My main goal at 12 years of age was to own a pair of plastic mouse ears, a salute to Mickey Mouse. Of course, this would require a vacation to Disney World, something every kid in my neighborhood had achieved. Getting there was possible … but sure looked unlikely. My parents, you see, saw no point in traveling to a fantasy world when the real world was so fantastical. I never did acquire that mouse-ear crown.
The same cruel fate is being visited upon my own children, who wince every time another friend announces their family trip to Disney.
Turns out, I think a lot like my parents. But with a wanderlust combined with an environmental sensibility, I’ve got conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I firmly believe in the value of travel to increase our appreciation of each other and our natural spaces, and the peace that allows us all to move freely within the world. On the other, travel can be enormously polluting and often exploitive of resources and people. The compromise, for me, is undertaking travel that enriches not only me and my family but the people and places we travel to. With an incredible planet to explore, and an environmental cost to exploring it, we’ve got to make every trip count.
Keep your money local
Seeking out locally-owned restaurants and accommodations as well as purchasing locally-produced souvenirs can make your dollar go a long way toward keeping your destination sustainable. In many developing parts of the world, expropriated as they are by multinational hotel chains and restaurants, less than 10 cents on your dollar stays in the community to lift it economically—the rest lining the Armani pockets of the owners.
Seek out destinations that are intact culturally
The more you can immerse yourself in another culture—its food, celebrations, way of life—the more you can lay claim to a true vacation that transports you not only physically but mentally and spiritually. And the more your vacation dollars can ensure that the culture remains intact for the next generation.
Get off the tour bus and out of the car
The single best way to really experience a destination is to s-l-o-w down and power yourself. A trip to Italy was made magical when I biked along a country road and enjoyed grapes tossed to me by pickers in the field. By walking or biking, you truly engage all your senses … and eliminate your carbon footprint in the process.