a sustainable way?

Irene Butler: The biggest thing someone can do is to “respect the country and culture”; which increases ones insight and resolve to practice other ways to support sustainable travel. For me these “other ways” are – doing my utmost to not pollute, buying locally grown produce and grass-roots products, dressing conservatively in countries where this is the norm, giving donations to food banks in 3rd world countries, trying to understand the effect of the country’s current political and economic situations on its citizens.

Q: What is your favourite means of transportation when travelling?

Irene Butler: This depends on the situation – bus, train, car, boat, plane. We find combining several countries that are in close proximity into one return air-fare (or two one-way fares) is a plus to the environment and our pocketbook; i.e. Choose five countries, fly to the first, take overland travel to 2,3,4 and 5, then fly back home from country 5.

Q: What things do you look for before you pick a place to travel to?

Irene Butler: A reasonable degree of safety for travellers…other than that each country is prized for its own unique history, sites, geographical phenomena, and culture to become immersed in.

Q: What is your favourite destination? And Why?

Irene Butler: The next one…because it is an experience waiting to happen!

Q: What is your most memorable travel story?

Irene Butler: Our trek to the basecamp of Mt Everest and Mt Kala Pattar, a grueling 21 day trek with stops at rustic lodges along the way where we relaxed around yak-dung fires in the company of Sherpa and guides – the grand finale was reaching an elevation of 5,643m (18,514ft) to stand face-to-face with Everest, the top of the world. (Read all about it in my E-book, “Trekking the Globe with Mostly Gentle Footsteps: Twelve Countries in Twelve Months” now on Amazon Kindle.)

Q: What is your next destination?

Irene Butler: Iceland in July of 2014, and in keeping with our combining countries in close proximity, we will continue on to other Scandinavian countries and many European countries that we have not yet visited. After Europe’s winter sets in, we will head to the warmth of India, a country we have been to twice before, and for which we have a soft-spot. The total length of this journey will be 9 months.

We would like to thank Antonis Petropoulos, Irene Lane, & Irene Butler for taking the time to give us insight into why they travel sustainably and helping us gain a better understanding of eco-travel. Please visit their blogs for more information!

Explore Ecotourism in Canada
Environmentally Conscious Tourism in Canada – Expedia Canada’s home for all things ecotourism.
Eco-adventures in Canada – From exploring caves to watching polar bears, there’s a wild world waiting for you. Here are some of the best eco-trips to try around the country.
Best Eco-friendly Hotels in Canada – Staying somewhere sustainable is just as important as where you travel to. Here are a few of the top eco-hotels in the country.
Greenest Cities in Canada – When you’re looking for the greenest cities in Canada, search no further! These are the crème of the crop.
The History of Ecotourism – Want to know more about the history of ecotourism? Check out our helpful ecotourism infographic.
Sustainable Tourism Interviews – For in-depth knowledge about ecotourism, we interviewed some of the top NGOs in the world about their views on eco-safe travel.

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About Author

Jennifer Cuellar

Jennifer Cuellar is a writer, an avid explorer, and fan of all things Games of Thrones-related. When she’s not sipping tea in a café by the beach, she’s off writing about wondrous cities you simply have to visit. From mountain peaks to downtown streets, there’s a world of adventure waiting to be explored. She spotlights top cities to tour, which attractions you’ve got to see, and off-the-beaten path activities to try during your next vacation. Let’s go travel!

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