sustainable travelSan Francisco, Maui, Miami and Los Angeles – fine family vacation spots, right? They’re also believers in the future. These four cities join 170 others signed on to honor 37 criteria for sustainable destinations. One list for hotels; another for destinations. Gives me a good reason to pick them over other places when debating family vacation destination choices.

“Sustainable travel” might seem a little stuffy, but the lists, created by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, are intended to develop a worldwide way to focus on helping the places we visit and the people who live there, never harming or overlooking their essence.

Just paying a little attention, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council says, can launch a big difference. They share broad brushstrokes like:

  • Sustainable management
  • Socioeconomic impacts
  • Cultural impacts
  • Environmental impacts

I like to remember that visitors like me are an important source of income for many communities located in extremely biodiverse and fragile areas.

In India a few years ago, my tour guide on a hike was a used-to-be poacher. Thanks to sustainable tourism practices, he could now make a living, abandoning the poaching as a way to support his family.

In the Yucatan, near the ancient Mayan site called Coba, I met a pottery teacher helping a little community stop clear-cutting their forests for fuel to sell for a meager living. Instead, they were becoming artisans, selling lovely works to tourists. The forests can grow again.

sustainable travel2So what’s a traveling family to ask? Rainforest Alliance embraces The Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s 37 criteria and offers the rest of us a list of ideas.

At the hotel: Ask about environmental policies and practices. Does the hotel support community development or conservation projects?

Language: Learn a few words of the local language and use them.

Dress: Learn about local conventions and dress appropriately. Modest dress may be important.

Behavior: Be respectful of local citizens’ privacy. Ask permission before entering sacred places, homes, or private lands.

Photographs: Be sensitive to when and where you take photos/video of people. Always ask first.

Environment: Never touch or harass wildlife. Always follow designated trails. Support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites or making a donation.

Wildlife or forest products: Never purchase anything derived from protected or endangered wildlife or plant species.

Pay a fair price: Don’t engage in overly aggressive bargaining for souvenirs. Don’t short-change on tips for services.

Buy local: Choose locally-owned lodges and hotels. Use local buses, car rental agencies, and airlines. Eat in local restaurants, shop in local markets, and attend local events.

Hire local guides: Enrich your experience and support the local economy. Ask guides if they are licensed and live nearby. Are they recommended by tour operators?