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Postcard from India: NOLS, Ecotourism and Choice
By Kirstin Henninger

If you have traveled recently, you may have noticed an increased promotion of “ecotourism.” While lacking a consistent definition, most ecotourism operators should be committed to conservation, with minimal environmental impact and sensitivity toward local communities. Yet, in order for “ecotourism” to really sustain an environmental ethic, tourists need to assert their desire for it.

As NOLS grads, we can do our part by supporting businesses that put these ideals to practice, as well as by helping set a high standard in this booming industry. It takes bringing our LNT values to all corners of the world by role-modeling how to be an “eco-tourist.”

Although there is no perfect formula to go about this, consider the following tips the next time you pack your bags:

  • Before you leave, do an Internet search to see if there are any eco-friendly lodges, restaurants or guiding services where you want to visit. Most countries or regions have an ecotourism society that you can contact for guidance or questions.
  • When you book with an eco-friendly business, ask what makes them eco-friendly and make sure that matches your own standards of LNT.
  • Try to frequent family-run hotels and restaurants rather than large chains so as to support the local economy more directly. Ask the proprietors how they manage their waste, conserve water, etc. and what the local environmental issues are.
  • Avoid buying bottled water and instead bring a filter, chlorine or iodine.
  • Avoid buying packaged and/or imported foods and instead, buy breads and treats from the local bakery.
  • Conserve water when you bathe, brush teeth and do laundry.
  • If you hire a trekking, boating or other guide, ask how they deal with human waste, garbage and campfires.
  • Think about your transport and how to save fuel—share taxis, take trains and buses when possible.

Of course, you don’t need to leave your hometown to practice most of these habits. “Leave No Trace” or “Ecotourism”: the beauty of a NOLS education is that you can transfer your values and skills wherever you go—and this transference is the one thing that won’t make your backpack any heavier!

(Kirstin Henninger has been a NOLS Instructor since 1998. She has spent the last year living in India and working for Navrachna, a non-governmental organization dedicated to sustainable development of the Indian Himalaya, www.navrachna.org.)

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